If you’re a marketing leader, you are likely struggling with more on your ‘to do’ list than your team can handle. Part of that is lack of resources relative to your objectives, but the other factor is inefficiency of internal resources. And while I’m sure most of you work hard to be as efficient as possible, studies show that most corporate employees spend over half their time in meetings and managing email. It’s just part of corporate life no matter how much we attempt to protect our teams from it. So what can marketing leaders do?

The answer is to embrace the gig economy. In this post I’ll do my best to explain what the gig economy can do for marketers and how to take advantage of this growing opportunity.

What is this gig economy we’re talking about?

The gig economy is defined as utilizing contractors or freelancers to get work done instead of hiring permanent employment. Gig workers range from a freelance graphic designer to an Uber driver. Probably no shockers yet, but how about the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 55 million people in the U.S. are gig workers—which is more than 35% of the U.S. workforce. Furthermore, that number is projected to jump to 43% by 2020.

If the gig economy continues to grow at that rate, more than half of the U.S. workforce will be gig workers by 2021. That means, you are losing a big portion of your full-time marketing team to the gig economy. You may not be feeling this yet or you may already be suffering from unfilled turnover. Either way, it’s time to get a plan in place to capitalize on this as an opportunity versus have it cripple your marketing efforts.

Okay, so what’s the gig economy opportunity?

Marketing leaders have always embraced “outsourcing” to some extent. If a video needs to be made and you don’t have a videographer on staff, you outsource. If you need to make a big media splash, you hire a PR agency. This is comfortable ground for definable projects. But the real opportunity in the gig economy isn’t outsourcing. Instead, it’s about amplification.

The real opportunity is that many more qualified workers have left corporate america. But no marketing team will be successful trying to engage with hordes of freelancers on outsourced project work. Instead, the beauty of the gig economy is the ability to work long-term with contractors who can understand your business just like in-house employees, but be ramped up or ramped down in use depending on the needs of your business.

To be clear, this is not about outsourcing marketing to an agency. We all made that mistake during the downturn of the economy. All that did is move the same inefficiencies we had in corporate america to a different location—the agency. This time, we need to keep strategy in-house, but extend our staff to a community of trusted contractors to get the work done.

That’s cool. So how do I take advantage of the gig economy?

Here are some basic steps to help marketing leaders to start taking advantage of the gig economy.

  1. EMBRACE IT – Get your team comfortable with working with people remotely and make sure they have good systems to do this (like Google Drive, Slack, Asana, etc.). Start talking about it as a way to help your team amplify their production.
  2. IDENTIFY STARTING POINT – Once you and your team embrace the concept, look for places where you have in-house expertise, but not enough time in the day to get the work done. An example might be that you have product marketers who are supposed to be writing whitepapers, but don’t have the time. Or a web/demand gen team that just can never find the time to figure out SEO. These are great places to find talent that you can hook into your existing resources to help amplify what they do.
  3. FIND TALENT – Next you have to find the talent. From what I’ve seen, many of the outsourcing websites are good for short-term projects, but not the best for finding long-term contracting talent. The best place to start is with referrals and LinkedIn connections. Find someone who used to work in your industry, but has moved on to the gig economy. That will be the best fit for finding someone who understands your business and what you need to reach your target audience.
  4. DEVELOP PROCESS – Lastly, you need to invest the time to figure out a process for training and managing these gig employees. My suggestion is to enable a junior employee showing potential to manage the gig worker(s) as career development. Ensure that you are using shared workspaces (like Google Drive) and are managing expectations and deadlines to a basic project plan in a shared spreadsheet. A short 5-10 min weekly meeting is usually sufficient to review finished projects and assign new projects for the week. Slack or Skype are also great tools to help facilitate the working relationship. For training, think about ramping up their work from easy to more complex so that they can organically learn about your business.
  5. RETAIN – Just like full time employees, if you’ve got a great gig worker, you need to keep them happy. Make sure they are getting the support they need to be successful and the hours they need to stay knowledgeable on your business and to be happy with their paycheck.

What value will the gig economy bring our organization?

In a nutshell, if you embrace the gig economy and use it effectively, you are going to get more done for less money. It all comes down to those dreaded meetings. If you have more of your workforce who doesn’t need to attend them and you just pay for their time being productive, you spend less money. Don’t believe me? Here is the argument and the math behind sending demand gen content and product marketing content to the gig economy.

Start experimenting in one area and track the results. You will see the value quickly. But make sure you bring your in-house staff along in the thinking. Help them to see that gig workers will bring the whole team up to a new level. That means ensuring that in-house employees understand their role in the more strategic aspects of your go-to-market strategy.

I recently was a guest on the Make the Logo Bigger podcast on this topic and was asked for my prediction on how marketing departments will look in the next 5-10 years as the gig economy grows. My answer: I believe that companies will hire core product expertise, marketing strategists and project managers. That small, tight-knit group of individuals will set the strategy, but they’ll use gig workers to execute it. I think we could see a shift to as much as 20% in-house employees and 80% gig employees. Are you ready for this new reality? If not, let’s talk and I can help you get started.