Today’s jobs look nothing like they did 20, or even 10, years ago. Gone is the age of the cubicle. Now workplaces feature open offices and flexible schedules with telecommuting options. Even the traditional look of a career has changed. While it’s still possible to get that 40 hour a week job with vacation and benefits, many employers and job-seekers have started to look for something a little less formal and a lot less permanent. The result is the rise of the gig economy.
What is the Gig Economy?
Essentially, a gig economy is just like it sounds. Workers make money through gigs. For example, if a band is booked to play a show (a gig), then the members of the band get paid. However, a gig economy goes beyond the field of music. Today, many job seekers make a living through a series of gigs. They code apps and develop websites. They take photographs and create advertisements. They mow lawns and complete odd jobs. They develop assessment items and tutor students. They take on cases as lawyers and help sell real estate. They upcycle furniture and sew dresses. They work as entrepreneurs, freelancers, temporary workers, and independent contractors.
The difference between a gig economy job and a standard job is that a gig economy job is less permanent. Some gigs may be recurring, offering workers a steady paycheck and income they can depend on. Most, however, are one-time deals. Companies that cannot afford to hire a full-time employee or may not have a need for an employee once a project is complete may hire temporary workers to get the job done. Workers who crave flexibility and do not want to be tied down to one job can get a variety of experiences and, often, set their own schedules.
According to the annual Freelancing in America survey, nearly 35 percent of the workforce is choosing to participate in the gig economy, either full-time, part-time, or as a second career. As many industries face cutbacks and the number of full-time jobs available for graduates continues to decrease, many new college grads and other job seekers are finding hope in the gig economy.
Things to Consider with a Gig Economy
Of course embracing the gig economy isn’t for everyone and it comes with its own sets of challenges. While the gig economy can provide workers with a flexible work schedule and the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, it can also lead to an unpredictable income and problems maintaining a work-life balance. Those thinking about the gig economy should consider a few questions before getting to work.
- How will I find work?
One of the biggest challenges of working in the gig economy is finding work. Essentially, workers start their own business and develop a roster of clients who provide them with tasks to complete. When you first start out, it may be difficult to get work. However, the more time you spend in the field and making connections, the more opportunities you’re likely to get.
- What are some ways I can monetize my skills?
Working in the gig economy is all about finding non-traditional ways to earn money. Sometimes the jobs being offered do not mirror more traditional positions. Think about the skills that you have and make a list of all the ways you could possibly use those skills. Maybe you’re good at making quilts, but the market for selling quilts is not very large. Could you monetize your skills by making quilted potholders en masse or teaching a quilting class at a local craft store? Maybe your skill involves driving people around all day. While you could work for a ride-sharing service, you may have more luck finding a regular job driving a senior citizen to appointments or to the grocery store.
- Can I manage multiple projects at once? If so, how many?
When you work in a traditional job, you often only handle one or two projects at a time. However, when you work independently, you may have multiple clients. Each client will have a different set of standards and expectations and most of them won’t be very understanding if you get those standards and expectations mixed up. To work in a gig economy, you must be organized and able to multi-task. You also need to learn your limits.
- Do I want to work full-time? Part-time? Just in my spare time?
With the gig economy, you have a lot of control over how much you work. Think about the skills you have and how you can monetize them. Can you make enough money to work full-time? If not, would it be better to pick up a part-time job and take on gigs part-time as well? Maybe you want to take on a full-time job in your field and pick up gigs on the side as a way of earning extra money. Some people start taking on gigs while working a full-time job, and then eventually leave the full-time job to work full-time in the gig economy. Others only work in the gig economy on a very part-time basis. What you decide to do is up to you.
- How will I pay for insurance? Save for retirement? Pay taxes?
Traditional jobs often come with insurance and other benefits. They also automatically take taxes out of your paycheck. In the gig economy, you often become responsible for all of those tasks. When you determine how often you want to work and how much money you need to make from your gigs, you must consider the cost of insurance, saving for retirement, and paying for taxes. The cost of these items helps determine whether you can be successful in a gig economy.
- What happens if I get sick or need to take extended time off?
Jobs in the gig economy often don’t come with paid sick days or vacation time. If you get sick and can’t meet a deadline, a client may decide to take his/her business elsewhere. Regularly cancelling gigs or failing to complete projects on time can make it harder to get new work. Plus, when you take time off, you don’t get paid. If you rely on the gig economy as your main source of income, you must be prepared for sick days, time off for vacation, and even lulls in your workload during the year. For example, you may get fewer gigs during the holiday season as companies take time off to celebrate.
- How will I pay for my equipment?
If you work in a traditional job, chances are your company will provide you with most of the equipment you need. When you work independently, not so much. Do you need a computer? Specialized software? A printer and ink? These expenses are your responsibility. When you price your gigs, you need to take this into consideration.
- What if I take on a bad gig?
Working in the gig economy comes with a lot of risks. When you work independently, you often aren’t covered by the same rules and regulations that you’re covered by in the workplace. This means that clients may make unreasonable demands on your time, may not pay you a fair rate, or may not pay you at all. Are you prepared to handle any of these events should they happen? Do you know the legal aspects of the field you plan to work in?
- Am I willing to invest the time and effort it takes to make it work?
When it comes to working in the gig economy, some people get lucky and work just falls into their laps. For most people, however, finding work and managing your workload requires a lot of time and effort. You must be willing to put yourself out there, take risks, and apply for a lot of jobs. You must be willing to figure out how much to charge for your work and not give up when times get tough.
How to Find Work in the Gig Economy
One of the biggest challenges in a gig economy is finding work. Before looking for work, make a list of all of the jobs you’re qualified to do and include 1-2 reasons you’re qualified to do them. This will help you in your search for new work. Once you know what you want to do, you can start exploring opportunities. Remember, you don’t have to find a full-time job. While the gig economy can be a great alternative for full-time employment, it’s also a great way to earn some extra money while going to school, working part-time, or being employed in another career.
To find work in a gig economy, consider the following options:
- Ask family and friends for help. They may have odd jobs that need completed, or they may be able to connect you with others who need help. Just put yourself out there and ask. You never know what connections you might make.
- Contact companies directly. Is there a company you’d like to work for? First, visit their website to see if they have any job openings. You can also conduct a Google search to see if they have any job listings on other sites. Once you’ve done that, consider sending a letter to the company that describes your services and how you think you can help them.
- Create a profile on a website focused on helping people find gigs. Some sites to consider include Fiverr and Upwork. You can also look in the gigs section of Craigslist, but use caution when responding to listings.
- Look for companies that rely solely on independent contractors or temporary employees. Think beyond companies like Uber or Lyft. For example, you might want to make deliveries for Postmates or Instacart, or rent out your car with Getaround or Turo.
- Set up your own online store with sites such as Etsy, Shopify, or eBay. You may also find a place at local co-ops that cater to small businesses or pop-up shops.
- Create your own website. Think of it as a virtual resume. On your website you can advertise your services and your qualifications. People looking for your services in your area can find you through your site.
Whether you’re just graduating from high school or college or want to make a change in careers, you may find that working in the gig economy is the solution. Also, don’t forget to check out our 10 Money-Making Ideas for Teachers and Parents to find additional ways to make money in the gig economy.