I’m a member of an ecommerce entrepreneurs group called MySilentTeam.com
It’s a group primarily serving entrepreneurs who do business via Amazon, in particular using FBA or the Fulfilment by Amazon system.
Talking About Your Online Business
MySilentTeam is run by Jim Cockrum, who by the way is also the producer of the excellent PAC Proven Amazon Course.
The PAC is designed specifically for people who want to start their own Amazon-based ecommerce business. You can find out more about the Proven Amazon Course at the end of this post.
Anyway, a fellow member of MySilentTeam was telling us about how he was recently at a party and was talking to people about his Amazon business.
The listeners got confused and insisted to him that starting a business of this kind would be difficult in practice. He then explained how in the last two weeks his so-called “small business” had made more profit than people make in an entire month working as an employee.
He told them how his business is largely automated and that he had spent the grand total of about 4 hours this last month actually working on it. So in effect, he had made about $2,500/hour in that month alone.
The listeners were people running their own traditional “bricks and mortar” type businesses. One has a chain of physiotherapy clinics, the other a successful landscaping firm.
They concluded that since their businesses which they have worked hard on for the last 10 and more years weren’t doing that well, that running a virtually automated business must be nigh on impossible. They couldn’t comprehend the concept of “business automation”, nor either the fact that his effectively “part-time” lifestyle business was making more money than they would ever make with their “bricks and mortar” businesses.
As he said, these uncomprehending, suspicious and hostile responses have left him now wondering how many people are really receptive to hearing about the online business model in the first place.
This is something I can also sympathize with. I too have experienced similar responses from people.
Initially when I started out in online business, I was enthusiastic about telling other people about what I did.
But I received very little if any enthusiasm or positive energy or support back from other people in return. Most people simply did not understand, or else insisted “there must be some catch”. In some cases they were even hostile.
There Are Employees – And There Are Entrepreneurs
Since then I have come to realize and to just accept the fact that there are at least two types of people in the world when it comes to business.
There are those who are business minded and entrepreneurial.
And there are those who are not. Those who are not business minded have the role in life of working as employees and leaving business to the entrepreneurs.
There Are Digital Entrepreneurs – And Non-Digital Entrepreneurs
There is also another way of looking at it in addition to regarding people as either the entrepreneurs or the employees.
Namely a divide between those who understand the online or digital economy, and those who still think in the old physical economy ways.
For employees, the concept of entrepreneurship is foreign enough. But the idea of digital entrepreneurship is an even greater step beyond their comprehension.
The digital economy is actually relatively new. The Internet has only been open to the general public for about 20 years. And the first dot-com digital economy wave only started some 15 or so years ago. So it’s inevitable that many people still have problems grasping its significance.
There is also a further dimension to this which may also help to explain the reason for the persistence of these old fashioned attitudes.
Economic Waves Are The Key
Back in the 18th century and before, common opinion – including educated opinion and economic philosophy was that only agriculture was productive. Everything else – “industry”, crafts, retail trading, was considered unproductive or “parasitic”.
Partly this was because people had the idea that all production comes from the land. So they had the idea that land is therefore the key to the economy and to all production.
This idea was still the standard economic ideology at the time of Napoleon. And it was Napoleon who famously referred to the English contemptuously as just “a nation of shopkeepers”.
With the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century we moved on from these ideas about farming being the be all and end all to the concept that factories and industry are also productive. Industry eventually took over in economic importance from agriculture.
Later in the 20th century services, that is non-agricultural and non-industrial productive activity increased in scale and importance in the economy. With that people came to understand that services are also productive.
Most high income countries now rely mostly on physical services, not industry or agriculture. The latter now employs only a few percent of employed people in most high-income countries.
And now in the 21st century we have a new form of services emerging: the digital economy.
But many people still remain fixed in the beliefs of the last wave – namely physical services.
They will have to learn to understand and accept that digital services are the next wave and with that the economic future. The economy is no longer just about physical services – anymore than it is about industry – or farming.
So we have the following path of evolution:
agriculture -> industry -> physical services -> digital services
We also of course had hunters and gatherers prior to agriculture. I’ve left them out of the diagram.
But probably the new class of farmers were chided and criticized at the time for not being “real” and for constituting a “burden” on the hunters. If as one of those new fangled farmers you’d gone to a Stone Age cocktail party, you’d probably have been met with looks of incomprehension and hostility from the hunters and gatherers present when you tried to explain what you were doing!
So these are always new concepts for people to grasp. The current changing economic structure with digital services still has yet to be fully recognized by our governments, our politicians, public administration, and our schools and higher education. It will take time.
Perceptions Play a Major Role
People’s perceptions of business vary.
For some employees, business in general is a murky world, or something which they see as remote or above them.
For many more too, online business adds a further level of complexity which they find particularly unfathomable. Such people often regard the online or digital economy as somehow involving “spam”, “pop-ups”, and probably some sort of Google “fiddle” somewhere along the way.
At any rate online business is not considered by such people to be “real” or “productive”. It’s striking just how these attitudes have a parallel with those held by those brought up in the previous economic waves of industry and agriculture.
What matters in business is: are you providing value? Do you have customers? If so, then you are productive. And is your business profitable?
And of course, is your business legal, ethical and all the rest of it? Do you meet a need which people have?
If the answer to all these points is yes, then there is no need for you to “justify” your business to anyone. It justifies itself.
How Should You Respond?
But in the meantime, how should you best respond when you find yourself at a party or other social gathering, and people ask you “what do you do” or “what business are you in”?
I’ve been faced with this situation many times and I’ve pondered it a lot. I think it partly depends upon who you are talking to. What do they know about online business, about the digital economy, about the Internet, or about IT?
There’s a bit of a parallel here with IT.
I worked in IT for many years. But I was not a programmer. I was never actually a programmer. Yet I often had people asking me if I am a programmer. It comes as a surprise to many people to discover that most people who work in IT are not programmers.
I learned to tailor my answer depending upon who I was talking to. If it was a fellow IT professional, then I could fully explain what the role in my current project was and maybe go into some depth if I needed to or wished to.
But if I was talking to a non-IT person, who hardly knew their html from their http, or their ftp from their ssh, then I would tend to reply: yes, I’m a programmer. Otherwise it would be too complicated to explain in detail and in any case it would simply most likely end up boring them in the process.
What we are really dealing with here is perception. So how does this apply to the digital vs non-digital economy and the people that inhabit these two sectors?
Stick To People’s Perceptions
My advice is: don’t set out to reform perception. Just work with it.
Don’t try to turn willing employees into entrepreneurs. And don’t try to turn entrepreneurs of the old physical services or industry school into digital entrepreneurs. It’s very hard work and it’s a thankless task that will most likely end in frustration and alienation.
In my experience, people always understand advertising – though that too does not always enjoy a good reputation.
They may also understand ecommerce, since many have now purchased via Amazon or Ebay. There is at least more understanding of ecommerce than there was a decade ago. Many people have also now used these platforms to sell items second hand themselves.
It’s probably best to stick to advertising, or at most, “ecommerce” as your explanation.
Some people now are starting to understand the existence of digital services and the cloud, through the emergence of services such as iTunes, Uber, AirBnB and so on.
But don’t get drawn into details, as that can lead to miscomprehension and argument, depending on who you are talking to.
Economic change and evolution is a fact. No one can deny it – not even those who are employed or run businesses in the previous economic waves of physical services, industry, or agriculture.
But it isn’t and shouldn’t be your job to spend time and effort educating people in all this. That’s for them to do themselves.
It’s enough for you to simply make sure they are happy with how you explain what you do in the digital sector – and with that to keep the party harmonious.
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