Your recent invites to like a new business page is a strong indicator of where this shortage of labor has gone. And my invite was probably one of them.
On March 15th, 2020, I had a part-time job at a cafe along with a few side hustles. Now I'm part of a class of people contributing to a vast shortage of low-wage labor. And no, I'm not using stimulus money as an excuse to play video games on the couch. I used the government handout for trickle-up economics.
And I'm not alone. I represent a blossoming new movement of creative entrepreneurs. Before the pandemic, we were working 2-3 part-time jobs, serving your coffee or troubleshooting your broken iPhone. We might have had a side hustle or a dream of starting our own business, but we never had the time to make it past the legal zoom blogs on forming an LLC.
But then, the market gave us something we needed: time. Our employers cut our hours and laid us off. No one was hiring, and we were stuck inside with a laptop and our imagination. It is no surprise that many of us like myself decided to make a job instead of applying for one.
E-Commerce and Census Data
But this claim isn't backed up with anecdotal evidence. It's supported by census data and a parabolic rise in one particular industry: E-commerce. Just a short glance at Shopify's financial report shows a sharp increase in demand for these digital platforms.
Their quarterly revenue from subscriptions almost doubled with $133 million in growth since the start of the pandemic. That is a huge jump when compared to their $49 million from December 2018-2019. The fact that their rates have not gone up at all since December 2018 shows that their subscriber base roughly doubled in 1 year.
According to the government census, over 4 million businesses registered since the start of the pandemic. That is compared to only 2.5 million applications from the previous period.
Now, these numbers only account for the tip of the iceberg. They do not represent the sole proprietors who jumped on Upwork or just started playing by their own rules. As I write this at a coffee shop, I am surrounded by people all doing the same. I just overheard someone say on a call that they are freelance now and "totally fine not having a website or any kind of advertising." I know it is more anecdotal evidence, but come on, what are the odds?
Small Business Landscape
We lost a lot of small businesses to the pandemic. And as a result, many analysts cast a grim forecast where tech monopolies suppress the self-starters and dominate the market. But I think they missed a crucial pattern in all of nature: re-birth.
The pandemic fertilized the ground for a new market of small enterprises to emerge. All of the ingredients were there: Limited money from the relief fund, extra time, and the exponential advancement in SaaS tech, AI, apps without code, and E-commerce. These advancements made the cost of starting a digital business almost nonexistent. No needed construction, business loans, or lease agreements, just a little bit of tech-savvy elbow grease, and anyone can launch their own digital business. As we transition out of this dark winter, we are starting to see the fruit of those "reckless" stimulus checks trickle up from the defrosted ground. And no, it's not hyper-inflation; it's innovation.
But, it is for sure as hell not easy. We are fully aware that the market only has room for so many T-shirt brands and journalistic explainer studios. The fear of failure looms over all of our heads. And time will tell exactly how many of us make the harvest.
A Vision Worth Failing at
In every good story, though, the hero fails. Frodo keeps the ring, and George Bailey wishes he was never born. But having something to fail at is better than failing at nothing.
And any adventure worth failing once at is worth failing multiple times. My advice to everyone else embarking on this journey is, wear your failures as a badge of honor. Let them kill your ego as you pursue something bigger than yourself. And realize that you are not alone. We have the power to reshape the marketplace for the better. Instead of following in the footsteps of Amazon to pursue world domination, let's create a cooperative and mutually beneficial market that works with the community instead of circumventing it.
My own adventure has been telling stories like this for other people. I started an explainer studio called Best Explained. I felt that too much content marketing lacked soul, and I didn't want to work for an agency that outsources most of its work for keyword fluff. I was inspired by the success of Vox's explainer videos and saw a market where I could provide similar content but for small businesses.
At the heart of my vision, though, is storytelling. I want to band together to help explain why each of our adventures is worth failing at and why we are protagonists worth rooting for. An economy with more small enterprises and less overhead means more competition for qualified candidates and better jobs for everyone. This phenomenon doesn't need to be another gold rush of eager opportunists. It is a paradigm shift that can start to reverse inequality and tilt power back into the hands of the people. But only if we try and only if we aren't afraid to fail.