How the sharing economy can help your startup to grow

Do you need content for your website or an expertly-designed logo for a new venture? Maybe some help photographing a new product range? 

It’s easy to get caught up in doing every little thing yourself – but it’s a surefire way to burn out or make mistakes. These days, the sharing economy means that you’re just a couple of clicks away from help that doesn’t break the bank.

What exactly is the sharing economy?

Alternatively known as the gig economy, collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer, outsourcing and crowdsourcing, the sharing economy is one of the biggest things to come out of the smartphone era. Basically, anything that lets you trade directly with other people is part of it – Uber, Airbnb and Freecycle are great examples.

At the heart of it, the sharing economy is the oldest kind of trade – swapping what you have for what you want. The internet has simply made it much easier to find the people and skills you need, when you need them.

Why outsource work for your small business?

Running a business can be a real juggling act. On top of managing the day-to-day tasks you’ll likely need to think about accounting, marketing, social media, graphic design and customer service – and that’s just for starters. Before you know it, you have no time to follow your actual passion.

Before the gig economy, outsourcing work often meant long-term contracts and a monthly retainer fee charged on top of the actual work – an expensive commitment for a new company. By working directly with other entrepreneurs you can commission work exactly when you need it from people who specialise in your exact area of business.

What kinds of tasks can I outsource?

You can outsource nearly anything – if you can name it, there’s likely a freelancer near you who’ll do it. To get you thinking, here are a few ideas:

Branding and content

First impressions count, so hire professionals for your logo, copy, letterhead, signage and packaging needs – Fiverr, Upwork and PeoplePerHour are popular choices. 

Once you have the imagery, Etsy is the perfect place to get merchandise made. Order some branded mailing stickers for your e-commerce shop, printed food bowls for your pet business or custom-blended soap for a hotel – the choices are endless.

Business help

Who better to ask for advice than other businesspeople before you? Echo, the Economy of Hours, has you covered – and it won’t cost you a penny, because you earn credits through offering your own time and skills to other members. The Echo team also run regular workshops from their East London hub where you can meet other entrepreneurs and trade skills in person.

Virtual support

There are a plethora of tasks you can get done through crowdsourcing sites like Mechanical Turk and Clickworker – anything that can be done with a basic online setup.

Research, writing, editing, data entry, even testing your site for broken links; it’s all on offer, and at a very affordable price point.

Odd jobs

Do you need somebody to go out flyering, move office furniture or pick up some supplies before a big meeting? TaskRabbit vets its Taskers and you can browse locals for a price range and skill set that suits you.

Peer-to-peer lending

Peer-to-peer loans offer a lower rate of interest because there’s no bank or building society in the middle – so there’s no overhead or extra cut on top of your loan. Some of the best known platforms in the United Kingdom are Funding Circle, LendingCrowd, Zopa and RateSetter.

P2P loans are also a little more accessible than traditional banks: while you might not have the perfect credentials for a banking giant, many individual lenders are keen to support small ventures.

Crowdfunding

You’re probably familiar with the concept of crowdfunding. It means that many people contribute to your business in exchange for some kind of perk, like the first run of a new product.

This approach works best for innovative new products – say, a sustainable invention or a new board game. It’s less successful when it comes to bricks and mortar ventures, but can sometimes work if the local scene is supportive or the idea is brilliant. The most popular crowdfunding sites are Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Work space

 If you’re tired of your home office but don’t have the finances for a dedicated space, you have a few options. Co-working spaces offer room to work alongside other freelancers, and you can either purchase a membership or rent desks by the hour; Hubble is a good place to start looking.

One area where the sharing economy really comes through is for specialist spaces like photo studios or commercial kitchens – check your local area for what’s available.

Equipment rental

On a similar note, expensive gear like cameras, lighting rigs and sound desks can be borrowed for far less than buying your own or renting from traditional suppliers – there are tonnes of small studios and creators who are willing to rent out their equipment when they aren’t using it. FatLama is a solid all-rounder, while Sparkplug specialises in musical instruments, equipment and studios.

Vehicle hire

Borrow a van to deliver product, or a car to get around meetings; don’t forget Uber for short journeys. With so many drivers at your fingertips you can save a packet on congestion charges, parking, insurance and fuel.

Second hand equipment

eBay is the original sharing economy – don’t discount it for second hand equipment like restaurant furnishings, hairdressing chairs and clothes rails. Bulky commercial goods can be acquired for an absolute steal because they’re niche and collection-only; buying from other businesses also saves you a tonne of time researching and shopping.

Don’t forget to sell your own skills

Chances are you can monetise your own skills and spread word of your business through the sharing economy. Could you offer a few appointments online or rent out your office when you’re not using it? It’s a great way to make a little extra cash, bolster your visibility and meet some valuable contacts – and you get to help other entrepreneurs, too.

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