How The Internet Has Leveled The Playing Field For Entrepreneurs

Rick London
 


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I realize too many adults who discovered the Internet late in life, I am preaching to the choir in this article. Please simply ignore it if so.

If you are one of the ones who, like me, found it hard to “find oneself” early in life or to even know what my “voice” was, then you might be able to identify.

I had not been a good student in school and was working, unhappily, in my father's real estate business in a small Mississippi town. It was not a good scene for me.

I somehow stumbled through it, looking back I am not sure how.

I can honestly say, and it is hard to believe, that for at least twenty or so years, my life was “on hold”. I simply had no idea which way to go, who to turn to, or what to do with it, even if I had found it. That is not something of which I am proud, it is just the reality I was facing.

I needed a challenge and nothing was challenging to me.

I ended up in cities around the country taking jobs that were often, I felt, beneath me but I had to make a living.

Something inside me kept saying “the arts, the arts, ” but I did not have the patience to sit still to learn the arts. I was, by then, feeling very washed-out and ridiculed.

Occasionally I would try something like stand-up comedy while living in New York, and it was a disaster, as was screen writing in Los Angeles. But I tried.

In 1994, fate and the Northridge Earthquake, shook my life into a new direction. Back home. My mother had fallen ill right after the earthquake, and I felt this might be a sign to go home. Truly I thought it was to go home “to die”. I was only forty-two but by then feeling very burned out.

I cannot remember the full details, but somehow I was given a computer and taught myself the Internet. That was 1997.

This was pre-Google, pre-blogs, pre-Ebay, pre-almost everything except Yahoo!. As I began reading the information available on the Internet, I learned that there was much to learn.

Suddenly even college courses were offered, and the chance to earn a degree. I signed up. That was five years ago and I am still there. Why would someone at my age even think about getting a college degree? I have no corporate ambitions. I don't think I can “save the world”.

I learned that the motivation of college is not always about money. It is about self-improvement and direction.

Though I have only finished three years of college in five years due to health issues, I can say I have learned a lot. Most of what I did learn is how little I knew, and still know. I know a lot of basics or principals of business, entrepreneurial ship, and the Internet, but there is still much to learn.

One of the important things I learned is that the Internet, is a community just like a real city or town. I have found a good many people discovering the Internet to make their dot.com millions, only to discover the same challenges and obstacles that exist in the real world. In fact the Internet reflects the real world, because it is a microcosm of the real world.

Our behavior, in fact, is magnified on the Internet. We share our souls with strangers and that is taking a risk and chance within itself.

By doing this in both blogs and ezinearticles I have met a great many people online. Some I have actually met in real life and our meetings changed mine (and they have told me their) lives. Sometimes the opposite. The Internet does not always tell the whole story of the person behind the keyboard.

The trick, I am finding, is to try to be as accurate as possible behind the keyboard as to whom one is and be prepared. The closer you can describe yourself, your abilities, your products or services, the fewer surprises you will have (or emit). You don't want to over-hype, you don't want to under-hype You want to find your niche and “tell it like it is”.

The Internet has “leveled the playing field”. I told that once to Dr. Vinton Cerf, the Father Of The Internet. Dr. Cerf invented the TCP-IP protocol (which we now call the Internet) while a student at Stanford in 1969. I had the pleasure of meeting him online, and thanked him for this wonderful invention. He seemed to know what I was saying when I tried to explain to him that this invention had “leveled the playing field”.

What I meant by that was that information that once was only available to major captains of business, is now available to all.

We all now have the opportunity, if we choose, to utilize this device to brand ourselves, advertise our business, purchase from the very wholesalers and distributors that the “big dogs” do and have them drop-shipped one at a time, be more creative than the big dogs, and possibly earn a very good living. Still it takes work and planning. Just because the new landscape of the workplace may be pajamas in the living room, does not mean one can sit back and be inactive. If anything the opposite. A very proactive stance is mandatory.

Especially if starting a venture on a shoestring. And many of us have done just that. We may find that we are good writers, or artists, or speakers or salespersons. Whatever we discover about ourselves on the Internet, it will most likely be through “meeting” other people on the Internet with similar skills, or with skills that complement our own.

When I say skills that complement our own, I will give you an example of my first Internet venture. I could write one line “gags” for cartoons or stand up comedians very well (not too great at delivering them but very good at writing them, I am told). But my illustration skills are waning. The Internet gave me the opportunity to meet artists interested in a venture I started a decade ago called Londons Times Cartoons. I wrote all the gags (still do) and my team of illustrators make me look good. But, there is a bright side to it. Its win-win. My writing makes them look good too. In fact, together, we have created a website that, at first, was receiving a hundred hits (on a good day). We looked up and eight years later it was one of the most popular and visited websites on the Internet (at least in the top 80,000 according to Netcraft and top 200k according to Alexa.

This was actually a big surprise to all of us because there came a point that we thought this was only going to be a hobby. It finally evolved into a large store as well (a manufacturer agreed to make our products on items such as tee shirts, mousepads, clocks, aprons, and such. The store does well.

In addition, we took another risk and launched “the world's first cartoon gourmet coffee gift basket” which includes 5 packages of fresh-picked bean coffee (different flavors and blends), a cartoon coffee mug, and four ceramic cartoon coasters.

We had it made and “put it out there”, that is, advertised it on the Internet. We looked at other coffee gift baskets and decided $44 was a fair price. It turned out to be a good risk as others agreed and bought and still buy.

Then we found wholesale distributors (real ones. . . don't be fooled by middlemen, that is the majority). But we did some research and found that Ebay only recommended two, Doba.com and Worldwidebrands.com. They turned out to be right on target. We get the same low prices the “big dogs” get and get to pass the savings on to the customer. So we opened another retail store to sell popular products like mp3s, digital cameras, etc.

Then we learned about “cross-promoting”. We decided to give away a free coffee gift basket, with a minimum amount purchase. It took awhile for people to give it a try but finally they did and everyone was happy once again.

I say all this now as if I “take it for granted” but I do not. The Internet did “level the playing field” and it is important to remember that, if Dr. Cerf had not been a good student and developed such an amazing piece of work, many of us would have left the planet, never having a chance to express ourselves in a way that we are able to today. So we owe him a world of thanks.

So, my advice and a student, is to always be a student, even if one is not, that is, be open to learn and not always know the answers. I often don't, and the Internet seems to teach me that more each day. I hope you find a similar experience.

Rick London is an ecommerce entrepreneur, cartoonist, inventor, writer, and full time return-to-school adult student. He owns numerous ecommerce sites and one of the top sites on the Internet according to Alexa and Netcraft ratings. He is founder and co-owner of an Internet variety mega-store which sells everything from laptops to mp3's at http://www.internet2yourdoor.com and his top cartoon site, Londons Times Cartoons is at http://www.londonstimes.us

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