Business Plan: E-Commerce Application “Learning Disability Service”)
I. Summary of the Group’s Business Idea
Our group’s business plan involves an e-commerce application that provides services to the people having learning disabilities. The business is named as LDS for learning disability service.
LDS will operate as a commercial entity with an underpinning social agenda. It will provide a platform where all the stakeholders related to social care including people with learning disabilities, their care providers, service providers and product stores, local authorities and relevant NGOs and the community at large will interact, socialize and undertake commercial activities.
In our view, one of the greatest strength of this business idea is that is combines the advantages of socialization and e-commerce on a single platform. Online retail activity has been growing steadily over the years. According to Jeffrey Grau (2012), the retail e-commerce chief for E-Marketer, e-commerce sales will undergo a double digit growth through the year 2016 (see Fig. 1). This sales growth is partly affected by the rise in social networking trends. Online socialization trend has been at its peak due to the popularity of online social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Marketing practitioners and commentators contend that socialization over the internet is going to have an increased impact over e-commerce activities in the year 2013. According to them, social media plays an influential role in generating awareness towards services and products and has a notable affect on direct sales. According to their estimates, sales through social media have grown 30% year-over-year (Dishman, 2012). Many commentators are of the view that the emergence of Smartphone and tablet technologies will further boost online socialization and shopping trend. Smart phones and tablets enable people to socialize and shop online anytime and from anywhere. With these technologies, consumers are able reach more and more people, research and discover products with much ease than before.
Our proposed LDS application provides modules for registered users over its website to socialize, where they can share opinions and experiences regarding services and products related to learning disabilities. This information will help users to make more informed and accurate purchase decisions which will subsequently enhance commercial trade over LDS. This will ultimately attract more users, businesses and social bodies towards the website, making our business idea a success.
Due to the tightening of social services budgets and an emphasis on smart spending, people with learning difficulties and their carers will be more careful regarding their social services spending. This will heighten the stake of users in spending their money wisely. Resultantly, their purchase decision will become more extensive ((Hawkins 1998) due to their increased level of involvement. This will require our website to build a significant rapport with the aforementioned stakeholders before they will entrust this service and consider it as a competent market place.
Fig 1: Growing Trend of E-commerce
II.Process of Idea Initiation
The idea of this project originated when our group started to define the goal of our new business venture. In one of our groups’ foremost meetings, we decided to plan for a business that would not only be focused upon profit maximization, but also create immediate value for the society in general through a social, environmental, agenda. However, we were doubtful whether a business (which is primarily run for profit) can have a social agenda at its core. Therefore we decided to search some literature, and discovered the concept of ‘social entrepreneurship’ (Dees, 1998; Dees et al. 2001).
Over the years, the phrase social entrepreneurship has earned a great deal of attention from the business and marketing practitioners and professionals and scholars. The phrase “social entrepreneurship” can be regarded as the one that is best suited to the present times as it serves as a combination of social mission and the discipline of business-innovation. The present scenario is the time which gives an opportunity to address the social problems with the entrepreneurial approaches.
Of late we have witnessed that most of the large multinational and global corporations are increasingly undertaking corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in order to sustain their brand image and ultimately their profitability (Beurden and Gossling, 2008). Being socially responsible has its payoffs in the modern business era. Therefore, we thought it would be wise to have a balance between both the commercial as well as social agendas for our business plan. The group members were of the view that having a strong social agenda will ultimately benefit our commercial aim. With that in our mind, we identified several areas of social benefit where we could initiate a business. Out of several different options, we decided for LDS.
III. Team Work
Our team comprising of 4 members was tasked to formulate the business plan and present it in a written report and through an oral presentation. All the members of our team were already familiar with each other as we were already part of a wider academic group. We were determined to work for these tasks and contribute towards its successful completion. The entire project was divided into several small tasks such as environment and market analysis; marketing plan; service development and operation plan, financial projection; drafting final report and developing the presentation of the project. These tasks were delegated among the members of the team in a way that everyone would have equal workload. This process was completed with consensus. According to William Tuckman’s theory of Group Stage Development, this phase of our team work qualifies for the “forming Stage” (Tuckman, 1965) where each member of a group acquires his/her roles. My role was to finalize the project report. This part required me to coordinate with each of the groups’ member to get their input regarding different parts of the report. The storming’ phase of our group development was mostly uneventful. This was followed by a ‘norming’ phase wherein we had several meetings to discuss the progress of the work and jointly prepare the presentation. Subsequently, our group reached the ‘performing’ stage and we completed all the project tasks.
While I was following up for the work, I observed that some of the group members required constant oversight and assistance in making decisions and proceeding with the work while some individuals were doing relatively well on their own. I tried to understand these behavioural patterns in light of William Schutz’s theory of ‘fundamental interpersonal relationship orientation’ (FIRO Theory, 2004). I learned that some people, as contended by Schutz, are deficient in terms of inclusion (i.e. wanting others to call them, invite them in a meeting, seek their opinion) and control (i.e. wanting others to help them decide, seek advice) and resultantly they desire others to make an effort to include them and exert control over them. By catering their interpersonal relationship needs, these members turned out to be as much productive as any other.
IV. Presentation Experience
During the course of this assignment, I have learnt that regardless of the merits of a proposal, its approval depends largely upon how well it is presented in front of its respective stakeholders (audience). Information of any length can be conveyed through written communication in form of reports; however, they lack the persuasive powers of face to face communication (RoAne, 2009). Presentations, which allow face-to-face communication, play an important role in this regard (RoAne, 2009). Therefore, high impact presentation skills are very important in the modern competitive business world.
During my presentation, I have learnt that it is important to utilize modern technologies to present right ideas. Modern technologies, such as computer aided presentation software Microsoft PowerPoint provide an exciting improvement to the most traditional types of presentation. Therefore, it is important for me as a business management undergraduate to have adequate proficiency in using such tools. Apart from the visual aids, other environmental and technical arrangements are also vital to ensure distractions and mishaps are avoided.
While presenting in front of the panel, I learned that visual aids including PowerPoint slides, should only add to the presentation. A presenter should rely primarily on his/her knowledge of the subject, enthusiasm, energy and communication skills for a brilliant presentation. The traditional presentation technique of speaking effectively is of utmost importance in delivering effective presentation that captures the attention of the audience.
V. Alternative Scenario
Looking back at the financial prediction of our group’s business plan, I am of the view that it was just about right. Although it may seem very optimistic to generate more than ?5 million in revenue in three years, it can be achieved considering the merit of our business idea. However, doing so would require rigorous efforts and expertise in web designing, business analysis, human computer interaction and project management. Since we do not possess adequate proficiencies in all these areas, it would be very difficult for us to implement this plan.
Since most of the cash flow and profit and loss calculations are based on assumptions, it would be logical to take into account both best case scenario and worst case scenario for financial calculations. For instance, the economy of UK can take a stark turn for the good and the government may announce significant increase in social service spending, rendering our services as less significant. Or NGOs and local bodies may decide to use our platform more extensively, instilling great value in our service. These changes can have contrasting affect of the financial performance of our proposed business idea. Therefore, having alternate growth projections can help improve our business plan.
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http://www.emarketer.com/Webinar/Retail-Ecommerce-ForecastChallenging-Economy-Drives-Online-Shopping/4000055#ezkpFzGkLHHE4Pwe.99 (cited on 26th Feb, 2013)
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 Tuckman’s theory relates to four stages of group development namely forming, storming, norming and performing.