There’s no doubt about it – things change fast on the Internet.
A decade ago, everyone was talking about how the web would create millions of new and unheard-of careers that took people out of traditional offices and into a new, online workplace.
It did that (and then some!).
While it’s still true that the Internet is creating a boatload of new jobs, there are also more threats to this type of career than ever before. And, as someone who runs a web company and has been in this space since college, I find myself thinking about it a lot.
Most readers of this site are either currently running a web-based business (blog, store, company, etc.) or are actively trying to do so and, while I’m no authority on this topic, I thought it might be something useful to chat about.
Don’t worry, there’s a bit of a silver lining at the end of each section.
1. The explosion of the Internet in the developing world
In the past five years the Internet has exploded in the third world. And while a lot of people still don’t have access, the numbers of those that do is truly staggering.
If we look at some charts from Google and the World Bank we can see the percentage increases in net usage in places like China, India, and even African countries like Nigeria.
While China doesn’t reach quite as high as the USA, we have to remember the population sizes and how many people this equates to. In China alone that blue line represents about 650 million people.
This is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It has helped to pull so many people out of poverty and has spread information, knowledge, and funny cat videos to all corners of the globe.
But the days of us in the relatively privileged West coasting along are pretty much over. The competition is now much bigger than it was even a few years ago – and that means it could become harder to create new things or find a distinctive place in a market that is already flooded.
The positive side of this (other than the whole “millions of people out of poverty” thing) is that there is a bigger audience than ever before. Whatever online business you are involved in now has the potential to reach people that it never could before.
2. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence is here and it’s getting smarter a lot faster than predicted.
And while many people suggest that this technology might actually create new jobs, a lot of other expert humanoids aren’t so sure.
In fact, one blogger recently predicted that Artificial Intelligence will render the idea of “working for money” as totally obsolete in the very near future.
It’s tempting to get frightened by advances in AI – it happens so fast that a lot of us (me included) struggle to wrap our heads around the potential consequences.
But it’s important that we adapt.
It’s nothing new: historically a lot of businesses have been left behind as technology changed.
The 1800’s saw Western Union make possibly the worst decision in business history by rejecting a patent for a little thing called the telephone.
More recently, a lot of small businesses struggled as the Internet grew and things became digital (think CDs and record labels, phone books, etc.).
We don’t know where AI is going to take us, but a lot of the experts in those articles above seem to focus on the idea that if your job involves little cognitive creativity, or is very repetitive, then it’s likely that a computer will step in very soon, as is happening with call centers already.
Try to think about opportunities that require social interaction, a deeper understanding of human relationships and culture, and also ways in which your existing business might benefit from a mix of both AI and human-based work.
Another spin is that it’s likely that AI will lead to new types of jobs that we haven’t even thought of yet. We just need to figure them out and adapt as early as possible.
3. Security issues
If you work in the online space you are probably already very familiar with the myriad of issues relating to cyber security.
As time goes by, the volume and type of threats that website owners have to deal with only gets worse. Some of them are politically motivated, others are done purely for financial gain.
And when organizations like the US Government and Microsoft struggle to keep themselves secure, it can seem a little bit overwhelming for the rest of us.
My solution? Try not to lose sleep over it.
In the past I used to get really stressed out until I realized that that wasn’t helping me solve the problem at all.
Now I follow some strict security procedures like using a VPN, avoiding public WiFi, keeping very complicated passwords and two-factor authentication enabled, keeping software up to date, and making regular backups of my sites, IP blocking, etc.
The truth is that if someone really wanted to hurt our online businesses there wouldn’t be much we could do about it. I do my best to try and educate readers of this site about how to be as safe as possible, but beyond that all I can do is hope that we’re not targets.
4. Rapid platform change (including government intervention)
One of the characteristics of the Internet has always been rapid change.
For example, if you look at how quickly MySpace rose to fame and then fell away to obscurity, you’ll recognize a potential threat to any business that puts all of its eggs in to one basket.
But it’s not just about a prioritized website failing, it’s also about the introduction of so many new platforms that you get confused or suckered into wasting time on all of them.
For example, in the social networking world we have seen Snapchat, Vine, Instagram and Periscope all introduce some sort of viral video recording feature in short succession.
And they all did pretty well.
Another (perhaps more serious) aspect to the idea of rapid change is laws and regulations that are passed by governments that could have horrible, unintended consequences that the lawmakers simply didn’t perceive.
If you look at something like Net Neutrality you’ll see how quickly a poorly crafted law could affect every (small) business on the net. Here’s President Obama talking about it:
It’s a good idea to try and stay informed about what your local government is planning to do in regards to these types of issues and, if you are so inclined, write letters if you believe something is about to go wrong.
One advantage of some of these rapid platform changes is that, if you’re early and unique, you have an opportunity to tap into a big audience and maintain that lead while late adopters struggle to get traction. Figure out what platforms are useful to you and make sure you keep testing.
5. Human error
The last thing that I wanted to talk about is something that we all face every day – our own screw ups.
When you run a business you are inevitably faced with a lot of opportunity costs. For example, if you work for yourself that means that you have given up on the possibility of a full time career in some other (perhaps more stable) job.
Similarly, when you devote time to one project or income stream and it turns out to be a bad one you can wind up in some financial trouble.
Diversification is often hailed as the solution to this (have 10 income streams at once), but that presents another opportunity cost in that you can’t devote your resources to one product or stream that might really take off and instead need to focus on lots of small bits and pieces.
Risk is an inevitable part of a successful business on the Internet as much as it is anywhere else. Just like in stock market trading, some web entrepreneurs will embrace an aggressive (perhaps grey-hat) style that only lasts a few months but nets millions. Others prefer a more stable, long-term approach that is less stressful and possibly more beneficial to the community at large.
The major take away for me is to try and learn from the mistakes of others and not repeat them. But, if they do happen, don’t be discouraged and just remember that every successful person (in business and in charity, politics, etc.) goes through some rough patches.
What do you think?
I hope I haven’t scared anyone too much with this article. My intention was just to introduce some ideas in the hope that it helps us be better prepared for any changes that may happen. I’d really love to know whether you agree or disagree with any of these points, and whether or not I’ve perhaps missed something important.
Please leave a comment below and let me know.
Top image © Stevanovicigor at Dreamstime.com.
45 CommentsJoin in. The comments are closed after 30 days.
True Human error is inevitable, we all make mistakes.
But if we learn from our past mistakes and from the mistakes of others, we can at least lessen the chances of making the same mistakes over and over again.
This is the reason why it’s so important to make connections with other bloggers and site owners.
It’s so important to be updated with what’s going on especially in our niche so we could also inform our readers.
And thanks to this blog (and to Ramsay of course) for the useful information and updates it provides.
Totally agree. Thanks for sharing.
I liked it! Particularly the part about AI. I’m a blogger who only did it so for fun before however I’m now starting to pay more attention to how I work because I’ll be a certified health and life coach next year. So the opportunity to connect with my clients and help others is a HUGE thing for me. Something a computer will never be able to do. That being said I will be using online marketing and the blog as a way to reach people. Great post!
Sounds like you’ve got a great plan!
A couple of years ago I had the privilege of spending some time in western Tanzania – a very rural area. There was Internet connectivity here and there, and sporadic places that even had wifi, all dependent upon an unsophisticated landline telephone system. Today, my connections there share pictures of a newly built “Internet cafe” at the local school and it’s a huge hit, of course! The potential for growth I personally saw in that part of Africa was astounding
The increased competition the West may be facing seems like it is industry dependent. For example, my company faces no threat from the growth of China, India or Africa in my industry simply because those areas/countries aren’t producing competitive services in my particular niche; it seems they pose greater competition to the “big guy” versus the “small fry”.
Great summary. Totally agree. I hope the net is a cause for good because it’s really not going anywhere.
Indeed, Ramsay. It can be (and will be, I think) a do-gooder’s venue as long as we want it to be!
That’s what my fiancee always says: it’s not the tech it’s us.
Wow. Great post here!
Thanks Ramsay for providing this need information. I really don’t know that much about technology to comment further. But you definitely said enough to get us to listen and perhaps take heed. As usual, I appreciate your sharing.
Thanks for leaving a comment. Appreciate it.
Many thanks for sharing this wonderful insights.
I think one should know all the negatives and the competitions around your business niche to stay alert. But at the same time, what we can do is just to keep doing the same things we are best at. Competition will always become tougher, security risk will always run after successful people but what they can do is to become themselves.
I am following your blog from years and what I have learnt from you is that we should always focus on what is next best thing we can deliver. I think everyone has their own market, audience, business even though there is risk, uncertainty & competition.
Really an awesome article Ramsey…..keep sharing your experiences. 🙂
Thanks Santanu. Sounds like you’re doing really well!
I would like to know what you do to come up with these “to the point informative posts”? I’m really impressed. I’m happy I started following you last week.
BTW you didn’t scare me with this article but shared a thinking point with me.
Thanks again. Good luck
So glad it’s been helping. Thanks for the feedback.
Great post, Ramsay. It’s important to stay informed and be flexible while pursuing our goals. I really appreciate your insight.
I think there’s going to be a huge disruption.
And the thing is, most of the changes are apparent, yet we aren’t noticing them as they’re slowly getting into our lives.
This post didn’t scare me, but I’m just curious about what’s coming next.
Whatever it might be, I’m expecting a revolution and hoping at the same time that we, the online people, don’t have to perish.
I mean look around. It’s probable that written content might get replaced by videos. GIFs are already common. While the Internet is getting faster, there’s going to be more chaos. That’s assured!
Few days back, I was thinking about a circus in our city. People barely go to watch it. Yet, those circus people are trying hard. The conclusion is clear – some things have to die. There are always going to be better alternatives.
So instead of hoping for our survival, we should try thinking over the questions we’re trying to avoid.
Sometimes, when I learn about things like Google algorithms and machine learning, I doubt there are going to be software which will be able to write content and do all the other things we humans do. And that doesn’t sound impossible.
Who knows, maybe users will be able get the information they want directly addressed by robots and have it solved as well.
What will we do then? That’s the actual question. Because most people are surviving doing things that either other people or machines cannot do.
However, we pretend to be safe and perhaps, fear to ask ourselves “What will we do when all this work won’t need to be done?”
Also, we cannot ignore the clashes that are going to occur between individual workers and giant companies for acquiring more customers. What will companies do then?
They’ve already started moving towards luring them with absolute services and free stuff. But in the end, everyone will have to move towards better tactics.
Therefore I believe there has to be a higher way than the usual practices for connecting with people (I believe in transparent marketing).
Also, although everyone is talking about longer content, I think shorter content is going to be dominant. If we let aside Google algorithms – there are less reasons to write longer content. Most of the time we’re just going in circles about the same old matter and increasing the word count.
People have their own lives going on, and all that we can expect from them is some space in mailboxes and a few minutes of their day. That’s all!
They don’t have much time and have a lot of things going on in their lives. They’re going be a lot serious about how they spend their lives in future as the superfluous stuff in world in only increasing.
All we can do is keep an eye on what’s changing and mold ourselves so we don’t have to face a “sudden trauma.”
I totally agree with you vishal!
Mate, I should just sign this site over to you. Amazing comment.
THANK YOU! 🙂
This is very interesting Ramsay
One of the things that I find fascinating is how the Internet and AI are changing humans physically and psychologically.
Research shows we’re now using web connected devices and cloud storage to supplement our short term memory – meaning the equivalent of our RAM memory is not being used as much, so we’re having problems remembering things.
However – the counter to this is that humans are getting much better at filtering and using the vast amounts of information they encounter daily online – meaning other parts of our brain function are actually getting enhanced.
While the Internet is changing the face of human intelligence, the ‘Internet of things’ means we also may very soon be physically connected to the Web through microchips under the skin and various implants. Now that is a bit scary 🙂
Yeah it’ll happen in our lifetimes. We are slowly merging with computers – it seems it’s just evolution. A lot of physicists predict that if we ever did meet aliens they would be inorganic because if your species lives long enough it might find a way to overcome disease and so on with machines.
Thanks for sharing your insights on the work market’s direction. About AI, I agree that manual works may be replaced in the near future, but for other creative jobs, it would take a long time.
Other than that, I’m not a big fan of replacing brand interaction with AIs like creating an automated call center. I’ve been working as a tech support before and I know how if creates trust with the customers like no other means.
Thanks for sharing!
Hi Anh. The people who invented this new call center AI believe that it solves complaints better than humans by a large percentage. Would would you say to that idea?
All valid points Ramsay and although they didn’t scare me but they definitely made me think.
Just reminded me the importance of personal development again. No matter how changing or rough the external circumstances are, if we keep investing in ourselves and getting more developed and refined, we will always have the skills to manage the change.
Thoughtful write up. Cheers.
I agree. The point is to be happy and help others. The rest is probably just distraction.
I was just thinking about this the other day. When there was a presidential election where I am, the government limited social media for a month, so everyone whose business was depedent on social media suffered huge losses during that time period.
Oh that’s so sad. 🙁
Great article, Ramsay! I like how you offered the opportunities associated with each risk. I tend to be an optimist, so I’m excited to see what the future holds 🙂
I relate best to your piece of advice:
“Try to think about opportunities that require social interaction, a deeper understanding of human relationships and culture, and also ways in which your existing business might benefit from a mix of both AI and human-based work.”
Too many of us are fully dependent upon AI or Media in general. Relationships are first and foremost in life. I, too, have fallen prey to the mind-numbing digital age, leaving priorities “in the dust.”
I’d like to propose that we get back to the “why” of what we do, and make helping people a top priority.
I think you are a good example of that, Ramsay. You seem to have a healthy balance.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post,
Thank you, Jennifer. That means a lot.
Another great post Ramsay. I completely agree with you on the point of AI. AI has been evolving very rapidly, and I fear that in a couple of years, it might lead to less demand of many coding jobs, and many online content creating jobs.
All the manual work which is being done, could be taken up by self learning bots.
Though there is still time left, but we’ll see soon.
We sure will.
I think the biggest opportunities lie in the connections that lie beneath the threats and response opportunities that Ramsay presents to us:
(a) Across human relationships, digital technology and the new relationships we can build that are enabled by the internet and related digital tech
(b) Between ideas and application of ideas and technology in new domains (for lack of a better word), i.e. cross-pollinization
My biggest shortcoming is trying to go at things alone….I’m notoriously bad at nurturing the relationships I start online (so I’m talking to myself in this comment!)
Great comment! I think you’ve got it perfectly.
This is my first visit to your blog and really loved your post!
I agree with you that working online has some negatives, but I also believe that all businesses have their some.
Working online needs creativity and diversity more than ever, so we should be aware of the new trends and see if any can convert for our growth.
Yes, that will add more cost, needed time and might force one to get Virtual Assistants involved, we can think of that as another online vacancy for another guy and the online growth continues.
As you said in the post closing, we just need to be aware of all our threats and be to prepared with plan B.
Thanks for sharing the nice post, Ramsay!
Thanks Hussain. Good points. Appreciate it.
Great piece as usual! However, I gotta ask, as a one-man-band I struggle to generate 1 stream of revenue. How can anyone create and manage 10 without hiring staff or being spread too thin?
It’s definitely not a good idea to stay as the only person in the business forever. But lots of these things you just add and build up to over time.
Hi Ramsay! Thank you so much for this post, you made really great points!
I think it can be pretty intimidating to start off doing anything new, especially when it’s something related to technology. Like you said in your post, everything is changing so fast and it can be hard to keep a track of it. Nothing is certain anymore, not with the way the whole world is constantly progressing.
But I think there are good sides to it, and not just those that you have mentioned. It makes us work for what we like doing harder, it enables us to focus on what we really want to be doing. I mean, has our parents’ generation ever thought that you could make money off of writing your thoughts online and/or sharing your photos (in cases of celebrities profiting from use of social media)? Nope. But we are still doing it.
So yeah, it’s a big world out there, the competition is nuts, everything is changing from day to day, but we have to risk it. Some things are worth it. 🙂
Great article man, glad to catch up after a while.
As far as the first one goes, it is indeed becoming much harder to compete. Niching down though allows us to create enough expertise and accumulate value, so the barrier of entry for new competitors is enormous. Recognition does also make you to stand out.
As for AI, I’m more excited than concerned. Mainly because AI will supply a set of ever growing tools that are amazing, and make our job easier. Using those tools will come intuitive to someone whose daily job is closely connected to observing, and taking advantage of, trends. For someone who knows the underlying principles, learned through hard work, AI will only make things easier.
As for my own personal prediction, I really fear nearsightedness- focusing so much on tactics that tend to work now, while forgetting to pay attention to how trends unravel. Even now, this has halved my paycheck (I’m making the move to another project and another trend, and really hope it is not that late).
Also, the same things that hang over physical businesses, tend to haunt the ones that exist online. If you work with a partner for example, you need to make sure not to exclude yourself from everything the partner takes care of.. God forbid something happens to him, and you are unable to adapt for quite a while…
To combat this- for I have the same fear- it’s wise to make frequent meetings where the sole focus is familiarizing with the work of one another. All info should also be kept in one place in case you need to react before you can reach the partner (passwords, new material you’ve been working at, etc.)
It is important to keep the relationship professional and keep track of mutual goals in case they split along the way. Seeing this from afar can save you a lot of headache later.
Great to have read this- makes me more, well, I wouldn’t say paranoid… but cautious. Which is good having in mind how volatile of an environment we are operating in.
Absolutely awesome comment. As always!