A couple of months ago I was chatting with one reader of this blog. He told me that he wanted to build websites and blogs for a living, to which I replied “Go for it. Working online is great.” Then he told me that he had one big problem: his parents and friends couldn’t possibly understand how someone could make a living from working on the Internet, so he felt a lack of support.
Obviously my initial reaction was to tell him to not care about what others were saying and rather to pursue what he thought was right. In other words, the fact that other people couldn’t understand what he wanted to do for a living was irrelevant.
These days I caught myself thinking about this issue again, and I came to the conclusion that the fact that other people can’t understand what you do for a living is not only irrelevant, but it can also be a good sign.
I am not sure where, but sometime ago I read the following sentence: “If you can explain to the average guy sitting in a bar what you do for a living, you are half way through commoditization.”
It made sense in general, and is particularly suitable for people who work on the Internet.
A commodity is a good that does not have differentiation in the market place. Sugar is a good example. Sugar is sugar, after all. When you go to the supermarket, there is a good chance that you’ll pick the cheapest product, or pick one without even caring to compare it. As a result, companies producing sugar compete mostly on price, and profit margins decrease over time.
People can become commodities too. Production line workers are commodities. Companies pay the same (low) salary to all of them. If one particular worker is not happy with the conditions, the company will invite him to leave and replace him with a similar worker the day after. Why is that? Because performing production line work is trivial, and there is plenty of supply for it (i.e., workers).
When you are not a commodity, on the other hand, you can differentiate yourself. This means that you are be able to develop your brand, to charge a premium price for your services or products, and that you are harder to replace.
Bottom line: If you work with blogs, websites, affiliate marketing, search engine optimization and the like, well, you will certainly have a hard time explaining to the average Joe what you do for a living. But hey, that is not a bad thing at all. It is a sign that you are not becoming a commodity.