What the Gig Economy is, Why it Matters, and How to Be Successful with it

Be Inspired | Do Good

When Tom Field was getting ready to launch his business back in 1993, he got some advice: “You don’t want to do this.” For the aspiring entrepreneur, those five words can either keep them from moving forward or act as a great motivator. For Field, now president of Berryfield Marketing and owner and creative director of Valley Business FRONT magazine, it was a motivator.

The challenge is the very thing that drew me to start my own business. It’s neat to be in something that’s different every day.

“The challenge is the very thing that drew me to start my own business. It’s neat to be in something that’s different every day.”

Early in his career, he realized that he loved marketing, “but I found I had a 24-month attention span.” Eventually, he would just get bored. Now, “I’m literally talking to a moonshiner one day and a neurosurgeon the next day,” and it keeps his excitement level high.

He took on Valley Business FRONT (so named for the nine major industries, or “fronts” in the Roanoke area) in 2008. While it follows a more regimented process to keep to its monthly production schedule and manage the staff of 14, over time it has evolved away from a rigid format. “We like to keep people guessing,” says Field. “We like to keep it fresh and not so standardized.”

It never occurred to Field, a native of the area and graduate of Roanoke College, to build his business out of Roanoke. “I happen to like it here. We just live in a cool place.”

Field finds today’s gig economy very exciting, allowing professionals and creatives to use their skills no matter where they may live. He was an early member of that independent entrepreneurial culture, enjoying the quality of life Roanoke has to offer while serving clients from California and Texas to Boston.

Asked for the secret to success, Field quips: “Have a family. There’s nothing as motivating as responsibility.” His wife is his office manager; together, they’ve raised three daughters.

In his industry, the “secret” isn’t so secret: “Provide a product or service that the market will use and do it in some way that can’t or isn’t being done by others.”

The focus of his service is “telling good stories” in a creative way that puts his customers in the public eye in a memorable way. It’s a technique that yields results. He recalls the owner of a local winery telling him that she’d had more people visit her following a small story he’d helped place than she had in 20 years of traditional advertising.

Field says it’s “always necessary to serve your market” by staying on top of trends, but entrepreneurs feel like they always have to stay ahead of their industry. Innovations are great, but the goal should be to serve the client in a way that best fits their needs.

Field has also learned the value of outsourcing. “It’s taken me a while to learn I don’t need to wear all the hats.” When he was first starting out, he did everything himself, including the bookkeeping. Now, he maximizes his time and energy by hiring others to do those specialized tasks.

When it comes to finding help, support local business is his mantra—but he warns local businesses not to rest too hard on their hometown roots. “None of us deserve,” he says, “just because we’re local.”

Listen to the full interview to hear more about Valley Business FRONT and the gig economy.


Written by Heather Michon

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