1. Career Advice
  2. Career development
  3. Is gig employment a good strategy for me?
Is Gig Employment a Good Strategy for Me?

Is gig employment a good strategy for me?

Artwork by: Katya Simacheva

  • What Can I Do?
  • Brainstorming and Breaking It Down
  • Determining Who Needs Your Skills
  • Exploring the Freelance Market
  • Protecting Yourself

Think about this - during your job search, have you noticed more and more job listings for freelance or contract positions?

Instead of hiring full-time employees, many companies are looking for freelancers or contractors for short projects or tasks.  As a result, more people are going into business for themselves as full-time freelancers. 

This is what people talk about when they say “the gig economy.”

Of course, freelancing and independent contracting is nothing new - ask any carpenter. But with e-platforms that allow certain work to be done anywhere, anytime, this type of career has become incredibly common.

What Can I Do?

One of the first steps to freelancing is figuring out what you want to do and who needs the skills you offer. With some critical thinking, this might be easier to determine than you imagine.

Do you have any hobbies or special skills your friends are constantly asking you to do? This can be specialized labor like tailoring or computer repair, but skills like editing, teaching/tutoring, and graphic design are also in demand. One of the most common ways people get started freelancing is by turning these extra-curricular activities into a job. 

If you’re interested in doing this, that’s fantastic. Just remember that you won’t spend all your time doing the work you like to do. Most of it will be spent running the business. It’s important to find a way to avoid burnout and find a new relaxation outlet, since the thing you do to relax is now work.

Brainstorming and Breaking It Down

Another way to determine what you offer as a freelancer is by breaking down your previous roles. This doesn’t just mean the tasks you performed, but also what value you brought. How did you actually make your workplace better? You want to present yourself as an answer to your clients’ potential problems.

What is it about you that made things better for a company/its customers? What are you adding?

So, how did you/your work:

  • Make your company a better place for people to want to work/stay?

  • Improve relationships, internally or externally?

  • Give your employers something new to offer customers?

Answering these questions will help you discover why a client can use you and your skill set specifically. Not just someone who can do a set of tasks - You.

NOTE: Are you stuck choosing between two or more skillsets? Why not both?

It’s not uncommon for freelancers to build a “slash” title for themselves, like being a freelance financial planner “slash” custom tailor. This is called a “Portfolio Career” and many freelancers take this route until it feels like they have 2 or 3 part-time jobs. 

This is a great way to make sure you monetize what you love to do while making sure it doesn’t become your entire life. However, you’re essentially building two businesses at the same time. Make sure to take stock of your priorities and avoid doing too much too fast.

Once you know what to offer, the next step is identifying who needs your services. These will be your clients.

Determining Who Needs Your Skills

Many freelancers get stuck figuring out where to pitch their work. You may have “dream clients” - organizations you’d love to work with, but don’t know how to approach. 

One way to identify potential clients is to look at your former employer - who were their customers? 

More than that, who were their customers’ competitors? 

Even beyond that, who were their competitors?

Just by answering these questions, you’ve already built a list of organizations with a proven need for your skillset. Even if you don’t pitch to any company on this list, you’ve identified a type of company to target, and that’s helpful in itself. 

(Don’t forget to add your old employer to that list. Many freelancers go back to their old companies as consultants as part of their self-employment.)

It’s helpful to develop a basic profile of your “perfect” client.  You don’t need to be specific. Having a general sense of who you’d ideally like to work with and why will help you develop your business down the line.

Some factors to consider when selecting clients:

  • Company size

  • Location

  • Industry

  • History and Culture

  • Workflow Consistency

Don’t be afraid if you don’t know exactly what to do and who to offer services to immediately. Many freelancers start off working generally and adapt to a more specific niche as they gain experience. Your business will likely change as you adapt and grow more comfortable.

If you’re still stuck, talk with other freelancers that do work similar to what you do. See where they find their clients. Try to determine what audiences they’re reaching or not reaching. 

Successful freelancers may even have clients they can recommend you to or excess work they can outsource. These connections are great for getting started.

Exploring the Freelance Market

If you’re still not sure about freelancing, uncomfortable pitching yourself, or not convinced there’s a market for your skills, there are several platforms you could use to explore before jumping in fully. 

Try browsing sites like upwork or fiverr. These are marketplaces that connect freelance workers and people looking to hire them. Browse both the clients’ job listings and the freelancer profiles. That way you can discover what work people need and their common costs.

You may discover a market that you didn’t even know existed. For example, many small-business executives are now hiring “virtual assistants,” which perform most of the duties of an executive assistant without needing to be in an office. Virtual freelance customer service or technical support roles are also a popular market.

If you explore enough, it’s likely you’ll discover something that you offer.

NOTE: Sites like upwork and fiverr are great for freelancers who are just starting out. They make connecting easy and they have built-in protections to make sure you get paid on time. However, they aren’t ideal places to build your long-term business around. Their fees take a large percentage of your income, and you’re always competing with someone willing to work cheaper. Think of them as stepping stones while you’re getting used to the idea of self-employment.

Protecting Yourself

As mentioned above, all legal and tax liabilities fall on you as a freelancer. The responsibility is on you to make sure your business taxes are accounted for and that your work is done within legal standards.

Speak with an accountant to understand how your tax liability changes when freelancing. Also learn what expenses you can deduct from your taxes. 

Many local libraries have resources with free/low cost services to have these questions answered.

It also falls on you to make sure you are paid on time, even potentially taking legal action if you aren’t. Unfortunately, companies may not pay you as immediately and regularly as they do a salaried employee. 

Try drafting a standardized contract/freelancing agreement that clients can sign when hiring you, which lays out your payment terms, responsibilities, and expectations.

If you begin finding success as a freelancer, it may be worthwhile to speak to an attorney about forming a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC. This defines you as an “official” business and protects your personal assets from legal ramifications that may come as a result of your business. For more on LLCs, see the module and webinar on How To Start Your Own Business.

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