How to Survive (Even Thrive) in the Gig Economy

February 23
5 min read

How to Thrive in the Gig Economy

What do an Uber driver, a freelance writer and a carpenter have in common? The answer is that they are all part of the gig economy.

What is the Gig Economy?

  • Gig economy is the new economic trend where instead of hiring full-time employees, companies are looking for freelancers or contractors for short projects or tasks.
Source: giphy.com

One of the fastest growing trends in employment is a move away from full-time contracts. Instead, both employers and workers are pursuing alternative arrangements, including temporary or project-based contracts.

It wasn’t that long ago that people graduating from college or university would go searching for a permanent position with regular pay periods, consistent hours and employee benefits. However, recently, the proportion of such jobs is shrinking.

The combination of an economic slowdown and the emergence of new digital technologies has meant a shift in companies employment strategies. They are looking to reduce their costs by hiring less full-time staff in favour of short-term support based on immediate needs.

On the flip side, peoples’ preferences regarding job structures are also changing. Workers have realized that contracting out their services to a mix of companies allows them flexibility in determining the amount of time they spend working and the types of work they do.

Where the two sides meet is where we find the gig economy. 

Those participating in the gig economy call themselves freelancers, independent professionals, contract workers and independent contractors. It’s easy to think of this group as a bunch of millennials looking to escape the traditional 9 to 5, but among those participating in the gig economy are experienced nurses, engineers and marketing consultants. 

How do I get work in the gig economy?

Motivations for taking part in the gig economy can vary. Sometimes it’s easier to break into an industry by looking for temporary contracts. Or maybe you want to be your own boss and work project to project for a variety of clients.

Strategies for finding a gig depend on the type of work relationship you want. For example, many companies recruit for short-term or temporary positions the same way they would for permanent roles. Therefore, you can expect to find these gigs posted on career sections of company websites and online job sites or social networks (E.g. LinkedIn).

Short-term contracts or project-based work is another story. Here companies are less likely to go through their formal recruiting processes. Instead, they may post projects on dedicated websites for freelancers or gig workers. Examples of popular sites for freelance work include upwork.com or freelancer.com. Meanwhile, sites like taskrabbit.com are also devoted to gig economy jobs, but for more casual work, such as household projects.

Professional networks are among the most common ways that companies find help for projects or even short-term contracts. Chances are good that a manager will first look to his or her network of contacts before going through a long recruitment process. Freelancers or consultants should rely on their networks to help connect with companies looking for workers.

Competition for work in the gig economy is often fierce, especially since many gigs don’t require candidates to be localized. With so many workers vying for the same gigs, there is a premium on being able to prove your worth. This means having a portfolio of past projects and list of satisfied clients to show off. Having a professional website with this content easily accessible is an efficient way to market your abilities. 

Meanwhile, a professional resume that is updated with current skills and work experiences (even if they are project-based) is just as valuable to gig workers as it is to those looking for full-time positions. 

Is the gig economy right for me?

In reality, the gig economy is suited to all kinds of people, even those who already have full-time employment. Many people take on gigs not as a necessity, but as a way of earning supplemental income.

At the other end of the spectrum are individuals who rely on temporary work to make a living. Sometimes these people don’t have much choice because there is a shortage of permanent roles in their field. However, for others, participating in the gig economy is optional, in which case a number of factors should be considered.

First, it’s good to ask yourself whether you have specialized skills that are in high enough demand. In other words, are you good enough at something (graphic design, writing, coding, etc.) that companies will be willing to pay you to do work for them?

Then, you need to consider the differences that come with working gigs versus a full-time job. Gig workers need to devote a lot of their time searching for new clients or projects – there is no promise of a steady stream of work. You are your own lifeline. With that comes financial variability. 

Even if you are extremely talented in a particular field and consistently have companies calling you for help, you need to be smart with money. Some months you may take on a lot of small projects with dribbles of money coming your way throughout the month. Other times you might be working for one company on a bigger project and payment will only come once the project is finished. Organizing your finances and negotiating terms of payment is necessary to ensure you can pay your bills.

Of course, the variability that comes from gig work is why many people choose the gig economy in the first place. There is the freedom to work when you want, and often where you want, assuming your work can be done remotely. You also have the potential to work for several companies with varying needs. Few projects are identical, which means new challenges to keep you stimulated and grow your skills.

The flexible work arrangements created by the gig economy offer many opportunities and challenges – for both workers and employers. It’s clear that this is growing trend in employment. Those looking for work in 2018 should be prepared for the reality that full-time contracts are becoming more rare and be ready to explore temporary work.