How do you realistically keep up with the changes happening in the world of online business? As a freelancer or entrepreneur, how do you compete with bigger, more established competition?
I spent the first five years of my business working harder than ever before. True, it was mostly mental work, but it consumed a lot of time. I might argue that I spent the next five years of my business life working smarter, not harder. A bit of laziness definitely crept in. After a decade, I discovered BOTH were necessary in the online world.
Do you remember the Rocky movies with Sylvester Stallone? Rocky trained like an animal. In his biggest fights, he usually applied constant pressure as walked through his opponent’s best punches before defeating them.
I can imagine if Rocky were a blogger instead of a fighter. He’d probably be writing 12-hours a day, 7-days a week. The Rocky character went from being an underachiever to being an overachiever.
There are people in the business world who are relentless in their pursuit of what they want. One of my clients applied this approach to a business he started working for as a teenager. He worked around the clock. Today, he owns it along with several other businesses.
This kind of personality is truly rare. I’m talking about the kind of person who lives this way. That’s either you or it isn’t. The good news is, we can become this person at different stages or seasons of life when necessity demands it.
You can focus. You can push through. You can work long hours with incredible determination. If you’ve ever done it before, even if it was just for a short space of time, you can do it again.
Today’s Economy vs Tomorrow’s Economy
I said all of this because even though there are elements at play outside of our control in business, what we do or how we respond plays a huge part in what happens next.
Currently, this is about the best economy I’ve seen since 2008. Small to mid-sized businesses seem to be dealing with less stress than they have in the past several years.
The truth is – some businesses do really well, even in a bad economy. Over time, I’ve had to make adjustments based on the changing values in my marketplace.
For example, when I was first getting started, certain types of information sold for a premium price. Today, the market is flooded with that type of information and cost for it has plummeted. It’s the simple law of supply and demand.
Imagine that you have to make your way through a dense forest. There isn’t a road or path of any kind available, either. At the very least, you’ll probably want a basic map and possibly a compass to take with you in case you get turned around.
A final option might be to pay a guide to take you through to the other side. Most people, if they could afford it, would probably pay the guide.
One day, several years later, someone builds a path through the forest. Years later the path becomes a road.
As this scenario played out in real time, I imagine the guides probably saw the writing on the wall. Eventually, that kind of service would no longer be as necessary as it once was.
Sure, there are ways the guides could stay in business. Maybe they could possibly sell their services to amateur hikers or campers? The dynamics, however, driving that economy would forever be changed.
Fading, Obsolete Skills
From 1984 to 1988 I was in the process of learning several different skill-sets (mechanical drawing/drafting, and inking). My original plan was to go to college to become either an architect or some kind of design draftsman. When that didn’t turn out to be quite the right fit for me, I migrated over into graphic design.
Each skill, for me personally, turned out to have a shelf-life of about five years. Once drawing boards, mylar, inking pens, etc. were replaced by computers and software programs, the writing was on the wall as the saying goes.
The old order of things faded quickly as a new order took form.
Today, rapid change is the norm. Looking back, that’s when it all started.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out that I was a few years ahead of the change curve. In a way, it was like driving over the bridge the day before it collapsed. Only in hindsight did the importance of the timing become that evident.
At the very least, going through these events shaped my approach to business today. You see, you can invest in yourself for the rest of your life and acquire the skills you need to meet the challenges of the time. Today, it’s easier for me recognize what skills are more like to stand the test of time and what skills aren’t.
How Valuable Are Your Talents – TODAY?
It’s easy to look back on anything, historically speaking, and pick things out that should have been noticed but weren’t at the time. For example, a huge underdog wins a sporting event of some kind. The next day, the experts start bringing various reasons for the upset to light. You don’t exactly have to be an expert to do that, though, do you?
History and historical patterns continuously repeat themselves. It’s the fresh coat of paint we put on today’s events that usually blinds us to the pattern.
So, let me ask you the question, “How valuable are your talents – today?” How valuable is your product or service and how has the last few years impacted its current value today? How are changes within your market or industry affecting the way you may be doing business in the not too distant future?
In other words, don’t stay in the place where you can’t see the forest for the trees.
What Barriers Are Falling?
In my own field, I’ve seen just about every barrier you can imagine fall over the last two decades. The little guy now has access to the same data, for example, that used to only be available to big companies.
It used to be expensive to process credit card payments online. Today, on average you’re looking at 2.9% – plus 30-cents per transaction, without any monthly fees or charges. Barriers keep falling.
As of this writing, complicated, expensive shopping cart systems are on their way to becoming a thing of the past. Another problem solved, another hurdle cleared.
Will any of these falling barriers impact your business or the way you do business over the next few years?
In my experience, the sooner I course corrected the better. The sooner I adapt, the less often do I find myself in situations that leave me bracing for impact.
Whenever I see big companies entering into a marketplace (especially my own), I know that it’s time to take a long, thoughtful look into the possible way’s things can play out. If I’ve learned anything, it’s this – pick your fights carefully.
Jesus himself warned, “Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand?”
How Does Change Affect You?
By the late 1990s, I thought the graphic design industry was down for the count. I was wrong. The tools changed, but the industry remained. Many other industries went through similar periods of dramatic change. Will there be a day when most people will cancel their newspaper, magazine, and Cable TV subscriptions in favor of getting everything online? Possibly.
If history tells us anything, however, all these industries will continue to exist even though they may never regain the profitability they once enjoyed.
People still listen to the radio. Some in their cars, some online. People still read physical newspapers and magazines. Sure, the numbers may be much smaller than in the past, but the fact that they’re still in existence means someone, somewhere is still making money.
If you’re providing a service that’s not as popular or as profitable as it once was, it makes sense to consider some viable alternatives if possible. You can also combine two existing services to create something different.
There used to be a TV commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. In the commercial, one person was walking along eating peanut butter while the other coming from the opposite direction eating chocolate. After they collide, the peanut better eater yells, “Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!” The chocolate eater replied, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”
Once they tasted the combination, both had a new favorite!
The lesson here is simple. It may be possible to combine things you already have to make something new. All that’s required to kickstart the process is the willingness to look at the situation with a fresh set of eyes and the willingness to try something different.
An Easier Way to Reinvent Yourself and Your Business
Oftentimes, the easiest solutions end up being the best solutions. What would happen if you added a new skill to your existing skills? In other words, what if you found a peanut butter to go with your chocolate?
If you’re a designer, what would happen if you learned how to create ad copy? If you’re a writer, how would learning design potentially change the game?
I’m not talking about mastering something new, I’m talking about basic proficiency. Adding one new skill to your existing skills might open new doors of opportunity for you?
Here’s another though – every successful business owner understands profits and losses. What could you add to your existing skill set that, once combined, could help them generate larger profits?
What could you set up for them or make for them that they can’t do themselves? Or at least, not well.
Remember, there was a time where you couldn’t do the very things you’re getting paid to do today. You learned a new skill once… and you can do it again. Actually, you can do it in as little as 21-days. If you don’t know what I’m talking about and haven’t listened to my last podcast, you can listen to it here.
I’m not saying you have to do everything yourself, but once you understand how something works for yourself, it just adds another layer of value upon what you already have.
The Future of Online Business
The other day I was reading comments in a Facebook group for website developers. They were talking about the future of WordPress. It may be easier than ever to get a simple website set up and running. But, there seems to be no shortage of challenges when it comes to getting a site to look and function exactly the way you want to.
That’s where the pros come in. Even developers struggle from time to time getting things just right. So, will a “good enough” result on Squarespace or Wix put an end to the web development industry? No.
The online space changes so fast, I don’t believe it will be easy for services like Squarespace or Wix to stay on cutting edge and stay remain profitable at the same time. Compare their budget and staff against an innumerable number of talented individuals from around the world working together in the open source community. There’s really no comparison
They took a great product and a great idea and made it even better.
In that respect, website developers will be around for the foreseeable future.
Like auto technicians, they’ll probably spend more time installing the parts others manufacture rather than building the parts themselves. I hope that makes sense?
Meanwhile, the Microsoft’s, Apple’s, and Amazon’s of the world will engage in what I like to call “top tier” competition.
Unlike the game of Monopoly where the board itself is unchangeable, the most valuable properties of today may non-existent somewhere down the line. Industries remain for the most part, but the players and the banners they sell under change more frequently than ever.
When it comes to value, the logic driving a market doesn’t always add up. If it did, we’d see actors and athletes making a lot less money than scientists and engineers.
People value entertainment. They value it highly.
Call it escapism or whatever label you want to put on it. It is what is. The point I’m trying to make is – if this were a game, there may be more moves on the board than you may have noticed at first glance. In other words, the boxing in or squeezing out that you may be feeling in your business isn’t an inescapable situation.
There are ways up, over, around, and under every obstacle that slows or hinders your progress. There are ways to combine things and/or add things that can change the game for you.
You just have to believe it, or you’ll get frustrated and want to give up.
Here’s an article on companies that recovered from near disaster by changing what they were doing: click here
And here’s another about famous companies that didn’t change: click here
Yes, there’s a lot of competition. Yes, prices have fallen. And yes, even with all the right formulas and systems in place, you will still have to persevere. But that’s life in a nutshell, isn’t it?
Feel free to share your thoughts, observations, and comments below.