You’ve committed to turning your ecommerce or online business idea into something real. You want your business to produce revenue and change the course of your life, but what’s your first step in realizing your dream? Developing a plan. If you’re not sure about how to write an online business plan, you’ve come to the right place.
One of the most essential tasks involved in starting any kind of business is to write a business plan. An online business plan won’t look that different from a traditional business plan and will include many of the same elements.
In this post, we’ll show you how to write an online business plan, including all the components and sections. We’ll also walk through how WooCommerce can help you put your plan to action and achieve your business goals.
Why write a business plan?
Starting your own business is a great experience and something that will shape your life, fill you with self-confidence and independence, and inspire other people around you. A new business is also a serious endeavor that will take time, money, sweat, lots of decisions, and a degree of risk.
A traditional business plan template helps you document and keep track of your business goals, challenges, opportunities, and all the steps and processes involved with making your idea work. It will help you conduct thorough market research and set you up for success.
It details all the things you will need to do in order to successfully launch and grow your business, and may include revenue projections, timelines for specific goals, concept art for products, and architectural drawings for any brick and mortar aspects of your business.
Business plans help create a structure for your company’s development and keep you grounded in reality, focused, and not distracted by less important matters.
If you have more than one person helping run the business, the business plan also keeps everyone unified around the same set of goals and objectives.
Another reason to write a business plan is for situations where you are presenting your idea to someone else and asking them to invest. In that scenario, your business plan is also a sort of sales document. It makes the argument for why your business idea is so good and well-considered that an investor should want to be a part of it.
But even if you’re self-funding your entire business — which is more common with online businesses — you still want to write the plan for the reasons given earlier.
The benefits of running an online business
Owning an online business or ecommerce store offers many of the same great benefits as any other business, but without as much risk. If you’re thinking of starting a business, here’s why an online one is a great option:
It has low startup costs
Without a storefront, you eliminate so many costs of running a business. With all the bills that come with having property — like rent, parking, furnishings and decor, etc. — there’s a much higher investment required to start a brick-and-mortar-based business. Online businesses still have startup costs, but they are much lower.
It gives you freedom over your schedule
With an online business, you have more freedom to set your own hours, because you don’t always have to be open during the usual times. You can build your business to suit the lifestyle you want. Rearrange your time to get things done in the fastest possible way and take time off when you need it.
You can start small
Once you have a location, it’s yours, and you have to make it work. With an online business, you can start very small, offering just a few products or even just a single service. You can more easily test the waters without making huge commitments with inventory, and other physical investments.
You can more easily pivot
If your online or ecommerce business doesn’t do as well as you expected, it’s easier to pivot and adapt to something new because you haven’t committed so much to making your original idea work. There are many business success stories where the business owner adjusted their idea after gaining some experience, and then it took off. It’s a lot easier to do that when you aren’t tied to a physical location.
But, there’s one thing online businesses have in common with every other type of business: You need a robust business plan to help guide your idea from concept to a successful reality that makes money and fulfills your dreams and goals.
So, let’s get into business planning.
How do I write my own online business plan?
Most formal business plans and business plan templates include seven sections, plus an executive summary. You’ll need to keep in mind who you’re writing your business plan for. If you are taking this to potential investors or will be seeking a business loan, your business plan needs to sell the idea of your business as a great investment opportunity and communicate the skills, expertise, and commitment you personally bring to the table.
Here are the key sections of a traditional business plan format:
- Executive summary
- Company description
- Market analysis
- Organization and management
- Service and product line
- Marketing and sales
- Financial projections
- Funding request (if working with investors or partners)
Here’s a brief look at each step of creating an online business plan:
Draft an executive summary
In the executive summary, the first section of almost every business plan template, you’ll present your vision and focus on building excitement. If the business plan is a sales document, the executive summary is the lead. It gets the reader engaged and excited to hear more.
Your executive summary should achieve two goals:
- Deliver the basic facts about your business
- Motivate the reader to keep going and get them excited about your idea
What facts should you include? Whatever helps the reader understand your business idea. Describe the industry and niche. Mention the target market. Briefly state the needs or problems your products and services will be solving. Touch on the potential for growth in terms of revenue and customers.
For motivation, describe your mission statement and company values. What will set you apart from the competition? What is your value proposition? What makes you different? Again — keep this brief. You’ll elaborate later.
It might be a good move to write all the other sections first, then finish with the executive summary so it will be the most concise and best version of how you describe your business.
Write a company description
Here, you’ll give a brief overview of your company. What are your strengths, skills, and areas of expertise that will position you for success? If you have a compelling story behind why you’re starting your business, you can include that too.
Conduct a SWOT analysis
If you’re not sure where to start, consider doing a SWOT analysis, which is a diagram outlining your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
It’s a common part of many business plans and will help paint a realistic picture of what your business can achieve, and what stands in the way. You won’t include all of this in the company description, but your strengths and opportunities may fit here.
Create a mission and vision statement
The company description is also the place to create a mission statement and a vision statement. What’s the difference between these?
The vision is where you’re going, the mission is how you’ll get there. A vision statement paints a picture of a future reality for your customers and perhaps the world at large, as a result of your company’s influence. A mission statement expresses how you will achieve that.
The company description can elaborate on your vision and mission beyond just a single sentence, and later you can fine-tune what you write into a succinct pair of statements. Feeling some writer’s block? See company description templates by industry for some inspiration.
Include any unique attributes
If your company will involve particular attributes such as manufacturing, supply chains, dropshipping, affiliates, coaching or advising, online courses, or other relevant particulars, include that in your company description, too.
State your business location, industry, niche, and other details
Also, state the location of your business, even though it’s online. Name your industry and niche target market again, and describe the nature of your company. For example, is it an ecommerce business, a consulting firm, delivery service, wholesale, or ad-based website? These are just some of many types of online business structures.
You may also want to include whether your business is in any special class of business that might position it for special loan or grant opportunities like women-owned businesses or veteran-owned businesses.
After reading your description, readers should have a good understanding of what your business is about, why it exists, and how it works. Here’s a detailed look at company descriptions, with an example.
Perform a market analysis
A market analysis uses industry research to assess the scope of your business’s target market and describe the current competition in your industry. It can help you estimate the potential for success and prepare for the challenges you may face when you launch your online business or ecommerce shop.
Doing this research, and including it your business plan, can also help you:
- Identify industry trends
- Pinpoint opportunities
- Diminish risks and reduce costs
- Generate new ideas for products and services
- Learn from the failures and shortcomings of your competitors
- Find ways to stand out from your competitors
- Discover new markets
- Refine your marketing ideas
Now let’s dig into the elements involved in a thorough market analysis.
Understand your audience
Here, you will explain in detail who your target customers are and why they want or need what you’ll be selling. What problems or needs does your product solve? What will motivate people to buy from you? And why can’t they get it somewhere else just as easily? An ecommerce business competes against other ecommerce businesses as well as brick-and-mortar stores and shopping malls. Why would someone choose you?
Share your key customer demographics, psychographics, and interests. Who will you be serving? What drives them?
What are their values? If your product, service, or personal brand will appeal to a customer segment that also shares particular values, that’s a strength, not a weakness, and you can use that to win them over.
Perform customer segmentation
Break down different categories of target customers your business plans to serve. One category could be age. Another might be life situations such as retirees, parents, divorcees, or living with older relatives. You could create a segment of people with particular health conditions, or who live certain lifestyles.
But you can also get way more specific than that. Runners are different from hikers, who are different from bikers, yoga enthusiasts, and gym enthusiasts. Different supplements, philosophies about food, motivations for eating various foods — all of these present near endless possibilities for more narrowly defining your customer segments, all under the broad category of ‘health.’ And you might serve multiple segments.
The more customer segments you know, the more effectively you can market to them. In an online store, good product descriptions call out the various customer segments that product is designed for.
Also, give a sense of the potential size of your target market. How many people need what you’re selling? Show how this market is large enough to justify your business and drive revenue. You might do this by studying revenue reports from other companies in your industry. Or look at specific products related to yours and research their sales and revenue performance.
You may also perform a survey of some kind, or an online quiz, and use that to express the needs your potential customers have that aren’t currently being met.
Perform a competitive analysis
Study your competition. What are they doing well? What areas are they underserving? Where are they underperforming? Make note of what other companies in your industry are struggling with or failing at so that you can deliver something more valuable and gain a competitive advantage.
It could be product quality, customer service, or selection. Maybe their ecommerce store is badly designed and hard to use. Perhaps there’s a huge industry serving the masses, but customers who have more particular tastes or needs aren’t being well-served by the big companies. Those customers might spend more on something that delivers what they really want.
Maybe your key competition has been rocked by scandal. Maybe a company went out of business, was sold, or closed down due to retirement and there’s an opening in the market you want to leverage.
The main point of the competitive analysis is to persuade investors that there’s an underserved market that your business plans to cater to. You must be able to promise something that no one else is currently delivering. Otherwise, why should your business exist? Put them at ease by demonstrating proper market research.
Refer to your SWOT analysis and present any potential threats from the competition here, too.
Outline management and organizational structure
Next, present your management and legal structure. Is your company an LLC, sole proprietorship, S corporation, partnership, or some other arrangement? Who’s in charge of what? If you have different departments, list out the leadership for each one. If relevant, you might even include some information about the expertise of your leaders concerning the areas under their charge and the tasks they’ll be performing.
Remember — if your business plan will be used to persuade investors to help fund your business idea, this sort of information will reassure them that your company has strong and competent leadership.
If there’s a chain of command, use a diagram or other method for laying out who reports to whom.
List your products and services
What are you selling? You’ll touch on this briefly in the earlier sections, but here is where you’ll expand on the details. If you have an array of similar products, such as food flavors or clothing variations, list as many as seem relevant. But focus on the spirit of the business plan — you’re simply communicating what your business is about, not listing every SKU in your projected inventory.
Also, include information about your products such as quality, durability, expirations, patents, and whatever else will give a clear picture of what you’re selling.
For service businesses and memberships that may include multiple packages, bundles, or tiers, describe each of these so your readers get a sense of how you’ll appeal to different types of customers and price points.
Develop a sales and marketing strategy
Having products is great, but how do you intend to sell them? How will people find your business? How will anyone know you exist? And once they know, what will motivate them to buy from you and not from your competition? What is your unique value proposition — the thing that sets you apart from your direct competitors?
You’ll need to develop an initial marketing plan to help promote your business, products, and services to your target customers.
And remember, competition isn’t limited just to other businesses. Sometimes, competition is against the customer’s time, or their budget, or mere indifference — the conflict between doing something and doing nothing. Your SWOT analysis should touch on several of these potential barriers to the success of your online business.
Your marketing plan will obviously change over time, but give your readers and potential investors a sense of how you plan to launch and grow your business.
Discuss media channels you plan to use, such as pay-per-click (PPC) ads, social media, email marketing, affiliate marketing, direct mail, referrals, joint ventures, search engine optimization (SEO), webinars, influencer marketing, and live events. Describe the ones you actually plan to use, and explain the core strategy you’ll begin with and how you will measure success.
Also, include a sense of your marketing budget. If you will have a dedicated marketing team, or actual sales professionals using a particular process or sales script, discuss that as well.
For ecommerce businesses, include a discussion of how you plan to leverage platforms like WooCommerce, which features a host of extensions that can help manage your business, engage customers, save money, and promote growth.
Make financial projections
You’ve made a lot of claims in your business plan, but how will your investors be convinced of your future success? At some point, you have to show them the money.
If this is a brand new business with no income, where will your finances come from for the first year? Give realistic financial projections for anticipated profits and losses, as well as growth expectations for the first five years. Include financial documents if you have them, including profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. Include costs of employment, manufacturing, and other investments both one-time and ongoing.
Your financial projections should reference your:
- market analysis
- anticipated sales volume
Investors will feel more confident when they can see your business plan does not rely entirely on just one or two ‘wins.’ For example, if your entire plan hinges on selling on eBay or Amazon, what happens if Amazon suspends your store, changes the terms, or you struggle to get noticed there?
If your plan depends on winning over a few Instagram influencers, what if they don’t come through? It’s really easy to say what you hope will happen. But actually making it happen is another thing. Business success happens more easily when you apply a multi-channel marketing and sales approach.
Your financial projections will feel based in reality, when you can demonstrate some prior successes, either in other businesses you’ve already launched, test audiences, local sales you made, prior experience, or data from other businesses.
Explain your funding request — if applicable
If you intend to ask investors to help fund your business idea, present your request in the final main section of your business plan. If you’ve already secured funding from other sources, include that here as well. An investor will feel better knowing they are not the only one who believes in the potential of your business.
Will your funding request be for a one-time payment, monthly, annually, or at some other interval? How do you plan to repay their investment? Will you allow them to charge interest? How much ROI can you promise them?
How WooCommerce can help
WooCommerce can help you build a scalable online business that supports your business plan. No matter what you’re selling, WooCommerce offers a suite of flexible tools that allows you to customize your store to meet your needs and goals.
Here are just some of the benefits your business will enjoy when you choose to build your store with WooCommerce:
- Sell absolutely anything you can imagine. From physical items and digital downloads to subscriptions, memberships, bookings, courses, and affiliate products, WooCommerce provides everything you need. Want to run a wholesale store? You can do that, too!
- Harness the power of WordPress. Since WooCommerce is a plugin specifically for WordPress, you can take advantage of powerful features like the block editor and blogging capabilities.
- Capture payments securely. Choose from a large number of payment gateways, from popular options like PayPal and Stripe, to more niche processors for specific locations and types of regulated products. And with tools like WooPayments, you can keep customers on-site, capture a variety of currencies, and even accept digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay.
- Customize your shipping options. Offer free shipping, charge based on weight, set fixed prices, or calculate shipping costs based on real-time carrier rates. You can even use extensions like Table Rate Shipping to create complicated shipping rules based on conditions that you set. And with WooCommerce Shipping, you benefit from discounted shipping labels and the ability to print right from your dashboard.
- Connect to your social media channels. Use extensions to sync your store with social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. You can even sell on those platforms alongside your store without having to update inventory and information manually.
- Integrate with marketing tools. Quickly connect your store to any number of marketing tools, from email platforms like MailPoet to CRMs like Jetpack CRM. You can also implement a number of marketing strategies, from abandoned cart emails to loyalty programs.
- Keep track of your numbers. While you can easily view data in your dashboard, you can also sync with tools like QuickBooks to make your accountant’s life a little bit easier.
- Manage inventory. Update your inventory levels manually or connect to tools like Scanventory to sync with your warehouse. Running low or out of stock? Add a wishlist option so customers get an alert as soon as it’s available.
As you can see, WooCommerce is well-equipped to handle any type of online store and support you as you grow. Here are a few more reasons that WooCommerce should be your go-to choice for implementing the ecommerce side of your online business plan:
WooCommerce itself is free! Many extensions for WooCommerce can also be found for free in the WordPress.org plugins library or on the Woo Marketplace. If you need to start your website with a limited budget, but want to build on a platform that can grow to support a thriving, high-traffic store, WooCommerce is an excellent option.
You have full control over your store
Unlike other ecommerce solutions that are tied to the platform’s own web hosting, WooCommerce is designed to be used with WordPress along with any hosting provider of your choice. You are also free to use whatever payment processor you want without any additional fees from WooCommerce. You can also customize your site’s appearance and functionality more extensively than you can with other ecommerce platforms and with less (or no) coding knowledge.
Thousands of free and premium extensions
There are over 800 free and premium extensions for WooCommerce on WooCommerce.com alone and over 1,000 in the WordPress.org plugins library. There are also hundreds of independent developers and agencies that offer premium and custom extensions for WooCommerce so that you can customize your store with the exact features you need.
Excellent support and large community of users
WooCommerce is used by over 3.9 million stores — 23% of all online stores worldwide. The support team is available to answer questions and the documentation library is extensive and thorough. There are also plenty of independent resources for learning how to use WordPress and WooCommerce.
Dedicate time and resources to put your online business plan in action
A successful business plan is one that empowers and guides the business owner to launch their online or ecommerce business, and possibly secure funding. But it only works if you use it.
One advantage of starting an ecommerce store or online business is that you aren’t as locked down by deadlines. With a physical location, once you start paying the rent, you better have your business plan ready to put into action.
But the beauty of being online is that you have more flexibility on the front end. Despite having more wiggle room with your timelines, you still need to keep your momentum going forward. Staying on track with your business projects and goals is one of the keys to reaching profitability sooner and turning your business plan into reality. A few quick tips:
- Schedule your time. Block out hours and specific days to work on your business.
- Treat it like a job, not a hobby. Build on your momentum week after week.
- Always keep learning. Research your industry, competition, target audience, and potential customers. Learn marketing — you can never know too much.
- Try stuff! Take risks, make calls, create campaigns, write content.
Your business plan template should give you a concrete list of tasks and business objectives. Once you write a business plan, then you can implement it.
Frequently asked questions about writing an online business plan
What are the seven steps of a business plan?
The seven key elements of a business plan are the executive summary, company description, market analysis, organization and management, services and products, marketing plan, and financial projections. If you’re making a funding request, that would be an eighth section.
Where can I find business plan templates?
You can find a free business plan template online, for general business plans as well as for specific industries. However, since each business is different and your plan must be authentic and specific to your company — a business plan template can only get you so far.
If you need design inspiration for your own custom business plan template or want to start with a pre-designed template that you can customize, you can purchase one for a relatively low cost through a stock resources site like Envato Market or Creative Market.
Do I need a business plan if I am already running an online business or ecommerce shop?
Business plans aren’t only for people who are launching new businesses. You can create a business plan at any time to help you maintain or change the direction of your store or just to get a better picture of the health of your business. Below are a few different types of business plans that you might want to consider for your established online business:
- Operational business plan. Outlines the structure of your business operations, staffing, and logistics.
- Feasibility plan. Feasibility plans are like mini business plans that cover new business ideas and outline steps for implementation.
- Growth business plan. This plan is for businesses that want to demonstrate opportunities and plans for growth to attract investors.
- Maturing business plan. This plan is for businesses looking to merge with or acquire other companies, significantly expand, or go public.
- Strategic business plan. Any time your business wants to shift strategies regarding products or marketing or any other major changes to your previous business plan, you’ll want to create a new strategic business plan to address your new goals and the steps involved in achieving them.
What software should I use for my online business plan?
Your business plan should include some images, graphs, and graphic elements in the layout, so you’ll want to at least use word processing software to put your business plan together. If you have access to Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, Canva, or Adobe Creative Cloud, you’ll have some other options that might lead to a more professional layout.
Here’s a list of free and paid software that can help you put together your online business plan outline:
What do investors want to see in a business plan?
The most important piece of information to show investors in your business plan is potential for profitability. Investors don’t want to throw money at a sinking ship, no matter how cool and exciting the business sounds.
Most investors also want to make sure that they’ll see a decent return on their investment in a relatively short time period — probably around 5-7 years. How much of a return they’ll expect will depend on your industry and what kind of investor they are.
Investors will also want to see that you clearly understand your business, your industry, and that you have concrete, actionable steps for achieving, maintaining, and growing profitability. They’ll want to make sure that the key people on your team also understand your business and the roles they play and they’ll want to see that each person has a good amount of experience in their field and the required skill sets to fulfill their job duties, if not go above and beyond.
Any details you can include that highlight unique aspects of your business will also be important. Any area where you have a competitive edge, are offering a unique or proprietary solution, have established any celebrity endorsements, have the backing of other investors, or have secured special grants will be of special interest to investors.
Create your plan for success
Now that you understand what goes into creating a formal business plan, it’s time to write one! Take the time to think through and consider each aspect of the list included in this article, and you’ll be well on your way to finding success.
And WooCommerce is here to support your business every step of the way, with powerful and flexible tools that help your business grow. Start selling online today!