When I worked in an office on Oxford Street in the late 1990s, I’d often pass street preachers with sandwich boards.

They’d be holding the classic ‘The End is Nigh’-style placards proclaiming the imminent destruction of humanity.

They’ve been around a long time, these doomsayers.

An Assyrian clay tablet dating from 2800 BC announced

“Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common”

Sound familiar?

The end of the world is always just around the corner.

Eventually, they’ll be proved right, of course.

In seven billion years’ time, the sun will expand to its maximum size as a red giant, burning 3,000 times brighter and swallowing the Earth – or at least turning it into a fireball – before collapsing.

But what I’m about to tell you isn’t some far flung prediction of a future that won’t affect you.

The end-times I’m talking about are already happening!

And I don’t mean to come across as a placard-waving lunatic either, because these end-times are exciting and herald the most extraordinary opportunity for you.

This is the beginning of something… and a far better something, in my humble opinion.

First the bad news.

Everything you knew about business is coming to an end.

That goes for me too.

It used be that you’d come up with a product or service, then look for channels to promote it: press releases, radio and press advertising, direct mail and local flyers.

You’d have to push your offers pretty hard… 50% off, lowest price, NEW!… or hammer out your unique selling point over and over again (think of those commercial radio ads that repeat the same tag line endlessly until you want to scream.)

Your consumers would then come to you and, with any luck, your product might satisfy them to keep coming back and telling their friends.

I earned my business stripes doing this…

Writing long, persuasive direct response letters posted to big, expensive mailing lists.

I got pretty good at it, but it was hard.

You never really saw, or knew, your audience, unless they happened to write to you.

Then the internet came along…

But really nothing changed.

You still had to go out with offers, using advertising channels to catch your customers, then getting them onto email lists… or you’d buy email lists… or you’d go to other people with big lists and get into joint ventures and cross promotions.

I used to talk about how internet business was pretty much the same as regular old fashioned business, but using electronic delivery methods and new advertising media (Google Ads, email blasts, pop-ups and banners).

However, I no longer say this. Because it is no longer true.

You can still make money from that kind of business – but the end is truly nigh.

There has been a revolution in the last few years, brought about by a perfect storm of elements…

  • The rise of social media, turning EVERYONE (customers as well as businesses) into publishers of content, creating a rolling ‘live’ network of critiques, recommendations, reviews, ideas, challenges, responses.
  • The rise of ready-made, plug-in platforms that require few technical skills (such as WordPress, Mailchimp, Paypal and Shopify)… allowing ANYONE to have a website, email service, webshop and payment system.
  • The rise of the smart phone, meaning that people carry around computers that are constantly connected to the network. This means we can now search for – and receive – information almost anywhere and at any-time… (maps, restaurant recommendations, news, films, music, advertising). More importantly, we can RE-publish that information while on-the-go, in real time.

The combination of these factors has completely disrupted the old way of doing business.

Brian Solis is a famous digital analyst, futurist and author of a book called The End of Business As Usual – he describes a ‘consumer revolution’ in which the balance of power has moved from the business to the prospect. He writes:

“Consumers are creating a new digital culture… New networks have created an ever- expanding “egosystem,” in which everyday people believe their lives deserve 24-hour broadcasts.”

At the heart of all of this, a new breed of consumer is emerging, and they’re changing the very foundation of business.”

It’s a big idea, so I’ve sketched out a few of my own ideas to illustrate what this means…

  • The old principle of hammering out great sales offers and hoping to draw people in is no longer enough. Every other business in competition with you can be found your prospect at the touch of a few buttons on their phone.
  • Simply catching a customer and drawing them into your business isn’t enough. Because being in a network of other consumers means they’re constantly aware of other products, other businesses, other websites.
  • People are on their phones and computers seeking fun, entertainment, companionship, advice, recommendations, reviews and personal advancement. They are increasingly resistant to hard advertising, pushy sales and irrelevant promotions in their networks.
  • You cannot go about your business in isolation, you are totally transparent and exposed. Customers are always watching you, sharing your ideas, recommending you and critiquing you. As micro-publishers, they are an intrinsic part of your story and your publicity machine.
  • Your prospects and customers live in a transparent world where friends, family and colleagues can see what they like, who they follow, what they listen to and read – even what they buy, they are a lot more aware of ethical issues and gravitate towards businesses that have an honourable cause, clear purpose and good practices.
  • Mailing lists and email databases are still highly valuable, but to get qualified prospects onto those lists, you first need to be in their networks, helping them improve their lives.
  • The networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) are all about human communication, it is those businesses that act and sound like real humans that prosper, and those which are clearly ‘in it for the money’ and treating prospects like cashcows, that will struggle.
  • Search engines like Google are no longer willing to be advertising platforms for sale to any business who wants to bid for a slot, or who tick the right boxes thanks to clever SEO. They’re looking for websites and services that offer genuine value to people who use search engines. That means you must be the part, not just look it.

To grow a successful, lasting business, you need to think first of how you can come across as a decent and genuine human being, with ideas, passions and knowledge that can help others improve their lives.

As hippy-dippy as that might sound right now, this is absolutely crucial to your bottom line.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a games reviewer, online veg box company, accountant, fantasy-horror book publisher, skip hire business or Indian restaurant.

The revolution is happening, and it’s speeding up.

My Top 5 Predictions for The Digital Apocalypse

1. E-commerce is going social (and social media is going eCommerce)

With the advent of ‘buy’ buttons on social media platforms, people will be able to click a link on a tweet, photo or Facebook post and go straight to a sales page.

What’s more, many are predicting one of the big social networks will soon have its own shopping cart.

2. SEO will focus more on social media platforms

Search engine optimization will become more about how highly recommended, shared and talked about your business is on social media. People are increasingly using search engines within their social networks to get honest reviews, feedback and opinions on products and services.

The information they get in these cases is deemed more trustworthy, because it comes from people like them who are quite obviously using the services.

3. Mobile use will increase sharply

People will increasingly use their phones to send and read emails, use social media, listen to music and podcasts, watch videos, research products, make purchases and publish their reviews, comments or recommendations. The ideal business website will be mobile friendly and set up for touchscreens.

More importantly, you’ll be creating content that’s easily seen on phones, whether published on your website or through social networks.

4. NEW social media platforms are coming…

While the giants of Facebook and Twitter remain, last year Instagram surged to the top spot in the UK, and others could follow. Expect more challengers and new innovations and the revolution continues.

That means keeping on top of new developments so that you’re not focused on just one platform.

5.  Content must be of genuine quality

Pumping out identikit, keyword-rich content is not going to work for much longer. You must offer individual, unique and personal insights, advice and information. It must be about genuinely helping people, not duping them into visiting a website to flog them products.

This is what internet users want, and what Google will be desperate to provide for them. Anyone using the old ways will become invisible.

But look, please don’t let any of the above frighten you, or put you off….

The end may be nigh – but it’s just the beginning

The new way of growing a business has loads of advantages for you:

…Now you can be yourself, human and fallible… and yet succeed better than the boasters, fakers, cherry-pickers and scamsters.

…You no longer need to master SEO techniques or hire tech geeks to help push your website to the top of the rankings.

…Marketing a business the new way is relatively cost-free and easily accessible to anyone.

…The playing field is levelled – every business, big or small, is using the same platforms and networks…

…All you need is a smartphone or tablet to run most of your business, with videos, audio and editing in the palm of you hand.

…You can now create a business that’s helpful and useful to society while also increasing your bottom line.

And remember, it’s my job to help you understand how the new business works.

So please do keep reading – I’ve got some really exciting stuff coming up for Digital Upstart which I’ll tell you more about in next few weeks.