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How to Achieve E-commerce Success ?You Gotta Plan!

Before becoming a netpreneaur, I was an entrepreneur. First, I owned a successful child care center which grew to capacity in less than two years. When I sold that, I bought a little flower shop that had less than 300 customers and grew it to what it is today, one of the most successful, award winning companies in South Florida with more than 7,000 customers who purchase from us on a regular business. To better serve our customers, we took our business to the Internet. We still have a brick and mortar storefront, yet everyday we receive more and more customers via the Internet.

How about you? Do you or did you have a traditional business or professional practice? Is it successful? Unless you were born under the star called "LUCKY," you probably did lots of planning. A business plan, a marketing plan, maybe even a succession plan for what to do with your business when you were through.

You may have heard the statistics that half of all small businesses fail in their first year and of those, only 25% make it through to five years. According to youngbiz.com it can be even less for e-businesses.

Build it and they will come! Not! You can have a terrific site, with lots of bells and whistles and if people don't know you exist, you never get any visitors, let alone customers.

Planning is the key to success in business. Amazon.com had a plan, Bill Gates had a plan, eDiets had a plan, and I'll bet they still do. Once a business launches on the net, you will need a marketing plan to be successful. Your biggest challenge will be to find time to plan. However, if you don't find time now, you will find yourself with plenty of it (time, that is) later on, and no business to speak of.

Unlike a business, generally created to get financial backing from investors, Netpreneurs create marketing plans for themselves. Where do you start? First you have to ask yourself these questions. Where do you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? How many customers do you want or better yet, how much money do you want to make? Who are your customers? Do you know what they want, need and expect? Can you give it to them? What are your competitors doing? What are you doing that is different? How will you promote your business?

Now Create your Website marketing plan.

Put it in writing! Not only do you have to plan, you have to write it down! Take a notebook or idea book and write the following: your vision, mission strategies, goals and the time frame you wish to accomplish these goals. Keep this notebook next to your computer to refer to. It will help you stay focused.

What is your vision for your business? Your vision is what you want your web site to accomplish. Write your vision statement in your notebook. The vision statement for my flower shop is to "Make a reasonable profit via the Internet by providing a quality product, delivering exceptional service, at a price my customers will pay."

What are your goals? What do you believe you can accomplish that may be a bit of a stretch but doable? If the goals are too easy, you are not getting the most out of your planning process. And you could be losing money. Can make a profit of 20% in 3 months? Can double your customer base in 6 months? If so, write it in your notebook.

What steps do you need to take to achieve your goals? How much do you have to sell to achieve your goals? You must first know your profit margin to determine this figure. Then you have to figure out how you are going to find the customers to make your goals come true.

What are your marketing strategies? Start with those goals you know you can attain. How will you reach your market? Are you going to use search engine optimization, email, newsletters, networking, advertising on related sites, advertising in trade magazines, or write an article to submit to online publications? Participate in online forums, message boards and newsgroups. Include your URL (Internet address) in your signature file.

What is the time-frame for accomplishing your goals? Create a time-line for every goal in your notebook. Next to each goal, write down the starting and ending dates of when you plan to accomplish that goal as well as what type of marketing strategies you are using.

Are you keeping track of your marketing results? If you are doing any advertising whether it is online or offline, track the results. You can track online advertising using ad tracking software such as adtrackz.com, to track all the links you place online. Analyze web site statistics to find out how visits found you. For offline advertising, place codes or words in your advertising to keep track. Your online order forms should have a place to enter the code. To learn how customers found us, we use a numeric code on all advertising/marketing materials.

What is your return on investment? How much money did the marketing strategy cost? How much money did you take in? Subtract the second figure from the first and that is your profit (or loss).

Keep track of those marketing campaigns that worked and those that didn't. Do more of the first. Reevaluate the second. Can you change one thing in the strategy and achieve different results? Try it! Add new strategies to the mix.

Stay focused on your goals. Nothing feels better than accomplishing a goal. Except maybe, all the money you are going to make when you do!

? 2004 - Heidi Richards is the author of The PMS Principles, Powerful Marketing Strategies to Grow Your Business and 7 other books. She is also the Founder & CEO of the Women's ECommerce Association, International www.WECAI.org (pronounced wee-kī) ? an Internet organization that "Helps Women Do Business on the WEB." She can be reached at www.HeidiRichards.com.

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