Industry veteran John Fleming shares his gig economy research and analysis in his latest book.
John Fleming has been one of direct selling’s most consistent and strongest advocates. John’s experience, study, and research of the direct selling business model are extensive. In recent years, John has devoted the major portion of his time to research and study of the gig economy. In his soon to be released book, Ultimate Gig, John explores the attributes of the gig economy and the income opportunities available. John believes that independent contractors and micro-entrepreneurs will play an integral role in the redefining of one simple word…“work.” Writer, Sarah Paulk, and I were privileged to have a Zoom interview with John—he shared his story, his research and his insights into this ‘ultimate’ time.
John Fleming always wanted to be an architect—it was his dream. He worked in the office of the German architectural master Mies van der Rohe, where he learned to apply the basic principles of “less is more” advocated by Mies van der Rohe—how to strip complexity down to the essentials and design buildings without using facades that were not a part of the structure.
It was a few years into his career, however, when Fleming realized that while plenty of mentors had spent time instilling in him architectural wisdom, no one had coached him on how to design a life. “When we design buildings, we complete the plan before we ever start construction,” Fleming says. “Someone would have helped me a lot if they had taught me those same principles about life.”
These missing principles came to light after marrying, when Fleming and his wife realized that his full-time job in the architecture firm plus her full-time job would not be enough to support them. “I wasn’t earning much money, but I was very proud,” Fleming says. “I had a big ego—I went to a great school, I worked in one of the premier architectural offices in the world—and we can’t pay all the bills.”
His solution came in the form of a direct selling business opportunity that he could work during the margins of his week. He almost overlooked it, assuming it was meant for his wife and not for him, but soon discovered it was a business they could share in common. “That was a big thing for both of us,” Fleming says. “She couldn’t speak architecture, and I couldn’t speak nursing.”
Direct selling became his part-time job, earning the couple extra money to supplement their full-time incomes until the money coming in exceeded that of his architectural career, and Fleming knew he had found his new direction. Embarking on a successful career in direct selling, working as an independent contractor and then in corporate roles, Fleming found a new passion. Fleming spent 15 years at Avon, took early retirement, and almost immediately became engaged with industry leaders in a new observant way as publisher and editor of Direct Selling News—just in time to witness a massive economic shift.
Personalized Marketing May Be the Next Big Thing
After serving Direct Selling News for many years, Fleming became interested in observing, researching, writing, and looking closely at shifts and trends. In 2015, the air was buzzing with the beginning of a gig economy explosion. Intrigued, Fleming commenced a multi-year study of employment trends, researching ways that work could be defined or redefined. In the new gig economy, there was less emphasis on résumés, titles, hierarchy, and more priority given to people who simply wanted to convert underutilized assets or extra time, into income earning opportunities. People were drawn to the flexibility and freedom, finding new ways to approach work, and by 2019, the number of people involved in the gig economy was hovering near the 60 million mark. The gig economy had whittled away the complexities and overhead of full-time employment and streamlined profit opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs. It was a mirror of the design strategy he learned through architecture: stripping away the excess can create something even more powerful. It was time to put his research, notes and career experience into book form.
The result of Fleming’s efforts is The Ultimate Gig, a book being published by Emerald Publishing U.K., that illustrates the transformative power of micro-entrepreneurship in the workforce and clarifies the history and trajectory of the gig economy—the most significant labor revolution of the century. In methodical fashion, Fleming walks readers through the gig economy journey, simplifying the complexity of its beginnings, how technology influenced its rise, what attracts and motivates gig workers, the roles women play, primary research conducted on the gig economy, the challenges, and who the game changers have been. There is an epilogue.
“When I started researching, women were estimated to be 33 percent of the gig economy, and 66 percent were men,” Fleming says. The gig economy, however, has grown and transformed rapidly, and Fleming predicted that the balance of participants between men and women would equalize. Armed with research led by Dr. Robert H. Peterson, John T. Stuart III Chair in Business Administration, University of Texas at Austin, Fleming found that his prediction has become reality—the gender distribution is now an almost even split. “It is very important to understand the role of women in the gig economy,” he says. “Women have always appreciated flexibility and freedom in how work can be done.”
There are many testimonials from gig workers included in several chapters in the book, including the complete story of a very successful direct seller who is legendary; however, her full name is not revealed in the book. “The story is what is most important,” Fleming says. In the book, Fleming personally interviews Amway CEO Milind Pant, USANA CEO Kevin Guest, Solvasa Beauty CEO Lori Bush, who was formerly CEO at Rodan & Fields, and Sheryl Atkins Green, CMO at Mary Kay. Fleming is quick to remind us that the book is not about direct selling—it is about the gig economy. However, he is also quick to remind us that the direct selling channel of distribution had to be included in a significant manner because it is probably the original form of gig work.
Fleming explains how the emergence of culture-shifting platforms like Amazon, Shopify and Etsy has changed consumer expectations surrounding availability, customer service and delivery speed. The powerful artificial intelligence (AI) behind these platforms, Fleming describes, is the key to their exceptional customer service. Amazon, for example, is known for its two-day shipping and follow up texts or emails with a photo of the delivery sitting on the buyer’s porch as soon as a package is dropped off. This AI leveraging to turn a complex system of product fulfillment into a personalized interaction is what Fleming believes will be the next frontier for blockbuster companies and where the direct selling industry should set its sights.
Fleming told us: “The direct selling model has a tremendous opportunity in front of it to continue to reduce complexity, get closer to the customer in a very personal manner. “I think through a better understanding of AI and data analytics, we can bring some of the most personalized marketing to the marketplace that consumers have ever experienced.”
Designing Your Own Destiny
Everyone has an underutilized asset, whether it’s a spare room, a car that sits in the garage, an underutilized talent that can be leveraged more effectively, even a hobby that can become an enterprise or extra time that could be better spent doing something productive. Couple these dormant opportunities with the looming disaster that over 60 percent of Americans ages 34-45 have saved less than $1,000, and the stage has been set for an entire generation of workers seeking supplemental income opportunities to explore the options which are greater than at any other time in our history!
For employees who reside in the traditional hierarchical employment model, the track to the next level position that optimistically comes with a small percentage wage increase can be supplemented by engaging a gig. Fleming sees gig opportunities as a way to increase personal income whenever one desires with flexibility and freedom to boot.
Gig work includes freelance opportunities, and many talented people are taking advantage of the new possibilities. Through technology and digital platforms, gig workers can connect with customers/clients all over the globe. Some gig workers within this new economy are finding that working from phone is the new working from home. Less is more!
“We can become the architect of our own destiny,” Fleming says. “The gig economy is really saying to us, ‘No more excuses.’ Age, past experience, inexperience, gender, or background are not barriers. Available time is not a barrier because the gig worker chooses the hours they wish to work. Professionals work gigs in between regular priorities. Women and men work when they want to between the activities that remain a priority—such as family. No matter what your past or present experience or inexperience, you can now find something you can do. There is no need to be constrained by the traditional 9 to 5 or the need to be present at a physical location.”
When asked why someone should read the book, Fleming responded: “The objective in writing the book was to document what I was learning and make the information and the insights available to all seeking to add value to their lives. The gig economy is adding value to people’s lives. Simplicity is replacing complexity, and anyone can actually find a gig that aligns with their purpose, passion, and love for the assets of flexibility and freedom in how work can be accomplished. Gig providing companies are making it possible for anyone to master the investment of a few hours, or as many hours as one chooses, turning underutilized time into income-earning possibilities for the crowd, the masses, like never ever before. We are experiencing the transformation of work, and people from all walks of life are benefiting. Ultimate Gig tells a story about the gig economy and why everyone should be paying attention. Direct selling could very well be, or become, the ultimate form of gig work. All who read the book will gain a better understanding of the importance of independent contractor status, micro-entrepreneurship, and the attributes of flexibility and freedom in how work can be done. Those seeking solutions for life’s challenges may find answers. Those who have already embraced gig work will become prouder of their choice(s). Most importantly, many people contributed to this work, and I think our collective efforts will add value to the lives of others…”