In 2014, I walked away from my $35,000-per-year job in insurance sales to grow my e-commerce side hustle with my husband Chris.
We had been experimenting with selling clothes and accessories on online marketplaces, including eBay and Facebook. Our online community of friends and customers quickly grew from a few hundred members to over 10,000 in a very short period. I realized that I could combine my passion for affordable clothing and relationship-building to help women to feel confident in their fashion choices.
Without funding or assurances of what was ahead, we took the risk and set ambitious goals. I focused on leveraging my sales and social media knowledge to grow our outreach while Chris incorporated his finance expertise to structure operations.
Whenever aspiring entrepreneurs ask for my advice, I tell them that the most important step we took early on was creating a business plan.
Your business plan doesn't have to be perfect, and you should expect to make changes along the way. Here are the five essential elements of the business plan we used to ensure success:
1. Value proposition and key competitors
It is so essential to identify and strengthen your value proposition — or the reason customers will want to buy from you versus another company.
Before starting Pink Lily, I was very immersed in the retail market. When I wasn't working my full-time job, I'd go online shopping. Each time I visited a website or eBay shop I liked, I took stock of what I liked and didn't like about them.
I found that there weren't many options for women that were both trendy and affordable, and I knew I could help fill this need. That was the foundation of Pink Lily's value proposition.
Here's what to consider when defining your value proposition:
- Define the product you're trying to sell.
- Write a list of other brands who are offering similar products.
- For each of those brands, pretend you are a loyal customer and take note of what you think they are — and aren't — doing well.
- As you conduct your research, be on the lookout for market gaps — or areas that those businesses aren't serving.
2. Ideal customers
Next, you need to define and step into the shoes of your ideal customer.
The more deeply you can get to know this person — to the point where you have a fundamental understanding of their decision-making process and daily challenges — the better you can directly cater to their needs.
To figure out your ideal customer, ask yourself:
- Who exactly are you trying to target?
- Why would they be interested in your products?
- What does a normal day look like for them?
- What makes them happy?
- What frustrates them?
- What do their finances look like? For example, what are their typical purchases, and how much do they spend on those items?
At Pink Lily, we know that our customers are seeking trend-driven designs and quality options at accessible prices and a wide range of sizes. They love being involved in the products we bring on and having a voice in the styles we create.
3. Strongest differentiators
What makes you different from other brands? How do you better serve your ideal customer? Once you have a solid understanding of what differentiates you, you'll have the crux of your business figured out.
Your differentiator may end up becoming the central focus of your marketing strategy and online presence. For Pink Lily, what made us different from other e-commerce brands was that many of our items were under $50.
Our customers also like supporting a family-owned business and being a part of the Pink Lily family by participating in our community on social media and beyond.
4. Preparing for rapid adoption and growth
To build a scalable business that keeps people coming back for more, you have to assume that you'll be wildly successful at getting first-time customers. Then, create a strategy based on that assumption.
- How will you service all of your customers repeatedly?
- How much money will you need to do that?
- How will you scale your business to an increasingly high volume of customers?
- How will you leverage their interest and loyalty to build your audience further?
5. Social media marketing strategy
Social media has been invaluable to the growth and success of Pink Lily. From the very beginning, we used platforms like Instagram and Facebook to directly connect with customers.
Consider these aspects when coming up with a social media marketing strategy:
- What platforms will you post on, and when? My recommendation is to post on more than one platform (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, TikTok) at least three times a week on each.
- What content will you post? How will it provide value to your target audience, or grab their interest?
- How much time will you spend engaging directly with comments? I suggest setting aside as much time as possible to give your followers one-on-one attention.
I regularly ask our 3.6 million social media followers what products they'd like to see on our website, or what brands we should partner with. We use their responses to make real-time decisions.
This helps shoppers feel like insiders. Their daily engagement has shaped our curation while motivating us to always be a better partner in how we support our community.
Tori Gerbig co-founded Pink Lily, an online fashion store, as an eBay shop in 2011. Today, it's one of the fastest-growing online retailers in America. A graduate of Western Kentucky University, Tori resides in her hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky with her husband and their three children. Follow Pink Lily on Instagram and Facebook.
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