If you can’t code but aspire to start a Web business, odds are you feel just like the ostrich. Ostriches can’t fly, and to add insult to injury, they’re one of the largest bird species out there. They have to hobble around looking for something to do while their avian counterparts swoop into the air in boundless directions.
Despite spending years in school and hours at the workplace, without knowing how to code you can’t create your vision. You’re left with two options: learn to code (Codeacademy is worthy investment of your time if you can fit it in), or find a programmer (an undertaking that warrants its own article). Given the frustrations, many would-be entrepreneurs give up on their vision without giving it a real chance. That’s a pity, and it doesn’t need to be that way.
Here are some tips and tool-recommendations to help you build a Web business without learning how to code.
Simulate your vision with visual tools
As an entrepreneur, your goal is to assemble the necessary resources to create your idea. Finding the required talent and money means selling your vision. The first knee-jerk reaction is to write a business plan. Although useful, a business plan is not the best communication tool. It can be jargony, dense, overly-complicated, and simply put, it doesn’t showcase your idea. (If you write anything, go for a 2-3 page executive summary.)
Instead, I recommend building a website mockup. Show each page’s function and simulate how they behave by linking them to one another. Powerpoint is a great tool for this since you can link buttons to each slide easily. I recommend investing in a mockup tool (my personal favorite is Balsamiq), which is very user-friendly given its drag-drop functions. If done properly, your mockups can have the look and feel of a real website. Now friends, investors, or potential co-founders can see your vision instead of reading a long, dry document. If you want to take this to the next step, make a video by “screen recording” your mockup (I use Snapz Pro) and adding some narrative and music using a basic movie editing software like iMovie.
Create a prototype using widget-based website creators
Prototyping is all about validating individual portions of your concept. Use widget-based website creators to quickly and easily put together a prototype.Weebly, Wix, and WordPress (just to name a few examples) can be very powerful when mixed with a little creativity.
Letting potential users interact with something will give you valuable data, which you can easily capture using data analytics. My favorite is Google Analytics because it’s free and easy to implement (it just got a great upgrade too). If you can’t capture particular data, use surveys (Qualtrics is a fantastic tool which lets you capture 250 surveys for free) to engage users.
How do you get testers? Put the page up on your Facebook wall, send e-mail blasts, or offer a raffle or a perk (for example, first to get access to your site once it’s built). Having data in your pocket will both educate you and provide compelling information when you’re trying to recruit others or raise funds.
Brand your vision
We live in a world where the smallest startup can look and feel like one of the biggest companies out there. Make sure you snag a good domain name and create an attractive logo. You can inexpensively outsource design jobs to sites like 99designs or Crowdspring.
Once you have some visuals and an identity, cover your bases: Create a landing page for your site (LaunchRock is a good tool for that), set up a Facebook page (claim your facebook.com/yourbrand), and start developing an audience through Twitter. Family and friends will want to support you, and potential clients will be interested in learning about your company. Having an online presence gives you a stage where others can share in your journey. You’ll have a community of eager users ready to support you faster than you think.
Enjoy your launchpad and raise money
Your company is now live. You’ve established a presence and have powerful tools to sell your vision. If you want to hire talent, you now have somewhere to point applicants. If you need support, you can show family and friends a preview of what you want to build. If you want to raise money, you can go on Kickstarter or AngelList with a bit more credibility (and hopefully a mockup video in hand).
Tony Navarro (@hoostony) is founder and CEO of Streamcal.com, a venture that redefines the way schedules and calendars are published, shared and consumed across the web. He has an MBA from Wharton and an MPA from Harvard, and currently lives in Boston with his wife. He is also a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs.
Ostrich image via ShutterStock