The last few years have seen a significant upswing in employment opportunities that would be considered a part of what is commonly referred to as the “gig economy.” The gig economy is a loosely defined concept that applies to workers who earn all or part of their income through freelance, self-employed or contract work. For 2017, it’s estimated that at least half of all American workers will earn some income through “gigging.” Whether you’re looking for occasional consulting work in a highly-specialized industry, driving for Uber or Lyft a few hours every week, or spending part of your weekend as a wedding photographer, the gig economy is completely transforming the way people work and earn a living.
So, what’s a “gig”?
Some gigs can be a single task that a worker is hired to do (like a wedding photographer), but other gigs can closely resemble a short-term job (consulting work, being a temporary employee).
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) considers gig workers to be those with contingent or alternative employment. Contingent workers are those who don’t have a contract for long-term employment. Alternative employment arrangements include independent contractors, freelancers, independent consultants, on-call workers, and workers provided by temporary staffing agencies. The BLS will begin collecting new data on the population working in these categories in May 2017.
Regardless of which BLS category a worker considers themselves in, the fact is that when one assignment, contract, or gig is over, it’s essential that a new one is found to keep the income stream in place. This situation means the worker is always on the look-out for new “gigs” and at times must juggle multiple jobs simultaneously.
To some people, working in the gig economy provides the freedom to work when they please, doing the type of work they want to do, but with that autonomy also comes a hefty dose of responsibility, if they want to maintain a consistent income. Here are some of the pros and cons of gigging to help you decide if it’s the right path to follow:
Some Positives of Working in the Gig Economy
- You get to choose the projects you enjoy and work on a schedule that best fits your lifestyle.
- You get an increased level of flexibility when it comes to the days or hours you work.
- If you have a specialized and in-demand skill, your income potential may be higher working gigs.
- Working gigs can allow you to do several different types of jobs you might not want to do full-time. For example, your primary income stream may come from being a freelance graphic designer, but on Saturday mornings you teach a kids art class at the local library, and you drive for a ride-sharing company a few evenings when you need to pick up extra money.
- Working gigs can help you to focus on areas you’re passionate about. This feature can be especially relevant to older workers. If you’ve had a long professional career, sharing your knowledge and expertise as a consultant or advisor is a meaningful way to stay connected to your field while working less demanding hours. It’s worth noting that companies and individuals are often willing to pay a premium for your insight and experience.
Some Realities of Working in the Gig Economy
- Uncertainty is one of the only certain things about gig work. There is no guarantee that sufficient levels of work will flow your way or that the work will generate enough income to cover your expenses.
- Inconsistency can happen. When you’re gigging for a living, work can be feast or famine. One month you’ll be working every day, non-stop and another month you’ll be wondering what to do with the extra time on your hands. Uncertainty combined with inconsistency is what often keeps workers from launching into the gig economy full-time, and many prefer to keep gigs to a manageable, part-time level that also allows them to maintain a regular job.
- Lack of schedule can be positive, but it can also be negative when no one is telling you what to do and when to do it. You are 100% responsible for networking, drumming up new business, billing, getting work done on time, communicating with clients and all the other details in-between. Managing that can be difficult if you’re not organized.
- Not having employer-provided benefits such as health insurance, sick leave, retirement plans, or vacation time can be a challenge. Before launching into the gig economy, it’s important you research these topics and understand how much you will need to earn to cover yourself.
Key Occupations for Gig Employment
Some skills and occupations lend themselves nicely to gig work. Work that involves a single task, such as baking a custom birthday cake, writing a business plan or mediating a divorce settlement can fit nicely. Also, any occupation which requires project-based, on-demand employees for a certain period (website re-design, holiday retail sales, weekend on-call medical staff) can also find opportunities. Here are a few suggestions for how individuals working in these various employment sectors can take advantage of gig opportunities.
Arts and Design
Artists, musicians, and writers have been working in the gig economy longer than most. The added benefit is that now, online platforms make it easier to for creatives to promote and sell their work outside of their immediate area. Whether you compose jingles, write custom content, create newsletters, or design clothes, there are paid gig opportunities waiting for you.
Computers and Information Technology
Technical skills and professionals are in high demand when it comes to the gig economy. Web developers, coders and programmers, and technical support staff are among those needed by businesses of all sizes for short and longer-term projects.
Construction and Skilled Trades
Much like those working in the arts, individuals with in-demand trade skills can also flourish in the gig economy. Carpenters, house painters, electricians, and masons are sought after regularly for both residential and commercial gig work.
Communications and Media
The skills of technical writers, translators, photographers and videographers, content marketers and the social media savvy are frequently needed for project-based assignments. Often, these gigs can be done virtually with meetings taking place via conferencing tools such as Skype or Google Hangouts.
Whether it’s ridesharing or delivery services, a variety of apps and services are changing the way people, food, and materials are transported from one place to another, and with that change comes opportunities for individuals who like to be behind the wheel.
The gig economy is not perfect, but it does have the potential to help certain sectors of the workforce who have been unable to participate in full-time employment. These categories include people who are providing at-home care to young children or aging parents, retired workers, students, and individuals with disabilities or medical concerns who need a flexible work environment. The gig economy may not fit every person’s needs, but it does present opportunities worth exploring.
How is the Gig Economy impacting society?
We all know that what we do for work and how we do it is evolving. But, this has always been the case. If we were to look back one hundred years, there were jobs that were considered essential (elevator operators, rat catchers, and switchboard operators to name a few) that no longer exist today. In fifty years, we may look back to 2017 and see that careers we assumed would always be necessary are no longer contributors to the economy.
However, despite the fact that change will always be a constant factor, it is important to acknowledge that work is being reorganized into a variety of alternative employment arrangements, whether we like it or not. Businesses can, do, and will make the decision to turn traditional full-time hourly or salaried employees into contractors to reduce or eliminate health care costs, social security taxes, and administrative expenditures. That is a harsh reality for many individuals in their working years in the United States. We may not like it, we may advocate against it, but at the end of the day, it’s better to be prepared for it than caught without a plan.
It’s also important to remember that in our traditional economy there are also large numbers of low-skill, low-wage jobs that are not secure and provide limited or no benefits. Retail, child care, elder care, food service, hospitality, and maintenance are but a few jobs in a category that is long and wide-ranging. Bad jobs are not going to disappear in the gig economy; in fact, the gig economy does have its share of low-paying “opportunities” but, what it does provide is flexibility and control over when you will be working. Driving for a ride-sharing business isn’t going to earn you much more per hour than working retail, but if you can work more hours or during more desirable times, then it’s a step in the right direction.
What would be very helpful to both workers and businesses is a clearer understanding of how working in a gig economy impacts both groups. What sectors are succeeding? What sectors are lagging behind? Where are “giggers” experiencing growth? What states or cities are positioning themselves as gig-friendly environments (offering affordable healthcare options, low or no-cost education and training opportunities, inexpensive co-working or commercial office space)? Issues such as retirement, health care, and social security taxes loom large and having a large population that cannot afford access to basic benefits is damaging to everyone across the economy. Research in this area is essential for maximizing opportunities while reducing (or at least being aware of) pitfalls.
How can individuals stand out in the Gig Economy?
There are several different ways to get started in the gig economy. The first thing to do is to identify what your strengths are and what you enjoy. Once you’ve come up with some ideas, see which ones are general tasks and which ones fit into a more specialized niche. Niches often require a specific set of skills (language translation, college admission counseling, computer and technical), credentials, licenses or degrees (legal, medical, mental health), or depth of experience (business consultants, accounting and tax, financial planning).
Take a look at your ideas for both general and specialized tasks and then do some research and see how much of a need there is in your market. Market research will help you to determine if your idea is viable, and if it is, what you could reasonably expect to charge for your services. The research data will also help you to decide whether you want to plunge 100% into gig work, or if you would prefer to move forward incrementally while maintaining your current job.
If you determine that moving ahead is a sound course of action, then you need to find a way to get noticed and stand out from other competition in the market. Differentiating yourself from others is key, and you’ll only know how to do that by reviewing market research. What’s the competition like in your geographical community? What’s the competition like in the online marketplace? Who are your target clients and how will they find you?
While it’s easy to assume that you may be able to find gig work through online websites and apps, it’s also important to establish your brand in your local community, as well. Depending on the sector you’re working in, “old school” methods such as hanging flyers and notices at local libraries, community centers and houses of worship may prove to be very effective at drawing in prospective clients. Same goes for creating a professional website, establishing a social media presence and getting involved with your local chamber of commerce or other professional associations. All of these can assist you with networking and establishing connections.
Building your base is going to take time, patience, the ability to budget your time, energy and financial resources, and adaptability. Whether you’re approaching gig work as a part-time endeavor to earn a little extra cash, do something you think is fun or meaningful, or as a viable way to be your own boss and take control of earnings and hours, working in this manner can be liberating, exciting, stimulating, and enjoyable. Do your research, be prepared, and when the time is right… Jump in!
We did it, and we can help you to do it too!
Here at Road Warrior Creative, we have years of first-hand experience working in the gig economy and understand the unique challenges and opportunities it can bring. If you’re looking to establish yourself as a consultant, freelancer, or independent contractor, we offer a variety of digital marketing and business planning services to help make your goals a reality. Whether you need market research for strategic planning, a communications plan to connect with target clients, a website, or social media assistance, contact us today. Tell us what your passion is, and we’ll work with you to turn that idea into a reality!