Launching a New Career in the Gig Economy

Do you have an underutilized talent or skill? Are you tired of working a 9 to 5 job—or have other life priorities outside of work that require more flexibility? Maybe it’s time to join the gig economy.

But what does that mean, exactly? Technically, there’s no one definition for the new(ish) phrase, but it refers to working freelance, contract, or short-term jobs (gigs) for clients. It sounds great—but does require strategic planning and building client pipelines before you can rely on it as a regular income source.

Many people start slowly while still maintaining their regular jobs. But if you find yourself in a position where you’ve been laid off or just need to make a drastic change in your work life, here’s how you can build a successful business that you manage and control on your own terms.

gig economy
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Some occupations offer more gig or freelance opportunities than others. Work that involves writing/editing, arts and design, or specific-customized services and products lends itself well to gig employment. Freelancers have found a niche in:

  • Graphic design, video editing
  • Carpentry, painting, construction
  • Web, software, and app development and design, computer programming
  • Media and communications: technical writing, interpreters/translators, photography, marketing, copywriting/editing, content strategy, instagram marketing
  • Personal assistance

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics published a career outlook document specifically for people considering freelance careers—and if you’re not sure what’s the most popular out there, check out these 50 apps for the gig economy.

How do you start?

  1. Create a vision by identifying the niche you can fill doing something you know and love. Developing a business plan is the first step to turning a dream to a reality.
  2. Determine whether you’ll run your business as an unincorporated business (sole proprietorship) or set up a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation.
  3. Research the competition (especially if you’re starting locally and if there are businesses who offer products/services similar to your plan) to identify what they’re doing well and what they are doing—like branding or market penetration—that you can do better.
  4. Create marketing materials—a website, accounts on social media platforms and network sites like LinkedIn—and tell everyone about your new venture.
  5. Prepare a portfolio that highlights your best work.
  6. Establish a budget so you can manage your expenses and set up a pricing schedule for the products or services you’re providing. Secure the services of an accountant you trust.
  7. Build your base by networking or signing up with an online job-sourcing platform.

Avoid these mistakes

When you’re first starting out, you’ll want to avoid these common pitfalls:

Treating income like profit. Save about 30% of your revenue for taxes and operational expenses.

Allowing clients to name the price. Research your industry, other freelancers who provide the same or similar services, and outline the unique value you provide to your clients.

Using billable hours on routine operations. Hire an accountant for bookkeeping. Contract the services of a writer for social media/marketing management.

Generalizing instead of specializing. You’ll be more successful if you specialize in a niche, which allows you to justify premium rates and attract high-profile clients.

Saying “yes” to everything. Choose gigs wisely—it’s tempting to accept everything, especially when first starting out; but it’s more likely to create more work than you can comfortably handle and do well.

Not creating a process to generate new business. Create a referral kit that includes something of value that you offer for free to potential new clients. Maybe it’s a blog post, ebook, event, or infographic. It should educate, help clarify problems and obstacles, and make suggestions to reach goals.

Thrive in the gig economy

Concerned about lack of stability in a gig economy? More freelancers are turning to collective enterprises, globally, to foster support and community by using open-source technology, digital organizing, and physical meeting spaces.

Were you born to run a business? This list from Plexus suggests that if you’ve got passion and motivation, self-belief and discipline, product and market knowledge, adaptability and flexibility, strong money management, connections, exceptional planning and strategic skills, tenacity, a talent for adapting to and solving problems, and little fear of taking risks, the gig economy might just be the perfect fit for you.

  • Lucy (Guest Writer)