In this era of Uber, Airbnb, and WeWork, there is a new type of labor market. We even have a term for it. Two terms, actually: the “share economy.” Or the “gig economy.” Either way, it’s made up of short-term contracts or freelance jobs rather than permanent ones and it’s not done growing. Not by a long shot. A recent Inuit study says that by 2020, 43% of the workforce will be gig workers. Get ready to get on board—and start reaping the rewards.
You’ve got mad skills. Use them and get new ones.
Whether you’re a word nerd or an art director, or a UX whiz, you have specialized skills that are in demand. Which means you can get side gigs that others cannot. It also means you can bring in additional dollars that everyone else wants. And according to Fit Small Business, if you’re versed in AI, Instagram marketing, Final Cut Pro, or Amazon Web Services, you’ll be among the highest-paid gig employees of all.
Don’t slack on adding to your skill collection, either. Think about what you’re missing and look for job opportunities that might help you build those “weaker” skills while using your strongest ones. (Here are some tips for an honest self-assessment.) These might be technical skills, like a specific coding language, or general business acumen like becoming a better presenter.
Find friends with benefits
Maybe you are saving for a big event like a trip, house renovation, or your wedding. Now’s the time to hustle—and get that cash flow. So, where do you start? The easiest place is with friends. Creating a portfolio site? Providing illustrations to pitch a campaign? (Be sure to read these pointers from Forbes first to make sure you get paid.)
In addition to your immediate circle, also consider your former coworkers. Sometimes they want help with a specific project or to consult with you on your area of expertise. People who already know your skills and love your working style are much more likely to hire you than if you go in blind. They’re also more willing to hire you over someone they don’t know.
Aim high—and wide
Having said that, there is nothing wrong with going in cold, either. It just takes more effort. First, create a list of your dream employers. Find out if you have any connections through LinkedIn (hint: you can check out a bunch of handy ways to use LinkedIn here). Reach out to recruiters—either internal recruiters for the company or external recruiters who may have relationships there. Dig around to see if a neighbor or friend might know someone who works there. Or, know someone who knows someone who knows someone. Think six degrees of separation. Scour job boards at Indeed, Coroflot, CreativeMornings, or others to see if any of your top choices are hiring.
Also check out freelance-focused sites like Upwork, Toptal, Fiverr, and of course Vitamin T. Create a profile on the ones that have the most relevant jobs for your interests and make yourself sound irresistible. Just make sure it’s on brand for you. (Not sure? Peruse the 5 Rules of Personal Branding.)
Pursue your passion
The gig economy is also a way to explore industries you may not be familiar with. Unlike traditional full-time permanent jobs, employers hiring for a project or a short length of time may have different requirements. For example, say you want to get into UX design but don’t necessarily have the UX experience. An employer looking for a candidate to cover for an upcoming maternity leave may focus more on your general skills as a designer—and someone who is a quick learner and comes highly recommended—than the specific skills you are missing.
Additionally, Inc. columnist Rhett Power (@rhettpower) believes that the gig economy is allowing workers to find work that aligns with their core values. This is critical, Power says, as only 36% of Americans trust business leaders to act in alignment with environmental and societal values—so they often turn to self-employment for that fulfillment. Contract for a non-profit with a mission you believe in, a company that’s truly gone green, or for a CEO who’s committed to giving back to the community.
Not to mention, as a freelancer you’ll also have more control over your time and the flexibility to explore your passions outside of work too. Travel, perfect your golf game, take up oil painting, dabble in short fiction. Experience the freedom that comes with being in charge.
Supersize your value
Different stints offer different benefits, and you can maximize them. For starters, there’s what you’re actually getting paid. And you will have to think about the old per-project-vs.-per-hour rate debate. It depends on you and it depends on the project, but there are pros and cons to both. If you are good at estimating your time and work efficiently, a fixed rate for a project can actually help you earn more. However, if you’re dealing with a client who likes to change their mind a lot, an hourly rate might work better. (You can find other ways to get the most out of your compensation here.)
A fairly new way to get more bang for your buck is taking advantage of geography to lower your cost of living. If you can freelance remotely (and many specialists can), you might be able to couple the midwest cost of living with a San Francisco salary, for example. One more plus in the home-office column.
Then there are the benefits that go beyond salary. Some freelance employers may offer health insurance, 401k contributions, and/or flexible spending accounts. Some go out of their way to provide benefits you might not expect from a company you work at full time, such as coverage for fertility treatments and autism therapies. The key is to find contract employers that provide ample job opportunities so you can stay within the company and earn these kinds of extras.
It’s obvious that the gig economy is changing the way we work. And there are definitely ways to make it work even harder for you. One last thought we’ll leave you with: over 40% of gig workers make six figures. Go on, get your share.