Be Your Own Boss: 5 Philadelphians Killing It in the Gig Economy

Who needs Uber or Instacart?

James Harvey, a.k.a. "The Philly Van Man." (Photo by Nell Hoving)

James Harvey, a.k.a. “The Philly Van Man.” (Photo by Nell Hoving)

One-third of all working people are now self-employed. We spoke with a handful of local entrepreneurs about the freedom and frustrations of their on-demand jobs.

The Mover/Odd-Job Helper

JAMES HARVEY, a.k.a. “The Philly Van Man” 34, South Philadelphia

Background: Inspiration struck when friends asked him (and his van) for moving help. “I thought people could use help, but they don’t need to hire a full moving company.”

Best part of freelancing: “A sense of pride that you built something with a minivan and $20 business cards and a cheap website.”

Challenges: “Not enough hours in the day. My whole life is this business.”

Advice: Understand social media. “I’ve received more inquiries through Instagram than anything else. Find creative ways to take pictures, and tag the heck out of them.”

The Software Consultant

TODD BLYTHE 43, Fairmount

Background: After years working for German software giant SAP, Blythe became an independent contractor who helps companies set up and integrate SAP technology.

Best part of freelancing: “If you’re an employee, you’re paid a salary—I like knowing my value in the marketplace and getting the most out of that.”

Challenges: “Establishing rapport with the client—it takes time for everyone to be comfortable with each other. Plus, there are a lot of folks who provide my kind of service and are very bad. So a lot of people start out suspicious.”

The Marketing/Social Media Consultant

CRYSTAL DOVE 30, Queen Village

Background: Dove launched her one-woman business, Marketing Queen Consulting, after working in marketing for a wedding magazine in Chicago.

Goals: “I want the business to grow and maybe become something that I could sell if my husband and I start a family.”

Advice: “Work with other freelancers. Find your niche and a group of people who can help you.” Dove holds virtual-cubicle sessions with a freelance friend via webcam as a way to bounce ideas and fight the isolation of working alone.

The Video Editor


Background: A self-taught video editor, Melchiorre started his company, Sleepy Oak Productions, while working a full-time gig with an ad agency: “I thought, I could be doing this on my own. I’m getting paid peanuts.” (Prior to that, he played guitar for Silvertide, a local rock band signed by Clive Davis.) Today, clients include TLC and Discovery networks.

Motivation for freelancing: “We live under this delusion that a gig with a salary is a stable solution. You could be fired from a steady job any day.”

Advice: “There have been times when I didn’t have work coming in. I was super stressed-out. But over the years, every time I worried about it, another job would come up. Try to enjoy the time in between.”

The Marketing Consultant

LAURA VERNOLA 41, Phoenixville

Background: Vernola worked for some heavy hitters—Jose Garces and Bart Blatstein—before creating her own company, Grass Roots Marketer.

Best part of freelancing: “Working from home. The convenience is great. I work in my pajamas some days, and I’m fine with that.”

Challenges: “You don’t know when to walk away. I’ve been known to work until two or three in the morning.”

Originally published as “The Growing Gig Economy” in the November 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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