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July 27, 2017

Is the Gig Economy Right for You?

Bruce Murray

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The term "gig economy" has been out there for a while, but what does it mean for the people involved?

On the consumer side, we think of it as shopping with smart devices and social media. On the job side, it is working as a freelance contractor, perhaps using one's own assets such as a car for Uber, an apartment for Airbnb, or selling things on Etsy or Craigslist.

Like anything else, there are pros and cons to consider before joining the gig economy. Happy "giggers" appreciate the independence and flexibility that it can offer. It can give them more control over their lives, for example, and they can often work from home. The downsides include the lack of benefits such as sick leave, vacation pay and health insurance, reduced job security, and potentially higher taxes.

Unsurprisingly, employers like gig workers! Not paying benefits can save them almost 40 percent on staffing costs. But if you're seeking gig work, you don't have to sell yourself cheap. Joe Griston, regional director for Freelancer.com, says, "Forty seven percent of the projects on Freelancer.com are awarded to the median bidder or higher."

Research suggests that, by 2020, 43 percent of the U.S. workforce will be made up of these freelancers. This is not just an American phenomenon. In the U.K., the Office of National Statistics reports that, "The number of self-employed workers in the U.K. rose by 20 percent between 2008 and 2015… Part-time self-employment grew 88 percent from 2001 to 2015, but just 25 percent for full-time workers."

Finding Work in the Gig Economy

Some gigs, such as in retail services, are very much like traditional work, but many are very different from being a corporate employee. Samaschool, a San Francisco-based organization that provides training in finding work in the gig economy, says, "Gig workers must act as micro-entrepreneurs, cultivating their own pipeline of work opportunities, project managing each gig, and maintaining their own finances."

In addition to the skills that a worker applies on the job, a gigger needs to create a strong online personal brand, know how to navigate gig platforms, and provide top-notch service both in person and through digital devices.

Gig economy work is an intentional plan for some but for many, like journalist Lisa Carolin, it just happens. She became a gig worker after losing a full-time job. She said, "At the age of 50, the unimaginable happened. The newspaper I reported for laid off its entire staff."

In the past year, Lisa has taken on six gigs. She's worked as a journalist, a dog walker, retail merchandiser, and babysitter. She's also acted as a patient feigning disease as part of a medical school study, and she's sold her own baked goods at farmers markets.

Lisa's experience as a gig worker is typical. As a conventional employee, things were simple. She had "a single boss, a single HR department, and a single computer system." Describing the challenges of gig working, she said, "It's difficult to find appealing work, and then cobbling together these various jobs to earn a decent living."

Demands of Gig Economy Work

Lisa added, "When it rains it pours, and you have no control over when that happens. There tend to be very fruitful times of the year, where the demand from various contract jobs is overwhelming. Sometimes the balancing act is too difficult.

"That said, there is great joy in the flexibility that contract work can offer for one's schedule. There's also more opportunity to sleep in and take Fido for his midday walk!"

Another journalist-turned-gigger, Farai Chidey, advises would-be giggers to carry out a personal skills audit. She says, "First, write down everything you can do reasonably well, whether it seems professionally relevant [or not]. Second, circle the skills you're willing to do for money. Lastly, star the skills you'd be paid the most for," and then jump in with both feet!

Share your own experiences of gigging and giggers below, in our comment section, and share this blog with your followers to add to the conversation.

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