Scott H Young

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


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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6 Responses to “You Don’t Need to be a Geek to Start an Online Business”

  1. Enrique S says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Scott. I’m just getting started with a blog, and I’ve had a few hiccups. But thanks to your blog and other online resources, I’m determined to give it a go.

  2. David Safar says:

    I, too, am just getting started with blogging, though I come from a technical background in the first place. I understand what you mean about needing to learn to provide value — that’s the part I’m struggling with the most. I definitely believe that it represents 95% (or more!) of what I need to learn! Do you have any pointers on how to learn that?

  3. Very good article Scott. I can relate to your friend in so many ways. I just recently graduated with my MBA and I’ve always felt like I should be working online and I’ve been pursuing my dream for a while now. When I started out I knew zip..nil…nada about doing business online.

    Heck, the only thing I did know was how to upload pictures, send email and use a chat room. That’s it. I’m still no tech whiz but once you understand the basics of what goes into building a business (on or offline) and get your hands on the right tools you can go straight to the top.

    Keep up this great blog. It’s wonderful!

  4. Peter Levin says:

    Thanks Adam,

    I just started a blog and definitely understand the importance of providing value even though I need to learn how to do it, it is an ongoing process.

    I found myself cut up in design details as you mentioned. I understand technology more or less, but it takes too much time to play with all graphical elements like RSS button (my is ugly now), layout and so force…

    Thanks for remind me, I will spend more time now on providing value part

    Do you have any quick several point advice for me on what is the most important part to concentrate when you started on providing great value. I know it is a process, but you have an experience and I am interested to hear your opinion

    Thanks Adam, excellent article that got me thinking

  5. Scott Young says:

    David,

    If I had the secret formula for providing value, I’d be a millionaire already. Unfortunately, like everyone else, I’m just learning in pieces.

    -Scott

  6. bayu says:

    article in this site very grade and benefit for me, because i wish to start online business

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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