The term “gig,” or limited engagements booked by aspiring musicians, has aptly been adopted by freelancers, independent contractors and other project-based or temporary workers across multiple industries.
The independent workstyle for business professionals grew into the popularized “gig economy” around 2009 as laid-off workers scrambled to make ends meet during the recession. Today, according to Edison Research, an estimated one-quarter of American workers earn all or partial income from gigs.
The gig economy is the primary income source for 44% of its workers, Edison reports. The number rises to 53% among those aged 18 to 34. Overall, 51% say they work harder for their money than people traditionally employed.
Entrepreneurs must have a plan going into the gig world, advises Certified Life Coach Joy Hansen, who formed her own business because she “got burned out living for someone else’s dream. I wanted my own dream.”
Starting a gig profession is not all that different from establishing any other business, Hansen said, since all are “created on a blank slate. Most of us have been educated in a system where we are to follow the rules, so sometimes it’s challenging to create what we want. But we have the freedom to follow our own dreams and make them realities.”
Hansen stressed the wisdom of learning from others. “Follow a successful path that someone else already has walked. Know what your sales goals are and what actions you will take to achieve them. Then, create the support structures that are essential in making sure that happens.”
Data from statista.com identifies an 80% “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” rating with gig career choices, despite workers’ anxiety over non-steady earnings and challenges with benefits and retirement savings. More than half of the U.S. workforce is expected to be gig-based by 2027, according to statista.
“Start now,” urged Theresa Lode, professional organizer and owner of Zany Sage Organizing. Lode helps clients “unclutter their home, head and heart” through what she characterizes as “badass organizing.” Her “deep joy and fulfillment in helping clients live uncluttered” propelled her into the business of addressing the “deeper reasons behind the clutter and therefore bring changes that are sustainable and lasting.”
“Create a plan of action and begin taking baby steps,” Lode cautioned. “Don’t quit your day job too quickly. For a reality check, spend a day (you buy lunch) with someone who is already successfully doing what you would like to do.”
Balancing being her own boss with the reality that her boss “can be difficult,” Bode acknowledges pros and cons. “I love the freedom I have, but the inconsistent cashflow can be stressful, especially when you’re still in the growth phase.”
Josh Bowen began helping people solve business problems with software because there were few tech jobs in Prescott and he refused to take a job merely for income. Bowen added that he prices by the week and is booked about two months out. Above all, he is happy with the work and “takes a lot of joy helping my clients make more money.”
Positives for Bowen include setting his own hours, accepting that accountability starts and ends with him, and choosing people with whom he wants to work. On the negative side, increased responsibility and irregular income can generate stress.
Bowen encourages workers to only go into the gig economy for “a good reason.” Using ride share drivers as an example, he explained, “They often are paid so little, that when the real costs of their time, taxes, depreciation, maintenance, wear-and-tear and other costs associated with using their own vehicle are added up, they make less than minimum wage, even though at face value, it seems like a good deal. It’s one thing to need the cash, but the long-term effects of gig work should not be taken lightly.”
Lars Faye, co-founder and technical director for Chee Studio, a business-to-business web development enterprise, said the three-employee business had a rough start, “but we’re 10-plus years deep and it’s working out great. We have grown from working in a freelance role to growing a small company and a client base that stretches across the globe. We just evolved into an S-Corp and we’re looking to bring on another intern in the next year.”
Faye recommended finding someone with whom to partner, perhaps a personal assistant, who can create and implement processes such as contract development, time management and project management to attract professional businesses and stand out from other freelancers.
“Freelancing has a bad name in many industries, and for good reason,” Faye explained. “Too many people abuse it and don’t bring along a proper sense of business acumen that many industries expect. We’ve encountered so many companies that give up on trying with freelancers because they are inconsistent and unreliable, from quality of work to communication.”
Bowen agreed that it is important that businesses know that they are getting a proven product with an independent contractor.
“If someone is going to hire a freelancer,” he said, “it should be because that person was recommended by someone they know and is treated with the same scrutiny as a full-time hire.”
Shortcomings among some gig workers have provided Chee Studio the opportunity to “bridge that gap between freelancers and team members, offering a happy medium of cost and quality, since we have built up proper systems that enable us to function more like a small business and less like a freelancer. Even though we are a small – but mighty – studio, we still have large clients and take on ambitious projects because our support system can handle them.”
Christopher and Gena Maselli of WritingMomentum.com formed a freelance writing business “using our online presence to train other writers to do the same thing we do, putting them on the fast track to success.”
The Masellis encourage careful scrutiny of individuals and agencies that pitch contracting.
“Don’t be seduced by internet gurus who want to sell you on the freedom of the entrepreneurial lifestyle,” advised Christopher Maselli. “Some people find freedom in an office with a steady paycheck. For 25 years, we did. And for that reason, it was right for us.”
Likewise, Maselli cautioned not to “get caught up in chasing one-off money-makers. A key for freelancers is establishing a relationship with a couple of ‘anchor’ clients that you can trust to provide a steady paycheck as you start your business. Over the years, increase the number of your anchor clients so the ebbs and flows of freelancing even out.”
The Masellis had been living in Dallas/Fort Worth “with millions of people, cookie-cutter houses, and a frustrating 45-minute commute to work.” Recognizing that writing enabled them to work anywhere, they traveled the U.S. last year until they were swept off their feet by Prescott. They “love the closer community, slower pace and simpler life. As freelancers, days are often still stressful and busy, but it’s a life we’re choosing rather than reacting to.”
Workers thinking about freelancing need support, Maselli added. “We’ve chosen to join Wingspace, a local co-working space with a like-minded entrepreneurial community to help us keep our focus.” QCBN
By Sue Marceau, QCBN