“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” – Motto of The Christophers
I mostly make my living on the internet these days but I have a confession. I never worked much with computers until about seven years ago, least of which the internet. Sure, in the preceding 25 years that I worked in mortgages and accounting I used computer applications, lots of them. But most of us understand the not so subtle difference between that and working in an environment in which your primary means of support is coming directly from working on/in computers or somewhere out in cyberspace. Or more specifically, participating in self-employment in the Internet Age.
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My career as a paper pusher ended unceremoniously at the end of 2008, a time when recycled paper pushers weren’t in very big demand. Where to go, what to do? Damn computers – #%&*@$g internet – they’ll be the end of the world, you watch!
That last line is a fiction (OK, it was a deeply suppressed thought), but I chose to intentionally avoid dwelling on it. Everyone who’s ever seen their career crash and burn can point to one or more big picture factors that directly or indirectly greased the wheels of their departure. We can either poison ourselves with bitterness, or find some way to benefit from prevailing changes (hence the Christopher’s quote above). Which route we take will mostly determine our future direction.
Job VS Opportunity
Here’s the thing about computers and the internet – yes, they have been responsible for the permanent elimination of millions of jobs around the world (and almost certainly more to come) – but they’ve also created a sea change of opportunity. We should work to take advantage of that opportunity.
Now notice I said “opportunity”, rather than jobs – computers and the internet have created many, many jobs, most of them high paying. But they’ve destroyed more jobs than they’ve created on balance. And let’s face it, unless you’re a highly trained “techie”, getting a high paying job in the computer field is nearly impossible.
The opportunities I’m describing won’t be found in a job, but in having your own business. Scared? Don’t be. I think it’s the wave of the future.
Most people who have held jobs all their lives tend to think “job” when it comes to earning a living, but the onslaught of computers and the internet have changed that arrangement. I think that computers and the internet are the 21st Century equivalent of the return to the family farm and shop that provided income for the majority of humanity since the beginning of civilization.
What are some of the ways that computers and the internet are making self-employment more doable?
The entire world is our market
Because of the internet we’re no longer limited to the local community as a business base. Business can quite literally be developed throughout the world. The obvious advantage here is a much bigger market, but probably more significant is the niche factor. There are more niches globally than locally, and that heightens the chance of finding business success.
For example, let’s say you’re an art dealer; you can only drum up so much business in your immediate local community. But by selling on the web, you can reach hundreds of larger markets around the world, and many of them may buy proportionately more art than people on your home turf do. Even as a blogger, a significant amount of my income is derived from non-US sources. That’s the nature of the web – a market without borders.
Free and Cheap Marketing
Every business needs to market, otherwise there is no business. But marketing can be the mortal enemy of a small business, especially a start up. Advertising in the traditional media (TV, radio, mailers and print) is expensive. The big players can and do play that game, and play it well, which lowers the probability that your own marketing will be effective among the din.
Marketing on the internet is far cheaper (and often free) than it is in the traditional media. You can place ads on large websites for less than the cost of advertising in a local newspaper, or you can market for free on the social media, like Facebook and Twitter. Just having and growing your website or blog is a form of advertising.
Networking Gets Larger – and More Important
Networking opportunities are wide open – people are helping people on the web. Most web businesses are small, often one-man or one-woman shops, so you can market your products through another online business while they market their product through yours. You can also swap business strategies and gain access to valuable information.
Networking is the life’s blood of the internet – which is largely why it’s called the “web”.
More Product Lines to Sell
Product lines are available to us that once were known only to “insiders”. Everything is being sold on the web and that presents some opportunities. Many companies will offer affiliate sales arrangements, in which you get paid a commission to sell their products. And since it’s what they do, the process of signing up is usually pretty simple. It goes without saying that any sort of import/export business will be easier to build, since it’s all done online.
Online Sales Are on the Rise
Online sales of nearly every product or service you can imagine are rising steadily. What this means is that the resistance to buying online is much lower than it was just a few years ago. More people being more willing to transact business online is a win for the small business owner. Where you once needed an attractive storefront or office suite to get people to do business with you, now all you need is a good website.
Thousands of people are now operating online stores and making a good living doing it. If you’ve ever had an idea to sell a product, the internet has made it more doable than ever. Best part: online stores don’t require tens- or hundreds-of thousands of dollars to start. A few hundred dollars and a good product or product line may be all it takes.
There are various ways to create a business website, including accepting online payments from your customers. One comprehensive site is GoSpaces. Their motto is Create landing pages integrated with payments in no time, with no hassle. And it’s free to use! It’s certainly worth looking into.
Next to marketing, staffing is usually the most expensive outlay for a small business, but the web can even help you with that. You can find inexpensive outsourcing help with virtual assistants (VAs) – no need to have formal employees. VAs can perform everything from simple administrative tasks to complicated computer applications, and they usually cost no more than a few dollars an hour. There are talented people in less developed countries who are willing to take on some of your work for not a lot of money. That means no W2s, no employee benefits and no employee lawsuits. They’re out there on the web, waiting for work.
Building a Portfolio of Businesses – a Major Component of Self-employment in the Internet Age
If you can start one business on the web, you can add a second, a third, or as many as you want. You can enter one business and move seamlessly to another – everything just works faster on the web. Web entrepreneurs are a growing phenomenon – once you overcome your apprehension about the web, the sky is truly the limit. This adds an income diversification that a traditional job can never provide. I’d take that over employee benefits and a loose promise of job security any day!
Servicing the Online “Establishment”
As more businesses develop on the web, so do the opportunities to provide support services for them. If you have computer-, social media-, marketing-, writing- or administrative-skills, there are internet businesses and blogs who could use your services. For example, blogs often use outside services to write articles, manage content, social media marketing and technical support. Any such niche could be the beginning of a new online career if you have such skills.
Free, online training
Information on any business you can think of is no farther away than a Google search (YouTube is another excellent source). In truth (meaning, they’ll never tell you this in college business programs), most businesses are “seat-of-the-pants” affairs – you learn by trial and error. If you’re tooling along in your business and you hit on a snag, you can usually find the answer somewhere on the web. It’s been said that because of the internet, the average person today has access to more information than kings and business tycoons had 50 or 100 years ago. Use that to your advantage.
Start small, grow large
Here’s one of the best parts of working on the web: you can start as a side business until you grow into full-time. That means you can plunge into an internet business without having to quit your job, and you can continue doing so until you’re ready to take it up to full time. This lowers the risk of starting an internet business substantially.
This is possible in large part because internet businesses are talent driven, not capital driven the way so many bricks-and-mortar ventures are. You don’t need inventory, employees or even office space, and as discussed above, marketing is incredibly cheap.
All of these advantages make a strong case for the unemployed, the under-employed, the disenfranchised (that was me seven years ago) or even the currently employed but dissatisfied, to consider some sort of internet-related income generating venture. And because doing it doesn’t require much money, you can try, fail and try again all you like – until you get it right.
This is after all, a new age – the Internet Age.
Have you thought about starting some sort of internet-based business? If not, what’s holding you back?