Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Travis Kalanick. What do these three have in common? Programming geniuses that grew flourishing businesses because they spotted an opportunity and were able to build a product themselves.
These three aren’t alone. It seems like almost every other day we read about techies selling their success story businesses for millions (or billions). If you can’t code, it sometimes feels like the doors to the sweet shop are half closed.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just because you’re not technical, you can still conceptualize, create, and grow any kind of business. Take it from me; I’ve done it more than once.
So if you’ve not got the technical skills, what can you do? How can you add value to your business?
Here are the top five things I think you should focus on:
1. Know your customer, understand their problems
Do you know what should lie at the heart of your successful business? It’s not you, your team or your products.
It’s your customer.
You don’t have to be technical to know who the customer is and what their problem is. If you’re the founder, the chances are that you started out by identifying this stuff. It’s why you created a business in the first place.
Over time, the day to day gets in the way. You get bogged down in the minutiae of running a business. Compiling and sending reports, doing the tax return, making sure you get through your inbox.
But the most important job for you is to keep your customer and their needs at the front of your mind. If you started out with a gut feel for what their problems are, you need to keep that fresh by continuing to ask them.
You can do that by taking time to listen to their calls, getting feedback face to face or by sending them a survey to complete. You can even use your website to understand their problems.
It’s not just about you though: make sure your team knows it too. Everyone in the business needs to think about how his or her day-to-day output contributes to solving that problem.
2. Demonstrate what you mean with visuals
You might not be technical enough to code your website, develop your application or engineer your software product. But what you can do is illustrate what you’re trying to say with visuals.
It’s through visuals that your explanation and instructions come to life. Cliché but true: a picture is worth a 1,000 words.
Rather than say: ‘I want that button down a bit’ or ‘lets put an image over there’ or ‘can you make it look a bit like that website’ you can use images to show exactly what you mean.
There are some fantastic free or low cost tools that democratise design. These make it possible for anyone to be able to create graphics the can communicate ideas.
As for desktop applications, let’s start with an oldie but a goodie: Microsoft Paint. You can screengrab, cut, move, illustrate. Put it into PowerPoint and you can even start animating.
Move online and the tools get better. With Awesome Screenshot you can take a grab of any site, change stuff around, use arrows and text and then email a link to your team. No large file to mail around.
Canva is an incredible tool that anyone can use to create designer-grade mock-ups, ads, and more for free.
My personal favorite is Cacoo, a wireframing tool that lets you mock up a web page to show exactly how you want something to look.
It’s so much easier for the techies to just copy your instructions than try and interpret them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s “it looks a bit like the apple website” is another person’s “that doesn’t work at all”.
Take a look at these tools and try showing rather than explaining what you mean. You’ll be amazed at how your communication improves.
3. Give very specific feedback
It’s your idea. You’re the person who wanted the website built, the application or product made.
Because you’re not technical, the actual creation is down to someone else.
You might have a clear idea in your head of what you want. And thanks to your newly acquired design skills (see point 2!) you have worked had to show what you mean.
But at the end of the day, there’s always going to be some level of interpretation involved. Your instructions will be followed, but perhaps their meaning won’t always be clear. You’ll get a draft version back, and it won’t be what you had in mind.
Your number one job here is to give very specific feedback.
I have lost count of the number times, when a design gets sent for review, that the feedback is vague.
“It doesn’t really work for me – can you change that?”
“Can you make it clearer?”
“Can you make it more modern?”
The absolute worst one is: “Can you make it pop?”
Never say these phrases – they’re meaningless!
Your designer or coder doesn’t know what’s in your head. They’re desperate to deliver your dream. But how on earth can they make changes based on comments so vague?
Sure they’ll try. They’ll take ages. And you still won’t be happy.
Its much better to give feedback that is clear, specific, and concise.
“Use this colour.”
“Move this button down 15px.”
“Change this image to portrait.”
“Link this keyword to this page.”
You can even use your new design tools if the instruction can’t be written down.
These are simple instructions that any techy or designer can follow. It means their skills are focused on the doing rather than on interpreting.
They’ll thank you for it, and your website, product or application will be all the better.
4. Master DIY tools
15 years ago if you couldn’t code, there were lots of jobs that were impossible.
You couldn’t create a website. You couldn’t code an email. You couldn’t do search engine optimisation.
That’s no longer the case. Thanks to the progress in coding, user interface design and HTML5 these jobs are firmly within the scope of anyone with a computer.
We see the proof of this every day at 123-reg. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of customers who don’t know their HTML from their CSS. They have beautiful websites that they built themselves.
These very same people are able to understand why their website isn’t ranking on Google, and what they can do about it. It’s not because they can code. It’s because there’s a tool that does the heavy lifting for them.
And when it comes to communicating with their customers, they’re sending personalised, compelling emails and are tracking the results of their work. Again, it’s because there’s a tool that does that.
These days you don’t need to be technical to do this stuff. You still need to put the effort in. But these tools mean you can cut it like a pro.
The reason you need to learn how to use these tools is capital. Not money. Time.
Time is the biggest source of capital in your business.
You need everyone in your team to spend his or her time doing stuff that delivers the highest measurable return.
Developers, coders and technical folks need to be using those skills to do the things that no one else can. That’s what makes them valuable.
Take the other stuff off their hands. These tools and your perseverance make it possible.
5. Always be selling your product
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, your business only exists because you make money. Yes you’re there to solve your customer’s problems. But you only do that when they pay you.
As I’ve said, you need to be the one who really gets their problem. But you need to be the most passionate advocate of the solution.
At the drop of the hat you should be able to pour forth eloquently on the great things your business does. You should be able to clearly set out your value proposition to skeptics in under 30 seconds.
You might have come across the events we’re running with Enterprise Nation. Through these I’ve met hundreds of businesses in the process of launching a business.
So when I ask the question “so what will your business do? its easy to work out which ones will be successful. I need to understand and then be convinced in less than 30 seconds. If I can’t be sold, it will be the same for potential customers too.
It’s not just about winning new business. The reality is you need to keep selling what you do to existing customers, your employees and your investors. Your belief should be rock solid, and convincing too.
I’m convinced, you don’t need to be a techy
You might think that it’s only the coders who can be successful in business these days. With so much of our lives revolving around computers, technology, development and the Internet, it’s easy to feel disenfranchised if you can’t code.
But you’d be wrong to give up.
Yes it can be a help to be able to roll up your sleeves and start developing. But non-techies are essential too, even if they’re the bosses.
By understanding the customer, demonstrating your ideas, giving clear feedback, using great tools, you will add far more value to your business
And while you’re doing that, the techies can be 100% focused on the stuff you can’t do.