What it Means to Be an Online Professional
This course is designed to address two types of online professionals:
- Entrepreneurs launching or running businesses with significant online components
- Professionals (working for an employer) who aim to build a robust online presence to strengthen their careers
More and more people are turning to entrepreneurship as a result of unemployment and underemployment. Though running one’s own business offers uncertain rewards and is incredibly demanding, one can enjoy complete control over the company’s strategic moves, one’s daily tasks and schedule, and the ultimate fate of the venture. In other words, you are the only one who can sell the company, move it in a new direction, lay people off, decrease wages, and offer rewards.
Some online entrepreneurs use their businesses as a source of supplementary funds while others work full time on their independent ventures (and depend on them entirely for income). Some work exclusively online while others do much of their work away from computers or maintain brick-and-mortar offices, studios, and storefronts.
Examples of online entrepreneurs include:
- A cupcake shop owner with a website through which customers can order and purchase cupcakes for pickup, delivery, or shipment
- A yoga instructor who maintains a brick-and-mortar studio and sells training videos online
- A retired CEO who provides coaching and mentorship services to young women in the workplace
- A stay-at-home mom who sells tutoring materials and offers training sessions to those running after school programs
- A college student with a side business devoted to resolving local businesses’ computer problems
Though other examples of entrepreneurs include artists who create their own design firms and merchants who sell goods through online storefronts, we recommend that they first check out our Online Arts and Design and Online Sales courses respectively.
Online reputations are more influential than ever, hence it is important, whether one is in the job market or not, to cultivate a digital identity that exemplifies one’s skills. In addition to making oneself more attractive as a potential employee, a robust professional reputation online can help one move up within the ranks of one’s own company or receive additional opportunities, such as contract work, speaking requests, and invitations to contribute articles to high profile publications.
We define online professionals as those who have consciously cultivated their digital identities and use them to their advantage.
Examples of online professionals include:
- A creative at an advertising firm who provides online commentary (through a personal blog, social media, and articles for popular digital publications) about trends in advertising
- A high school chemist who publishes work online (in the form of fun YouTube videos, visual guides on a website, and a podcast) about fun at-home chemistry experiments and the powers that accompany a sound understanding of chemistry
- A college student studying communications who specializes in the latest online communication and social media trends, offering interesting insights through infographics, blog posts, and columns published across several major blogs
- A plumber who liveblogs his (anonymized) clients’ plumbing disasters via Twitter and takes photos and videos of each job that are eventually compiled into blog posts and edited YouTube videos showing how to fix common plumbing issues
To increase their odds of success, it is highly advisable that entrepreneurs make an active effort to cultivate robust and respectable online presences.
The Perks of Becoming an Online Professional
- Creative freedom
- The ability to work anywhere (depending on the nature of one’s business)
- Control over one’s professional life and working conditions (e.g. one can choose who one works with)
- Work that directly contributes to one’s financial and professional gain (as opposed to work that contributes to the financial and professional gain of a company or one’s boss)
- The option to turn your passions into a full time job (should they be related to something marketable and in demand)
- Flexibility enabling one to work around major responsibilities and scheduling conflicts (e.g. those associated with being a stay-at-home parent)
- Increased appreciation of the work one does
- The opportunity to educate the world about one’s area of expertise
- A far wider network, as a robust digital identity leads to new introductions and relationships
- More professional opportunities resulting from higher visibility
- Increased job security (if seen by your employer as a valuable public asset)
- Higher likelihood of finding a new job should one be laid off (as one has made oneself into a very attractive prospect online)
Major Myths Associated with Online Business
- Online entrepreneurs, though independent, do not answer to no one: though they may not contend with bosses and upper management, they still answer to (often demanding) customers and clients
- Entrepreneurship does not mean making millions; few people make much from independently-owned small businesses, and it is not uncommon for the first five years to be extremely lean
- Entrepreneurs do not get to spend all day at home in their pajamas; many entrepreneurs do their work outside their homes, and even those with home-based businesses actively socialize network at real-world events to build up a client base and network
- Entrepreneurs do not have the freedom to focus entirely on their products and services; because they must maintain their entire business, they must also devote significant resources toward administrative tasks such as bookkeeping and management of health insurance coverage
- One does not have to be incredibly creative to become an entrepreneur; most great business ideas spring from the recognition of straightforward problems that are not being adequately addressed
- Online professionals are not attention whores; though a couple of bad examples might give one the impression that online professionals spend 90% of their time tooting their own horns, most are focused on providing substantive, actionable, and valuable information and insights
- Online professionals need not be 20 or 30-something tech lovers; one does not need any prior experience with online tools or social media to build a strong online brand
- One need not be feeling insecure about employment or looking for more work or another job to focus on building a robust online identity; many well-known online professionals have stable jobs they love and just want to share more about their work and awesome employer with the world at large
Major Trends in Online Business
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of new businesses (that is, establishments less than one year old) has been in steady decline- especially after a peak in 2006.
One might reasonably associate this slump with the state of the US economy and a paucity of available seed funding and starting capital.
Just because fewer total new businesses are being started does not mean that those businesses are less likely to succeed. New businesses started at various different points over the past decade or so have followed very similar trajectories when it comes to survival.
That said, there is a higher number of business ‘deaths’ right now than there has ever been before.
What’s more, some businesses are more likely to succeed than others. If your new business is designed to meet a major demand within the healthcare industry, for example, you are far more likely to make it than if your business is built around construction services.
A basic understanding of industry trends (e.g., that the Baby Boomers are getting older and that, in a lackluster economy that blew out with the help of a housing bubble, people might not be all that keen on building new homes, office complexes, and housing developments).
To get a better idea of the fastest-growing needs and industries, review the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ table summarizing the occupations expected to have the fastest rate of growth through 2020.
The important trends to consider as an online professional (who aims to build a robust digital identity) involve not finding the right career, but making the one you have clear, alluring, and attractive.
The Internet Becoming an Accurate Reflection of the Real World
It used to be the case that one could easily conduct certain careers with no presence online and minimal online interaction. That said, people are increasingly turning to the internet to:
- Find employers
- Find employees
- Screen job candidates
- Keep tabs on colleagues
- Choose a service provider
- Choose a product
- Find an expert
In effect, the internet has become a more accurate reflection of the real world. It can be effectively used to conduct work, screen employees (e.g. 37% of respondents in a 2012 study by Career Builder claimed to use social networks to screen candidates), and find high quality products and services. Social networks are more effectively resembling and becoming intertwined with real-world networks.
More than ever, you will put yourself at a competitive disadvantage by choosing not to be present.
The Internet Becoming a Preferred Mode of Operation
In addition to the veil between the internet and the “real world” wearing impossibly thin, more and more people prefer internet-based methods to their analog counterparts.
At the very least, one can concretely conclude that more people are using the internet. From 200 to 2010, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that internet usage amongst adults jumped from 46% to 79% with the percentage of adults using the internet on a daily basis increasing from 25 to 62.
Based on our personal experiences and interviews with online professionals, we can also say that more and more people:
- Would rather review your product’s details and features through an interactive site than an in-person meeting (it is more convenient, after all)
- Want the ability to pay with credit cards (using services like Square or PayPal) rather than with checks or cash
- Find it far more convenient to peruse an individual’s public LinkedIn profile than to request a resume
- Would rather answer questions via email than in a scheduled phone call (most cite a desire to be able to answer questions at their leisure and more carefully think through responses)
- Would rather conduct casual correspondence via social media than phone calls (or emails, to be fair)
- Prefer to search for potential hires through resume sites rather than call, one by one, various contacts within their personal networks
- Are only likely to keep in touch with peripheral contacts via Facebook or Twitter, as they are too busy to maintain lists of people to occasionally call on the phone or meet up with in person
Again, by refusing to engage with people on multiple dimensions through online formats, you are putting yourself at a bigger disadvantage year after year.
The Internet Becoming a Primary Source of Information
Back in the day, well-known professionals built their reputations through speaking circuits, television appearances, and contributions to magazines and printed periodicals. While these channels still remain effective means by which you can develop a noteworthy professional reputation, digital publications and social media channels are gaining more attention every year.
(As of the latest update applied to this lesson) Quantcast shows that YouTube alone gets over 175 million visits (Facebook enjoys over 138 million, while Twitter has over 93). Popular digital publications such as The Huffington Post, CNN.com, Fox News.com, and NYTimes.com enjoy 53, 21, 17, and 16 million monthly visitors respectively.
If you want to make a name for yourself, you must therefore give careful attention to online channels as well as traditional means of reputation building.
Online Tools Becoming Easier for Anyone to Use
Between smartphones and easy-to-use online tools, maintaining a polished and active online presence is no longer difficult. In the following lessons, we will cover platforms, tools, resources, and practices that will introduce you to these tools and heuristics that enable you to use them in a low-hassle, efficient manner.
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Only take this lesson’s quiz if you are enrolled in the course and want to prove your skills and earn official credentials. Credentials related to a course are useful if you would like to find work related to this course’s career, as we direct businesses and entrepreneurs to our membership page when they approach us looking for specialists.
Finally, make sure you have reviewed this lesson’s required reading (displayed at the top right of the page) before taking the quiz- you will be tested on information covered in those guides!