The Naivety of Starting From Scratch

When I was new to the web I was excited when I would get things to rank from scratch, thinking I did a great job of SEO, but if your results are effective and consider applicable risks does it matter what techniques you used to promote a website? None of us really start out from scratch. When I started on the web I was a recluse with low living costs, lots of time, the need to be successful, and lots of rage. Those were off the web assets that played in my favor, as well as my liking for reading and writing, and my experience selling baseball cards in high school. I also had a friend who was web savvy and made many friends on forums. Without them I would have failed online.

That is probably too much of talking about me, but consider yourself:

  • what unique experiences or biases do you have?

  • what resources do you lack?
  • what resources do you have a lot of?

After you think of your own assets and skill sets, ask yourself if it matters how you achieve your results.

  • Does it matter how you learned what you know?

  • Is it better if your site is brand new? Or is it better if you bought an established site?
  • Is it better if you designed your site? Or is it better if you used a free template or paid a site designer to create it?
  • Is it better if your site is hand coded? Or is it better if you use an extensible content management system?
  • Is it better if your site validates? Or is it better if your site renders in browsers and you spent that extra time and money to create more content?
  • Is it better if you created all the content yourself? Or is it better if you paid writers to create it?
  • Is it better if you sell your own product? Or is it better if you sell ad space?
  • Is it better if your links are all organic? Or is it better if you bought a few topically related trusted links?
  • Is it better if you rank your own site? Or is it better to buy an ad on an authoritative site and rank that page?

You learn more by doing things yourself, but you can't learn and do everything if you are trying to make a scalable business. All those points of distinction are arbitrary. Every market is gamed, and so long as your methods work it doesn't matter how you got there as long as you didn't have to hurt others to do so.

After you are profitable and growing, for many projects it makes sense to outsource tasks, including:

  • website design

  • content creation
  • ad sales
  • maybe even initial marketing, by buying old websites

Thinking that you have to do everything from scratch means that you are going to run into scale issues much quicker than a competitor who believes in outsourcing will. Once you consider opportunity cost, doing everything yourself becomes far less appealing.

Published: March 26, 2007 by Aaron Wall in internet


March 26, 2007 - 10:48am

Perhaps this is saying the exact same thing in different words, but I think it all comes down to goals. What is your ultimate goal? If your ultimate goal is to do everything yourself, well that's easy to accomplish. If your goal is to create a successful website (whatever successful means - creating awareness for a cause, providing a public service, making money, etc.) and you remain focused and dedicated to your cause, then you can easily give up on doing everything yourself. What's more, you'll find the necessary solutions if you are committed enough.

All the best,


March 26, 2007 - 11:13am

It really depends on the topic and purpose of your site. For example my site - I personaly review affilaite programs. I cannot hire in other reviewers because my 'catch phrase' is that I , whom the readers trust (hopefully) do the reviewing. Perhaps when the site grows larger other writes could be recruted in to take over other sections but it takes time to build up trust.

March 26, 2007 - 4:05pm

Beautiful post Aaron!

March 26, 2007 - 4:16pm

Another excellent post Aaron

March 26, 2007 - 4:35pm

Brilliant insights, Aaron. Food for thought, indeed!

March 26, 2007 - 6:26pm

Great post as always. I always enjoy coming to this blog when I have the time.

I am curious where to go for more resources on buying an existing website. Purchasing an established site is often times mentioned on the blog and in the book as a quick way to get a head start on traffic and optimization. It seems like an entire blog could be devoted to this subject alone. I've browsed places like Sitepoint Marketplace and found many of the sites to sound somewhat suspect. Any thoughts or resources anyone?

March 26, 2007 - 10:25pm

I find that doing yourself will give you a better insite to workings of your business. I is good to be hands-own.
With that being said, it does get to be a hassle to do everything for everyone all the time.

One day I will have help.
one day.

If I had to do over, I would buy an existing domain.


March 26, 2007 - 10:25pm

Great post, Aaron.

It's also important to note that managing outsourcing can take quite a bit more effort than many people expect, at least initially.

There's lots of people who'll let you pay them to write bad code or produce poorly written content, so there'll be some trial and error involved if you're new to outsourcing.

But once you find someone good and reliable, make sure you hold onto them.

March 26, 2007 - 11:13pm

I bought a 'pre-loved' house. It was the right price but needed a lot of TLC. It may have been the hard way but I have learned when to do-it-myself and when to hire a plumber, electrician, HVAC, roofer, exterminator, etc.

There were hard lessons but I learned.

Today I own a website design company. My favorite development customers have learned, the hard way, to outsource the design and maintenance of the website and have grown prosperous due to it.

Torrens and Ricardo identified this principle 200 years ago but we are still rediscovering it everyday!

March 26, 2007 - 11:39pm

You're singing to the choir. This is a model that works and scales.

You need to know enough to be dangerous, while knowing it is better Not to do it yourself. One person cannot know it all. NO WAY. Sub-contract to experts and exceed your client's expectations. Everybody wins.

Offering services at a range of price points can be vital for growth. As Aaron points out, not everyone needs a custom design to try out a new idea.

Over time you will strengthen that intuition that tells you when a potential client is a good fit. And you may choose focus on a theme or vertical where you can build on your strengths.

March 27, 2007 - 2:44am

In my opinion, (for a non-techie) there's not enough time in the day to do everything and no one can be an expert in all that it takes to make a site "successful" and profitable. Outsourcing is helpful for those functions where the learning-curve may be too steep or time-consuming. But, let's face it, if the profits are high enough almost everything gets outsourced except the real creative core that drives the website in the first place.

March 27, 2007 - 3:31am

I tend to do things on my own for different reasons (I have a little bit of skill on design, programming, content and that I don't think there is a need for someone else to step in). But in the end, when time is compromised, deadlines unmet and targets fail to materialize, I felt I should have done the other way around. I agree with your thoughts Aaron.

When we think we could take advantage of what we can do, we sometimes fail to see the bigger advantage on focusing on our strengths.

March 27, 2007 - 2:26pm

You are right, doing everything yourself (like I am currently doing) is overwhelming, and it can lead people to quit.

It is funny, but in the offline world I had a restaurant, and I never thought about doing everything on my own!

March 27, 2007 - 4:25pm

I've decided to do the SEO on a new site to save money. I've learnt a lot and its certainly interesting, but it does seem a bit like begging.

I'm even doing it right now. After a day of manual labour I feel like I've done an honest days work. I don't feel that way after a days SEOing. Maybe its bad for the soul.

March 27, 2007 - 5:43pm

Ive been involved in Web Dev for a few years and more towards SEO and actually designing sites etc for the last year or so.

Ive learned that outsourcing is key , otherwise you'd drive yourself crazy..

And I certainly dont believe in re-inventing the wheel!

Great Post!

March 27, 2007 - 8:06pm

- Depending to many factors you can choose outsourcing or not and if you master your field, you can profit more from oursoucing.
- Sometimes you can know every details but you need just different opinion or different idea to make your work more suitable.

March 28, 2007 - 6:00am

True, however, if you are just starting, you won't have much money. And as you rightly said, you are likely to have a lot of time, if you are supported. That's why time will be your currency.

And there are a lot of things one can do or not do to build a website for free.

March 28, 2007 - 11:37am

Aaron I think it is nice to be able to do everything yourself at the start.

Then you know what is possible, and as you said, you learn more by doing it yourself.

Once you know how to do it you can choose to outsource.

Perhaps in the "doing" part you find the parts you like the most, and identify the things you are best to outsource.

Interesting post

April 2, 2007 - 8:54pm

The best advice I was ever given when I was considering building my own website from scratch was to speak to website owners who had already done it. The site I wanted to build needed to have a private members area with integrated payment processing. After brainstorming this seemingly simple requirement with similiar site owners I had a list of over 50 things I had to consider when building the site for example:

- how do i stop the member pages being cached
- how do i let the search spiders index the member content, but block humans
- how do I have multiple payment plans
- how do I process multiple currencies
- etc.

The complexity was way beyond what I expected. So my advice is don't go into any project without throroughly investigating what's involved. You could save yourself a lot of money and heartache by doing getting rid of at least some of your naivety.

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