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The internet’s over. Let’s all go home. 


Or, no, wait, things are actually great, and you’re making your best month yet!”


“Or, no no, we’re seeing the effects of AI and it’s all going to bounce back any second now.”


“We’re burned out.”


“We’re thriving!”


“We’re authentic, and this is just natural market fluctuations”


“…. oh fuck it, let’s all just go check out Threads.”


I’ve heard all this and more over the past say … 6 weeks-ish to 3 months-ish from clients and colleagues. There’s a general sense of “WTF is happening with the online entrepreneur space?”


Things are changing, for sure. But the benefit of having been doing this for as long as I have is that this is like, my fourth internet apocalypse. 


I’m not especially worried about it. Things are going to change, because that’s what things do. 


But I am curious about it, and tracking it. (Because how else am I gonna be responsive to it?) And what I’m seeing is that we’re experiencing a fun little swirl caused by the fact that the online entrepreneur world is what’s called a second order chaos system.


Tiny diversion into chaos theory for those of you less enamored by it than me, which I’m assuming is just about everyone. 


So, you can think of chaos as happening in levels, or “orders”, if you want to sound like an analytic philosopher. A first-order chaos system is something like the weather. It happens. It’s kinda random. And — here’s the important bit — that flavor of random isn’t influenced by how people feel about the weather, or what predictions they make. I can want to peel my face off every January when it rains for a billion days in a row, and it’s still going to rain, or not, no matter how I feel about it.


A second order chaos system though, that’s where things get interesting. This is a system that is chaotic and responds to feelings and predictions about it. For instance, the stock market. There is chaos in there, and that chaos happens, but it’s also shaped by the predictions people make about it. Same thing in internet-land. The way people feel about what’s going on in the online market has an impact on what actually happens.


We all get excited about something, and then because of that we’re more willing to take risks, or launch new things, and then poof, look at that, things change. Or, in this case, there’s some weirdoism in the air, and that’s engendering more weirdoism. Now, it’s definitely not a 1:1 cause and effect. But there is a relation there. And I think it’s leading to a significant shift in the online market.


What’s causing the weirdoism? Here’s my take.


I’m seeing two main things at play that are exacerbating the swirl in our chaos system:


We’re on the downside of a boom.


Around 2021 there was a boom of people coming into the online space. People had been on lockdown for a while, they were annoyed and tired of their jobs, and so they decided to try internetting.


We saw a lot of trends and behaviors just like we did the last time we had a big “join the internet!” boom in the wake of the 2008 recession, which I wrote a big thinkpiece about. And then people had that sweet sweet EIDL money coming through, which meant that they had access to larger chunks of cash than they might otherwise have been playing with. This made it very easy to sell things like coaching and copy and web packages, because you had an abundance of interest and resources.


Now, we’re seeing the tide go back out, as people realize that entrepreneurship is a for-realsies job, and that actually, the stability of corporate work is a better fit for their needs.


This was always going to happen. The myth of forever-growth is some tech-bro bullshit. Things happen in waves, and this happens to be the downswing. Plus, EIDL loans are now coming due, so people aren’t as flush as they were. Even if they still have the money, or if they grew it, they still don’t have the excitement of a pile of cash raining down from the sky. 


All of this is contributing to a sense of lack, and belt-tightening that’s not actually real. The market’s the same as it was. It’s just not as *oversaturated* with people and cash as it was in the past couple of years. But this feeling means that people are more reluctant to buy, and sales cycles are taking longer.


There’s (more) instability in the tech world.


Instability. Dynamism. Whatever. Things are changing in unpredictable ways in a sector that’s already inherently unpredictable … and on top of that, it feels like both the complexity and unpredictability are accelerating.


While there’s lots of shifts happening, AI is a good stand-in avatar for all of them. It serves as a symbol, a conduit, for all our hopes and fears about the tech changes. The reason I know that it’s serving this function is that you can take a lot of the higher-level things people are saying now about AI and map them basically word-for-word onto previous tech changes, like the Panda update, SEO, Facebook Business pages, or, god help us, Clubhouse.


That’s not to say that it’s not changing things. It is a massive innovation that’s going to shake up the way we work. But not in the way all the dude-bros are yelling about on YouTube. I can soapbox about all the ways Large Language Models (LLMs) are going to affect us somewhere else if you want, but the main thing to take away here is that the level of instability in the tech world, characterized by and concentrated on AI, is also contributing to a whole lot of people feeling anxious and overwhelmed in the online business space.


All of this has led to an amplification of things that have always been around in internet-land.


Stress is an amplifier of behavior. It doesn’t create new things in people, by and large. It turns up the volume on what’s already there.


The stress created by the downside of this boom + the instability in the tech world is amplifying elements that have always been around in entrepreneur-ing, for good and bad.


Some of the bad stuff? Extra flakiness, and generally bad behavior from clients and contractors.


Over the past year, I’ve had multiple clients who were perfectly happy with the work we did with them just straight up not pay their contracts. People I had good, long-standing relationships with, and did good work for. Usually because they were “stressed” or “had to take care of their mental health”, neither excuse plays particularly well with my landlord … but which several people told me with a completely straight face.


I’ve also had people I work with agree to do work, take the money, and then completely fuck it off. Contractors blowing by deadlines with no notice, making me chase them to get updates, then getting upset with me when I ask them where the work is. Business service providers canceling service or not answering service requests, then being surprised when I go with someone else. The main reason they give, again, is that they couldn’t do the work because they had to take care of their mental health. 


I am enthusiastically and vigorously supportive of taking care of your mental health — and that also doesn’t mean that there’s no consequences if you don’t do the work and you don’t communicate about that ahead of time. Self-care is paramount, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it’s not a “get out of jail free card” that frees you from consequences. There’s a level of responsibility involved in this work and the relationships that go into it that people have always kinda played fast and loose with because it’s “just internet work” … but they’re now seemingly really surprised that backfires and people don’t want to work with them anymore.


Finally, clients are needing more emotional support than usual, and they’re more on edge. I’ve had to be really clear with people that a draft is just a draft, and that we can change any and every word on that Google doc if it comes down to it. I’ve had clients swear at me, or mouth off to me like I’m their mom, or break down into tears because of something else happening in their life that they don’t have anyone else to talk to about. Working in a service-facing job has always been about more than just the work, but the level of emotional labor involved is much higher this year.


We’re also seeing a whole hell of a lot of shady sales, pushy funnels, and icky marketing wrapped up in love and light language … but I’ve already written about that at length.


None of this is an only-me thing either — I’ve asked around with both my colleagues and clients, and everything I’ve talked about here has happened to multiple people. As the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is not “data”, but we’re looking at enough points here to indicate a trend. 


I wrote a post a million years ago about the great big fuck-off waste of opportunity that’s happening because entrepreneurship is one of our most democratized access points to power, but the world doesn’t take it seriously. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, and it’s treated like a bunch of amateurs dicking around on Myspace. Behavior like this is why.


Here’s the cool thing though: all of this is making the good stuff *really* stand out.


Amongst the flood of flakes and the Covid newbies who aren’t as experienced at doing this kind of work, the people who really know their shit and who are committed to doing great work are really standing out. In fact, I know a couple of people who have had their best months *ever* in the past quarter.


So naturally I wanted to figure out what they were doing. After interviewing a range of people who are raking it in, here’s what I found.


The people that ARE seeing success are doing these things:


They’re working from a strong foundation that they built by doing a whole lot of the “boring” things. 


They don’t follow trends. They’ve been showing up consistently on the socials for forever. They have solid onboarding processes. They’ve taken the time to really nail down their ops. They send their sales emails. They do the boring, grown-up entrepreneuring equivalent of keeping on top of your laundry and doing your dishes every day. It is in no way glamorous. It really, really works.


They’re holding their work to impeccably high standards.


Ship fast/fail fast has always been the way of the internet, but the people who are finding success are the ones who are putting in the craftsmanship. We’re talking about someone doing a professionally produced podcast that guests flew across the country just to interview for. Or high-touch nurturing of clients that goes on for months on end. Taking the time to get things really right matters right now.


They’re going where the money is.


Coaches are always the canary in the coal mine of entrepreneuring: whenever you see them start getting shaky, things are about to get weird. The people who are making money aren’t sticking with the same old typical online entrepreneur spaces –– coaching, business consulting, wellness, web development –– they’re finding new ways to sell what they do, with new clients. 


The corollary to this is that they’re not buying into the panic that the days of running a successful online business are over. They’re recognizing that, in times of fear and instability, the “boring” businesses (lawyers/accountants/engineering firms/etc) and the corporates are the ones who have the money. And they’re going to get that money.


They’re showing up human.


There’s just no space for having a “brand you” and a “real you” on the internet anymore. The conversation moves too fast, and people are incredibly marketing-savvy. The more you try to show up as some perfect paper doll version of yourself, the more you blend in with the crowd. Same goes for all those rebel entrepreneur Barbies btw –– whether you’re wearing a twinset or shaking your blowout on the back of a motorcycle you clearly don’t know how to ride, the fake is just.not.landing. anymore.


The more you’re able to come into integrity with yourself, and then show up in whatever way that looks like online, the more people are going to be able to actually see you, and maybe just maybe think about working with you.


Long story short?


This isn’t the apocalypse. It’s a filter.


And it’s one we’ve seen happen over and over again in internet-land. The “easy” path to business success (which was never all that easy to begin with) isn’t working. All the get rich quick/”make the internet into your ATM” promises have yet again been exposed as the lies they are. And the people who are down in it, doing the work because they’ve always done the work, are the ones who are still gonna be here doing the work when the next internet apocalypse hits.


Because that’s the whole point. The work.


We’re not here for the success, or the money, or the community, or the whatever else people get into this for.


Not really.


We’re here because this particular setting lets us do the work we’re on the planet to do. It’s a means and a medium, not an end.


So don’t get thrown. The end times are not upon us.


Let’s get to work.