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E-Business Planning: Integrating the “E” into Your Business Plan
Internet technology is fast becoming a necessary component to building a competitive
and successful business in today’s “connected” economy. Yet, successful e-business
adoption requires carefully outlined strategies that address both the opportunities
and challenges of the technologies being considered. In fact, e-business strategies
are most effectively developed during the overall business planning phase.
An e-business plan is simply a plan that outlines how you will use Internet
technology to build and grow your business. A well developed plan will enable
you to identify how you will incorporate e-business, how much e-business adoption
will cost you, and what results you should expect to generate. In short, it
will outline your e-business processes and identify and mitigate risk.
This Info-Guide is designed for beginners. It will outline the importance
of planning in any business endeavour. It will explain how e-business activities
can be readily incorporated into a typical business plan. It will teach you
how to identify e-business opportunities and challenges, and integrate appropriate
e-business activities into your own business plan. Finally, it will provide
more resources to help you get started.
Is E-Business Right for My Business?
E-business is not just about selling or promoting your business online. It
is also about incorporating Internet technologies into your day-to-day business
Canada is a progressive nation in terms of technology. Studies show that more
than half of Canadian households have high-speed Internet in their homes which
they use daily. This tells us that the Internet is fast becoming an integral
part of our lives – we use it for entertainment, communication, and research.
It follows that using the Internet for business is a natural next step.
Using the Internet to conduct business might mean using email as the first
point of contact with your potential clients, or using an Internet application
to keep track of your leads and sales, or perhaps building a website that advertises
your product or service. When viewed in this light, most entrepreneurs realize
that they will in fact use Internet technology to conduct business.
Therefore, instead of asking: “Is e-business right for my business?” Ask: “To
what level should I consider adopting e-business practices?”
Incorporating the ‘E’ into Your Business Plan
These days, when conceptualizing a new venture, we are less likely to draw
a line between our traditional business practices and our Internet related
activities. As a result, business planning activities put emphasis on technology
and the Internet as a vehicle to enhance business operations. For most of us,
e-business strategies will be integrated right into our general business plan.
Therefore, when writing your business plan, consider how you can incorporate
e-business technologies in key areas of your business. How can you use the
Internet as a marketplace, a communications medium, and a business channel
to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and increase revenue?
Keep in mind that there is no cookie-cutter template for developing e-business
strategies. The features of every plan differ, depending on the business itself.
Nonetheless, your planning goal should be to produce a solid “guiding” document
for your business that you can review and update regularly.
Are You Ready to Get Started
Before getting started, you’ll want to consider your level of readiness to
adopt e-business strategies into your new or existing business. You’ll need
to learn what e-business technologies are available to build and grow your
particular business, how you can assess, integrate, and maintain appropriate
technologies, and what challenges may arise.
To learn more about e-business and assess your own readiness take advantage
of this online resource:
Do you require training? Check out local universities and colleges for continuing
education courses in e-business and the Internet for small business operators.
If you expect to rely heavily on Internet technology, you may also want to
consider hiring a private e-business or web consultant to help assess your
needs, and assist you with the technical aspects of e-business adoption.
You may also want to read sample business plans to help you understand how
the development of each component of a plan (e.g. researching your target market,
determining your niche, etc.) and external trends that may completely change
the nature of the business itself.
For sample business and e-business plans visit:
Brainstorming: Research Your Options
Before getting down to the business of writing, you’ll want to do some research.
Consider what processes you can streamline and what goals you can achieve by
using Internet technology. Can you automate to increase proficiency and sales
and reduce costs?
- You’ve been in business for a number of years. You have a store-front location,
but you notice your in-person sales are dwindling due to competition in the
area. You need to find a new sales channel. Have you considered using the
Internet to promote and sell your product to a wider market online?
- You are a new business owner with a large product line that changes often.
A print catalogue would be expensive and time consuming to develop and manage.
Have you considered developing a website which houses your catalogue online?
This would allow you to quickly and cost-effectively update your product
pictures and descriptions, and get information out to your customers immediately
by simply by referring them to your site.
Conduct a SWOT Analysis
A Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT)
analysis of your business is an effective way to brainstorm the opportunities
(and challenges) that may be available online for you. For example, it
can help you identify:
- Who your customers and competitors may be online and how they may
be different from those offline
- What new information, products or services you may be able to offer
by developing a website or adopting Internet technologies
- How your daily business operations may be improved with the use of
- What regulations or special issues affect the online platform that
may affect your
To learn more about conducting a SWOT analysis, visit ebizenable at: www.strategis.ic.gc.ca/ebizenable.
Writing Your Plan of Action
Below, you’ll find a discussion of select elements of a typical business plan.
This is not a comprehensive template that you can cut and paste to develop
your own plan. It was designed simply to illustrate how e-business can be readily
integrated into the components of any business plan. In each section, we’ve
suggested examples of key e-business issues you’ll want to consider. These
examples will help you learn what kind of e-business related information you
should include in your own plan in order to write an effective guiding document.
In addition, only adopt technologies that will help to further your business
goals. If the technologies are going to be too expensive, or to difficult to
build and maintain, don’t use them.
Key Issues in Business Planning
Industry, Market and Competitor Analysis
Analyse your industry. Identify your customers and their needs. Can you serve
an existing or new market online? The global nature of the Internet requires
business owners to think more broadly about their customer base. It goes without
saying, if you know who ALL of your customers are, then you can better target
your marketing efforts to them. If you neglect to research the online channel,
then you lose out on the opportunity to explore potentially viable new markets.
Questions to consider in this section of your plan:
- Industry – How large is your industry in dollar and unit terms? Is your
industry growing or contracting and by how much? What are the usual distribution
systems in your industry? Are there any technology trends that will affect
- Market – Who is your target market on and offline? Are they different?
If so, how? Where are they located?
- Competition – Who are your leading competitors on and off the Internet?
If they are different, how so? How are they using the online channel to their
Marketing and Sales Strategies
When you evaluate your product or service, you should consider whether it
could be effectively marketed on the Internet. Most likely, you’ll decide that
the online channel would be a viable means to grow awareness about your product
or service. For most businesses, a marketing strategy that includes an online
component (however small) can only benefit their business efforts.
In this section of your plan, you’ll want to outline how you plan to market
and/or sell your product online. This may be as simple as developing a basic
brochure style website that provides information about your product or service.
Or, it may be as complex as developing, for example, a comprehensive Internet
marketing strategy that includes a well-optimized, e-commerce website, and
an online advertising campaign including banner and affiliate advertising.
To develop your online marketing strategy, consider your target market, your
product and your long-range goals. What do you want to achieve online? Also,
consider your budget. How much do you have to spend on the online portion of
your marketing strategy? If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to develop
a long-range plan of action which outlines a step-by-step approach to grow
If you are going to develop a website, you’ll need an action plan for the
task. This plan can be included in the marketing section of your business plan.
Your website plan will want to address:
Purpose of the website – Review your reasons for bringing your business
online. Is it to increase awareness and sales, decrease costs, improve
public relations, and develop a qualified list of prospects, or perhaps
to sell products directly from your website? The purpose of your site will
determine how the site will look and function.
Questions to consider: Do you
require a static, brochure site or e-commerce functionality? What will the
site contain – catalogues, forms, press releases, surveys, etc? Will you
use it to take orders and respond to inquiries? Will you need to translate
into other languages now or in the future?
Style – How will your website look and feel? This will depend on your
target market and how you want to position yourself vis-à-vis your competitors.
Questions to consider: What colors,
fonts and graphics will you use? What tone and language style will you adopt?
What kind of organizational structure will the site have?
- Site evolution – This will spell out how your site will evolve over time.
What are your plans for your website in the long term? Do you intend to build
a low-cost brochure website to begin, and later, when the business grows,
redevelop a new site from scratch which incorporates more complex attributes?
Or do you intend to build on your original site over time?
- Domain names and hosting – What will your domain name be? Who will host
the site? Or, will you buy and run your own server and host it yourself?
- Security – What security measures will you use to protect your customers
privacy and your business records online?
In this section of your plan, you’ll want to consider how e-business strategies
can help to automate aspects of your business operations. How can you use e-business
to streamline your operations and collect and use customer information to your
advantage? Think about customer relationship management software, accounting
software, shipping software, database and email applications, and the following:
- Implementation schedule – Set out what Internet related activities need
to be completed, by whom, and by when. Consider what might happen if and
when tasks aren’t completed on time.
- Evaluation and metrics – Address how your website traffic and e-business
activities will be evaluated and monitored. Consider different types of software
and determine who will be responsible for monitoring tasks. Also consider
what actions will be taken as a result of e-business activity analysis.
- Logistics – If you are selling products, address how you will ship your
products to their destination. How will your shipping expenses be reflected
in your pricing? Are there additional costs and regulations to consider such
as duties, tariffs, labelling, and inspection? Have you considered how you
will deal with product returns?
- Review and updates – You’ll also want to implement a schedule for reviewing
and updating your plan as your business grows and changes.
Your budget will need to be estimated each year and then tightly managed to
ensure your e-business spending is on track with your plan. The e-business
aspects of your budget should be addressed in the same way you would budget
traditional items. You may allocate an e-business activity as a unique item
(such as website) or you may spread it across other departments (as in Internet
marketing integration into overall marketing costs).
Keep in mind a budget is not a static thing, yearly revisions will be necessary,
as you may have upfront costs, such as initial website development, which will
not be spread out over the long term. And similarly, you may have maintenance
costs, such as website testing, updating, and enhancing, which will not come
into play in year one.
Estimating costs for e-business adoption may be the most difficult aspect
of developing your business plan. To start, you can certainly seek out quotes
from suppliers to estimate what your costs might be.
Then, you’ll want to use a systematic process to estimate your costs that
outlines one-time and recurring costs for development, maintenance, and upgrades.
Here is an example using a website development project.
Estimating your e-business costs
Identify the upfront and recurring components and related
costs to develop and run your website over a 12-month period:
- Define the individual parts of website development and maintenance,
such as domain name registration, the design of website graphics, website
architecture and development, copywriting, testing, hosting, maintenance,
- Determine which functions will be outsourced and which ones will
be handled in-house by yourself or hired staff. For example, you’ll
probably want to register your domain name(s) yourself and hire a designer
and developer to take care of the technical aspects of the project.
- Apply an average cost to each component based on your research and
If you determine you need to borrow capital to finance online aspects of your
business, you’ll want to outline exactly how much capital you’ll need to build,
maintain, and grow your online operations, especially during the critical start-up
To help you develop the financial portion of your business plan, visit:
Now that you’ve learned how to incorporate e-business strategies into your
business plan, you’ll want more resources to help you get started. Here are
some useful online resources: