This 35-Year-Old Turned His Side Hustle Into a $141 Million Company—Here’s the Business Plan He Used

In 2014, I moved away from my $35,000-per-year job in insurance sales with my husband Chris to grow my e-commerce side.

We were experimenting with selling clothing and accessories on online marketplaces including eBay and Facebook. Our online community of friends and customers grew from a few hundred members to over 10,000 in a very short time. I realized I could combine my passion for affordable clothing and relationship-building to help women feel confident in their fashion choices.

Without funding or assurances for what was next, we took risks and set ambitious goals. I focused on leveraging my sales and social media knowledge to increase my reach, while Chris added his financial expertise to structuring operations.

Today, we run our online fashion retail business, Pink Lily, full time. Last year, we generated $141 million in sales and sold an average of 11,000 items per day.

Whenever aspiring entrepreneurs ask for my advice, I tell them that the most important step we took quickly was to create a business plan.

Your business plan doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect, and you should expect to make changes along the way. Here are five essential elements of the business plan we’ve used to ensure success:

1. Value Proposition and Major Competitors

It’s so important to identify and strengthen your value proposition – or customers will want to buy from you more than any other company.

Before starting Pink Lily, I was deeply involved in the retail market. When I was not doing my full time job, I used to go online shopping. Every time I visited a website or eBay shop that I liked, I took stock of what I liked and didn’t like about them.

I found that there weren’t many options for women that were both trendy and affordable, and knew I could help fill that need. This was the foundation of Pink Lily’s value proposition.

Here’s what to keep in mind when defining your value proposition:

  1. Define the product you are trying to sell.
  2. Write a list of other brands that are offering similar products.
  3. For each of those brands, pretend you’re a loyal customer and pay attention to what you think — and don’t — are doing well.
  4. As you do your research, be on the lookout for market gaps — or areas those businesses aren’t serving.

2. Ideal Customer

Next, you need to define and step into the location of your ideal customer.

The more deeply you can get to know this person—to the point where you have a basic understanding of their decision-making process and daily challenges—the better you can meet their needs directly.

To find your ideal customer, ask yourself:

  • Who exactly are you trying to target?
  • Why would they be interested in your products?
  • What does a normal day look like for them?
  • What makes them happy?
  • What frustrates them?
  • What do their finances look like? For example, what are their typical purchases, and how much do they spend on those items?

At Pink Lily, we know that our customers are looking for trend-driven designs and quality options at a wide range of accessible prices and sizes. They love being involved in the products we bring and having their voices in the styles we create.

3. Strongest Differential

What sets you apart from other brands? How do you better serve your ideal customer? Once you have a solid understanding of what sets you apart, you will know the root of your business.

Your differentiator can become the main focus of your marketing strategy and online presence. 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 to support a family-owned business and be a part of the Pink Lily family by participating in our community on social media and beyond.

4. Preparing for Rapid Adoption and Growth

To build a scalable business that keeps people coming back for more, you have to believe that you will be wildly successful in getting first-time customers. Then, build a strategy based on that assumption.

Ask yourself:

  • How will you serve all your customers over and over again?
  • How much money would you need to do this?
  • How will you grow your business to an increasing number of customers?
  • How will you take advantage of their interest and loyalty to drive more of your audience?

5. Social Media Marketing Strategy

Social media has been invaluable to Pink Lily’s growth and success. From the very beginning, we used platforms like Instagram and Facebook to connect directly with customers.

Consider these aspects when creating a social media marketing strategy:

  • On which platform and when will you be posting? My recommendation is to post on more than one platform (ie, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok) at least three times a week on each.
  • What content will you post? How will it provide value to your target audience, or pique their interest?
  • How much time will you spend engaging directly with comments? I suggest setting aside as much time as possible to pay attention to your followers one by one.

I regularly ask my 3.6 million social media followers what products they want to see on our website, or which brands we should partner with. We use their responses to make real-time decisions.

It helps shoppers feel like an insider. Their daily engagement has shaped our curation, inspiring us to always be a better partner in supporting our community.

tori gerbigo co-founded pink lily, an online fashion store, as of Ebay Shop in 2011. Today, it is one of the fastest growing online retailers in America. A graduate of Western Kentucky University, Tori lives with her husband and their three children in her hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky. follow pink lilies instagram And Facebook,

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