What’s next?

Anyone trying to market themselves online today is susceptible to a nagging worry.

There are so many bloggers and online businesses today. Do I even stand a chance?

If you’ve ever asked this question out loud, you’ve probably heard something like the following.

I understand why you’re worried. But we see new superstars spring up all the time. Think of so-and-so. With a little elbow grease, that could be you!

I call shenanigans. This response may be true — but it’s also a gross oversimplification.

The tactics used by today’s established bloggers and indiepreneurs just don’t cut it anymore.

If you want to stand out, you have to be better than your predecessors.

Just look at what happened to the ’49ers. No — not the football team — but the pioneers who flocked to California after gold was discovered in 1848.

The first had it easy.

At the very beginning of the California Gold Rush, it was possible to pick chunks of gold off the ground. At this time, there was very little competition — only 2,000 American frontiersman had settled in the state (which had just been wrested away from Mexico).

Just two years later, more than 100,000 immigrants arrived, from all over the world. As you might imagine, no one was tripping over pieces of gold by this time.

Compare this growth to Internet pioneers.

There were only 361 million Internet users in 2000, in the entire world. For perspective, that’s barely two-thirds of the size of Facebook [just 10 years later].

Latecomers have to be more sophisticated — from the very start.

Very quickly, miners adopted sophisticated techniques. You probably learned about panning techniques, but these were quickly replaced with hydraulic mining.

It’s time to stop pretending that marketing your business online is as simple as putting up a website, setting up some social profiles and writing a guest post or two.

In 2012, readers have higher standards. Beautiful websites and stellar content aren’t a competitive advantage — they’re the point of entry.

Think of what happens when you see a website that’s a hot mess. You move on, right? Why tolerate confusing layouts, poor grammar or mediocre images when you don’t have to? Why add yet another blog to your reader if it doesn’t offer you something new?

And, we face another challenge…

Regulation is inevitable.

When the ’49ers arrived in California, they quickly developed codes of conduct. Respect my space. Don’t steal gold out of my pan. No back-stabbing.

In less than a year, competition and sabotage plagued miners’ camps. Handshake deals no longer protected you. In response, vigilante groups started enforcing law and order. Today, California is {in}famous for its regulatory environment.

Right now, the Internet is caught between the vigilante and regulatory stages. It’s a challenging time, when laws are confusing — and where the establishment is employing powerful lobbyists to protect their profits. Not only do we have to create stellar content, but we have to pay attention to these turf wars to ensure we don’t lose everything before we even begin.

The rush is over.

Just 4 years after it started, the California Gold Rush was over. Anyone arriving on the scene in 1852 had to rapidly adjust their plans — or chase fool’s gold until they went broke.

And yet…

Fortunes are still made in California. The Gold Rush ended, but California didn’t fall off the map.

Successful bloggers and indiepreneurs spring up every day.

In both cases, the prosperous survey today’s landscape. They don’t keep panning for gold.

Just like the pioneers who arrived in California in 1852, we must ask ourselves, what’s next?