There's no question; the sharing economy, where users are able to rent what they have, be it skills, a room, or a car through the Internet, has disrupted the traditional economy in the Western world.
So why should businesses embrace the sharing economy, rather than fight against it?
The Sharing Economy Has Always Been With Us
When I was growing up, I inherited a food mill from my grandmother. My first, informal, experience with the sharing economy was when a friend posted on Facebook asking if anyone had a food mill she could borrow; she wanted to try her hand at making applesauce from scratch. I loaned it to her, and it was returned – along with a jar of applesauce.
Call it cost-sharing, bartering, or anything else you like; it's important to realize that the sharing economy isn't new. The Internet's ability to let us communicate quickly and efficiently with a wider audience, however, is.
Sharing Rather Than Purchasing Can Help Small Businesses Survive
Most small businesses, especially in the early years, operate on the kind of budget that makes a shoestring budget look generous. Business experts like Eric Wagner cite cash flow problems as one of the reasons that 80 percent of small businesses fail.
Anything you can do to control your cash flow as a business makes your survival more likely. This includes both turning your unused assets into cash flow, and making sure that you're spending less money whenever possible.
Let's look at how to make that work for your business.
Share What You Have
Does your office suite have two spare cubicles that you could trick out and rent as a daily workspace to freelancers?
Does your building have a row of parking spaces that never get used?
Could your building fit a cell tower on its property, or a community garden and solar panel on its roof?
The sharing economy is built around the idea that most of us have things we don't need or don't need all the time and that these things can be monetized. As a small business, look for items or services that you can offer that can boost your bottom line.
Related Article: The Sharing Economy Takes Over: Pooling Resources as a Community
Need It Today, but Not Tomorrow?
When a company is still small, it doesn't need a full-time marketing department. It probably doesn't need a full-time IT person, a dedicated accountant, or a company chef. Conveniently, these jobs can all be hired out to freelancers.
Hire someone to build your web page or someone to create the text of your brochure. Hire someone to do your corporate taxes or help you to manage your funds professionally so that you can pave your way to success.
Keep an eye on how much you're spending to hire out these jobs, and watch for the moment when it becomes more cost efficient to bring that person onto the company staff. It'll probably take longer than you think.
Make Business Travel More Affordable
Business travel is expensive in many different ways. Flights, car rentals, and hotels are all expensive. AirBNB, Uber, and similar sharing situations can reduce the cost of necessary business travel, and let you feel like your trip is a bit more personal.
Save on Equipment You Only Need Occasionally
Just like those services that your business only needs every few months, you may find that you only need particular pieces of equipment occasionally. Rather than purchasing them straight out, look at renting them for the necessary amount of time, or consider working with another business to purchase something you both need.
If you do decide to purchase, consider how to offer the use of the equipment to other businesses that may need it.
The sharing economy is here to stay, and it only makes sense to make sure that your business gets its fair share. Many major economic players have tried to resist the sharing economy, and have found their businesses seriously disrupted, and in some cases, destroyed, as customers realized that they could get what they needed at much more reasonable prices than the original companies offered.
To make sure that your business survives the current economic turmoil, look for ways to move with the current, instead of against it. The sharing economy can benefit your business if you let it.