How to Run a Minimalist Online Business

The “Minimalist Movement” is a topic that’s become wildly popular in the last few years.  People are now concerned with eliminating what’s not important and focusing on the things that truly matter.  Some have even gone as far as getting rid of most of their possessions and living on the bare necessities.  (Personally I like the idea of minimizing clutter, but I can’t imagine wearing the same three shirts for the rest of my life.) With that said, there’s a lot that can be learned from using this concept on different areas of your life.  Specifically you can use it to run a minimalist online business.  Let me explain…

Introducing the Minimalist Online Business

During my travels I’ve learned the value of the 80/20 rule.  Since I have about fifteen hours to work each week, I’ve had to concentrate on those unique activities that bring the best results. Any task that’s not part of my core genius has been eliminated or outsourced to another person.  In a way, I’ve accidentally created a minimalist online business – One that’s successful without a lot of mental or physical clutter.

Today I’d like to talk about a minimalist approach to Internet marketing.  Although I’ll be using my approach as an example, I think it can be applied to the way you run an Internet marketing business.

A Minimalist Approach to Information

The first thing I did before leaving for Europe was to go on a complete information diet.  I cancelled my subscription to a couple of Internet marketing mastermind groups.  I stopped buying online business products.  And I eliminated the habit of reading online news.  With the exceptions of checking out the scores of the New York Yankees/Giants games and reading a few blogs, I’ve managed to completely isolate myself from what’s happening in the world.

Why did I do this?  The reason is I pretty much know what needs to be done to create a successful online business.  No flashy new product or site is going to teach me what I already know.  And if I’m stuck with a specific problem (like how to get traffic from Facebook) then I’ll buy the best information product on the subject and take immediate action.

One of main reasons people fail is because they feel like the secret to success lies within the next product or blog post.  The truth is you probably already know what it takes to succeed.  Stop wasting your time reading that hot new product everyone is promoting.  Instead, eliminate all the noise that brings zero value and focus on getting things done!

A Minimalist Approach to Online Business Equipment

I have to admit the equipment for my online business is pretty sophisticated:

From the image you can see that it consists of the following:

  • Toshiba NB300 LaptopThis is complete with a “Hello Kitty” sticker a friend gave me because she said I looked grumpy while working.  So I simply call this laptop my Hello Kitty Computer.  Cute, right?
  • Pad of Paper– This is where I keep track of my weekly to-do list. During my travels I’ve averaged twenty (45 minute long) tasks which is about fifteen hours of work each week.
  • My Idea Book– This is where I jot down random blog post topics or ideas for growing my business.  This one little book has been an invaluable resource that I use on a regular basis.
  • Pen– You know, to write things down.
  • USB Thumb Drive– This is used during those rare moments when I need to print something or to use another computer when Hello Kitty Computer isn’t connecting to the Internet – Which happens with dodgy Wifi signals in various countries.

Hopefully you can see that you don’t need a lot of fancy computer equipment to run a successful online business.  I’ve been using a very low-tech approach to Internet marketing during the last seven months and I’ve still managed to work without many problems.  In fact, the only obstacles I’ve encountered have come from something to do with traveling – Not from a lack of fancy computer equipment.

A Minimalist Approach to a Desktop

Similar to my business equipment I need a lot of stuff to do work.  In fact, here’s what sits on my desktop:

Basically I have six icons that await me when I turn on Hello Kitty Computer-

  • Firefox– You know, to connect to the Internet.
  • Recycle Bin– I hate to admit this…I don’t know how to find the recycle bin when it’s not on my desktop.  So even though I rarely use this tool, I still keep it there because I’m afraid of what happens if I delete it.
  • iTunes– I always need music while working.  In fact, I’ve now made iTunes playlists to use whenever I’m not up for writing.
  • Ideas and Long-Term Projects Document– This is used to de-clutter my mind whenever a great idea pops up.  Right now, I can’t take action on anything.  So I use this document to record the things I’ll be doing when I get home.
  • Outsourcing Master Sheet– One of my weekly tasks is to do a few tasks for outsourcing.  Most of this is simply reviewing the work or others or replying to emails.  Unfortunately this is a task I’m always forgetting to do.  So I keep this document on my desktop as a constant reminder to get things done.
  • Files Folder– This folder contains all the documents I use to run my professional (and personal) life.  We’ll cover this in the next section.

Again, on my desktop are only the items I use on a regular basis.  I’ve learned you can lose a lot of time if your desktop is filled with hundreds of different files that are nothing more than distractions.

A Minimalist Approach to Folder Management

A place for everything, everything in its place – Benjamin Franklin

The files on your computer shouldn’t be scattered all over the place.  I recommend having one master folder that contains separate sub-folders for the tasks you do on a regular basis.  As an example, take a look at what my files folder looks like:

I have a total of ten sub-folders.  These are all segmented into the different activities I do on a regular basis.  For instance, here’s what’s contained in each…

  • Affiliate Marketing Site– This folder contains all my emails, ezine articles and the autoresponder publishing schedule I use for my affiliate site.  I only spend three hours a week on this business – Most of which is done at the same period of work.
  • Assorted Files– Here I have all the sub-folders and projects I no longer do.  I don’t want to lose these files, but I also don’t want to see them whenever I open my main folder.
  • Business Documents– These contain all the files I use to track and manage my business.
  • Information Product Site– This has everything that’s involved with my information product.  There’s a lot in this folder, so I’m glad I only look at it once every week.
  • Internet Marketing Education– Here I have every PDF, video, and audio course that’s taught me the principles of Internet marketing.  For awhile I was a bit of an information junkie, so I have a ton of material on how to build a successful online business.  This is an active folder because I sometimes get stuck with a problem and need to refer to a specific document.
  • Long-Term Projects– Here I have a few sub-folders that contain different long-term products I hope to release in the next year.  Right now, they’re not being used so I prefer to keep them away from the main folder.
  • Outsourcing– This contains all the emails and files I use to manage my outsource workers.  I probably don’t need a special folder for this, but I hope to increase my reliance on outsourcing.  So I’m trying to develop a habit by treating outsourcing as a separate business.
  • Personal Stuff– These are all the things that have to with my personal life.  Top secret stuff here!
  • Pictures– I have a ridiculous amount of pictures – Almost 30 GB.  The good news is I’m pretty thorough at categorizing them according to date and country.
  • Steve Scott Site-Here you’ll find everything that has to do with this site.  Mostly it’s filled with images, my publishing schedule and copies of each blog post.

I’ve found that it’s helpful to separate the major areas of your life into different folders.  That way you know where everything is and can quickly find it.  Sure this might seem a little OCD, but it’s one of those little tricks that helps me work in a very efficient manner.

A Minimalist Approach to Working

Another trick I use is to separate tasks into Internet vs. non-Internet time.  Most of my time is spent writing.  So I try to do this when I don’t have an Internet connection – Like in a café or while riding a train.  The logic is this prevents me from succumbing to the temptation to read email or check Facebook.

If you do a lot of writing, I highly recommend disconnecting from the Internet when doing it.   This little trick will save you hours of time wasted on websites that don’t provide real, genuine value.

A Minimalist Approach to Task Management

Like I said at the start of this post, I only work on the activities which I consider to be my core genius.  These are the tasks I think bring the best results.  I’m sure some of them will be outsourced in the future.  But for now they’re what I do on a weekly basis:

  • Create Autoresponders–  I make almost all of my money with email marketing.  That means each week I spend a few hours creating and posting autoresponders on Aweber.
  • Answering Emails– Even though I have four email addresses I tend to get a low number of messages.  With my information product account I try to be diligent about responding quickly because most emails are from customers or affiliates.  But with my other accounts I only reply back once a week.  Most people tend to understand because I have limited Internet time while traveling.
  • Outsourcing Tasks– These are the few tasks that help me manage all the outsourced work that’s being done.  Right now this isn’t much.  But I’m sure this is going to change when I ramp up the number of tasks I need done.
  • Blog Content Creation– This is where I spend the majority of my time.  Usually it’ll take me almost ten hours to come up with content that’s posted on a regular basis – That’s even after having one or two articles a week posted by someone else.
  • Long-Term Activities– When I get home on November 8th, I’m going to add an additional 20 to 30 tasks each week.  All of this will concentrate on activities that’ll turn this site into a legitimate source of income.

I feel like all of these activities are things that only I can do.  Furthermore, they provide the best usage of my time.  I recommend doing a complete 80/20 analysis of your online business and see which tasks are providing the best results.  Then concentrate on doing just them.  You’ll find that this is one of the quickest paths to Internet success!

Final Thoughts on a Minimalist Online Business

Well, this is how I’ve managed to create and run a minimalist online business.  I’m not saying this method is perfect, but it’s a system that I’ve used to keep sane and accomplish a lot of work during my travels.  I’m also sure I’ll change things around when I get my new place back in New Jersey.

I recommend taking a look at the way your online business is managed.  You might find that there are a few activities that are cluttering the way you do work.  Then you need to eliminate what’s not working and focus all of your time on the things that bring legitimate results.  What do you think?

Take Action. Get Results.

37 thoughts on “How to Run a Minimalist Online Business”

  1. Hi Steve:

    Great information for those who are thinking of long traveling plans. I learned some folder management, here. As I am extremely organized in my life, and because of doing too many things online, never organize my downloads, thinking I will do it another time.

    You have added some very important points that can help us do better things with our time than saving and organizing things, if we keep it to a minimum.

    Enjoy your Monday.


    • Fran,

      I think I am not naturally organized. That may be why I put such a high premium on keeping things organized. I knew for sure that if I did not, everything would be scattered about and would be unable to find anything at all.

      Organizing and keeping things to essentials really makes work a lot smoother and quicker.

  2. Very well said Steve the less the better i like the idea of minimalistic this is like a survival course living of the bare minimum i strongly believe that if we clear the clutter we will find more space. Thanks for this great post

    • In many ways it really does make thing a lot easier. I think it is a decent lifestyle to get into, although I also think some do go, “overboard”. I was forced into it by travel, but I find that it makes things a lot smoother.

  3. Usually a laptop (or notebook) with a wireless card it’s all you need to keep your online business running thus being ultra minimalist :), this is why I am wondering why are you keeping your notebooks (as in the paper stuff – kind of confusing this days) and as a consequence the pen(do they still make that:O).

    Anyway I have some quotes I want to point out:
    “then I’ll buy the best information product on the subject and take immediate action”
    And that’s how it supposed to be done, going in research mode for too long and you will actually lose more then you will learn, really inspiring stuff.
    “A Minimalist Approach to Folder Management” – this is definetly something I have to do, I always wanted to do something link that but after I created 3-4 folders after a couple of weeks I usually had files that didn’t belong to any of it, (note to self: do Misc folder).

    • Alex… there is no way I could be “ultra” minimalist then. (I may be strecthing my boundaries now)

      For me pen and paper may be as important as a computer. I could have my “todo” list in a file for sure, but I like looking at it. When I have an Idea I write them out on the pad too…. I actually write faster freehand than I type (though for many it is illegible because I write very fast freehand (and type very slowly)

      The separate idea book for me is just as essential, because I carry it with me everywhere. I often get my “best” ideas when I am not at my computer, so this is indispensable to me.

      Some could certainly go even more minimalist… I am sure I am a “piker” in that field, but people should embrace minimalism to a degree they are comfortable with.

      …unless of course they are hoarders..then they need to step it up a few notches.

  4. This is a good idea. The point of an online business is to make money and add great value, but also have time to enjoy life. That is why we leave 9 to 5. But hey Steve, will you be sharing all those basics you were talking about that are the bare essentials to run a profitable online business that allows the time to enjoy life. Which again is why we run our own business.

    Thanks a lot bro,


    • William, for sure. Material wise this is it. online presence wise domain and hosting are the only things you NEED to pay for. (there are some free options, but the pay ones are worth it…and not much $)

      That is really it for what you need. A lot of it is getting out there and doing it. It is more a series of little topics that combine together for the whole big picture after that. Hopefully in my upcoming free report (escape the rat race: coming out dec 1) I should have some of the general -with some specifc- guidelines. Until then, make sure you have read the whole info information series, as that will be coming down in a couple weeks for retooling and release as a pay product. I think there is a ton of good information in their for making an ebook… and how to market etc. in many ways that is a blueprint of how I have made what I make.

  5. Great tips, Steve! It’s funny, your file sorting system on your computer is pretty much exactly what I use!

    This is definitely one of the more useful posts I’ve seen about the nuts and bolts of running an online business, so thanks for that! The only thing I use regularly that you don’t list is a microphone for screencasts and video. And I’ve actually got two microphones: one big, heavy one for at-home use and a more portable one for when I’m traveling.

    • You are right, a mic is definitely useful. It was probably a subconscious over-site. I kow mixing in videos is important. I force myself to do it everyso often, but it is a medium I am still a little bit uncomfortable in and I think avoid more than I should.

      For people that do it a lot though, you are right, that is an absolute necessity, and I really should make it more of a priority for myself.

  6. I recently started minimizing many things related to my business. I started with my folders, like you have. What a massive relief! Instead of taking all of the time to go through everything, I just collapsed the folders I never used into one and zipped it.

    Every four or five months, I have a desktop-minimizing ceremony. I think it’s about time again!

    And yeah, on my desk, I have: ThinkPad (LUV my ThinkPad), a three-drawer plastic thingy with not much in it, a glass jar of like 5 pens and a pair of scissors, a composition notepad, and a binder I need to move. And a candle. 🙂

    And then, lastly, I started outsourcing (lalala!!!!!) and this, to me, has been the biggest source of relief.


    • First of all… What a joy outsourcing is, huh? Having your limited time being free to do the things that matter.

      It sounds like you have a pretty efficient setup there, not a lot of clutter and keeping things nice and clean. I really think this helps with efficiency a lot!

  7. Hi Steve,

    I love your minimalist approach. I’m naturally pretty well organized but I really love how you use your folders.

    Also, I really like how you use the 80/20 rule. I’ve recently started doing it since I read a post about it on Matthew’s, Big Red Tomato Company blog and it really works.

    Thanks for the great tips.

    • Jazz,

      Using the 80/20 rule is really helpful. Doing the things that matter has a great positive effect. I try to be organized, but the extent of organization is partially born from necessity. I am quite happy with the way it is working tough, I will be trying to keep it all, “neat” once I get back as It certainly has worked to improve efficiency

  8. This is what I called a blog post 🙂

    great stuff Steve, and a great message. I agree with you, there is no new flashy product that can teach us how to succeed. Most of us already know what is needed to succeed, the only problem is most of us are focusing on all the wrong things. Simple is good, simple is perfect!

    • Very true. I think in almost everything people know what need to be done. It is just difficult for people to do it. Minimalism is one aspect of that, most people know that they would get more done with less clutter, but actually clearing out the clutter and getting it done is another matter entirely

  9. Hi Steve,

    I agree with you that we could do without a lot of clutter in our lives. I know I have a lot of junk which I will never use anyway and all it does is take up space and collect dust. But having said that, I too could not pare everything down to the bare bones. It would just make life uncomfortable for me if I did not have some form of enjoyment and entertainment. I think the idea here would be to find a comfortable balance between the two extremes of minimalism and excessive clutter.

    I love this post because you have generously shared your business experience and insights with us. I learn a lot from this post. The parts that I enjoyed the most were only keeping the icons that you used regularly on your desktop. Just as you would want to keep your work station clear of clutter when you work, it also helps to do the same for your desktop.

    Having read through the way you manage your folders, I know that I can do a better job of sorting out my folders which are slowly becoming a tad messy.

    Thanks for sharing yet another great post!

    • Glad you liked it. There is a lot to be said for the minimalist lifestyle. My dad is actually even more into it than IM. He claims he wants all his environments to be like the “holodeck”: nothing there until it is needed.

      I certainly am not overboard on this…but think it can be a great benefit to the point where people find it uncomfortable.

  10. hey,

    Very valuable tips Steve. I think it is awesome to see what you can do working 15 hrs a week.

    Like you mentioned, I am also implementing the minimalist approach while writing my posts. It really saves me a lot of time when I am not tempted to check my facebook or my email while I am writing. It helps me focus on getting things done.

    Later Steve.

    • I fugure that ever time you get “distracted by something like facebook it takes you out of it for 5 minutes, but easily eats up another 5 minutes to”get back in the “zone”

  11. That’s what I’m talkin’ about Steve! Everyone always tries to keep up with everything, buying everything in sight even though they may not haven taken the first step at all to do anything – why would you buy Z when you haven’t done A yet?!

    Love your approach – getting so much done on so little; that’s how to do it!

    • Really it is the best way. I could never embrace extreme minimalism. Living out of a backpack for 7 months has certainly taught me you do not need much to be successful though

  12. This rang true with me. I have to admit, I am always trying to think of new ways to make money. I make good money from my 2 eBay businesses, but I am always thinking of new businesses to start – I really should start streamlining and outsourcing a little more.

    • Thanks Alex, glad you liked it.

      It is always good to spread your wings every so often and try some new things. I have never done Ebay stuff, so I do not know the particulars, but my guess would be that there are all sorts of daily repetitive action items that you could easily put a price tag on and outsource.

      Might be worth looking into. Good luck! Thanks for dropping by and commenting

  13. Steve there are so many good and useful points in this post I could spend hours just going ‘agree, agree, agree’ but one really jumped out at me because it’s a point I tried to make in a workshop and got a ‘Duh?’ reaction.
    You said

    Most of my time is spent writing. So I try to do this when I don’t have an Internet connection – Like in a café or while riding a train. The logic is this prevents me from succumbing to the temptation to read email or check Facebook.

    If you do a lot of writing, I highly recommend disconnecting from the Internet when doing it. This little trick will save you hours of time wasted on websites that don’t provide real, genuine value.

    Some people seem to think you cant write unless you have an internet connection when the truth is they would be a lot more focused without it. I was beginning to think I was alone in that view!

    Seriously the rest shows stunning discipline and organization which I will desperately try to emulate. Did I read that you had a military background, and if so, do you think that has helped with this?

    • Lesley,

      Thanks for your nice comments. I only spent two years in the Air Force, mostly working with base “security” while going to graduate school at nights. Not sure it had that much impact on me.

      A bigger impact may be from my dad who is almost a nut on this specific subject. I think HE may have gotten a degree of his passion for minimalism from HIS time in the Army, so perhaps indirectly.

      I always liked minimalism to a point. It isn’t anything new, but I have a new degree of respect for the topic since traveling has forced a higher degree of minimalism onto me.

  14. Thanks for the update here Steve and insights to your working practices. One thing I’ve personally not thought of is having the sub folders for each business project. I tend to lump the project stuff into a ‘Projects’ Folder. When in reality I should have a separate folder for each project.

    Good luck with your trip home. I bet you’ll be looking forwad to catching up with the family.

    • Matthew, thanks

      Yeah I like having subfolders. I think it keeps it neat. As long as all projects are well organized a “project” folder likely does the trick though.

      Definitely looking forward to going home to visit family/friends. Perfect timing too since Thanksgiving/Xmas?New Year are right around the corner

  15. A very inspirational article. Now I’m going to close my RSS-reader, disconnect from Internet and get down to writing a new post for my blog. I think I need to install a local Web server, so I could tweak my templates and themes without connecting to Internet and cut off the temptation to check email or facebook while they are getting uploaded.

  16. Hi Steve,
    You’ve got it well organized and without all the clutter.
    I have still got a fair amount of stuff on my desk top but I am trying to keep it down to what I really need, you’ve just added a little more inspiration!
    I like to write using word and although I am still connected to the Internet I do not get distracted any more….more discipline now…
    Thanks for the interesting post

  17. Your setup looks really familiar to mine. I used to be a lot more cluttered, but think you’ve got a good system here that creates a lean working environment where the focus is simply on creating and marketing your content, which is all you really need to do online.

    Thanks for sharing your setup.

  18. That was a really nice minimalistic approach to internet marketing.

    I am also in the process of de cluttering my life. Been reading Leo from Zenhabits for a while and I love the idea. Although I don’t intend to live frugally, I still can get some inspiration from it.

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