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Breaking Into The Gig Economy And Being Your Own Boss

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May 3rd, 2018

- Updated on

May 4, 2018 - 10:06am
 
For many workers, the routine, 9-to-5 job structure of our parents and their parents before them simply doesn’t fit into their picture of what their life should be like. The growing popularity of transitioning to short-term, freelance work - known as participating in the gig economy - is being seen in people of all age groups, socioeconomic levels, and fields.
 
If you’re looking to get started in the gig economy, and perhaps turn it into a true personal business, here are some things you must know.

13 statistics that explain the Gig Economy

What is the gig economy? 

America is already on its way to transitioning to a gig economy - at least in part.
 
To learn how many people are employed in the gig economy, Nation1099 rounded up all the studies and reports they could find and estimated that approximately 11% of the working adult population in the U.S. are working primarily as full-time independent contractors in the gig economy. Some studies suggest the Gig economy is 34% of the U.S. workforce and projected to grow to 43% by 2020

But what does that really mean?

In a gig economy, individuals and businesses look to hire temporary, short-term, or freelance workers to take on certain jobs or tasks, or fill a vacancy in their company. If you are a worker who is doing “gigs”, you are contracting your services with the knowledge that you are working on a temporary, need-only basis.

The ups and downs of living on gigs

The first thing that might worry you about the concept of living on gigs is that it sounds unstable. When compared to traditional employment, working as a freelancer can feel shaky at times. A corporate job does come with some sense of security - benefits, regular paychecks, the knowledge that your job should be there every day (as long as you have it). 
 
While this sort of everyday security may not be attainable for everyone working gigs, what participating in the gig economy can provide people is freedom. The Harvard Business Review recently studied dozens of gig economy workers in Thriving in a Gig Economy. The authors found that:
“.. all gig workers felt a host of personal, social, and economic anxieties without the cover and support of a traditional employer—but they also claimed that their independence was a choice and that they would not give up the benefits that came with it.”

So, what counts as a gig?

The good thing about offering your services, your skills, and your time to whoever needs it is that it opens up your options considerably. There is the need for workers of all types, with all sorts of skill sets. Using an app that connects you with those looking to contract your services is one way to get started. Examples of this are Uber, Lyft, and TaskRabbit.
 
If you have a skill or degree - accounting, for example - you can market your services to businesses as a contract worker. Gig jobs are not simply untrained jobs. A lawyer who offers their legal services on a case-by-case basis, a nurse who sees private clients, or even adjunct professors are all participating in the gig economy.
 
Bottom line: if you can do something and somebody wants to pay you to do it, you’ve got a gig. 
 
office wth laptop and phone
Photo by Igor Son on Unsplash

Tips for breaking into the gig economy

While most traditional jobs follow a similar path - training/degree, job search, interview, hiring - gig jobs can be secured through a variety of paths. Here are some tips for getting started:
  • Let an app help. There are dozens and dozens of websites and apps that help turn anyone into a freelancer, but some of the most prominent for professionals and executives to find jobs and gigs that match their skills and expertise are LinkedIn ProFinder, Upwork, and FiverrYou can turn just about anything into a personal business, and use a free invoice app like SquareUp to keep track of your cash flow seamlessly. 
     
  • Don’t limit yourself to one gig. If you have the ability to take on multiple gigs, then do it. You’re not specializing - you’re trying to break in. You can be a graphic artist who also drives on the side or a financial consultant who dabbles in photography.
     
  • Treat any gig like you would any other job. Just because you may have weird hours, or may not work every single day, that doesn’t mean that you should not set a rough schedule for yourself and stick to it. Figure out a target financial goal and work toward it. Without goals and a schedule, you could wind up working too little or too much - both of which are undesirable. 
     
  • Be wary of people trying to take advantage of you. Though the gig economy is making up more and more of the total economy, there is still some outdated thinking out there that says people doing freelance and temporary work are hard up for money and down on their luck. This isn’t you. As The Penny Hoarder says, don’t work for free - no matter what. Someone looking to take advantage of you may tell you they need to see your work first before deciding if you’re a good fit, or you should be happy to do a job for free in order to get exposure or experience. Avoid these contractors at all costs. Your time and your work are always worthy of compensation. This is especially important if you’re working a gig job for a business (as opposed to a single client). You should know that it costs businesses, on average, 25% less over time to hire temporary help. They are getting you at a premium, and you should use that as leverage. 

When is a gig a business?

You should think of your gig as a small business. You are the boss. You control your own hours. You choose who you work with. Whether you’re making something and selling it, offering your intellectual and professional services to someone as a contractor, or filling in the gaps at an established business - you’re running your own mini-company. Make your own website. Promote yourself on social media. Make your own business cards. Network with other freelancers in your field and find opportunities to grow.
 
Gig Economy signWhen does something you’re doing as a gig turn into a real business? One could make the argument that anyone using their skills to earn money already owns their own small business. We tend to still think of small business ownership in archaic terms - the classic brick and mortar store that has been the symbol of real small business for hundreds of years. But as times have changed and the world has become more connected (thanks mostly to the internet), small businesses have needed that physical presence less and less. 
It’s vital that you are realistic, however. Contract jobs don’t come with insurance. Contract jobs don’t come with retirement packages, 401Ks, and company-structured investment opportunities. It would be smart to talk to someone about your finances, as you will have to fill in some of the gaps created by making a living on freelance and contract work. 
 
Breaking into the gig economy can afford you freedom, flexibility, and the ability to be your own boss. This choice is what draws many people to freelance work. But you must break in with your eyes open. There are benefits to traditional employment that contract work will not provide - meaning you must fill in the gaps and provide for yourself. There’s a lot to be gained from being a hired hand, but you must treat it like the small business that it is. 

Author
Lucy Reed has been starting businesses since she was a kid, from the lemonade stand she opened in her parent’s driveway at age 10 to the dog walking business she started while in college. She created GigMine because she was inspired by the growth of the sharing economy and wanted to make it easier for entrepreneurial individuals like herself to find the gig opportunities in their areas.