EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post is the fifth in a continuing series. If you’re considering an eCommerce project at your company, you’ll want to watch this space. The posts in this series – and the link to resources at the end of each post – will help you complete some vital groundwork and address important questions that will save you time, work, and money. We hope you enjoy them and find them useful.
Welcome to the fifth post in our “Seven Keys to a Successful eCommerce Launch series! So far we’ve covered: planning your eCommerce project, establishing your company’s specific marketing objectives, addressing operational objectives, and determining internal resources and vendors. If you’ve already downloaded our free eCommerce Planning Template, then you should have already completed the first four tabs of that document and populated them with your own information.
Today, we’ll be focusing on the area of timeline and budgeting, which are essential elements of any eCommerce launch. Because we’ll be tackling a lot of important information in this post, we’re breaking down this topic into four key subject areas:
- Critical timeline milestones
- Upfront costs and financing
- Internal resources in a budget
- Contingency planning
Ready to become a timeline and budgeting pro? Then let’s get started!
Critical timeline milestones
Before your project gets underway, you’ll want to define your milestones. These are the critical tasks you and your team will accomplish on your path to eCommerce success. Think of these as mile-markers along the highway that measure your progress. Make sure to attach deadlines to each milestone so they are time-specific. As you hit each one, you’ll know that you are getting closer to your ultimate destination: the launch of your eCommerce capabilities.
Once you’ve defined your milestones, it’s time to get stakeholder buy-in. It’s essential that your organization’s key people agree on the milestones they’re working to achieve. It’s equally important for your stakeholders to commit to and become personally invested in the success of your eCommerce launch.
Remember to include contractual agreement points as you define what your project’s milestones are. For instance, some of your milestones may serve as payment points for the different vendors you’ll be pulling in and relying on. Doing this ensures that everyone is on the same team.
Finally, you’ll want to highlight any external dependencies. These are the events or marketing initiatives that are contingent upon you hitting certain milestones by specific dates. Let’s say you’re putting together a conference, but your ability to do that is dependent on your company’s new website being up and running first. No website? No conference. (Not to mention countless lost opportunities.) That’s an example of an external dependency.
Upfront costs and financing
Before you start spending money, make sure you run the numbers. Yes, investing in new technology may seem more expensive, but it is often much less costly in the long run than maintaining the status quo. When you do the math and add up all of the expenses associated with keeping your current technology, you may be pleasantly surprised. Try this: write down every single internal and external cost of your existing technology on an annual basis. Now, calculate what it will cost you over the next three years to stay with that technology. Compare it to the efficiencies you’ll gain over that same time period by purchasing new technology. Our guess is that the investment isn’t as expensive as you originally thought.
Remember that financing is available. You would never dream of buying a new house in one lump payment. That’s why there are mortgages. For eCommerce projects like the one your business is considering, it pays to explore financing options. Plans are readily available if you’re worried about up-front costs and would prefer to spread them out over several years.
And while we’re on that subject, keep in mind that money is cheap. Over a five-year period, you might be talking about an interest rate of only 3-4%. So a development cost of $150,000 spread over that time period might only cost you $2,800 per month. Paying in these smaller installments is much more affordable, practical, and manageable.
Internal resources in your budget
As you create a timeline and set a budget for your eCommerce project, consider your internal resources. How will developing and launching your project impact those resources? Are there more cost-efficient ways for you to work? Keep the following tips in mind:
- Automate whenever possible – If part of your eCommerce launch involves automating anything, then do a cost savings analysis so you can fully appreciate the impact of automation on your bottom line. Maybe there’s a task at your company that currently requires 20-30 hours per week for someone to perform manually. Automating that task can yield significant savings.
- Hire experts – Whenever you can, pull in experts. This eliminates the need for you to cultivate skills and capabilities internally with your own staff, and it avoids you having to pay your own staff to learn and then execute.
- Use the right resource at the right time – The cost of four hours’ labor of someone on your staff to do something is likely much more expensive than the cost of one hour with an outside expert, freelancer, or consultant.
The final aspect of building a timeline and budget involves contingency planning. Back in the very first blog post of this series, we emphasized the importance of creating an eCommerce plan. Contingency planning is a little different, because it addresses certain “what-if” scenarios and helps you minimize or neutralize the havoc they can wreak on your business. A thorough contingency plan, for instance, provides guidance in the event of:
- Vendor fail – Let’s say one of your vendors is suddenly unable to fulfill a key commitment or hit a major milestone. There should be a provision in your contingency plan that spells out the consequences of this event and provides instructions for getting another vendor to take over.
- Employee quit or leave – It can be devastating if a particularly talented and productive or key employee leaves your company. To keep work from coming to a standstill if someone leaves your employment, consider establishing a two-person minimum for teams in critical areas. This guarantees personnel redundant understanding.
- Post-launch roll-back – When your eCommerce project goes live, is there a contingency for rolling it back if something goes wrong? Wherever that’s not possible, your contingency plan should identify those “no turning back” points and incorporate more vigorous testing in those areas.
- Off-track for external dependencies – Be sure to identify the lesser option’s producible on a contracted timeline. Spell out what that will do to the master timeline and how it will impact costs.
As you’re done with all of the previous blog posts in this series, go to Tab 5 (titled “Timeline and Budgeting”) in your eCommerce Planning Template. Carefully review this blog post and enter your company’s information into the appropriate sections of Tab 5. You are one step closer to being thoroughly prepared for your eCommerce launch!
Stay tuned for the next post in this series: Implementation. In the meantime, please share your comments and questions about this blog post with us!