Freelancer is working in a coffeeshop

The Advent of the Gig Economy

Why suffer through the morning commute every day, when you could just stroll over to your favorite neighborhood café and work from your laptop? Why conform to a strict 9 to 5 routine, when you could keep a flexible schedule and work at your own convenience? These are just two of the questions that have given rise in recent years to what experts are calling the “gig economy”. More than just a catchy buzz phrase, the gig economy is a significant and rapidly growing sector of modern business. Participants in the gig economy are individuals who, rather than stick to single long-term employment, move from assignment to assignment—or gig to gig, if you will—taking advantage of the increasingly digital nature of work in order to enjoy the benefits of greater professional independence.

Of course, there are also downsides to such work, primarily a lower level of financial security. That said, a recent study by the global management consulting firm McKinsey, which surveyed workers across different sectors in six countries, showed that those who have chosen freelance over traditionally employed work report a higher level of professional satisfaction than any other group surveyed. It seems that the risks can be well worth taking, especially if it translates into greater happiness. Could a switch to the gig economy be something for you? Let’s find out!

Patience is a Virtue

The rewards of working in the gig economy may be alluring, but they’re not automatic. In fact, most people will experience a relatively long entry period before reaching the point where they’re able to fully sustain themselves through independent work. According to McKinsey, only about 30% of participants in the gig economy earn their entire income independently, while 40% use it to supplement income they earn from traditionally employed work. However, statistics also show that the longer one works in the gig economy, the easier it becomes to earn a living. This is thanks to factors such as increased experience and a more varied portfolio, so patience and perseverance are a must for newcomers.

A Jack of All Trades vs. A Master of None

Although participants in the gig economy will necessarily work for a large number of employers, the ones with the highest rate of success are those who have chosen an area of specialization. Employers will seek out freelancers with specific skills that are lacking amongst their existing workforce, they won’t be looking for a jack of all trades. Moreover, an employer who was satisfied with a freelancer’s work is more likely to then also refer that freelancer to someone else looking for equivalent skills.

Keeping At It

Discipline is perhaps the most valuable asset in the gig economy. Even once a freelancer has established a reputation and generated word-of-mouth, there will inevitably be periods where the phone stops ringing (or, more likely, the emails stop arriving). It’s therefore necessary to avoid complacency and constantly be on the lookout for new opportunities and outlets in the case of dry spells. Equally, it’s vital to keep careful records. Regrettably, it is not uncommon for employers to be late in paying invoices—in some cases, they might even forget entirely—so freelancers must be vigilant bookkeepers, ready to chase up invoices when necessary.

Ready to Take the Plunge?

Until recently, it was assumed that the gig economy only made up a negligible amount of the overall economy. McKinsey’s report debunked this assumption, showing that some 162 million people now work in the gig economy in Europe and the United States—that’s 20-30% of the working age population! Clearly, the benefits of independent work are very enticing, and the number of freelancers has been rapidly growing in the last few years. As the world keeps turning more and more digital, and businesses catch on to the advantages of hiring freelancers for short-term assignments, such work will only become more widespread. It’s only a matter of time before everyone—freelancers and traditional jobholders alike—will have to become more proactive about managing their careers in accordance with digital developments. If you think you’re ready to take the plunge into the gig economy, the time is ripe!

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