What started as a way to make cash from renting a spare room has become an unstoppable revolution. The so-called sharing economy, pioneered by companies such as Airbnb and Lyft, is continuing to disrupt traditional transactions.
By 2025, total spending in the UK sharing economy could peak at £140 billion, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. In 2016, it amounted to £13 billion.
And it isn’t just changing the way we pay for services. The sharing economy is influencing the way we do business, too. Small businesses and sole traders can make extra cash by renting out spare rooms, office space, and equipment. On the flip side, having resources such as meeting rooms and cars easily at hand, without having to invest in a long-term purchase, could save serious money.
Getting the Job Done
There are the everyday tasks completed by staff members or freelance workers. But what about those one-off jobs that you don’t have time for, and could prove expensive to outsource?
Some small businesses may find it difficult to justify investing in marketing or IT departments, for example. Apps and websites focused on outsourcing tasks, from the mundane to the highly skilled (or both), address this problem. Time etc connects business people with virtual assistants, making delegation a little easier. Tasks include arranging travel, writing blog posts, transcription, invoicing, and managing social media accounts.
Similarly, TopTask connects business owners to London university students with relevant skill sets. Applicants are interviewed and vetted before being added to the talent pool. That means the business owner gets skilled help at an affordable price, while the student gets work experience and (probably much-needed) cash.
On a broader scale, TaskRabbit aims to help people get pretty much any job done, from painting a wall or hanging a picture to assembling flat-pack furniture. The system connects users to people who can help with laundry, delivery services, interior decoration, and repairs. So it could be a great option for getting the office up to scratch or moving bulky items. There is even an option for hiring a personal assistant—who could well be a longer-term solution to all those niggly little jobs.
A Bigger Toolbox
Initiatives such as Streetbank, where people share tools and equipment, were introduced to benefit and unite communities. They can be invaluable for business owners, too, reducing the amount of cash spent on buying equipment that may only be used once or twice. That wallpaper stripper you need to redecorate the office, for example, or catering equipment for a work party.
Streetbank is free, with the proviso that you must contribute at least one thing that others can borrow, while the Library of Things= is crowd-funded by memberships and pay-as-you-go rental fees.
The initiatives are still primarily aimed at engendering a sharing, caring spirit in communities, so you are expected to get a little involved. But that’s never a bad thing in business, is it?
Room to Spare
Home-sharing companies like Airbnb and Homestay are used by leisure and business travellers to save money on hotels. But there are also initiatives for those who either don’t have an office, or occasionally require a slightly more impressive meeting room than their kitchen. Spacehop is kind of an Airbnb for workspaces, where you can search for offices and meeting rooms with flexible terms. Desks can be rented by the month or day, while meeting rooms (often in people’s swanky homes) are available by the hour.
Vrumi categorises its listings to encompass different niches. Homeowners rent their studios to artists, for example, or allow yoga teachers to hold classes in their most peaceful rooms. Some spaces are designed to impress clients, while others are more about tucking yourself away in a quiet space conducive to creativity.
Pooling Your Resources
Maintaining a carpool is time-consuming and expensive. There are parking costs, maintenance, tax, insurance... But having vehicles available on-demand is pretty important if you sometimes need to attend meetings at the drop of a hat, or travel to another city at the last minute (or second).
Zipcar for Business was born to solve this dilemma. You can hire exactly the right vehicle for exactly the amount of time needed, with no wasted expense. Cars and vans can be unlocked via the app, with insurance, fuel, and congestion charges included.
Of course, luxuries can seem frivolous when your main aim is to maximise profits. But a little bit of polish can also be seriously impressive. It can even help land lucrative business accounts. And this is where the sharing economy really comes into its own. Whether it’s renting someone’s mansion to entertain potential clients or booking a posh vehicle via Zipcar, the new generation of service providers means even the smallest businesses can impress with less cash—and less stress.