Breezeworks Gives ‘Gig Economy’ Workers A Way Control Their Business

by: Ellen Huet

BreezeWorks's software lets small businesses handle scheduling, customer relationships, billing and more, all for a monthly and not per-gig fee. (Courtesy Breezeworks)

Breezeworks’s software lets small businesses handle tasks like scheduling, customer relationships and billing for a monthly and not per-gig fee. (Courtesy Breezeworks)

Justin Berry is a 33-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician near Dallas, Texas. He’d like to get new customer leads and have access to software that helps him manage his jobs by communicating with clients and taking payments. He could sign up as a service provider on a gig-economy site like TaskRabbit, Amazon Home Services or Handy, which would help him do both those things. But it’s at a cost: he pays a per-job commission, and he isn’t supposed to connect directly with clients.

Instead, he uses Breezeworks, which gives him business tools — scheduling, estimates, invoicing, payment processing – but lets him have a direct relationship with his customer. It also charges a monthly fee, not one per gig, so he’s not incentivized to cut out the middleman on repeat customers.

“Having those customer relationships is one of the most important things – that’s going to get you more referrals and more return business,” he said.

Breezeworks, which launched in 2013 and on Wednesday added a web client to its iOS sand Android apps, positions itself as a company that empowers, not traps, service workers and small business owners. “If you don’t own your customer relationships, I think it’s hard to own your business and control your destiny,” said CEO and cofounder Matthew Cowan. The company refers to its mission as “digital democratization.”

On-demand companies say they make it easy for professionals to find more work. But often, those professionals would like to grow a business through referrals and returning clients, and the platform eventually gets in the way. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Said interviewed a handyman who said he was happy to pick up customers on Homejoy at first, but quickly found it made sense to book with them directly. To some workers, the insurance and other protections provided by platofrms like TaskRabbit don’t warrant the high fee.

“A lot of people who initially hired me through Homejoy have mentioned that they could hire me outside,” he said. Homejoy charges clients $60 an hour for his labor and takes a $25 an hour cut, leaving him with $35 an hour. “When I work directly, I bill people at $40,” he said. “It saves the homeowners money, and I make a little more too.”

In debating whether workers on platforms like Handy are employees or contractors, the access they have to their customers may tip the scales. “Can you be a freelance worker if you don’t own the data about your work and earnings history and be able to take it with you when you leave a platform or export it to a third party for optimization?” venture capitalist Fred Wilson wrote Tuesday in a blog post. “I think the answer … is obviously no.”

Breezeworks targets both single workers and small businesses, whereas TaskRabbit, Homejoy and others focus on individuals. Breezeworks is most popular with plumbers, HVAC technicians, general contractors and handymen, Cowan said, though their users also include oddities like a horse dentist and a service that provides princesses for birthday parties. Its customers are those willing to pay $19.95 (for individuals) or $39.95 (for small teams) per month for the tools. “We’re not a great fit for someone who wants to take one job a week,” Cowan said.

Berry and his brother-in-law started his company, Classic Air and Heating, in 2009, and they now have three other employees. He gets a lot of his lead-generation through paid Yelp ads and free ads he posts on Craigslist. He’s happy to avoid a per-job fee to a platform, but understands why it might be worth it. “For someone who’s just starting out and doesn’t have direction to go with advertising, it gives them a starting point, allows them to get their feet wet,” he said.

Breezeworks is in 50 states and has several thousand active users, Cowan said. The company most recently raised a $5 million Series A round last November.

Cowan named a few competitors – mHelpDesk, Jobber —  but said that he’s focused on selling to small businesses that have been doing this by hand until now. “None of (the competitors) have any meaningful market share,” he said. “The thing we compete with more than anything else is get rid of is your pen and paper.”

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Article source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ellenhuet/2015/07/15/breezeworks-gives-gig-economy-workers-a-way-control-their-business/

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