Prevent Your Online Store From Becoming a Money Pit By Learning Some Basic Skills

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“I have no idea how to create and manage my own website and I have absolutely no interest in learning either. I’m just going to hire someone or pay for a service.”

Believe it or not, most people that I encounter who want to create their own online store or business have this attitude. They are reluctant to learn basic web programming because they are afraid of the technical aspects of running a website.

To me, this attitude is contradictory. You want to start an online only business yet you have no desire to learn about the web? That’s


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like saying that you want to be a real estate agent but have no desire to learn about the rules and regulations involved in buying or selling a house.

Unless you have the budget to hire a full time web developer, you are going to have to learn a few basic skills in order to be successful with your online store.

If you think it’s as simple as hiring a contractor every time you need something done, think again because it will be expensive and a royal pain in the butt.

Trust me, I’ve seen it time and time again. When you rely on a third party programmer to put together a website for you, you’re inevitably going to want to make changes.

And especially if this is your very first website, you probably don’t have a good idea exactly what you want in the first place. As a result, you’ll change your mind constantly.

Do I want this graphic on the left or the right? Do I want a pull down menu? All of these little tweaks and changes will add up over time and you’ll soon find yourself spending too much money and time getting your website just right.

The problem is that when you have absolutely no desire to learn about basic web programming, you have to rely on your developer every single time you want to make even the smallest of changes.

Do You Even Know What You Want In An Online Store?

Just the other day, I had lunch with a friend of mine who wanted to start an online store in the wedding industry and asked for my advice on how to get her website implemented.

Because of her aversion to web programming, she wanted to know the best way to proceed in order to avoid having to deal with anything technical.

What’s funny was that when I first asked her why she didn’t want to learn about the web, she replied that she had no interest in taking a hands on approach in creating her own website. She just wanted to get her store designed and up and running as easily as possible.

But once I showed her the backend of our website, the analytics and all of the cool features I added to our online store, she was completely amazed.

In fact prior to my little demonstration, she was under the impression that every single webpage was hand coded in html from scratch each time.

She had no idea that websites could possibly have a dynamic, easy to use graphical backend with which to add/remove products or to add content.

She was also surprised at all of the code that was written and available for free! After my brief tutorial, she was definitely intrigued by what she could accomplish with just a little knowledge.

Moral of the story? Don’t say that you are not interested in something until you’ve done a little research and have given things a chance.

In any case, no matter which route you decide to take in creating your online store website, you definitely don’t want to be completely dependent on your web developer. At a bare minimum, you should learn the following basic skills.

You Really Don’t Need To Learn Very Much

No matter which shopping cart solution that you choose whether it be OSCommerce, OpenCart, Magento or Big Commerce, the core shopping cart engine will already be written for you.

For example, out of the box you should already have the ability to do the following without even touching any source code whatsoever.

  • Manage inventory using a graphical web interface
  • Manage content pages within your website
  • Manage shipping costs and methods
  • Accept payments using the most popular payment methods

What this means is that 95% of the technical work is already done for you right out of the box. You don’t really have to worry too much about how your store works. You just have to focus your energy on making your store look good and writing content.

Learn Basic HTML CSS

All of the aesthetics for your website will be coded using a combination of html and CSS. Really, it’s not that difficult. If you know how to use Microsoft Word, you can learn how to write html.

At the heart of it all, html is just a verbose way of describing text and objects. For example, if you want a portion of your text to be bold, you simply need to enclose the bolded text within special tags as demonstrated below

<strong>I want this text to be bold</strong>

As you can imagine, it would be very cumbersome to manually add tags to all of your text, so CSS (Cascading style sheets) provides you with the power to manage the aesthetics of your site in a single file.

Without going into too much depth, if you take the time to learn the basics of both CSS and HTML, you will rarely have to rely on a web developer to make small graphical tweaks to your website.

The best part? There are many great tutorials on the web that will teach you the basics for free! Here’s an excellent tutorial that I found online on Starting With HTML + CSS

Learn How To Use Photoshop

Your online store will heavily rely on images in order to sell product so it is vital that all of your photos stand out and look professional.

Unless you are a master photographer (or extremely lucky), chances are that you will have to adjust or at least crop your photos before displaying them on the web.

The tool that you use to edit your photos doesn’t necessarily have to be Photoshop, but it is the most popular photo editing software out there and the one that I use for every single photo on our online store.

You don’t need to be a power user. At the base level, you should learn how to

  • Crop your photos
  • Reduce the picture quality and file size for the web
  • Adjust the contrast and levels
  • Learn how to make minor touchups using the healing brush

Here are a few additional articles that I have written about managing the photos for your online store.

It Doesn’t Take Much

If you take a look at the simplicity of this blog and our online store, you can tell that I’m not a professional graphic designer or web developer.

But the good news is that you don’t have to be an expert to create a profitable online store or blog. Your end goal should be to learn just enough in order to meet your own needs.

Even though you may think that you have no desire to learn how to create your own website, you should keep an open mind. Do you really want to be at the mercy of your web developer?

Do you really want to have to pay money every time you want to make small changes to your website? Take a week or so to learn the basics and the time investment will pay off immediately.

Ready To Get Serious About Starting An Online Business?

If you are really considering starting your own online business, then you have to check out my free mini course on How To Create A Niche Online Store In 5 Easy Steps.

In this 6 day mini course, I reveal the steps that my wife and I took to earn 100 thousand dollars in the span of just a year. Best of all, it's free and you'll receive weekly ecommerce tips and strategies!

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22 thoughts on “Prevent Your Online Store From Becoming a Money Pit By Learning Some Basic Skills”

  1. So true!!! Technology has become so accessible and as a small business owner, it’s imperative to be able to do the basics rather than tethering ourselves to the schedule of our virtual assistant or web designer.

    I do all my own graphics and it takes me about an hour to put a new website together if I am creating a stand-alone site for a new product. I’m not a geek by any means, but with just some basic knowledge it’s amazing how much you can do yourself.

    I’ve saved myself so much time and money over the years just by knowing how to create my own ebook cover, or putting together a simple website header. Dive in! You can do it!!!


    1. @Andrea
      I’ve also seen some of my least technical friends eventually learn how to manage their own servers as well! Most of it is all in your head. If you are willing to learn, it’s not that large of barrier to overcome.

  2. It is so true that putting up a decent looking website these days can be done by almost anyone. But I think one of the most important points you made was about people who say they want an online business but have no interest in learning about how to create or maintain a website. Their only option then is to hire someone to do this for them. It’s giving money away – and most new businesses do not have the option to do that.

    1. @Carmen
      Depending on the person, it’s a fine line between what is and isn’t worth it. For example, if I need a special feature written for my site, I might opt to hire someone as long as the project is tightly speced and I know exactly what I want. It all depends on how much time it would take me. But you are right, the skills I’m talking about in this article require very little brain power and anyone can and should learn.

  3. Very true. I am in the process of setting up my own online store (and I had lot of help from you Steve and your advice on this blog) and while by no means I am tech savvy, the details are just that. Details. As long as you breakdown the process into smaller chunks, it is not complex. Time consuming, maybe, but not complex.

    I figure I will take some time upfront to do it right. In the process, I am also learning a lot about the whole mechanics of how this works.

    1. @Arohan
      Glad to be of help! Incidentally, if you ever have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.

  4. I must chime in on this. I’ve written on this subject a number of times. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the “I’m not a computer person” crowd is their (in)ability to use forums.

    Forums are going to be a big part of learning to do web development, and it will pay you great dividends to be polite, comprehensive in your descriptions and offer some gratitude.

    There are a lot of folks who spend a bit of each day contributing to forums who can answer your question. I just hate to see SMB owners coming in with a chip on their shoulder and being ignored.

    Remember, on the other side of that avatar is a living, breathing person 🙂

    1. @Scott
      So true. The OSCommerce forums were a huge part of my learning when I first started out. Most people on the forums go out of their way to help you out. I was going to talk about getting help from the forums in a future post so thanks for the segue.

  5. As I am in the beginning stages of my online store, I am stoked to stumble across this when I did. Thanks and I will be rummaging through your site for more great info to help me out. Cheers!

    1. @Casey
      Thanks and welcome!

      I get that way too but I’m an engineer at heart.

  6. I think I’m exactly the opposite. I get more involved and excited about writing the back end code than the actual business part.

  7. Isn’t it a good thing that some people dismiss online stores or websites so quickly. It gives it a barrier of entry. With that barrier it allows the people that get through the barrier to have a better opportunity to be successful. If everyone could do it it might not be so profitable.
    Great post that can really help someone get started.

    1. @Evolution
      An excellent point. I currently have a blog posting in my queue that discusses exactly this topic. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter how low the barriers are. The people that stick with it will be the ones who succeed. Blogging is a good example of this.

  8. I read this and wished every client I have come in contact with would immediately come here. You’ve laid it out plain and clear…I’ll be taking these points home to many who as you’ve put it perfectly want something inherently contradictory. “I’d like an online store, but I don’t want to learn anything about the web” …. great post!

  9. Spot on, Steve! After being online for a while, I realised that if anyone were to venture online, they would have to learn the basics of the technical aspects.

    I used to be a tech-idiot and I’m still pretty much one. But the basic stuff that I’ve learnt over time have proved to be extremely useful. It’s so true that you wouldn’t want to be at the mercy of your web programmer or designer to make even the smallest of changes. That’d be a total waste of time and money.

    And I agree that you don’t need to know a lot to get going. You may need to get some help in the beginning, but make it a point to learn something on your own at the same time.

    Below is a link to an article that teaches you the 7 essential HTML codes that you MUST learn as an online marketer. It has helped me tremendously. Check it out.

    Essential HTML Skills For Article Authors – 7 Tips

    Hope this helps!



  10. Pete says:

    Hey steve, great article. I have a few questions. I have some experience with web design, photoshop, flash, etc, but I’m not an expert who can work comfortably with all the more advanced code that comes with an ecommerce site. So, is it “ok” to use a third party provider like yahoo, in your opinion? They specify that they allow the merchant to use third party tools like dreamweaver to edit your store, so best of both worlds? I’m interested to know you opinion on this take on the issue.


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