The age of the 8-hour work day, also known as “9 to 5” is long over. Everywhere you look, young entrepreneurs are establishing start-up companies with the sole aim of ensuring their financial freedom, enabling work flexibility, and just being happy. A decade ago, the emphasis was placed on obtaining a university degree which was to be utilised within the job sector, and you were then remunerated for your contribution in this regard. Day after day, after day, you slaved away for a multi-billion-dollar company that reserved the right to terminate your contract at the drop of a hat; instantly ending your years of toil, sacrifice and loyalty and replacing that with younger or more experienced talent.
However, thanks to the millennials of this age, the orthodox 9 to 5 has come to an end, creating a new workspace for creative and independent thinkers that dictate how, where and when they work. These millennials have introduced a new group of entrepreneurs; that create a business from just about anything and get paid for doing this. From YouTube content creators to reality stars and fitness personalities, just about anyone can start up a successful business through the use of online marketing and social media platforms to advertise and sell their ideas, content and products to people across the world.
For classic entrepreneurs, who set up businesses, like cleaning or catering services, they generally use social media platforms to advertise and market their brand, so that it disseminates to huge amounts of people in the shortest time possible. The rationale behind this is that an increase in the number of people who know about the businesses will likely cause an increase in demand for services, thus increasing revenue. In this sense, this type of entrepreneur is not doing things digitally but has instead used digital means to advertise and market their brand. However, for the quintessential digital entrepreneur, the niche for the business is online. The digital entrepreneur creates a need, as well as markets and advertises their ideas and brand online.
Although the surge in digital entrepreneurship is unprecedented, it is important to note that it did not occur in a vacuum. Many digital entrepreneurs started off within the mainstream job sector and gradually moved away, as digital entrepreneurship increasingly offered more in terms of financial freedom, work-life flexibility and overall satisfaction. There are several factors that propelled the emergence of the digital entrepreneur. In discussing these factors, I have divided them into push and pull to help differentiate factors that cause people (push) to leave the orthodox job sector versus those that encouraged people (pull) to embrace the new age of digital employment.
The financial crisis of 2008
Without going into too much detail, the financial crisis of 2008 was a push factor that caused a lot of people who were supposedly financially secure, to lose their jobs, houses, cars and assets. It was an unprecedented time in recent history which can only be compared to the depression era of 1939 in the United States. It was a time of great financial hardship and unemployment, that caused many people to go into early retirement, plunging many to the fringes of the poverty, with little or no pension pay-out. Many university graduates also had no chance of getting hired and therefore had to create a workspace for themselves. Because of this period, there was a rise in the number of people (millennials and older) creating, running and owning their own businesses; from product-targeted companies to service-orientated businesses, these alternatives seemed to offer more financial freedom, more intellectual creativity and greater work stability for people who had been severely affected by the financial crisis.
The financial crisis of 2008 showed just how dispensable employees are within the capitalist market system and this served as a wake-up call for many millennials. While the employee-employer relationship has always been characterised as asymmetric, with the former being more dependent on the latter, the 2008 crisis made it very clear; heightened by the number of people that lost their jobs overnight. Employee dispensability is a push factor that caused many people to leave the traditional work sector (long after the 2008 financial crisis) for a more rewarding work environment, where you are your own boss and you dictate how, where and when you work. Further to this, fear of redundancy and possible health challenges in the future are all reasons that people leave the mainstream job sector. However, moving towards digital entrepreneurship removes these unknown factors, creating a space for financial freedom and allowing you to be your own boss.
Since 2000, there has been a steady increase in the use and understanding of social media forums for entertainment, education, information and even marketing. Social media sites like Myspace, Hi five, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler and Snapchat has introduced the world to a new way to keep in touch with people, and make new friends and connect with people online, all the while sharing your interests, values, ideas and even marketing them. YouTube, which is a particularly important and revolutionary social media tool, has forever changed the way information is disseminated. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s information was generally obtained through a book, (which you had to buy for a fee) or through your life-experience or that of someone you know. And that was how most information/knowledge was acquired. But today through YouTube, information is simply posted online and it is immediately available for public consumption. On Youtube, you can learn anything from how to drive a manual car, to what makes up the solar planet. You are introduced to a world of fashion or politics through the simple click of a button. The internet and social media have taken away the gatekeepers of knowledge, removing the middle-man (in the form of publishing companies) such that the process of acquiring information is faster, cheaper and instantaneous. All you need is an internet connection and a device to stream this digital information. While many people use the internet and social media for information and entertainment, an increasing number of people use it for far more than that. These people have understood the power of social media to garner a support base through the sharing of interests and values, and marketing of ideas, which creates a digital market, where you employ yourself as the provider of these goods and services. By constantly marketing your ideas and interests, you feed this digital demand, which you must supply to remain relevant within the digital economy. A good example of this is a YouTube content creator who starts a fashion and beauty channel. While there are many fashion and beauty channels currently available on YouTube, this new content creator starts the channel in the hope that her/his personal style, charisma, or method of presentation will appeal to a wide audience and create a market (demand) for more content. If they are successful, the YouTube content creator has employed themselves, through the advertisement of their ideas, interests and values.
How do digital entrepreneurs make money?
Since access to information on the web or online is mostly free, how then do digital entrepreneurs make money? Well, there are several ways that digital entrepreneurs make money online. For one, many of them make money through online traffic. As a successful YouTube content creator, with a large fan base, you would be attracting huge online traffic to your site. This means that companies can pay you to advertise on your page so that when people click on to your site, they see the advert. But for this to happen, you should sign up to an online adverting company and give them your domain name and PayPal account details for you to receive payment. Another way that digital entrepreneurs make money is through the number of views per post/video. In the world of Youtube, content creators are generally paid a fee for every 1000 views. This means that a YouTube content creator will keep earning on content produced, years after the material has been released. Digital entrepreneurs also make money from sponsored adverts and endorsements. Once you have built a relatively large fan base, companies begin to contact you to advertise or market their brand, which could include overt or subtle advertising. Some content creators make mention of the brand in their online videos and photos, while others may just use the brand and make sure it is clearly visible on posted videos and photos.
Some digital entrepreneurs use their online presence and popularity to establish other physical or non-digital businesses, creating multiple streams of income. For example, several Youtube content creators have started hair extension and clothing lines as well as cosmetic companies. This has allowed them to benefit from multiple income streams, through the use of social media popularity to advertise and market non-digital brands.
Many millennials complain about the lack of intellectual creativity in mainstream careers. While you may have numerous ideas that you are itching to implement, to take your company in a whole new direction, many companies would not give you carte blanche to do this. This has caused many people to break-away from the traditional workforce and seeks to be their own boss, which is far more rewarding, giving you greater work satisfaction, than working for someone else. Being a digital entrepreneur means that you decide how much creativity you can inject into your business and furthermore, you receive all the credit for it and get paid in the process. It is pretty much the best of both worlds.
A rigid work environment is another factor why many people move towards digital entrepreneurship. Be it a difficult boss, or strict working hours, or insufficient holiday leave, more and more people are choosing to leave the traditional work setup behind in favour of being your own boss. The traditional work sector states that you should be in the office for a minimum of 8 hours a day; with limited vacation and sick-leave days. In the unfortunate event that you fall sick and exceed the given number of sick days, you may be given unpaid sick leave or sent an email by Human Resources (HR) detailing the rules and regulations around sick leave or that your pay will be cut etc. The traditional work environment is also not big on family life, which means that system generally discourages people from leaving early to attend to family/ private matters. All these scenarios can be quite stressful and make you question your job security and work-family life balance. Thus, many people have chosen to go down the route of digital entrepreneurship to make more time for themselves and for their families.