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What the Internet Can’t Do For Your Business

What the Internet Can't Do For Your Business

Since launching my 100% online business earlier this year, I’ve noticed this juxtaposition — the more time I spend OFFLINE, the better I feel.

I feel more connected to what matters, not less.

I feel more alive, more engaged.

But I also feel compelled to spend time online because that’s where my business lives, which means I tend to live there too.

I battle this daily — do you?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Internet. I believe in its power to connect people around the world, to build movements around ideas, to level the playing field for entrepreneurs like you and me.

I quit the 9-5 cubicle life after a decade to build my business online because I craved freedom to do more of the things I love. I wanted to explore new ways to create. Push boundaries. Build something that matters.

While I am doing all of those things, I realize more and more that so much of that is done offline.

For all of the convenience and efficiency of the world wide wonder web, there are simply many things the Internet can’t replace.

Here are a few.

1. Snail mail

No email or text message or Facebook post can match the feeling you get when — among bills and junk mail and grocery flyers and catalogs you don’t remember signing up for — you see a handwritten envelope, addressed to YOU. Whether it’s a thank you note or a love letter or a birthday card, there’s something wonderful and intimate and special about snail mail that’s meant just for you. I mean you don’t print out your texts and emails and stuff them in a shoebox in your closet, do you?

2. Care packages

Oh, Amazon, we love you and and your one-click ordering, two-day Prime shipping and instant Kindle downloading but you simply can’t compete with a care package. You know, the kind in the recycled cardboard box with the address written in Sharpie marker. What could it be? Mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies? A paperback book and a bag of fresh roasted coffee? Whatever it is, someone hand picked, hand crafted and carefully packaged this box of wonder and sent it to us in the mail.

3. Making something with your hands

Vintage bike
My aunt’s 1960s vintage Raleigh sport bike that I’m restoring

Apps like Instagram have made us all photographers. One-click and we’re sharing our 5 minute masterpiece on Tumblr and voila, we’re arteests. There’s something magical, though, about rolling up your sleeves, getting the sketch book out and drawing with your pencil. Or restoring an old bike. Or making homemade bread. It’s messy and it takes time and it’s not perfect but the satisfaction you have when you’re done and enjoying the fruits of your labor is unmatched. No inspirational quote on your sunset picture can evoke those same feelings.

4. COFFEE DATES

Skype and Google Hangouts have changed the way business is done. But video chat runs a very distant second to meeting over coffee. Life happens over coffee, whether it’s at Starbucks (good) or your local coffee house (better) or your kitchen table (best). We let down our digital guard and give people a peek into the real us (albeit an intensely caffeinated version of us).

5. Conferences & Live Events

I’ve attended dozens of web conferences and webinars the last couple years. I’ve learned a lot that I’ve incorporated into building my business and improving my life. And, yes, I’ve done it in my sweatpants. There’s nothing like being a part of a live event, though. The energy, the atmosphere, the chance to connect and reconnect with friends and build relationships. And at the best conferences, so much of this takes place between the official sessions. It’s like summer camp for grown-ups. UStream and GotoMeeting can’t replicate that.

These are all real-life human experiences that engage the senses. They mean something special. And that’s what we’re craving as humans in an always-on, always-connected world. Moments that stand out.

So the question is how do you and I inject those real life experiences into our online world?

Your Mission (If You Choose to Accept it)

Here’s the challenge for you and me. We’re not giving up the Internet. But let’s start doing all of those things that the Internet can’t do and combining them with the best parts of the web — the ability to connect with a wide audience and build movements (and profitable businesses) around ideas.

Send more snail mail. This is the easiest place to start. Send handwritten notes on nice stationery. Nice doesn’t mean expensive either. Invest in a stamp with your brand on it (I like this one and this one) and some card stock from your local craft store and make your own custom stationery.

Create care packages for your clients and colleagues. Bake the cookies (alternatively, good chocolate works just as well). Pair it with some locally roasted coffee or loose leaf tea. Include a little notebook and pen and you have an “Instant Creativity Session”. Make sure you include that handwritten note too. (These would make great Christmas gifts.)

Meet up for coffee. Get to know people in your local community. Catch up with old friends & colleagues. Invite people you know online for coffee when they come through town. 

Make stuff with your hands. Step away from your screen and make something. Cookies, bread, homemade pasta sauce. Do one of those DIY projects you pinned. Restore a piece of furniture or an old bike. Draw. Doodle. Paint. Bonus: you’ll marvel at the ideas and inspiration you’ll get for your online projects when you work offline like this.

Go to live events. Keep doing those web conferences in your sweatpants. But incorporate live conferences and events into your calendar too.  Chances are there’s a TedX near you. That’s a good place to start. Hosting a meetup in your town for folks in your industry (or people who could benefit from what you do) is a good idea too.

Bonus Idea: Talk with people more. Really, just talk. You can’t meet everyone you interact with online. But pick up the phone. This is the biggest change I’m making to the way I do business. Up until now, I’ve operated mostly by email but there’s so much there that can’t be communicated or that can even be miscommunicated. Talk to clients, prospective clients and blog readers.

The 100% Satisfaction Guarantee

I pinky-swear promise you that no one will say, “I wish <insert your name here> would stop sending me those handwritten notes and homebaked cookies.”

And you won’t regret investing in yourself or other people.

I admit — none of these things is terribly efficient. When it comes to convenience and efficiency and getting all the things done, the Internet will always win.

But…while I’m all for having clear goals for any business-related activity (especially when your hard-earned time and money are involved), sometimes it’s not about how many email subscribers you gain or leads you convert.

Some things — like building relationships — can’t be quantified in an Excel spreadsheet.

  • Tara Chapman

    I love this post Sarah!

    • Thanks, Tara! I appreciate the comment AND our long-distance friendship. 🙂

  • Sarah – This is an excellent post. I think the more time we spend online, the more we crave offline experiences. Certainly, everyone doesn’t feel the way you and I do because we’re engaged constantly for our work. But, I think there is still a craving for the tactile, in-person experiences. Great tips for us all to remember!

    • Thanks, Laura. You’re right — I’m sure a lot of people look to the Internet as their daily downtime or distraction. I admittedly didn’t feel this way much before I launched my business online. I hope this will help bring our online and offline worlds together a little more. And I have a lot more on my mind on how to do that so stay tuned! 🙂

  • David Gitonga

    Thank you Sarah for the post. I couldn’t have said it better myself.