New research by Intuit and Emergent found there are now 4 million workers driving the gig economy– or in other words, the flexible workforce is now about 34% of workers. And this number is expected to grow to 7.7 million by 2020. In just a few years, gig workers will make up nearly half of the workforce.
Gig workers are motivated by a number of factors, from more flexible schedules to autonomy of their career. Online platforms like Uber and Lyft and freelancer job sites like Upwork make finding gigs even easier. If you’re going through a career transition and the thought of becoming a gig worker has crossed your mind– you clearly aren’t alone.
Whether you’re already a gig worker, or thinking about joining the crowd, plenty have gone before you. Consider these four steps–plus one bonus idea– before joining the gig economy.
#1: Define your gig
The type and source of gig work varies greatly from industry to industry. It’s important to know what type of work you want to do so you can begin to source gigs and plan the logistics and structure of your business. Depending on the industry, there are a plethora of resources and platforms designed to help you get started and stay profitable.
Some gig workers partner with a staffing company or an agency to find work. You can join already-existing businesses that depend on gig workers to drive business, such as ride-sharing business like Uber or Lyft, or a grocery shopping business like Instacart. These “shared economy” businesses are skyrocketing in growth. In fact, there are now more Ubers than yellow taxi cabs in New York City.
If you offer a creative service, like writing or graphic design, or a financial service like accounting or tax consulting, you have the ability to contract directly with companies and clients. Understanding how you want to use your skills and abilities is the first step to joining the flexible workforce. From there, you can begin to fulfill the requirements for offering services in your field of expertise — whether it be setting up an online profile or learning how to create formal contracts with vendors. Your next steps will vary depending on your chosen field of work. Above all, choose a gig you love, since you’ll be spending much of your time devoted to it.
#2: Set goals– and report them to a friend
When you have a traditional full-time job, you’re typically required to report your progress to your manager and set goals for improvement. In the typical workplace, a manager or supervisor is checking in on your progress– and hopefully giving you feedback on your work. When you become part of the flexible workforce, you’ll no longer have someone checking your career growth and progress. In order to remain relevant and continue to provide value to your gig economy employers, it’s important for independent workers to not only set goals, but to share them with another person. Most of us need to feel accountable to someone in order to hold ourselves accountable for improving. Studies have shown that sharing goals with someone else, stating them in writing or stating them out loud is essential to realizing career growth and business success.
One study by the Dominican University of California found that individuals who simply wrote down their goals on paper increased their success from 43 to 61%. The researchers also found that participants who made their goals public or sent weekly progress reports to a supportive friend boosted goal completion rates to 76%. Don’t just come up with business goals for your gig work– write them down, and share them.
#3: Share your expertise
Think of yourself as an advertiser and a marketer, but likely without the budget for billboards or radio segments. As a gig worker, you’re essentially a one—person business. Just like any business, you need to create visibility into your work by making your skills known to target clients. Fortunately, you have a massive audience at your fingertips, thanks to social networks and online publications.
The best way to get started with sharing your expertise is by sourcing new ideas. Make sure to regularly read and explore what’s being said about your industry. If you’re going to build a following around your gig work, you want to share new ideas and create content that showcases your thought leadership.
The benefits and appropriate methods for sharing your expertise will vary from one gig industry to the next. Uber drivers, for example, might interact positively to reviews left to showcase their friendly personality. Freelance marketing professionals might write a LinkedIn post about the future of a particular lead generation approach. Graphic designers might write a piece of content on design and post it to Medium. A personal trainer might upload sample videos to YouTube. Understand where your audience goes for information, and what ideas might resonate, then create content that establishes your position as an expert.
#4: Get your ducks in a row
One of the most challenging steps to becoming a member of the flexible workforce is the behind-the-scenes process. There’s a lot of information that you’ll need to understand, from how to structure agreements and contracts, to setting payment terms and following through with collecting payment.
It goes without saying that you’ll be filing taxes for your business. Do your due-diligence to research what you can write off as an expense. Keep receipts for traveling, including commuting to a coffee shop to work. Any supplies or space needed to do your work can likely be written off as a business expense. Typically, if you’re a sole proprietor– as are most gig workers–you’ll be required to file a schedule C. Before you dive into the gig economy, get the advice of a tax expert with experience working with independent vendors.
Be sure to devote ample time for getting your ducks in a row. While it’s exciting to jump right in and start working, you’ll be forced to take steps backwards down the road if you’ve taken a misstep on the legal processes. Do your research. Get accounting software or consult with a tax professional. Keep complete records of sales and refunds. In the past, independent contractor and small business owners had to build out the forms and systems they needed. Now, there are a number of small business software options to make things easier and reduce the possibility of making errors or leaving out critical elements, such as Elance.com.
#4.5: Take control over your schedule!
One bonus idea: don’t forget to enjoy yourself! You’re working for yourself, which is “living the dream” for many people. So many gig workers say they want to leave the full-time workforce to have more control over their schedule, and then they find themselves enslaved by their gig work and not taking time to pursue the interests that had inspired them to leave the workforce in the first place. Some advice — don’t become a slave to your gigs!
Before you get started as a gig worker, define what you want to get out of the experience. If having more time for personal ambitions, or to improve work-life-balance make your list, then remember to stay in control of your gigs and the amount of time you spend working.
At RiseSmart, when we’re helping employees through career transition and weighing the pros and cons of entering the gig workforce, we encourage employees to assess the feasibility of their success. We have created 15 questions for our customers that help weigh the challenges of entering the gig economy with the impact and potential it could have on an employee’s career. A few of the questions we encourage employees to explore are:
Do you prefer variety in your work?
Do you enjoy juggling multiple, unrelated work commitments?
Are you self-motivated and disciplined enough to manage a schedule with ambiguous deadlines and demands?
Does your personal life require a highly-structured schedule?
Do you learn quickly and acclimate easily to new environments?
These are just a few examples of important things to consider before you decide to switch to gig work. The more you plan and think through possible options and solutions, the better prepared you’ll be to launch a successful career in the gig economy