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How to Find Gig Work in the Gig Economy

We’re hearing more and more these days about gig work and the gig economy. It’s increasingly becoming the workstyle of the 21st Century economy. It’s an excellent way to create an extra income, a needed cash flow in retirement, or even to create a whole new career. But how can you go about finding gig work?

Last week we took a “high altitude” look at the gig economy in The Gig Economy – Why It Might Be the Key to Your Future. We discussed what it is, how it works, the pros and cons, the potential of it to lead you to a brighter future, and I related the positive effect it’s had on my own career path.

In this article I’d like to drill down deeper into the mechanics of the gig economy. More specifically, I’d like to focus on the strategies for finding gig work, which we touched on in last week’s post, but only lightly. If you find yourself suddenly thrust into the gig economy, or you decide that you’d like to ease your way in, here are some strategies for actually finding and keeping gig work on a long-term basis.

Strategies Before You Get Started with Gig Work

How to Find Gig Work in the Gig Economy
How to Find Gig Work in the Gig Economy
Don’t quit your day job – at least not right away. It seems that most people start doing gig work after the loss of a job. But if you think you’d like to start doing gig work, perhaps because a layoff is in your future, it’s best entered gradually.

I don’t recommend quitting your job at all, particularly if you have a good health insurance plan. But if you don’t have good health insurance, or if you totally hate the job, it’s your call. Just keep in mind however that you can always do gig work as a side venture to earn extra income.

Pick up some gigs while you still have a full-time job. You can add more as your time permits. Don’t quit your job until you feel confident that you can get gig work on a regular basis.

Be ready to add part-time jobs to the mix. If after you get a few solid gigs you do decide to quit your full-time job, this can be an important interim strategy. A part-time job can make the move into gig work more survivable. It’ll clear more time for gig work, but it will also provide a steady cash flow as you build up your gig portfolio.

It may even be possible that you can find a part-time job that provides certain needed benefits. For example, I’ve provided a list of 20 employers who offer health insurance to part-time employees.

Set up an account with PayPal. A lot of gig work – maybe even most of it – is on the Internet. PayPal is the preferred method of online payment, and that’s why you need to have an account. It will enable you to both send and receive instant payments, even to and from international sources.

PayPal take a fee out of roughly 3% of domestic payments, and 4% out of international payments. That’s a bit steep, but it’s typical and it’s quick. Also, there are no fees to send payments, and you’ll get a debit card to make purchases and cash withdrawals just like a bank checking account.

Do your best work! There’s one element of gig work that’s critically important, and that’s repeat business. It cuts down on the amount of marketing that you have to do. But the only way that you can get it is by making yourself valuable – as in irreplaceable.

When you’re doing gig work, you’re actually self-employed. That means that the primary product you’re selling is you. If you have a “don’t care” attitude, as in you’re only looking to put in your time to get paid, don’t even try gig work. When it comes to getting gig work, you’re only as good as your last job. Make it count – always. Not only will it be your best source of repeat business, but it will also lead to referrals. And you can’t get enough of those.

Expand your skill sets continuously. It should be obvious that the more skills you have, the more gig work you can get. But you can learn as you go. I started with blogging, but expanded into freelance writing, email campaigns, videos, and informational guides. Along the way I’ve learned more than I ever imagined about various web applications, creating online tables, and even search engine optimization.

I didn’t know any of this when I started out. And believe me, no one ever described me as “gifted”. But the more you can do, the more gigs you can get, and the more you can charge to do them. Gig work is like everything else, you’ll get better at it with time and dedicated application.

Inventory ALL of your Skills – Even Ones You Don’t Think About

Inventory your work skills. – Make a list of everything you do on your job, and I mean everything. The gig economy is happening because employers, particularly small ones, can no longer afford to pay full-time employees. But they still have work to do, down to every seemingly minimal job you can think of.

Examples include:

  • Computer skills
  • Web skills (SEO, graphic design, web design and maintenance, etc.)
  • Marketing
  • Writing, content creation and content editing
  • Administrative skills
  • Accounting and bookkeeping
  • Bilingual language ability
  • Research skills
  • Customer service
  • Social media skills

And that’s just a short list. The point is, nearly every skill can be sold to a business or individual.

This is especially true since the Internet has opened up international business. That means that a small business based in India or China may need US-based workers to service their customer base here. Trust me on this, a good bit of my writing work has for foreign based concerns. Oftentimes their main concern is just getting someone who is reliable and speaks American English.

Inventory your non-work skills. Spend some time reviewing your hobbies, odd jobs that you do for other people, volunteer work or even tasks that you perform around the house. There may be individuals and businesses who are looking for these skills. This can even include some of the skills listed above, particularly related to computer skills, Web skills, bilingual language, research skills and social media skills.

Inventory your passions. If there is some kind of work or skill that you’d like to try just because you like to do it, gig work can be the perfect way to monetize it. This is basically what happened to me with freelance blog writing. Writing was just something that I wanted to do, but had never done before. It was simply a matter of finding a way to monetize it, and then I was on my way.

Once you know what skills you can provide in the gig economy, it’s time to start looking for gig work projects. And they’re all over the place!

Micro-Projects: The “Beaten Path”

There are online platforms that actually specialize in gig work, known as micro-projects. You’ve probably heard of at least some of them. They include Mechanical Turk, Task Rabbit, Gigwalk, and Mobileworks. A lot of people turn to these sites when they’re just starting out.

I can’t give any constructive advice here, since I’ve never actually used any of these platforms. But I have done a good bit of research, and that has a lot to do with why I’ve never used them.

What I found to be a problem is that they typically don’t pay much. That’s actually common knowledge, but it’s actually worse than I ever thought. Sites that advertise say, $5 or $10 per gig, often only pay $2 or $3, or even less. Part of the problem is that on many of the sites, the jobs are subject to open bidding. When someone needs a job done, they put it up for what is essentially an auction.

I get the concept of these platforms, and they may be a good place to start out, if only to gain some experience. But you have to work fast and hard to make any kind of decent money at just a few dollars per project. As well, many of the projects require a lot more skill sets than you probably have.

Put an Ad on Craigslist

This comes under the category of “never overlook the obvious.” Don’t expect your email or cell phone to be flooded with people looking for you to do gigs for them, but it can get you started.

The beauty of Craigslist is that you can advertise your skills for free. You never know what type of clients you’re going to get, but it can help you get started. And even later on, it can be a passive way to generate more gig work.

While you’re at it, search Craigslist for gigs. They have them listed in various places. Finding just one or two good ones in your area can get you started. Scan the listings for opportunities on a regular basis, they’re out there. Just make sure you never bite on one of those ads asking you to put up money to participate, or to use your bank account to deposit client checks or payments. Those have “scam” written all over them.

Start a Website or Blog

There are two ways you can approach this. One is to create a blog or website that’s focused on what you’re really interested in. If you write blog posts about specific subjects, or develop a website centered on certain topics, you can actually draw gigs your way without even making a direct effort. This is how I got into freelance blog writing. I started my blog, and then other bloggers approached me about writing for their sites.

The other approach is to create a resume type website. This is where you create a site offering your services for hire. It has to be more detailed than a simple resume. For example, if you’re offering several different skill sets, you might want to have a dedicated webpage for each of those skills.

Whichever path you take, make sure that each page of your site provides an obvious and easy way to contact you. It’s probably better to include an email contact, rather than a phone number. Providing your phone number is a good way to get unwelcome calls, including unwanted solicitations.

Contact Previous Employers

If you’ve had a pleasant experience with a previous employer, that firm may be a source of gig work. This may be true especially if you were laid off from the job. Even though your job was eliminated, work still needs to be done. Since you are intimately familiar with both the company and the internal processes, doing some kind of contract or gig work for the employer could be a natural fit.

Tap Your Social Circle

This revolves around the question of who do you know who?, as in “who do you know who’s looking for my skill set?” Everybody knows people, and each of them is a potential referral source for gig work.

Once again, you must have an inventory of the list of skills that you can provide. Contact everyone you know, offering those skills to anyone who they know who may be in need of them.

This is best done by email, since an email can be retained or forwarded. In addition, you will want to send out periodic reminders. Try not to be “spammy” with this, so keep it personal in nature.

Focus on Small Businesses

I wrote an entire article on finding work for small businesses since it has worked so well for me over the past 15+ years. But these naturally will be some of the very best sources for gig work.

Small businesses have all kinds of jobs that need to be done. But they usually don’t rise to the level of a full-time job. They may need someone to handle certain computer functions, to help out during busy times, or to handle marketing, accounting, or various administrative tasks.

One thing that I’ve found to be true with small businesses is that if you’re good at what you do, they’re incredibly loyal. I’ve been in a number of situations that started out as temporary, but became permanent.

You can generally find gig work much more easily with small businesses. Their needs are more specific, they’re less bureaucratic, and they’re much more open to creating a flexible arrangement.

As an example, I knew a lady who did bookkeeping work for several small businesses. She did all of her work from home, making only occasional visits to her client companies. It’s very likely that she was making more money with these gigs than she would’ve made with a full-time job. And she had complete control over her time in the process.

Direct Email Small Businesses and Websites Offering Your Services

This is the one that I’ve had the most success with. Any time business gets a little bit slow, I can start sending out emails, and get new gigs. That’s important, because no income generating venture that you can undertake has a chance of being successful if you don’t have a way to market for new business.

There are several advantages to creating an email campaign for finding gig work:

  • You can be very specific about who you want to sell your skills to
  • You can do it from home and in your spare time
  • You can contact as many or as few prospects as you like – that is, you can email more prospects when business is slow, and fewer when you’re busier
  • It’s less time-consuming than traditional mail
  • It’s a way to market for free
  • It’s great for people who are not comfortable with cold calling by phone
  • There are no geographic limitations
  • The potential market is virtually limitless

There’s nothing formal about emailing. It’s a simple process of creating an email template, gathering up contact information from likely prospects, and then hitting the “send” button. It couldn’t be easier.

Finding prospects – building an email list. This list should be very specific. That means throw out any ideas of using third-party email lists or databases. Your contacts need to be one-on-one, and never blast-type emails.

Based on your list of skill sets, decide which types of businesses and websites will be most likely to need or want what you’re offering. For example, if you plan to offer bookkeeping services, you might want to contact small CPA firms, since they regularly need bookkeepers for their clients. If you offer writing services, you may want to contact blogs and websites that specialize in your writing niche.

You’ll want to find these websites one at a time, that way you’ll carefully screen who they are and what they do, and to be certain they represent high-percentage prospects. But even more important, you’ll want to get the name and email address of a live person. Whatever you do, don’t skip this step!

I’ve had a lot of success sending out just 5-10 such emails at a time, and maybe 15-25 in a week. But that’s because my emails are so specifically directed. If you’re just getting started, you may want to send out 15-20 per day, and upwards of 100 per week. It’ll take some time, but it will produce results.

Creating emails. You should create a standard email template, but be prepared to customize it for each contact. Any email marketing campaign must be extremely informal, like you’re sending an email to a friend. People are getting bombed by email marketing campaigns all the time. Most are slick, professional looking, and look every bit like a mass mailing. Your emails cannot look like that!

The template has to be brief – no more than two or three relatively short paragraphs. If you need to include detail, use bullet points. The longer an email is, the less likely the recipient is to read it. Add some customization for each recipient, based on what you see on their website, but no more than a sentence or two. And again, no mass mailings. Address each email individually, and always using the recipient’s name.

Tell the reader what it is you can do for him/her, and ask them to contact you to discuss it further. You’re not trying to get a gig with your email – your goal is to open up a dialog that will hopefully lead in that direction.

Be prepared to be flexible in reaching an agreement, especially when you’re just starting out. Later, as you get more gigs, you can afford to be more independent in your negotiating.

If you can’t come to a mutually agreeable arrangement, thank the reader for their time, and ask if they can refer your offer to anyone they know who’s in need of your services. This is another great aspect of emails – they can be forwarded!

If you get no response from a promising-looking prospect, don’t be discouraged. I’ve gotten responses weeks or months later. Retain their contact information and send another email at a later date. You can re-email the same prospects every 3-4 months, but I advise against doing it more frequently. You want your emails to be business contacts, but never email spam.

Over the years I’ve gotten accounting work, mortgage customers, video gigs and freelance writing clients using the email contact method. It’s simple, cost free, non-confrontational, and can be so specific that the success rate is unusually high.

There’s absolutely no reason for you to be unemployed or under-employed. There’s actually plenty of work out there, but it’s in the gig economy, and it doesn’t look like it used to. If you get into gig work, you’ll be able to tap into it for as much or as little income as you need.

If you’re a gig worker, what do you do to get new gigs?

( Photo by lucyrfisher )

3 Responses to How to Find Gig Work in the Gig Economy

  1. Wonderful, detailed article, Kevin. My nephew worked full-time as a manager for a larger drug store who was bought out by an even larger one. He did graphic design and advertising signs for them. But he also started a small business on the side…did it the right way with an EIN number, paid taxes, etc. But it was small but still he had work. When he lost his full-time job, he slid right into his own business and now had the time to grow it. He made far less money at first, but after only two years, he’s earning more than his full-time job previously, and he absolutely loves being self-employed. He said he’d never go back. Just another example of how gig work can benefit you if you make the effort.

  2. Thanks for providing that story Bev, it’s a perfect example of what gig work can lead to. I don’t think your nephew’s story is at all unique either. Most businesses start as gig work, then grow. It’s mostly a matter of sticking with it and making it a career path. Too many work the gig economy as a temporary situation, entirely unaware of the potential.

    I’m also of the opinion that once you learn the “ropes” of the gig economy, you realize that you have a lot more income security than you ever imagined before. It’s likely that a lot of people who have passed through the gig economy and then took a full-time job will eventually come back to it. That will be even more true once the economy takes a negative turn and full-time jobs begin to disappear again.

    In a very real way, I feel that learning to work in the gig economy is at its core about learning to survive. Once you realize that you can survive and even thrive without a formal job, it’s incredibly liberating. It certainly has been for me, and I’d like as many people as possible to experience the feeling and the lifestyle.

  3. I think your last paragraph sums it nicely. In my nephew’s instance, he instinct would have told him to start searching for another, similar full-time job. But he didn’t have to…he knew how to survive. It is incredibly liberating.

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