Here's how SMEs can take advantage of the gig economy

July 31, 2018

An industrial adhesive manufacturer was struggling to grow revenues over Rs 250 crores. In 2016, a CXO from an auto major came on board as an advisor to spend a few days in a month with the team.

Today, they have crossed Rs 500 crores in topline and are working on the plan to cross the Rs 1000 crore mark.

This is what the gig economy can do – give you the capability to punch above your weight! Take on opportunities which you stayed away from due to lack of expertise, acumen, or just mindset.

Today, experts are available in all fields, on a part-time, project basis, across the spectrum of skill levels, and junior to senior. From experts who have delivered high performing results in organisations in prior avatars to younger professionals who bring specific skills and have chosen to work only in the gig economy – these are employee-entrepreneurs or freelancers, as otherwise known.

The gig economy is about short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. Employee-entrepreneurs are not people who can’t find full-time jobs but those who choose freelancing over full-time employment.

And SMEs are using the on-demand, open talent economy for bringing in expertise. For example, internal teams work with an external expert to implement production technology upgrade, new-market strategy, access to export markets, raising capital, and digitisation among others.

Growth of the on-demand, open-talent economy

With the pace of business change being so swift, today change cycles are short and demand high levels of responsiveness from the business. SMEs are using employee-entrepreneurs to stay ahead and remain competitive.

The smart leader augments in-house capabilities with expert advisors to introduce new thinking, technological upgradation, or agile response to current market demands.  

Technology has enabled consolidation of remote and mobile workforces and tools for communication, real-time scheduling, and dashboards etc. have created a strong ecosystem for employee-entrepreneurs to contribute and add value.

Statistics to note: India’s independent workforce is the second largest in the world at 15 million, and about 40 percent of the world’s online freelance jobs are executed by this Indian workforce. Millennials have favoured the gig economy.

Key talent available on an ‘as needed basis’

For the SMEs, with access to expert talent no more a constraint, business plans can also be more aggressive. Also, costs are lower since you are not taking on a full-time expert.

To make best use of this talent though requires some internal engineering. The employee-entrepreneurs have to be managed differently and this will require you to define operating norms and boundaries for getting good returns.

A few things which would help are:

  • Contract terms that cover the business on Intellectual Property, Security, and confidentiality of information.
  • Clear detailing of both end results required and time to be invested both face-to-face and offsite – an engagement plan with timelines should be part of the contract.
  • Regular updates and reporting of progress in agreed formats to drive accountability.
  • On-boarding and off-boarding processes with an assigned internal supervisor ensures the employee-entrepreneur quickly aligns with your operations and context. The off-boarding process ensures smooth closure and transfer of all data and material.

The best talent is seeking greater control and ownership over how they integrate work with their personal lives and passions. This and the advent of the millennials in the workplace have enabled the gig economy to grow in size and quality of professionals.

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