Marketing Plan

Once you’ve got your Industry Analysis section done, you’ll need to do your Marketing Plan section.  This is where you go into detail about your positioning in your niche market and why a customer will pay you instead of your competition.  You’ll want to extol the praises of your product for your reader as well as discuss your branding plans.  Next you will have to go into how you will reach your target market and what your advertising budget will be.  People with their business online have a lot of options for marketing.  You could do off line marketing such as putting up signs or fliers or buying ads in relevant magazines or newspapers, but I want to focus on advertising done online.  There are two basic types of online advertising: free and paid.  Free advertising takes a lot of time to build traffic.  Free advertising is such things as writing articles linking to your product, commenting on relevant forums and blogs, and using your social media presence to advertise your product or site.  Paid advertising is things like Google AdWords, Facebook marketing, and ads on other websites that you pay money for.  The problem with paid marketing is that it takes time to figure out the right wording combined with the correct placement on sites to get viewers to your product.  You could wind up spending hundreds of dollars trying different wording combinations while barely getting any return visitors.  However, careful analysis of keywords and sites can lower the price you pay for the results you get.
Something else to think about when planning your marketing campaign is that you can often get links and referals by merely making friends and developing relationships with others in your industry.  Some industries are very competitive but some, like the craft community on Etsy and the online guru industry, like to help each other out.  Often they will put links on their blog or site to a helpful or interesting article or blog post merely because their audience would like it and a friend they trust wrote it.  You can also use friends or similar blogs to do guest posts where you write a post that their audience reads and hopefully that audience clicks the link in your bio to see your page or product.
There are a lot of ways to market online and I’m sure you can read about or figure out more ways to market online but this section makes you research possibilities beforehand and help you decide how much time and money to budget to get the desires goals.

Industry Analysis

The third section of a business plan is Industry Analysis.  Here you will talk about all the research you found in previous research like who your target market is, what your industry will be, growth in your niche/industry over the last few years, major competitors in your niche or wider industry, suppliers, trade organizations, how long competitors have been around, what their estimated revenue is, and factors currently facing the industry such as laws or scandals.  When you think about competitors, don’t just think about people who sell the same product as you.  If you sell a carved bookcase, don’t just look at people who make carved bookcases but big companies that create metal or plastic bookcases or things that can be used instead of book cases such as the new electronic readers that can effect the need for bookcases in the future.  What a customer can buy instead of your product can greatly effect the sales you currently or could make.  It would be nice to comment again on where you plan to position yourself in your industry to remind the reader and yourself how you are unique from the others in your industry and why your clients will buy from you instead of your direct or indirect competitors.

Company Analysis

Although the Executive summary is the first section in the business plan, it is the most important and focused.  I recommend doing this part of the plan last to be sure it is the most accurate.  The Company Analysis section of the business plan discusses the basics of the company such as what products/services it has to offer and what is unique about the company.
This is where you will put your main products, or the ones you plan to start out with, what they do, what need they fill for their customers, and elaborate on your mission statement or your slogan.  You should also talk about where the business will be located and when/why it was started with a brief discussion of your industry and positioning.  That last one will probably be combined with what need your products/services fill in this section as well as creating the link to your next section.

Why Do You Need A Business Plan?

Now that you’ve decided your branding and the focus of your business, it’s time to create your business plan.  A lot of small business owners, especially online business owners, don’t bother to create a business plan.  I know I didn’t create plans for my various projects and I quickly got stuck in a few ruts because of it.  Without written focus or goals it was easy to get overwhelmed with my projects and not want to do them.  Creating business plans for each of my online projects forces me to think about what I actually need to do to make money online, how much time will most likely be needed, and how much money I need.  In fact, you aren’t likely to get a loan or any form of financial backing from anyone outside your friends and family if you don’t create a business plan.  Although it is possible to create a one page business plan, I recommend making a plan over a few hours in a week.  Each section needs to be given thought and carefully considered.  A well thought out and researched plan will allow you to dive right in to the work of creating your online business by providing goals and focus instead of seeing a lot of information but no way to sift through it all to what you need for your online business.  The parts of a business plan that I will go over briefly are:
Executive Summary
Company Analysis
Industry Analysis
Marketing Plan
Operations And Developmental Plans
Management team
Financial Plan

Over the next few weeks I’ll go over each part show you what needs to be in each part.

Branding Your Business

Now that you’ve done your research, both your basic research and your niche marketing research, and you’ve decided how much time and money you will commit to your online business, you’ve found out what is missing in your niche or what/how you can provide something to your audience that will set you apart from your competitors.  Now you need to decide on your brand.  Your brand online is your reputation.  It’s what comes to mind when your brand name or personal name comes up.  In the online market, and offline as well, your reputation is everything and making sure your reputation is in line with your slogan is everything to the modern customer.  If you don’t provide what you say you will, your customers will tell everyone online and your bottom line will suffer.

I’m still learning about branding so I won’t pretend to tell you how to brand yourself and your online business.  Here are some sites I suggest you look at to learn how to prepare everything about your business for the online community.

This is an article about the 5 things to do before building a personal brand which I think is explained very simply.  It’s easy to follow but you need to think a lot on the questions to get a good brand that will be accurate and stand out from everyone else.

Here is a website designed to help businesses with their marketing decisions starting at branding and market positioning.  It is designed to give general answers to questions so you’ll buy the copyrighted marketing program but it does have some useful articles to give you ideas on marketing.  I haven’t tried the service the site is selling but it does look to be good value, depending on your monthly budget.

Here is a site I like about how to set up marketing things like branding, positioning, strategy, and sales process.  The site is aimed at selling a consulting business but it has a lot of good articles on their blog.

Who Is Your Niche Market?

A black image of a man  with a white question mark as a faceNow that you’ve decided how much time you are willing to commit to your business, you need to target your niche market.  A niche market is the subtopic of a larger topic and the customers or clients you wish to attract.  Look at other blogs or articles about your subtopic and try to get a feel for the community.  I’m assuming that your subtopic is something you are interested in.  Most people start a business because they are very knowledgeable on something, they can’t find the information they want online so they create the information or product to help others, or they fix a problem they have themselves and think others would want to know about or fix.  That means that you and some of your friends are most likely your target market.  Here are some questions to think about when considering the community of your niche market and your own knowledge and experience on the subtopic you choose:
Where do you go to learn about your subtopic?
What are somethings that keep you up at night? (problems, missing information, unexpected troubles or mistakes,..)
What do your friends talk about a lot related to your subtopic?
What does your community talk about a lot?
Are there any unanswered questions in forums or blog comments?
Is there anything missing that you can provide in your business/website?

You are looking for what you can provide and how you will stand out from the crowd in your niche market.  Once you understand your niche audience you can market to them better.  Knowing what they say shows you what they are searching for so you can target the appropriate keywords in your content and marketing for things like Google AdWords.  Knowing where your audience is doing their research can give you ideas of where to comment for links back to your site or where to advertise your product or site.  Just remember that sometimes too much information is too much.  I know many people, including myself, who spend so much time researching that we have a hard time putting the research aside and creating the product: article, website, or what we’ll sell.  There comes a time when you need to stop researching and create.  It might be necessary to set a time limit, such as saying you’ll do research for a week and then get to work creating your business and brand.

Is This For You?

A white question mark on a red button with a black outline

via Wikimedia Commons

Now that you’ve done basic market research on your topic, you need to decide if creating an online business around that topic is for you.  No matter how much money you spend to create your business and advertise your product or website, it will take time to get a full time income.  (At this point I’m assuming you still have your full time job and will be working on your business a few hours a day and on weekends.  If you have already quit your full time job and plan to make the online business your full time job from the start, I’d tell you to go get a part time job.  An income online takes a long time to build and the beginnings are long and hard as you research and plan.  With a solid plan in place and a very good idea of your target market, you might be able to make money as soon as you site or product is launched, but at this point you still have a lot of planning to do before you start making money online.)  I’ve read that it often takes about two years for many online business owners to start seeing a serious income online, enough to let them quit their jobs and work full time on their business.  Different businesses (such as crafter versus blogger or affiliate marketing versus your own products) have different success rates and you may find the perfect product or niche and make it much sooner.

However, are you willing to write and research a topic for more than two years?  Is it that interesting to you that you can make it interesting to others for years on end?  Are the people in your target market people you won’t mind dealing with for years as they contact you for help on your topic?
If you have a product you want to sell, can you afford the cost of the materials?  If you’re a crafter you probably already have many of the materials needed to start your products, although you may want more professional materials to sell things online.  If you have a business such as graphic design or printing things, you may need professional software or equipment.  You may need a professional camera or accounting software or knowledge.  Now is a good time to sit down and brainstorm what you have for your business, what you still need to get, and how you will get them.  Is the price of the start-up something you are willing to pay?
Now is when you need to decide if you are willing to spend the time and money to create your online business into a full time job, a part time job, or just have it as a hobby.  You’ve done research and seen what needs to be done in order to make a living online and you’ve only seen what is visible online.  Take it from someone who knows: when you plan to get a project done, anything from adjusting the colors to creating an article or adjusting a picture, it always takes twice as long as you think it will.  How much time can you afford to spend on your online business?  How much time are you willing to spend?

What Topic Do You Want?

Now that you have your basic idea written down, you need to do some basic market research.  Go online and Google your main keywords, the main topic you chose or a few topics or subtopics you are deciding upon.  Look at the websites that come up.  You should have a paper and pen, or a blank document on your computer open, to take notes as you go.  How do they present the information the visitor is probably looking for?  What do you like about their website or presentation or how they create their product and show it off.  What do you not like about what you find or what can’t you find?

Be careful when you find a topic with very little information on it or only poorly presented information.  Although you may have found that one niche no one has thought of that will make you rich in less than a year, it’s not likely.  The internet is a big place with thousands or millions of people trying to make money.  If you find a topic or a niche with very few products or information on it, the topic probably doesn’t have much money coming towards it.  Almost everything has been tried online and finding an unidentified niche that is ready to boom is unlikely.  If you think you’ve found that niche, I would suggest writing articles on it first.  Create a profile on a site like Squidoo and write a number of articles on your undiscovered niche.  If you get a lot of views than it is possible that you did find a brand new niche that will make you wealthy.  Now you know that there is enough interest to try and make a full time income in that niche.
What you want to discover about your chosen topic is how other people make money on that topic and how you can do it better or different than everyone else.  One last thing to think about when you do your research is that you don’t want too big of a topic.  Instead of writing about dogs, every breed and problem, you might want to look at a specific breed or a problem.  How you train one dog breed can be very different than how you would train another breed to do something else.  You wouldn’t breed a husky bought for dogsled races the same as you would train a sheep dog meant for a farm or an dog meant to be an assistance dog for the handicapped.  If you wrote about dogs you can write about all of those topics but it could quickly get overwhelming.  I’d suggest choosing one small topic and writing articles on the other topics you want to write about.  That way you can get advertising revenue from broader topics or interesting facts you learn but keep your site and brand focused on one smaller topic.  It helps to keep your audience from getting bored and targeted enough to sell products to or recommend other products to.

How Will You Start Your Online Business?

You were going about your day, maybe you were surfing the internet or chatting with a friend when you found a story of someone making an income online.  They were doing something you like doing and making a full time income working for themselves.  A-hah, you say.  I could do that, you think, and you probably can.  However, there are thousands of ways to make money online and you need to decide a focus.  (Take it from me, trying to create an income from multiple ideas is hard.  Start with one idea and once you get that up and running you can decide if you have the time for a new venture or if you can just integrate the basic idea into your current business.)  Will you write articles on sites that pay you ad revenue?  You don’t need your own website for that, it’s possibly the easiest way to create an income but it is hard to write all the articles needed to make a full time income.  Often this way is part of a bigger system such as promoting a freelance writer or the person’s website.  Will you be a crafter selling things you make online?  A lot of people make money as full time crafters but they are often very involved in the community off line with classes and craft shows as well.  Will you create images and sell them through sites like Cafepress or your own website as a graphic designer?  Will you create a website based around your favorite subject or a personal blog about your life or business advertising things you love?  Will you start a consulting website to help others do something they just can’t grasp?  Maybe you have some great ideas for e-books that you just can’t find anywhere you search for them.
There are lots of ways to make money online but you need to focus on just one for now.  Jot it down and brainstorm all the things you want to do.  Pick a topic you think you can work on and learn about for years.  Once you have your basic idea fleshed out, it’s time to do your research.

Step By Step: How to Create An Online Business

August has started and summer is drawing to an end.  Children are getting ready to go to school and parents may have more time when they don’t need to entertain their children as after school activities begin again and children have more contact with friends to hang out with.  What better time to start an online business?  You have that idea sitting in your brain, that way you think you can make money online and become your own boss.  With the internet growing by the day, so are the opportunities for people to step away from their jobs under micromanaging bosses or over employees that would rather chat with friends or surf the ‘net than do their work.  Whatever your passions or current position, it is possible to make an income online.  Thousands of people have used the internet to create a full time income for themselves either working alone or owning companies.  People often create a company online and sell it for thousands of dollars a few years later when they get bored or it gets too big to be their dream job and they just start a new business that fits their dream.
It is possible but making a full-time income, especially the people who make millions of dollars online, is a lot of work.  Once you get the basics down and your business is launched, it is possible to streamline things, such as paying others to create articles or creating a routine so everything gets done on time, but the route to an online income can be time consuming, depending on how much money you are willing to pay.  You can pay for companies to do your market research and build you a website and people to write articles for you or market for you.  That will mean that much less time that you spend sitting in front of your computer but that will also cost you a few hundred if not thousands of dollars for others to do what you can do for free.  Yes, it is possible to develop a full-time income online without spending a penny, but that will take a long time and using free web hosting is not as professional or as quick as paying the hundred or two hundred dollars a year for complete control over your website.  Most free web hosts make their money through ads on the websites and those ads will probably clutter your site and detract from the image you want to create.  However, it isn’t impossible to work with if you do your research.
If you’re willing to do the work and spend the time to make a business online, stick around because August is a perfect time to start a business online.  September and October start the online gift giving season when people start planning for holiday gifts so now may be the perfect time to get in on the rush.

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