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The Dangers of Digital Sharecropping

Do you own your own home or do you rent? How many of you who rent somewhere have a great relationship with your landlord? Perhaps you’ve got an excellent landlord who fixes any problems as soon as they arise, maintains everything beautifully – maybe your landlord even looks after your property when you go on vacation and sends you Christmas cards.

My friend (let’s call him Mike) had just such a landlord, and the apartment had great views and was close to the beach – he loved it and he intended to stay there for many happy years. Mike invested some of his own money into home improvements, lovingly tended his garden and planted new trees and shrubs – we all thought he was onto a really good thing… right up until the moment when he received a notice from his landlord saying the rent was going up by 25% and if he was unable to pay he had to vacate the apartment within the month.

Well, guess what. Mike couldn’t afford to pay the rent and within 4 weeks he lost the apartment and the lifestyle that he loved, along with the time and money he had invested in it. Pretty rough eh?

So what can be learned from Mike’s unfortunate situation?
Be aware of similar risks for your business.

I’m talking about digital sharecropping. Digital sharecropping is the equivalent of renting a property for web based businesses. If you use WordPress, eBay, Facebook – basically any site that offers a platform for your business – whilst you may create content on those platforms, build a loyal customer base or an active social media network and generate traffic, you don’t actually own any of it. All those assets that you invest time and resources developing are actually the property of whichever business you are dependent on, you are just renting their facilities – and they have the power to take it all away at any time. This is the reality of digital sharecropping.

Just think about it.

Social media platforms, sales platforms and website and blog hosting platforms are something businesses use every day – and they are fantastic marketing tools, but they do come with risks attached.

For example, take a business which sells the majority of their products through eBay. What if for whatever reason, eBay decided that the business in question had contravened its regulations and banned that business from all further operations. What would happen to the business? You got it – it would totally collapse.

Sites like Facebook and Google are always changing, so if they form a big part of your business strategy how will you cope if they change the rules for customer interaction, or start charging a fee? It could have a massive impact on your business structure and finances.

And what if the platform your business is reliant on simply… disappears? Sure this is a worst case scenario, but it could happen, and all your content and hard work will disappear along with it.

So what action should YOU take?

Well knowingly or not, most enterprises engage in digital sharecropping for one or more aspects of their business. It’s hard to imagine a successful business that doesn’t use any online platforms to give them a boost, and with good reason – those platforms are excellent and can provide incredible benefits.

So I’m certainly not suggesting you abandon these platforms entirely, but there are certain steps you can take NOW to minimise the risks to your business and ensure it continues to blossom:

BE AWARE of the potential risks to your business

Being aware will help you plan and will inform the ways in which you choose to develop your business online in the future. Know your rights regarding content and privacy and stay informed of the rules.

DON’T put all your business eggs in one basket

By all means keep using these platforms, but distribute your business across many different platforms. This means that if anything does happen to one particular platform, it won’t have a significant impact on your business because you will have backup.

Make your business as INDEPENDENT as possible

This really is the equivalent of owning your own home rather than renting. Move as much of your business as you can onto your own platforms. Create your own website with your own hosting rather than using an external platform such as WordPress. Make sure you have an independent opt-in email list, so you can take your clients with you whatever happens.

Focus on your REPUTATION

Your reputation will hold your business in good stead no matter what happens to outside influences. It’s your biggest asset, and it belongs to YOU.

My advice? Balance is key. As long as develop your independence, keep yourself informed and maintain a healthy mix to the platforms you use you’ll be well on the way to protecting your business – and maybe buying that apartment outright.

About the Author: James T Noble makes small businesses bigger. He’s worked with some of the world’s largest brands and companies to market their products and services online – including Disney, Microsoft, 20th Century Fox, Virgin, Coca Cola, MTV and many others. Find out more and read business growth tips at http://www.JamesTNoble.com

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