In March 2021, FGM Internet Marketing passed the milestone of 10 years in business. There wasn’t much of a celebration, to be honest. There was no party with employees eating cake and champagne bottles popping. Why?
Because the reality is that FGM Internet Marketing, LLC has been, for the most part, a one-woman operation. I had an employee for 18 months in 2016-17, but most of the growth of the business and its capacity has been made possible with the use of subcontractors.
This is not unusual in the digital marketing industry – there are a plethora of “digital nomads” out there to write a blog, design a logo, or build a website. And we are a decade deep into the idea of the gig economy and gig workers.
But growing off the back of contractors feels a little unstable, a bit like a house of cards. It’s hard to control the capacity of the business – and its ability to grow while tending to clients – when your “team” are managing their own capacity across their own clients. Sometimes you just need someone who’s “all in” like you are.
FGM also turned 10 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which turned the labor market on its head. Employees, now working from home or receiving unemployment benefits, realized how bad their pre-pandemic work lives were. Poor pay, no vacations or parental leave, no benefits – Americans looked around and said, “enough!”.
How to Grow My Business?
So here’s the conundrum – how do I grow FGM’s capacity to serve clients without burning out or going broke? I had tried the employee/employer relationship before and it wasn’t one I wanted to repeat. I want to empower people to work together, not dictate from above.
But what other options are there besides employee/employer or contractors? Well, why not a cooperative? Cooperatives are not familiar to most Americans with the exception of REI, farming or electric cooperatives. But the cooperative working model is growing in popularity in Europe, Canada, and even next door in North Carolina. Can a small digital marketing shop do the same?
Just because I couldn’t find an example of this being done elsewhere doesn’t mean I can’t try, and I had the perfect person in mind. Meet Ben Culbreth.
Meet Ben Culbreth
Ben has been writing content and social posts for FGM clients for a few years and impresses me with the quality of his work, his initiative, and his dependability. I wanted to bring Ben into the business more, empower him to make decisions about the business, and reap the rewards of his work. Ben was toying with the idea of leaving his full-time job, disillusioned with everything that employees get disillusioned with.
Our Co-Op Working Model
With things lining up and a path becoming clearer, I invited Ben to join FGM in a cooperative working model. What that looks like to us right now is:
Democratic decision making in the business
We’re excited for this announcement and the new path forward. Find out more about Ben Culbreth, and I’ll be writing more about the details of our cooperative working model in future posts.