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The Ecommerce Business Plan

Simply put, business plans can make or break your business. Starting a Drop Ship business online is no different from starting a traditional non-online business. With the strong emphasis individuals place on writing business plans for starting up non-internet-based companies, it is equally crucial to prepare a business plan for your online business.

A business plan serves many important purposes for the online business. First, because the business plan has a detailed list of the tasks to undertake, it is a call to action for you to promote your business actively and not procrastinate on your marketing efforts. Second, it provides a blueprint that describes your company effectively: the market, the products and the steps you need for effective marketing. This serves to guide your business through the months ahead.

Business plans normally comprise of five sections:

1) The Objectives. This section will describe the objectives for the venture, and the mission statement that defines the online business. It states both the financial and strategic objectives and is normally about one page long. There should be a concise description of the Drop Ship business at the start. A brief example:

‘Magical Stores Online is an internet company that provides quality tools and resources for magic tricks. We aim to consistently provide magicians with reliable tools for conducting magic tricks, and also accurate information and guides on how to properly perform the magic tricks with our tools. In our first year online, our target is to have U.S. $400,000 in revenues and $100,000 in profits. This can be achieved by attracting an average of about 5000 visitors to our website every month through effective internet marketing. Our strategy is to attract recurring traffic to our website by continually updating the useful resources and information on our website. Magicians will constantly return for more useful tips on magic tricks. This cuts our marketing costs drastically and adds to our profit margin.’

2) The Executive summary. The executive summary should contain a few important details. It should outline the basic model of the company, how the business functions, the market environment, and also the business opportunity in the market. A continuation from the previous example:

‘Magical Stores Online is a retailer of magic products on the internet. We specialize in card and coin tricks and stage magic, and classify our products according to age group, skill level, features, and the occasion they are used for. Magicians can browse the product catalogue on our website and buy their products with a shopping cart software. They can choose to pay either by credit cards or by checks. We use a third party credit card merchant to process our payments, hence eliminating the need to have a merchant account ourselves. A profit is realized whenever a sale is made, because we obtain our products at a wholesale price and we sell them at a retail price. Since our supplier, Company XYZ, drop ships the products directly to the customers’ address, we do not need to hold any inventory. Our market comprises of magicians of any age group who specialize in card and coin tricks and stage magic. The opportunity lies in the internet as a marketing medium for magic products. Since the rise of the internet in the mid 1990s, we find that the major magic product retailers do not use the internet effectively to market their products. With effective internet marketing skills, we believe that we can reach a wider audience than the other major players, thus claiming a large market share.’

*Note that in a real business plan, the business owner should aim to provide a more detailed version than the examples given above. The examples here only serve to illustrate an overview of what the basic business plan should encompass.

3) Marketing Strategies. In this section, you will describe the steps you intend to take in order to market your business effectively on the internet. There are a few basic marketing methods available on the internet. Mentioned below are three of the most popular methods.

- Email Marketing. Ezines and newsletters are powerful tools. It is simply the most cost-effective form of marketing on the internet. Sending out email promotions or newsletters to your subscriber base costs virtually nothing, except for the time you spend on writing your newsletter. With the web form on your website, you can capture the names and email addresses of the customers who subscribed to your newsletter. I do not recommend that you send your subscribers with product promotions regularly, but you should continually provide them with useful tips and information. In this way, you establish your credibility as an expert and maintain a strong relationship with your customers, instead of appearing as someone just out to make money. Promotions for your products should only be sent out about once or twice a month.

- Search engine optimization. Optimizing your website for high search engine results on google, yahoo and msn, is a powerful way of getting large volumes of traffic at low cost. However, you have to put in a lot of effort for a long period of time, as top rankings do not appear overnight. There are two factors for search engine optimization: On-page or Off-page optimization. On-page optimization involves tweaking the page title, header and meta tags to include the website keywords. It also involves scattering the keywords throughout the page to improve the site relevancy. Off-page optimization, on the other hand, is much more important than on-page. It involves soliciting links from relevant websites. The more the websites that link to your site, and the higher the importance/relevance of the website linking to yours, the higher your website will be ranked on the search engines. Google places a very strong emphasis on this.

- Pay-per-click (PPC) Search Engines. This requires you to pay a sum of money for every visitor that clicks through the search engine to your website. The higher the amount you pay, the higher your website will be ranked on the PPC search engine. The basis for profiting with this marketing tool is by bidding less than the amount that each visitor to your website is worth. Overture is definitely the market leader for pay-per-click search engines.

4) Competitive Analysis. In this section, you have to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, and the factors that will differentiate your products or services from your competitors. You have to analyze your competitors and record what makes them so successful, and also the weaknesses you can capitalize on to get an edge in the market. For example, competitors may not be using email marketing effectively to promote the products to customers. You can capitalize on this by using newsletters more intensively, establishing your credibility as an industry expert. To differentiate an online Drop Ship business, it is more viable to provide a reliable service from your website. This usually means providing a wealth of tips, articles and information for your visitors. This will attract them to continuously return to your website for the latest tips and resources that will benefit them. Fast response to their email queries and also fast shipping are also good services you can provide.

5) The financial projection section. In this section you can project the profit-loss statements and the cash flow statements for your business. The profit-loss statement records the monthly profit/loss realized over the months, while the cash flow statement records the difference between revenue and expenditure over the months. The costs for an online Drop Ship business will include:

- One-time costs for software like shopping cart software, email marketing software, and also search engine optimization software.

- Recurring costs for the wholesale price of the products, web hosting fees, a proportion of revenue paid to your third party credit card merchant to process your payments, and also internet marketing costs.

This section will be useful for you to gauge how your Drop Ship business performs according to your expectations.

In conclusion, business plans do not only apply to real-world businesses, but are equally critical to online businesses as well. They serve as blueprints of the companies and also as strong calls to action for the aspiring internet entrepreneurs to achieve their success in ecommerce.

*You are welcome to reprint this article as long as you include the Author’s resource box with the article.

In A Business Where Baby Is Boss

The statistics for Moms who work outside the home are staggering. One study reads that after daycare, taxes, gasoline, and food and clothing expenses, the average woman working outside the home earns approximately $1 per hour. Mothers facing this kind of financial reality often look for ways to earn money right from their homes, thus cutting out the extra expenses related to maintaining an outside career. But they soon find out that staying home with the kiddos presents its own unique challenges. Without the solid line between work and home, how do moms with home businesses juggle the balance between their business and those they do it for?

Susie Arevalo, owner of the cloth diapering business Lucy Luvs, has found many ways to keep her business growing, while raising three small children. Not only does she homeschool and have an active toddler underfoot, she is also alone for an extended period of time while her husband is deployed in Iraq as a combat medic.

First things first she says is to treat your business like a business, not a hobby. She has set business hours for Lucy Luvs and keeps them religiously. Otherwise the demands of household and childcare tasks can very easily compete with the work she has committed herself to doing. Recently, she hired a mother’s helper to come care for her children during her set business hours of 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. While they are under the care of the mother’s helper, Susie can still keep an ear out for her little ones while still being able to concentrate on her business activities. One phrase she hears a lot when recommending a mother’s helper to other work at home moms is that they cannot afford it. As she says “I can’t afford not to have her.”

Without regular business hours is often difficult to find the time to attend to your business without the guilt that you could be doing something else. As they say a woman’s work is never done. A majority of mothers with work at home businesses try to isolate their work to the hours after the children go to bed. While a lot can be done after their bedtime, you also take the chance of being ready for bed yourself by this time of night. To combat relying only on nighttime hours to do your work, an established daytime routine, that includes time for your business is essential. This can be very hard to establish, with laundry needing switched, dishes needing done, etc. But it CAN be done. Write down a routine you feel comfortable with and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be strict. Just write down the order in which you would like to see things done during the day. I have found that if I keep a schedule that relies heavy on getting certain tasks done by certain times in the day, I always get “behind” and then discouraged. One lifesaver for me has been the Flylady routine. The email reminders get deleted all day long, but they still serve their purpose, even if I don’t always read them. One thing I have found is that most of the tasks I always thought took so long, don’t take anymore than 15 minutes. Dreaded tasks like laundry, which I somehow never have managed to endear myself too, take a lot less than the allotted 15 minutes.

One of the sweetest aspects of running a work at home mom business is the free advertising you can get just by living your life. Susie has built a solid local business just by having her daughter in one of the diapers she sells on her website. Her daughter is a walking advertisement. With new websites like CafĂ© Press, you can have your business logo printed on any number of items to carry with you, or to have your child wear. These are bound to stir up some conversations when you go on an outing. High dollar advertising is not required when you truly love what you do. Your passion for your product or service speaks for itself and it gets people interested. It also speaks volumes to those who can see you have a family and still find the time to pursue this business, which says it’s something worth while.

Running a business from home does include one very important aspect… the home. This can and should be your first priority. If you have chosen to stay home because you want to be with your children, or don’t want someone else raising them, keep that your focus. This business should run around your family, not the other way around. This is the beauty of owning your own business. If your little one is sick and just needs Momma for the day, you can shut your phone off, refuse to answer emails and just be the Mom for the day. If you need to answer emails, you can keep a basket of your baby’s favorite toys beside your desk to keep them occupied. It really is all about what works for you. Don’t ever get frustrated and give up you hit a bump in the road. Find a solution that’s all your own and fits with your family. When you are overwhelmed with business piling up, take a break and go play Legos or dollhouse. There’s something so relieving about taking the time to remember why you are doing this in the first place.

In a business where Baby is boss, there are many ways to keep the balance. There is no magic formula, no right or wrong way and nothing that can make success come faster than the problems you have to solve to get there. Because no one has been the Mom in YOUR family, no one will be able to tell you exactly how to set up your own home business. It’s all trial and error. Your job is to take each obstacle and find a way that you can overcome it. For some, it’s cutting back business. For other’s it’s finding a way to treat the business more like a real business and for yet others its simply finding the perfect toy to keep baby occupied while you complete a needed task. Just keep trucking along and doing what you love, for the people you love. That’s the true measure of success!

For more information about how to set up and run a home based business please visit www.diaperdecisions.com and click on “Small Business Tools.”

16 Ways to Make Your Business Cards Unforgettable

Every time you hear someone say “May I have one of your business cards?” you should get excited. I know I do. That’s because I LOVE my cards. I spent thousands of dollars on printing, several hours on designing and went through 10 different layouts until I got them right.

And it was all worth it.

A business card is an entrepreneur’s best friend, his most valuable marketing tool and an essential element to becoming UNFORGETTABLE. Unfortunately, too many people have business cards that simply blend into the multitude of cookie cutter crap. And that’s a shame, because a business card is more powerful than you think.

Of course, it’s impossible to know this unless you actually have a card that’s really, really good. Therefore, this article will examine The Four Corners of Unforgettable Business Cards:

1. Stacking Up

2. Standing Out

3. Creative Enhancement

4. Implementation

CORNER #1: How Does Your Card Stack Up?

Think back to the last trade show, networking event, seminar, convention, social hour or association meeting you attended. How did people react to your business card? Did they compliment its design? Quickly shove it into their pocket? Show it to someone else? Rip it up?

Whatever the response was, your card made some type of impression. But only the most creative, unique and memorable business cards make UNFORGETTABLE impressions. And those types of cards elicit reactions like…

  • “I showed your card to everybody in my office!” says a hot prospect.
  • “Can I have another one? A friend of mine will LOVE this!” exclaims your tablemate.
  • “Oooh! I want one too!” begs the person in looking over your shoulder.
  • “Hey…can you show my friend Paul your business card!” asks a colleague of yours.
  • “You know, I’ve never thrown your card away!” says one of your customers.
  • If you’ve ever heard a compliment along those lines before, congrats! You’re on the right track.

    That reminds me of Gus. He and I sat next to each other at a sales seminar a few years ago. During the program, the facilitator asked the audience members to exchange cards and get to know each other. Gus’s card was amazing: thick, colorful, double sided, bold, shiny and best of all, simple. (That was no surprise – he was in advertising!) But it was one of the best I’d ever seen. So we introduced ourselves, exchanged cards and talked for a few minutes. And that was about it. Nice guy, I thought.

    Now, here’s the cool part: although Gus and I didn’t really keep in touch, I’ve never thrown his card away. I show it to everyone! In fact, I even use it as a prop in some of my networking workshops! His card was just that good.

    Is yours that good? Keep that question in the back of your mind as you read on. Now let’s move into the next section and find out why certain cards stand out more than others.

    CORNER # 2: Standing Out

    Recently I took 66 business cards I’ve collected over the years and spread them out on a table. I closed my eyes for 30 seconds, opened them and took note of which cards stood out the most. And here’s what I noticed:

  • Red: every card that had red on it stood out.
  • Picture: only a few cards had pictures of the cardholder. This not only made them stand out, but helped me connect faces with names and companies.
  • Vertical: several cards were formatted vertically, which caught my eye.
  • Black Background: most cards have a white background, so the black ones REALLY stood out.
  • Image: cards with some sort of colorful image that took up at least one fourth of the total surface area captured my interest.
  • (To view a high quality image of this game of 66 Card Pick Up, go to http://hellomynameisscott.blogspot.com/2005/03/does-your-business-card-stand-out.html)

    This was a valuable exercise in understanding UNFORGETTABLE business cards, and I recommend it to everyone. Try it out! Gather dozens of accumulated cards from your desk and discover which ones stand out. Oh, and don’t forget to put your OWN card in the pile. You’ll be amazed at what you see.

    Or don’t see.

    CORNER #3: Creative and Unique Ways to Enhance Your Card

    Now that you’ve analyzed your own card and have been exposed to a large quantity of other people cards, your mind should be swimming with new, creative ideas. This is the perfect time to brainstorm ways to enhance your card. So, grab a blank sheet of paper. Come up with as many ideas as possible. Let your creativity run wild! And to help you get started, here’s a list of 16 creative ideas to make your business card UNFORGETTABLE:

    1. Size or Shape – Rectangle, schmectangle. I’ve seen squares, circles, ovals and triangles. Each shape made a connection to the brand, and each shape stood out amidst the endless regression of the same old rectangles.

    2. Chocolate Business Cards (yes, these DO exist) – Several companies have online catalogues for personalized chocolate cards. Expensive? Yes. Delicious? Probably. Memorable? You better believe it.

    3. Trading Cards – If your company is team oriented, get trading cards with your “players” pictures and stats. Then encourage your customers and prospects to “collect all 12!”

    4. Cartoons – Get a custom cartoon commissioned for the back of your card. It’s cheap, royalty free and absolutely unique to your business.

    5. Table/Chart – Include a mortgage loan interest table or some staggering statistics on the back. These are helpful reminders for the mathematically challenged and effective methods to position yourself as a resource.

    6. Pop-Ups – Just like kid’s books, some business cards can be printed as folded, pop-up cards. Talk about thinking three-dimensionally!

    7. Credibility – The smartest thing I ever did to my business card was add color images of my two books. Instant credibility. And, I noticed an immediate change in the reactions from the people to whom I gave cards. One lady even said, “Scott, this is the coolest business card I’ve ever seen!” Money well spent.

    8. Rubber Stamps – Buy 10 different customized rubber stamps for the backs of your cards. When someone asks for one just say “Pick a card, any card!”

    9. Die Cutting – My friend Lisa works for the Rock Island Fire Dept. Her business card has a charred hole burnt right through the middle of every card! It looks incredibly real. And most printers offer this feature for a nominal feel. You can also specify various shapes, bite marks or hole sizes.

    10. Recipe – If you work in an industry connected to food, kitchens or homes; include one of your favorite recipes on the back!

    11. Material – Use leather, blinking or brail business cards (yes, these actually exist too!)

    12. Language – If your business requires international travel, consider offering multiple languages, or print the phonetic spelling of a difficult to pronounce name.

    13. Motivation – If you’re the motivational type, include a famous quotation, bible verse or movie line that connects to your brand. And be sure to read it aloud when you give someone your card, it might just make their day!

    14. Stickers – Print one side of your cards on adhesive label paper. This gives the recipient a peel off sticker for reminders, appointments or phone numbers.

    15. Non-Cards – Who says a card has to be a card? After all, the first rule of creativity is “break all the rules!” I’ve seen million dollar bill cards, coin cards, even a banker in Boston who uses business cards that are actually miniature checks he tears off of a pad each time he gives one out! The possibilities are endless.

    16. Double Up – Make your card “double” as something other than a card. For example, mine doubles as a business card AND a nametag. As a result, people stick it on their shirts all the time. Thanks for the free promotion!

    CORNER #4: Implementation

    Once you’ve come up with the layout for your new, creative, UNFORGETTABLE business card, there are only two things left to do: print ‘em up and hand ‘em out!

    First, as you approach you printer, remember a few rules:

  • It’s OK to Spend Money – when I did my taxes this year I calculated that I reprinted my business cards 11 times and spent over $1,400 on printing costs. I also doubled my income from the previous year. Once again, money well spent.
  • Local is Better – by choosing a local printer you can work closely with the designers; touch, feel and smell your paper and even do a few test runs until you get the card perfect. Some businesspeople choose to use online sources, which is fine. The only problem with that approach is that most cards designed, created and ordered over the Internet look like they were designed, created and ordered over the Internet.
  • OK. Once you have your new cards in hand, keep a few final rules in mind:

  • Reminders – be sure to tell people you’ve got a new card. They’ll be happy to accept it, even if they already have your old one. Highlight some of its newest, most unique attributes. Also, if you printed on both sides of your new card, remember to either tell people about the back of your card; or hand them the card back side up, so they know there’s more to it.
  • Etiquette – don’t “Deal the Deck” by inconsiderately throwing thousands of your cards to everyone in sight. If so, you will not only become a practitioner of Highly Horrible Networking(TM), but you will waste your money. Remember: people throw away business cards from those who failed to establish rapport or make a connection.
  • The Card Creedo: finally, when you’re ready, reach into your pocket and grab one of your business cards. Look at it closely. Then say this affirmation out loud:
  • “This is my business card. There are many others out there, but none of them are like mine – because there’s nobody else like me. My business card is not a formality. It’s not a piece of paper containing my name and contact information. And it’s not another annoying thing to keep in my pocket. My business card is the most important networking tool that I own. It’s a reflection of my personal brand and a bite-sized morsel of the mission of my business. I LOVE my business card. And I can’t wait until somebody asks me for one. Because when they do, I will find a way to give that person value.”

    After you’ve face lifted your business card from unacceptable to unforgettable, I promise you will feel great. Your confidence will skyrocket. And from that moment on, every time someone asks, “May I have one of your business cards?” it will be like music to your ears.