With National Small Business Week around the corner, you will soon find yourself surrounded by conferences, festivals, and promotions all in celebration of American small businesses. While the goal of Small Business Week is to encourage consumers to shop at these businesses, it's also a great opportunity to encourage people who have always dreamed of owning their small business to take the leap.
Entering the small business waters can be daunting. Do you have the right connections to support you? How will you find those early customers? How will you scale and grow your business over the long-term?
Building (and Growing) a Business in the On-Demand Economy
The good news is that the rise of the on-demand economy makes these questions easier than ever to answer. That's because on-demand platforms--from legal counsel (Upcounsel) to IT tech support (Field Nation) to home improvement (Thumbtack)--have lowered the bar to entry for aspiring entrepreneurs by seamlessly connecting supply with demand.
For new entrepreneurs, on-demand talent platforms like Wonolo and UpWork--which connect freelancers to projects--remove what has traditionally been one of the greatest hurdles in going solo: finding customers. With a simple tap of a button on a smartphone, you can gain immediate access to a large and hungry market of customers.
For the more established small business owner who's looking to grow their business, these platforms provide access to a wealth of skilled contractors who can fulfill project needs. This gives the small business owner a flexible, low-cost way to scale a small business workforce until they're ready to hire full-time employees, if they ever want to.
A study by McKinsey Global Institute calculated that the use of on-demand talent platforms by companies could reduce the cost of recruiting talent and of human resources by as much as seven percent--a crucial benefit for small businesses that lack dedicated recruiting or HR departments.
The strong entrepreneurial spirit taking shape in the on-demand economy is evident in recent data from a survey of on-demand providers by my company, Intuit, and Emergent Research: We found that 21 percent of those surveyed have a desire to start a new business, while 37 percent already own a business.
Starting Your Small Business via the On-Demand Economy
Ready to consider the on-demand economy as an avenue for your own small business dreams? Keep these tips in mind as you plan and prepare.
1. Develop your digital footprint and brand in advance.
Before you start signing up for on-demand platforms, make sure prospective customers have something to see should they click onto your profile. Build a website or a landing page containing your current contact information, services, portfolio, and (if applicable) customer endorsements.
Update your business profile on LinkedIn, Yelp, and various social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and perhaps even YouTube. The more of a credible presence you can build for your business online, the more likely you are to gain the trust (and business) of potential customers. I've written more about building your online reputation here.
2. Find the best on-demand platform(s) for the customers and skills you want.
On-demand talent platforms are beginning to develop niches concerning the types of businesses and customers they serve. For example, TaskRabbit and Handy both offer home maintenance services, but Handy is focused on house cleaning, while TaskRabbit would be best suited for a true handyman.
Whatever your business's focus is, whether it's management consulting or dog-walking, there's an on-demand platform like Catalant or Wag to serve that market. Just make sure you're selecting the right one for your services, skills, and target customer.
3. Sign up and get to work!
Leverage on-demand talent platforms to find early customers and take those crucial first steps toward building your brand. Don't hesitate to sign up for multiple platforms--the more platforms you're on, the more customers you'll reach. (Note: Only five percent of on-demand providers we surveyed in the study mentioned above work on a single platform.)
This is also an excellent way to experiment with platforms and see which one produces the best results for you.
The First Step on the Small Business Journey
Starting a small business is a dream for many people, but today, there's no reason it can't become a reality for you. You no longer need to jump through the many hoops of sales and marketing yourself, when you can start immediately by leveraging any number of on-demand platforms to do the heavy lifting for you. And when the time is right and customer demand calls, a fluid contractor workforce may be just the ticket you need to easily scale your business as needed.
If you're thinking of starting a small business, but don't know how to get started, consider the on-demand economy as your first step on the road to becoming an entrepreneur.