Articles & Notes

On-Demand Platforms Can Learn a Lot From My Mom

TL;DRMrs. MacFarlane helps us understand the basic needs of independent worker, offers advice on cashflow forecasting and tax planning, and proves once and for all that moms know everything.


I can’t speak for everyone, but in the MacFarlane household, my mom, Kim, was the glue that kept our family together. The master of her domain, my mom was the all-knowing, all-seeing ruler of our household. The boss of our familial business—and her own business, in fact. An amateur figure skating coach since before I was born, my mom threw caution to the wind when she was in her 20s, setting out to build a career that gave her the freedom to work relatively flexible hours doing something she both loved and excelled at.

Kim MacFarlane

Internet, meet my Mom. Mom, meet the Internet.

Sound familiar?

That’s because it’s the same thing that’s motivating millions of people to join on-demand platforms and the independent workforce today. An economy built on platforms specifically designed to match jobs with workers, the on-demand ecosystem (and rapid advances in technology) have made it infinitely easier for people to follow their dreams. People like me.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that prior to joining Hyperwallet, I ran my own show—first as a content consultant and then at the helm of a content outsourcing start-up (the entrepreneurial seed didn’t fall far from the tree in my family). However, like most stubborn twenty-somethings, I never thought to ask my business-savvy mom what it would be like to open my own shop. “Pffft, Mom, what does she know,” right?

Everything. As impossible as it seems, moms know EVERYTHING.

And, lucky for me, it’s never too late to ask her for advice.

Lucky for me, it's never too late to ask Mom for advice. Click To Tweet

Motherly Advice For Your On-Demand Platform

When I called Kim recently and explained to her that I needed her help with work, she was eager to help. So I asked her the question I should have asked her more than a decade ago: “What’s the hardest thing about running your business?”

Without hesitating, she answered, “Oh, that’s easy. Getting paid. Getting paid—within a reasonable amount of time—was always a struggle. Coaching was the easy part of the job; the tough part was managing the money.”

Like Kim, modern workers continue to grapple with income management issues. According to the 2015 1099 Economy Workforce Report, 25.6% of contract workers stated that tracking income and expenses was their biggest on-the-job headache. While Kim relied on ledger books and her trusty calculator to keep things straight, today’s workers are increasingly searching for sophisticated third party tools to assist with their businesses. Roughly 65% of workers surveyed in the Workforce Report noted that they use an income/expense tracking tool regularly. Of these users, 41.2% rely on free tools, while 16.5% have paid for a service.

25.6% of #contractworkers say tracking income + expenses is their biggest on-the-job headache. Click To Tweet

Kim went on to explain that income management can be broken down into two simple, but critical operational tasks:

1. Forecasting

“The longer you’re in business for yourself, the better you get at predicting your future income. You have more information to help plan and prepare from.”

While she might not have had the same analytics as the modern business analyst, Kim clearly understood the value of data mining. According to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ 2015 Internet Trends Report, uncertainty and a lack of predictable income are two of the biggest challenges for workers in the collaborative economy. The best way to help workers prepare for this inherent instability? Provide them with forecasting tools that make it easy to review and understand past earnings.

As a figure skating coach, Kim’s income was seasonally driven. As such, she had to carefully manage her winter income to ensure it would last through the leaner summer months. What’s more, she would have to analyze her earnings regularly in order to ensure she was making enough to stay profitable. If the data showed her things were getting tight, she’d quickly be able to calculate how many new students she’d need to pick up in order to right the ship. Data is power—does your platform give that power to your workers?

2. Tax planning

“No one likes tax time, but you can’t avoid it. The only thing you can do is plan and prepare; that way you won’t be blindsided by a whopper of a tax bill—and an angry auditor—at the end of the year.”

Not surprisingly, understanding tax or legal obligations ranked as the second biggest pain point for 1099 workers; over 36% of respondents to the 1099 Economy Workforce Report struggled to make heads or tails of reporting regulations. For example, did you know that if you’re a contract worker and owe more than $1,000 in taxable income, you may be required to pay estimated taxes during the year? Any missed quarterly payment could result in penalties and interest. Which is great, but how exactly are you supposed to know that you’re going to owe more than $1,000? Or how much you should be paying quarterly to avoid unnecessary penalties?

Over 36% of #ondemand contract workers struggle with tax and legal obligations. Click To Tweet

Providing workers with a built-in provisional tax schedule, easy access to tax documentation, and a full, transparent look at submission requirements within your on-demand platform isn’t easy, but it’s what workers ultimately need in order to truly understand their reporting obligations.

Let’s Make Mom Proud

Near the end of our conversation, my mom stopped me to ask a simple question, “Aren’t there websites out there, like the ones that you used to use to find writing jobs on… Don’t they just do all this stuff automatically now using the Internet?”

It was an innocent question, but a telling one. The answer is, unfortunately, no: on-demand platforms and modern marketplaces are still struggling to provide their workers with easy, flexible earnings management tools, some 35 years after my mom accepted her first pay check. Isn’t it time we made Mom proud and developed a solution?

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