Let's say you run an expanding landscaping business and you need a web page. How are you going to find a Web designer? Or a photographer? Or maybe a graphic designer to create a logo? And how will you know if you're getting the right people for your job at a fair rate for your market?
For most of us, we'd either call up an acquaintance or go to the Yellow Pages (either the book or some online equivalent). But neither of these solutions really tells you what you need to know to make an informed decision. And a more thorough search of the Web would be time-consuming and inefficient.
I propose to fix that problem by creating a local online marketplace for every type of creative service. Service providers who work in that geographic market -- from artists to programmers to actors to audio engineers -- would sign up for a free account, fill out a questionnaire, upload some examples of their work and receive a public listing. And anyone could browse those listings, including prospective clients and other creative professionals. Like all successful social media platforms, this one would allow members to communicate publicly or privately, to cooperate, compete and organize.
That's about as far as successful social media companies like LinkedIn go. But there are three special things about this directory that go much further.
- It has a simple and profitable business plan from Day 1, and that revenue stream is not an annoyance, but the central reason why creatives and clients will flock to this service. Using this site, anyone looking to hire a creative service provider could pay a set fee, fill out a form, and publish a Request for Bids (RFB) based on their unique needs. And since those service providers must fill out a questionnaire to generate their profiles, we would be able to route those Requests for Bid immediately to only those people for whom the job is relevant. Buyer and seller would work out their own deals, perhaps using our site, perhaps in person. But whatever the outcome, we've already been paid.
- The long-term value of this directory will lie hidden within the data it generates and collects about the local market for services. While the TOS would protect the privacy of individuals, it would allow us to collect, archive, analyze and sell products based on data generated by every action and transaction on our site.
- Since the software tools required to organize a creative marketplace directory in every market in America will work in any market, once the platform has been developed it can either be franchised, sold as a "business in a box," or expanded into an international company. As an international company it would own the world's most significant collection of economic data about the creative services sector.
What truly separates this business from others, then, is not just that it begins with a reliable, simple, desirable revenue stream that isn't advertising-based (although that alone gives it an edge over all the other big social media platforms). Rather, this marketplace directory is a social media platform that will essentially require the participation of the companies and freelancers in its market who work or wish to work in the creative sector. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other successes remain optional choices for professionals, but failing to register an account in a city that offers our marketplace directory will not only cost a company's reputation, but its bottom line. Once our affordable bidding system becomes the standard method for hiring or contracting creative talent, failure to register a free account on our site will effectively render a company invisible to potential clients. And since we would endeavor to use our site to encourage the creation of self-governing local "guilds," it should be possible to secure that advantage for the foreseeable future.
Also accruing to our benefit: The Recession, which is accelerating the shift to a freelance economy, and the demise of metro newspapers, which is creating an advertising vacuum that other media forms will fill.
In other words, this business:
- Organizes a currently unorganized yet growing sector that is expected to form the heart of the 21st century American economy;
- Makes membership in our service virtually mandatory;
- Comes with multiple known revenue streams and offers enormous hidden income potential via the compilation of valuable market data;
- Is exportable to every media market in the United States (and, potentially, the world);
- Could be reconfigured to provide a similar service to virtual (non-local) talent markets;
- Offers a high degree of automation and low operational costs;
- Outsources much of its operational costs to the communities of interest that form around it;
- Comes with limited liabilities and extremely simple e-commerce requirements;
- Benefits from changes in mass-media economics;
- Creates stunning economies of scale with each additional market.
After some thought, I think such a company could be created in Charleston, tested in Charleston, and made profitable in Charleston. It could be approached as a VC-funded startup or developed by several equity partners, most of whom would contribute to this project part-time during its development.