4 online business rules that no longer exist

Professional life and protocols have transformed into something unrecognizable from 20th-century mores. Is personal branding as simple as adding a word to your Facebook bio?

A few days ago, I was working my face off in my creative cave, realized my social battery was drained and decided to join a bar meet-up in my hometown, Berlin.

I spoke with online entrepreneurs from all over the world and listened to their unique business stories. It reminded me how much the online world has changed the rules of business, which a lot of people still haven’t realized. The essence of the evening was that the rules of online business don’t exist anymore.

Here are my takeaways, along with what they can mean for your online career:

Portfolio + connections = new college degree

In a recent interview with peak performance coach Anthony Robbins, the host asked him about his stance on Bernie Sanders’ wanting to make community college free. Tony’s response: “Making college free doesn’t solve the bigger problem: The second you graduate, your skills are outdated.”

The idea was that the online world moves faster than college programs, which means it’s your duty to educate yourself continually.

One meet-up friend revealed some of his crazy past gigs, from selling emergency cards in case you keeled over on the street to offering Chinese medicine design services for foreigners.

One job involved working as a financial consultant for the fourth-biggest bank in Mongolia. The funny thing is this: My friend doesn’t have a background in finance—no college degree, no training. He was simply interested in the topic, spent weeks educating himself and then met the bank’s co-founder at a private party in Ulaanbaatar. Within a day, he became a financial consultant.

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The power of branding

A Canadian friend wanted to change his career and become a full-time copywriter. He simply declared his new “profession” on Facebook and attracted two writing deals straightaway. Of course, he had practiced writing for years, but a single social media shout-out was all it took to jump-start his copywriting career.

During my online path, I didn’t have a single client asking about my qualifications or background. Heck, most even didn’t know about my nationality or where I lived, which seemed to matter even less.

An online portfolio and personal connections are the new college degrees.

The best clients can be the ones you never meet

A lot of common advice dictates that you know and meet your clients face to face, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true.

I’m a German with a home base in Berlin, but the vast majority of my online clients come from North America. I haven’t met 99 percent of them and probably never will, which is OK. One of my best clients is Californian Srinivas Rao, a former {grow} contributor like me, podcaster and author of “Unmistakable: Why Only Is Better Than Best .”

We have a great working relationship, and I’ve never seen the guy in real life. This still creates distance, which keeps the joint venture on a business footing.

On the other side, the clients I have met in real life actually burned the business relationship through the emerging familiarity and friendship. It felt strange to charge my friends, which lowered my rates drastically.

That’s why in 2016, the best-paying clients are the ones I haven’t met, because we have a strictly business-oriented relationship, strengthened by physical, and thus emotional, distance.

Seth Godin is wrong—specialization doesn’t stand up

Marketing guru Seth Godin said you have to be specialize in something and then become the best. It may be sound advice in the old offline world, but the web age has changed the game. In today’s fast-paced times, focusing on just one thing can quickly end in a career cul-de-sac.

All the successful people I know are generalists with a specialization. They might be online English teachers, but they also manage how their blog makes money and create paid YouTube videos while selling their entrepreneurship knowledge via self-created courses.

I used to do a lot of illustrations for blogs and SlideShare presentations, but since that market dried up like a banana peel in the sun, I changed my approach: With the emergence of self-publishing, I now illustrate many book covers and write and sell my own stories. As soon as I have developed a portfolio, I might sell my knowledge in the form of coaching and courses.

As an online entrepreneur/freelancer, it’s important to get good in a variety of fields, which allows you to adapt to ever-changing market conditions. The idea of learning a particular skill set and then using it for the rest of your career is a relic from the 20th century.

Copying can make you very successful–in a foreign market

Remember bloggers creating blogs about how to blog and making money from blogging? That’s so 2010-ish, you might say. You’d be wrong.

People often forget that the U.S. is at the forefront of online innovation, which means trends that are sucked dry in America haven’t even arrived in most countries.

The idea of making a full-time living from your blog is still fresh in Germany and many parts of Europe. That’s why savvy entrepreneurs can still make massive revenue “overseas.” A Bavarian online friend released an ultra-successful blogging course in Germany about two years ago, and people here thought it was pioneer’s work. I’ve visited their Berlin meet-up and met online enthusiasts who hadn’t even heard about Problogger. Seriously.

The notorious German Samwer brothers have made billions by copying American online businesses and localizing them to European or South American markets. Airbnb became Wimdu, Pinterest’s euro-clone is Pinspire, while Zappos was taken as “inspiration” for the German online market Zalando.

What’s already yesterday’s deal in your world can still be the freshest thing in another region.

When I surf through U.S. social media platforms, I stumble across a lot of “best practices” that seem to be taken from ’90s business books. With the ongoing shift in how we do business online, it’s important to realize that the rules keep changing.

Mars Dorian draws funky illustrations and pens sci-fi thrillers for the internet generation. A version of this article first appeared on the {grow} blog.

Topics: PR

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