By now, we all probably know someone by now that is working as an independent contractor for a Fortune 500 company by day, working as a freelance writer on the side, hosting a podcast, and designing flashy party invitations using their amazing graphic designer skills. This is 2016 and you are witnessing a day in the life of a gig economy professional. In the world of entrepreneurship and business, they say that the average millionaire has seven streams of income. Now, whether or not you’re trying to become a millionaire, or if you’re simply striving to live a comfortable life, you can’t deny this statement gives you something to think about. In today’s comfortably post-recession world, and one where an increasingly unstable future looms, securing multiple streams of income has never been more important. We could even venture to say that multiple income streams are an absolute necessity in order to secure long-term financial stability.
The Gig Economy
For many millennials, or people with parents who relied on the typical path of success—college, good job, stay until retirement—multiple streams of income can sound like a daunting task. Sure, you could dive head first and get into investing, stocks, real estate (and if you can, you should), but there are things that you can do that are easier, have a dramatically shorter learning curve, and you can get started pretty quickly. Thanks to technology and the internet, people today are more connected than ever. And while we all enjoy mindlessly scrolling Facebook, Netflix, and chilling, our tech and digitally obsessed world have opened up doors and windows of opportunities.
You may have stumbled across the term on Linkedin or maybe you have a deeper understanding of what the gig economy is, but for the people in the back, let’s dig into the details. The gig economy is a way of working where companies hire independent contract workers for short-term projects and, in many cases, long-term engagements.
Does all of this sound like some futuristic world of work? Well, it’s not as far off as you’d think. Deloitte University completed a study earlier this year that says, one in three US workers are freelancers and that number is expected to increase to 40% by 2020. That is just 3 short years away. The gig economy has been steadily trending upwards over the past couple decades and increasing faster than traditional employment. And while there are some industries that seem specifically tailored to succeed in the gig economy—think freelancers and other service providers—this type of work expands over into other similar economies like the sharing economy with companies like Uber, Airbnb, and co-working spaces.
Getting Started with the Gig Economy
Now that you have a bit of background on the gig economy, it’s time to get started. Here are a few tips to help you start off on the right foot.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Joining the gig economy doesn’t have to be—and shouldn’t be—a stressful process. Many of us are looking to join the gig economy to reduce our stress, not add to it. So start by doing contract work that comes easily to you by simply thinking about the things you are already good at. Take inventory of the skills you’ve learned at your day job, some courses you may have taken, and even the natural talents you possess. Use these as the foundation of the services you can offer to businesses that are looking for skills like yours. If you are a programmer by day, it is fairly easy to see how you could turn that into additional income after hours. I know talented graphics artists that have turned their skills into extra cash by collaborating with small businesses and organizations that don’t necessarily have a need for a full-time graphics team.
- Find a platform. The gig economy has grown increasingly popular because of digital technology. Now, more than ever, there are so many platforms and websites that make dipping your toes into contract work easier than ever. Set up a profile with the skills you’ve identified above on sites like Upwork, Cloudpeeps, Fiverr, and Freelancer. I have used Upwork myself and I have to say that I’ve worked with some great creatives that I most likely would not have access to in a traditional work setting. These platforms are great for services across the spectrum – marketing strategies, logos and branding, website and app development, administrative tasks, and the list goes on. If your gig is rehabbing furniture or jewelry design, platforms like Etsy are most likely where you’ll find your target audience.
- Get to work. You know the saying that the easiest way to do something is to just do it? That applies ten-fold here. This is an opportunity for you to learn and grow along the way. You’re working on your terms, you’re making up the rules, and you’ll reap the benefits. Don’t get hung up on traditional employee ways of thinking – in fact remember that the gig economy rewards those that hustle. In the gig economy, maybe even more than in traditional employment environments, networking and establishing a steady pipeline of work is important for success.
How To Level Up
Once you’ve found your spot in this gig economy, you will want to level up. Here’s how:
- Create a personal brand. Once you’ve gotten into the flow of your work, the gigs are pretty steady, and your name is out there as a freelancer, it’s time to start thinking about creating a personal brand. Your next step will be to make sure you have your social media profiles intact, create a solid portfolio of your work to reference, and set up a website that showcases your services and some of your best work. Do not underestimate the reach and impact of tools like Twitter, Facebook, and more importantly LinkedIn. I can tell you from personal experience that each post that I connect to my LinkedIn profile increases my weekly views by at least 50%. So again, share and showcase your best relevant work.
- Establish yourself as an expert. The great thing about the gig economy is that companies, brands, and businesses are looking to outsource their work to experts. And they are willing to pay for that specific expertise. You may have taken on a bunch of random gigs to supplement your income but as you think about leveling up, you’ll want to be positioning yourself in whatever niche, industry, or service you provide. Write blog posts and share them on your website and LinkedIn. Join twitter chats about and connect with colleagues in the same space as you. Keep your skills fresh and attend industry events.
- Pay Yourself. One of the best parts about creating a personal brand and establishing yourself as an expert is that it directly impacts that rates you can charge. As you level up, the gigs you land will level up as well both in size and budget. Don’t be afraid to increase your rates as your expertise increases and save aggressively. One of the main reasons that many seek opportunities in the gig economy is that it gives them the opportunity to work when they want, allows them to take on projects and work that have more personal meaning to them, and in lots of cases quickly build a portfolio or body of work. With each gig, project, or client, you’re learning more about your industry and gaining valuable skills. Regularly revisit your bill rates and make sure that you are getting your money’s worth. The gig economy can be unpredictable and you will want to make sure you are prepared for the ebbs and flows that may occur between opportunities, or just to be able to take a couple of weeks off without worrying about being able to pay bills.
The time for joining the future of work is now. Even if the gig economy isn’t a long term or sole option for you, use it to supplement your income. Let it fuel your retirement fund or college savings for your children. You could even let it fund your travel account. The point is, as our governments and economies change, it’s smart to adapt and grow with them. Plus, a couple extra coins along the way is always a good thing.