What's Your Gig?

The gig economy will become mainstream within the next five years and life for employees is set to fundamentally change.

We live in a growing gig economy. Digital advancements have created large scale efficient marketplaces, and, the development of ever more task-oriented service platforms continue to increase the number of gig jobs available. At the same time and more than ever, people prefer to work for themselves and avoid the traditional workplace environment.

Whether you are seeking part-time income, or, interested in developing a list of jobs that could provide a primary source of income; when you are ready to find your gig, it’s important to find the right gig(s) and then manage them well. The numbers show, it’s pretty likely that you will have a gig or two at some point.

The Numbers

In 2006, the US federal government counted the number of contract and contingent workers at 42.6 million, which was approximately 30% of the workforce. In 2016, McKinsey Global Institute conducted research and found that up to 68 million people in the United States were engaging in some form of independent work. Another 2017 study reported that self-employment is likely to triple to 42 million by 2020 with millennials being the largest segment of this group. In Canada, it is estimated that 45% of the workforce will be on-demand by 2020.

The Companies

The fundamental nature of the workplace is changing. A Business Insider article published in May 2018 quoted a CEO who works with 30% of the Fortune 100 companies as saying: “The gig economy will become mainstream within the next five years and life for employees is set to fundamentally change”.

The number of contingent workers predicted to exist in 2020 support what Salim Ishmail calls “Exponential Organizations” (EOs). These organizations are designed very differently in order to succeed in the future by taking advantage of ongoing technology shifts that are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. EOs often have staff on demand or hire people for specific gigs. Examples include Tesla, Uber, AirBnB, Google, TED, and Amazon. As these companies grow in number, gig employment will as well.

The Type of Work

The McKinsey study defines a gig as “independent work”, with three main characteristics:

  1. a high degree of autonomy

  2. payment by task, assignment or sales

  3. a short-term relationship between the worker and the client

A few examples of such independent work are Uber drivers, AirBnB hosts and sellers on Etsy. The study additionally found that knowledge-intensive industries and creative occupations are the largest and fastest-growing segments of the freelance economy. 99signals and Upworks are of examples of this trend.

Although many top earning gigs such as deep learning, blockchain and robotics jobs, require specific technical skills, many don’t. There are varied gig opportunities available including dog walkers and virtual personal assistants.

Why do you want the gig?

Finding a gig that is right for you includes considering the reason for seeking and securing the gig. If you require supplemental income, be sure the work you perform won’t interfere with your main source of income.

Consider also what kind of independent worker you might be. The McKinsey study classified independent workers into four segments:

  • Free Agents: choose independent work and for their primary income
  • Casual Earners: choose to do independent work for supplemental income
  • Reluctants: make their primary living from independent work but would prefer traditional jobs
  • Financially strapped: perform supplemental independent work out of necessity

Are you ready for gig stress?

A gig may not provide the steady, reliable income you need. Studies show that Free Agents and Reluctants often experience anxiety without the traditional support offered by a full-time employer; however, Free Agents are thought to prefer those stresses over the handcuffs a traditional job gives them. Although the worry over an unpredictable schedule and finances exists, Free Agents also indicate they are leading richer lives than their corporate counterparts.

If your gig is temporary and fluctuations in both income and work are prevalent, anxiety over landing the next gig is a real concern. Depending on your marital and family, or health, status, non-existent employee benefits could cause stress and act as a huge deterrent.

Further, having multiple gigs means that you must engage in personal bookkeeping including figuring out year-end taxes. When you work for yourself, you are running a small business, on top of the work you’re being paid to complete. For some people, this can add to already high stress levels.

The Right Gig

As more people put together a portfolio of income streams to earn a living, it is important to consider which is the right gig for you. Factors include:

Is the Gig your main source of income It seems obvious to say, but if so, you should love the daily tasks that define this position, or at least enjoy them. Unfortunately, if you are a Reluctant, you may not have this luxury. You may have to take something to get you through but perhaps have time to continue to search for another gig on the side.

Do you like the idea of running your own business? The skills required in managing multiple sources of income are very much like those required to be successful in your own business. Confidence, organizational skills, discipline and self-motivation are necessary. You may have to be a great networker, have a specialized skill or be able to market yourself.

What are the hidden costs? To ensure you land a gig that is actually of net benefit to your bottom line, you must have a solid understanding of the revenues earned and the costs incurred. Sometimes these costs are hidden. A great example of a hidden cost incurred is for Uber drivers; the wear on an Uber vehicle represents a very real depreciation of their main asset.

What is your favourite thing to do? If you can turn your favourite thing to do into a money earning situation, you are on to some happiness in your life. If this is not possible, assess what makes this your favourite thing and what activities are similar. A good place to start is by thinking about what kind of gig you would consider. If you’re afraid of dogs, it’s probably best not to offer to walk them. If you’re not a fan of driving, or, of having strangers in your car, Uber is most likely not the best gig scenario for you.

How much time and when can you commit? Be aware of any and all time parameters before you begin to search for and commit to a gig opportunity. Stay realistic when defining your time parameters.

There are many websites where you can start your search for a gig, depending on the type of gig you seek. Some have already been mentioned, but to expand your resources consider the sites listed below:

Managing that Gig

To be successful in the gig economy you must structure both your time and work flow. Juggling multiple demands and acting as your own motivator can be challenging, but, there are several ways to increase your chances for success:

  • If it is a desk job, create a work space with limited distractions, and severely limit any nonwork related activities within this space. This will help to train the brain to focus and accomplish only deep work while in this location.
  • Create project plans, including deadlines for all of the gigs that require output.
  • Keep track of all of your to-do’s. Check each to-do item as complete to keep you on track and organized.
  • Keep track of all incoming and outgoing money. Make sure to set money aside so you can pay the tax bill when it arrives.

A recent study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that successful independent workers cultivate four types of connections to help them with the ups and downs of the roles they play and gain motivation: place, routines, purpose and people. The trick they say, is to create a “holding environment” which is a physical, social and psychological space for your work. This is a place where you can be your best and grow.

Whichever gig or gigs you choose, ideally you stay connected to others, you support your dreams, make a good income and thrive.