Business owners trying to attract new clients often target large companies; they have the biggest cheque books and most money in the bank. But this strategy could soon fail to work thanks to changes in the ways business is operating.

At times of economic success, self employment tends to fall rapidly as people take up the “safety” of jobs. In times of economic downturn, self employment rises as people try to earn a living for themselves, rather than waste time job hunting when there are few jobs available. But that time-honoured economic rule is changing. Largely the world has been enjoying relative economic success in the past ten years, but for the most part self employment has risen. True, there have been some minor blips (2005 saw a 3% fall in self employment in the USA, for instance), but on the whole self employment has increased fairly steadily over the decade.

Entrepreneurship has never been so popular. Dozens of books appear in book stores that now have whole sections devoted to a subject that might have got a quarter of one shelf in the past. There are even TV shows on entrepreneurship and soap operas contain characters who run their own businesses.

Big businesses are downsizing and employing fewer people; the concept of “virtual teams” now widely exists with corporates setting up groups of individuals around the world to manage a project. These teams may never even meet face to face, they just work and connect with each other via the Internet. Add to this that the whole notion of “contracting” is spreading from the traditional industries where this was commonplace, such as construction and manufacture, to service industries like advertising and PR.

The McKinsey Quarterly highlights some interesting trends in business likely to happen and what big business expects to focus on. The global and flexible nature of the workforce is one of the most significant trends facing big business, according to those executives who work in such companies and who took part in the McKinsey survey.

What this suggests is that many people will have “portfolio” careers; maybe working a few months with one firm under contract, then off to another company for a few weeks, before joining together with a team of independent “colleagues” who come together to work on a project for another company. You can see that before too long big businesses will only exist as a collection of contract workers and self employed, hired help.

What this means for Internet businesses is the fact that you can no longer target big business. What you need to do is target those individuals who will provide their services to those big firms. Get known and liked by those individuals and they will take you into the big companies they work for.

For anyone running an online business, your future depends upon targeting individuals rather than corporates. With the growth in portfolio careers this clearly has an advantage if you want to get into big companies; but because entrepreneurship and self employment is also growing it means that if you target individuals, rather than companies, you will do business with everyone from small to big.

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