Self-employed people, from real estate agents to Uber drivers, have long understood the importance of managing their online reputation.
And whether they're maintaining a website, a LinkedIn page, a Yelp listing or user reviews, they also know that in a self-employed world, business and personal reputations are one and the same.
The world of employment is undergoing a major shift. According to research done by Intuit (where I work) and Emergent Research, an estimated 43 percent of the American workforce will be self-employed by 2020.
Graduates straight out of college are increasingly foregoing the corporate world to work for themselves. Mid-career professionals are tiring of the rat race and embracing the opportunity to purse a long-held dream.
Others are turning to self-employment because they were forced out of a job they loved. And many nearing the end of their careers are jumping at the chance to earn extra income to supplement a retirement plan that isn't as rich as they'd hoped.
The rise of self-employment also has major implications for the consumer experience. Increasingly, consumers buy goods and services not from a faceless company, but directly from another person.
Fixing the flaw in the gig economy
Companies that so many of us use today--Lyft, AirBnB or Etsy--don't sell products. Rather, they are marketplaces whose primary role is to match consumers with someone who has something to sell, a space to rent out, or a ride across town.
Modern companies rely heavily on reviews and rating systems to provide consumers with the confidence to know that the person they're buying from is trustworthy.
While this works well for consumers, it's more difficult for the self-employed for a couple of reasons.
First, many self-employed work for multiple platforms. The Intuit research found that the average person working in the on-demand economy relies on three different sources of income to make up their entire paycheck.
Second, self-employed are under a significant amount of pressure to continuously receive positive ratings for fear they may be penalized or even deactivated by the platform they work on.
This presents an obvious challenge. Gone are the days when you could polish off one resume and ship it around in search of work.
Today's reality is replaced by LinkedIn profiles and other digital representations of your work history. If you're selling a service, endorsements like this are key in determining whether your skills are up to snuff. But managing your endorsements, online reviews, references, and other customer ratings can be difficult.
What do you do if your reviews are not actually your own? Currently, there is no central clearinghouse for you to showcase these things all in one place, as often times the platforms themselves own this valuable content.
Should platforms be required to unlock a worker's ratings and share ownership? This could allow the creation of tools where individuals could demonstrate their trust, credibility, and skill sets across platforms.
The output could become the new resume.
Another challenge is privacy
It has become commonplace for consumers to turn to Google when they interact with a new individual over the web, even in a business situation. Yelp or Facebook "stalking" has become common across the service industry.
If your given name is part of your business name, which is common in gigs such as wedding planning, photography, and realty, you can easily damage your reputation if you're not conscience of your personal online and social media habits.
Your digital footprint essentially adds up to create a picture of you and your brand, so you must manage it thoughtfully--your reputation may depend on it.
So, what's the solution?
What happens when someone spends years building up a positive reputation on a platform, and then starts working for a competitor--do they start all over? Is that sustainable?
Or should self-employed workers own all of their own ratings and take them with them to other platforms? Should we create a standard reputation system that lets self-employed workers create a more holistic and easily managed picture of themselves?
Imagine, for example, one that brings Yelp or Etsy reviews, Uber and TaskRabbit ratings, LinkedIn endorsements, social media shout outs and lots more onto a single dashboard.
Leave better reviews
Let's not forget our responsibility in this discussion. Now that we understand the value and impact our words can have on someone's business, let's help the self-employed community by more actively leaving reviews, ratings and feedback.
After all, their reputation--personal or business, or whether that is truly one in the same--is their livelihood.
This post first appeared here.