Alex Butler looks at the sharing economy and why free agents are perfectly placed to play a big part.
One of my favourite books of all time, The Cluetrain Manifesto said markets are conversations. Incredibly prescient for the early noughties, they predicted that we were headed for an online version of the ancient marketplace where people would meet, share information and compare experiences with traders. Remember, that was way before Facebook and even eBay.
In 2006 the Edelman Global Trust Barometer reported for the first time that a ‘person just like me’ was the number one trusted influencer. Over the last six years peer influence has waned somewhat, but it has made a dramatic comeback this year with a 22% increase on the Barometer.
Think about this for a moment. Think about how many brands, companies and organisations that you really ‘trust’. I’ll bet not many. Now think about how you work and the people that you do business with everyday. Different story?
It struck me recently that our business plan has evolved over the past year for the better precisely because we have been transparent and open about our plans. It’s almost as if the fact that we trust people with our very early prototype idea gives them permission to be part of it. I hope sincerely that when we look back at our successes a whole pool of people will take pride in having been partner-creators from the start.
Can you imagine that happening a decade ago? We wouldn’t have been to see a professional advisor without a fistful of NDAs.
Rachel Botsman is one of the authors of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption and she reckons it all boils down to the re-emergence of community. Now we aren’t really talking about collaborative consumption here, but I use it as a way to show how business is increasingly based on trust. Take Airbnb, which allows people to rent their homes to travellers. How much more trusting can you get than to rent out your home to complete strangers, just based on what others have said about them?
Like it or not, as we move our business and relationships further online, a new system of exchange has evolved. We think this is as big a deal as the time when the Phoenicians invented coins meaning that you didn’t have to carry your livestock to go to market.
Imagine where we might go from here. Apart from the obvious social and community benefits, this new trust-based system opens up huge opportunities for us as free agents. As long as both sides come to the relationship understanding what each has to offer, this is an excellent way to get your small business off the ground. ‘I will give you my information as long as it is of equal value to me as to what I get. If I see sufficient value in the content, I will share something of equal or better value, because I want us both to do well out of the deal’.
Best of all, it levels the field for us as independents. We can rely on each other rather than being at the behest of the corporation or banks. I can honestly say that KindredHQ wouldn’t be at the stage it is today without friends and advocates sharing their skills and experience with us, purely because they want to see us succeed.
We’re keeping an eye on a new app from Coffee and Power, a Silicon Valley based start-up. They want to make it more likely that you can detect other people like you nearby so those fantastic moments of serendipity can happen. When you are travelling between meetings there are tons of places like cafes and co-working locations that you can choose from in a typical city. They show you a live map of where other people are currently working. But, critically, the app helps you help your peers by providing a way to ask a quick, work-related question of the people who are working in the same place as you.
They reckon that this will result in frequent, fruitful interactions between people working on similar subjects. Really simple idea. Potentially game changing in terms of the way that we work. Bring it to the UK soon please guys! And of course, we totally understand this. We see these very interactions every time we run our Pop-Up Coworking events (Jellies to those in the know!) at various locations in London.
Closer to our UK home, The People Who Share are a social enterprise dedicated to new models based entirely on trust. They believe that the sharing economy really does make for a better world to live in. Watch out for their Sharetrade mark (in development), which will certify collaborative businesses, where the concept of sharing is integral to the business model. They believe it will define the emerging ‘sharing market’ and they aim to do for sustainability what Fairtrade has done for equitable working conditions.
This weekend, I popped along to a public meeting organised by my local town’s new neighbourhood partnership. Like many towns, our local high street is really struggling. Time to think about the way we think about our high streets? I want to take on one of the empty shops and turn it into a hub for local freelancers and entrepreneurs, bringing us together into the heart of the community and out of our bedroom offices. Imagine what might happen when we all start to collaborate together?
We are very excited about the potential for free agents to be at the heart of a brand new kind of economy. The knock on effects to the economy have to be significant, but most of all, we are starting to have a real impact closer to home in our communities and networks.
All we need now are the tools.