Four online business rules that don’t exist any more

paradigm shiftBy Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

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 of Berlin. I had a chance to talk to online entrepreneurs from all over the world and listened to their unique business stories. It reminded me how much the online world had 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…

I want to reveal the top realizations I’ve made from the meet-up, and what they can mean for your online career:

Portfolio + connections = new college degree

I watched a recent interview with legendary peak performance coach Anthony Robbins where 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 Tony’s response: “Making college free doesn’t solve the bigger problem–the second you graduate, your skills are outdated.”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 moved faster than college programs, which meant it was your personal duty to constantly educate yourself.

One of my friends at the meet-up revealed some of his crazy past gigs, from selling emergency cards in case you KO’d on the street, to offering Chinese medicine design services for foreigners (true story).

One of his crazier jobs involved working as a financial consultant for the fourth biggest bank in Mongolia.

The funny thing?

My friend doesn’t have a background in finance. No college degree, no training. He was simply interested in the topic, spent weeks self-educating himself and then met the bank’s co-founder at a private party in Ulaanbaatar. Within a day, he became a financial consultant.

A Canadian friend wanted to change his career and was interested in becoming 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 shoutout was all it took to jumpstart his copywriting career.

During my online path, I didn’t have a single client asking about my qualifications or background. Hex, 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 to know and meet your clients, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true.

I’m a German with a homebase in Berlin, but the vast majority of my online clients come from North America. I haven’t met 99% of them and probably never will, which is A-okay. In fact, one of my best clients is Californian Srinivas Rao, a former {grow} contributor like me, podcaster and author of the new book Unmistakable: Why Only Is Better Than Best.

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

On the other side, the clients I have met in real life actually burned the biz relationship, because of 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 still the ones I haven’t met, because we have developed a strictly business-oriented relationship, strengthened by the physical and thus emotional distance.

Seth Godin is wrong — Specialization doesn’t stand up

Marketing guru Seth Godin said you need 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 thing only can quickly end in a cul-de-sac for your career.

All the successful people I know are generalists with a specialization. They might be online English teachers, but they also run their blog monetization and do 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 has 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/sell my own stories. As soon as I have acquired a portfolio of experience, 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 twentieth 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. Ancient, duuude.


People often forget that the US is at the forefront of online innovation, which means trends that are sucked dry in ‘Merica 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 has 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 a 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 the European or South American market. 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 part.


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

mars dorianMars Dorian draws funky illustrations and pens sci-fi thrillers for the Internet Generation. His latest novel is available on Amazon for just $2.99! Consider his artwork for your next project:

Original illustration by the author.

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