In 2014, I quit my $35,000 a year insurance sales job to grow my e-business 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 of time. I realized that I could combine my passion for affordable clothing and building relationships to help women feel confident in their fashion choices.
With no funding or guarantees of what was to come, we took the risk and set ambitious goals. I focused on leveraging my sales and social media skills to increase our reach, while Chris brought his financial expertise to bear in structuring operations.
We currently run our online fashion retail business, Pink Lily, full time. Last year, we made $141 million in sales and sold an average of 11,000 items per day.
Whenever aspiring entrepreneurs ask me for advice, I tell them that the most important step we took in the beginning 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 business plan elements we use to ensure success:
1. Value proposition and key competitors
It is very important to identify and strengthen your value proposition, or the reason why customers will want to buy from you over another company.
Before starting Pink Lily, I was very immersed in the retail market. When I wasn’t working at my full-time job, I was shopping online. Every time I visited a website or eBay store that I liked, I took stock of what I liked and disliked about them.
I discovered that there weren’t many options for women that were trendy and affordable, and I knew I could help fill this need. That was the basis of Pink Lily’s value proposition.
Here’s what to consider when defining your value proposition:
- Define the product you are trying to sell.
- Write a list of other brands that offer similar products.
- For each of those brands, pretend you’re a loyal customer and make a note of what you think is doing well for them and what isn’t.
- As you do your research, keep an eye out for gaps in the market, or areas that those companies aren’t addressing.
2. Ideal clients
Next, you need to define and put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer.
The deeper 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 address their needs.
To discover your ideal client, ask yourself:
- Who exactly are you trying to target?
- Why would they be interested in your products?
- What is a normal day like for them?
- What makes them happy?
- What frustrates them?
- How are your finances? For example, what are their typical purchases and how much do they spend on those items?
At Pink Lily, we know our customers are looking for on-trend designs and quality options at affordable prices and a wide range of sizes. They love being involved in the products we introduce and having a say in the looks we create.
3. Stronger Differentiators
What differentiates you from other brands? How can you better serve your ideal customer? Once you have a solid understanding of what sets you apart, you’ll have the crux of your business figured out.
Your differentiator may end up becoming the central focus of your online presence and marketing strategy. For Pink Lily, what set us apart from other e-commerce brands was that many of our items were under $50.
Our customers also love supporting a family business and being a part of the Pink Lily family by participating in our community on social media and beyond.
4. Prepare for rapid adoption and growth
To build a scalable business that keeps people coming back for more, you need to assume that you will be highly successful in getting first-time customers. Then create a strategy based on that assumption.
- How will you serve all of your customers repeatedly?
- How much money will you need to do that?
- How will you scale your business to an ever-increasing volume of customers?
- How will you leverage their interest and loyalty to further grow your audience?
5. Social media marketing strategy
Social media has been invaluable to Pink Lily’s growth and success. From the beginning, we used platforms like Instagram and Facebook to connect directly with customers.
Consider these aspects when devising a social media marketing strategy:
- What platforms will you post on and when? My recommendation is to post to more than one platform (ie Facebook, Instagram, TikTok) at least three times a week on each.
- What content will you post? How will you provide value to your target audience or capture their interest?
- How much time will you spend directly interacting with comments? I suggest setting aside as much time as possible to provide personalized attention to your followers.
I regularly ask our 3.6 million social media followers what products they would like to see on our website or what brands we should partner with. We use your responses to make decisions in real time.
This helps buyers feel like experts. Your daily engagement has shaped our healing and motivates us to always be a better partner in how we support our community.
tori gerbig co-founder pink lily, an online fashion store, like an eBay store in 2011. Today, it is one of the fastest growing online retailers in the United States. A graduate of Western Kentucky University, Tori resides in her hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky, with her husband and three children. She follows Pink Lily in Instagram Y Facebook.
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