If you are in the music industry or other creative endeavors (e.g., acting, speaking), then you have been living in a gig economy  for your entire career. Gigs have been around for centuries. However, the gig has come to a new level of visibility in recent years with technology platforms and economic shifts that have challenged businesses and talent not traditionally viewed as gigs to take a new look at how we do business.
For those of us who live by the gig (yes, consulting is another type of gig), the biggest challenges are connecting our services, skills, and talents (supply) to the opportunities, the potential customers who need what we do (demand). Recently, I interviewed Mark Steiner of GigSalad (gigsalad.com) on my radio show “Focus on Business” about his experience developing a platform that matches demand and supply. Here is a bit of Mark’s story:
“I went from being an actor, the starving artist, because I, frankly, was not very good, and then I got into the booking world. I got out of the movie business and got my first job booking big bands and jazz artists and nostalgia oldies acts … for Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra… I really enjoyed it. I had a passion for it. I did that for seven years working for this small boutique agency in New York City, and then I started my own booking agency.
It was at that time that I had a website created by my friend, Steve Tetrault [ed. Steve is a co-founder of GigSalad and leads the technology team in Wilmington, NC]. So he designed my first website. All of a sudden, the phone started ringing, emails started coming in from artists and entertainers, bands and musicians from across the country that I think were just starting to use search engines to find opportunities, and I was coming up fairly high on that. And I always tried to be really helpful with those people, but it was not my business model to be developing and discovering and working with unestablished artists. What I was doing at that point was middle brokering national touring acts and celebrities and speakers. But I always wanted to be helpful, because as I said, I was that starving artist. And I just thought from one artist at heart to another, I wanted to encourage people to keep doing what they love, but it really was this situation where I then had to just send them on their way, because I didn’t have opportunities for them.”
The reality is that for many businesses, GigSalad included, technology has become a driver for innovating how we view talent of any type; traditional gig-types of musicians, actors, and other artists are now joined by speakers, consultants, as well as homeowners, drivers, and people looking to increase their income through gig opportunities. Mark provides some important lessons about serving a niche, utilizing technology, and growing a business:
- Have a depth of knowledge about your niche market; be an expert in who they are, how they live and work, and the problems they face, and opportunities they want to pursue.
- Have a business team that has mix of talent, skills, and styles. According to Mark, this has enabled them to find the right balance of moving steadily forward and balancing pursuit of new opportunities while sticking to their core principles.
- Recognize that technology can enable you to pull in talent from around the country or even the world. Mark and his co-founder chose where they wanted to live based on personal values and objectives, enabling them to be effective without being in the same location.
- Do not expect technology alone to drive your success. Mark recognizes it is the sense of community and connection between the GigSalad team and its customers that is the driving force behind their growth. The technology has enabled that connectivity.
- Do what the business needs, not what you feel like doing. While starting the business, Mark and Steve both kept their existing companies going until GigSalad reached the point that it had the resources to continue to grow and support the founders.
- Have a healthy fear of competition and recognize when to grow quietly and steadily and when to announce your presence to the world. Mark shared the advice he gives customers: “Listen, until you establish yourself, until you have a following, you have to be the person that does both those things [be the creative artists and deal with the business of getting gigs]. So here, we’ve created this place for you to do it [GigSalad]. We’ve made it as automated as possible at this time, and go and use that.”
- Start and stay customer focused. Success follows when the customer is happy, refers others, and finds success using your product.
- Have fun at work. Mark shared, “We’ve done a great job of creating a really fantastic culture of people that also love what they do. They’re working within their strengths, and so when people call, it’s really nice to already have a person—GigSalad has a personality.”
- Design the business and technology to be scalable. Recognize the full potential of your market, where your business can grow serving more people in the same market or new customers with similar needs.
- Play to your strengths. Mark: “I loved getting on the phone and talking to people and building relationships with people from all over the country and, in fact, to this day have many people that were clients that I consider friends now. And yeah, I think that anything that has value is worth getting out there and talking about and being able to stand behind, and when you’re describing this service that you give and how much joy you get from helping people to do what they love, it resonates.”
The gig economy is transforming how traditional and non-traditional businesses think, act and compete, creating a DIY economy where each person is managing their own opportunities, marketing, and delivery of their product—themselves. Where will the gig economy take us next year? Five years from now? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Copyright ©2016 Lea A. Strickland, MBA MA CMA CFM CBM