Scott H Young

Archive for February, 2009

You Don’t Need to be a Geek to Start an Online Business

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I recently talked about running this business to a friend. She was interested in starting a business after getting her MBA. However, she told me that she didn’t feel she had the technical skills necessary to start an online business. I get this kind of feedback a lot, so I’ll make my point right now:

Technical skills are not important for running an online business.

To start an online business, some basic amount of technical skills help. Such as, understanding how to host a website and write in HTML. But the amount you need to get started can be learned in about two weeks with $30 worth of books.

I only spend roughly 2-5% of my working time on technical issues. Even then, the problems are usually minor, such as changing an advertising configuration. The other 98% of my time is devoted to writing articles, creating products, communicating with readers and customers and marketing my website.

Running an online business is just like running any other business. It’s about people, not PHP.

An online business can be significantly easier than other forms of business because it is cheaper to set up and doesn’t require the upkeep of a building. Far from being an obstacle, the technology actually makes an online business easier to run – even for those without technical skills.

If you lack an understanding of computer science, you probably won’t be able to make the next Google or Facebook. Those website’s core services are technological. But starting a cigar of the month club, flower delivery service or blog requires few computer skills.

Don’t Confuse Delivery Method With Value

My value isn’t in a website. It’s in the articles and books I write. This website is just a delivery medium. Reading anything I’ve written on a piece of paper wouldn’t change the value I’m offering.

Many people confuse a website, a method of delivering value, with the value itself. If you don’t have a valuable product or service, your business will flop, even if you have great technical skills. But if you can deliver value, then you can always hire someone to run the website, or learn the minimum amount needed to get by.

Providing Value is More Difficult

If you add up the amount I’ve learned from running this website, only about 5% would be related to the technical necessities of running a blog. And I learned 90% of those within the first month, after reading a few online tutorials and some cheap books at the bookstore. The other 95% involved learning how to provide value.

While I’m not a blogging expert, I do understand the technology enough to do everything I want. However, even after three years of writing, I’m only starting to get a grasp of how to provide genuine value. It took far more effort to calibrate myself to the needs and qualities of the people I write to.

The reason most online businesses fail isn’t because they can’t handle the technical details. Many of the most abysmal websites I’ve visited had integrated all of the latest gadgets perfectly. The reason most online businesses fail is that the owner doesn’t know how to provide real value, and they give up before learning.

Separating Flash From Substance

Compare StevePavlina.com to ZenHabits.net. StevePavlina.com is a simple website with a basic color scheme that fits better with the mid 90s than designs today. ZenHabits.net is beautifully done (although it used to be plain). Both are wildly successful.

I’m not arguing that website design is unimportant. Just that it is dwarfed in comparison to your ability to deliver real value. Design and technical skills may be helpful, but they aren’t necessary, and they shouldn’t stop anyone from starting an online business.

Don’t Let a Lack of Tech Skills Scare You

If you’re intelligent enough to lead a business (and many people aren’t), then you’re definitely intelligent enough to learn the minimum skills necessary to set up a website. After reading only 2-3 books, you should have enough skills to do almost anything you need. Compare that to the hundreds of books you may go through to help build the skills of providing real value.

If you’ve ever thought of running a business, I’d suggest going online. The advantages of being location-independent, having access to worldwide markets, the ability to scale and requiring few start-up fees make it far easier to start an online business than many similar brick-and-mortar stores.

Resources to Get Started

I don’t want a lack of technical skills to block anyone from starting their own business. Here are some resources I suggest looking at if you’ve always had an interest in being an entrepreneur, but were scared by the demands of technology:

Make Your Site Sell (Free) – A 1000+ guide for everything you need to know.
The Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself - The guide for starting a $200 per month mini-business.
Site Sell It! – I haven’t used this service, but I’ve heard great things.
How to Build a Successful Online Business – an article by Steve Palvina


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Posted by Scott Young on February 27th, 2009 in Personal Development | 6 Comments »