A 2018 Gallup survey put the number of gig workers at 36% of the workforce, or almost 57 million based on a workforce of at least 157 million+ people. But perhaps the more important revelation of the survey is what Gallup referred to as The Great Divide: Independent vs. Contingent Gig Workers. We’ll get to that last point in a bit. It’s the core reason why how to find gig work in none of the usual places is rapidly developing into a full-fledged survival strategy.
In truth, it’s probably not possible to determine the exact number of gig workers. Many of them do it as a second occupation, and others are likely doing it in some off-the-books capacity, that won’t show up in any official statistics.
The more important take away, and what makes the entire concept of gig work so important, is that it’s clearly on the rise. Other than temp workers, there wasn’t much to the gig economy back in the 1990s. But the twin recessions of the early 2000’s, the Dot-com bust and the Financial Meltdown, radically altered the job market in ways that are still being processed.
Why Understanding Gig Work is So Important – Even if You’re Not Doing it Now
The twin recessions, and the spike in unemployment they produced, forced the unemployed to seek income sources wherever they could be found. That often took the form of unconventional and contingent work arrangements.
But perhaps more fundamental is that employers began to realize they didn’t need so many full-time, permanent employees. It became more economical to sub-out work to subcontractors and gig workers.
But even with the supposed improvement in the job market over the past 10 years, including an unemployment rate currently well below 4%, there are more gig workers than ever.
The rise in the gig economy is clearly an ongoing trend. Even if you currently have a full-time, permanent job, there’s more than a slight chance you’ll end up in the gig economy in the not-so-distant future. Preparation for that outcome will be critical.
Why the Current Surge in Technology is Different than Those of the Past
While many have championed the idea that new technologies ultimately create more jobs, the exact opposite looks to be happening in the past 20 years.
For example, when the first automobile hit the roads around the turn of the last century, it virtually created the auto industry. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were created in factories across the country. The same was true in the 1980s and 1990s, as computer technology expanded, and worked its way through the economy and job market.
But in the past 20 years, there’s been a serious surge in computer software and robots. This is fundamentally different than previous new technology waves, because the primary purpose of the new technology is precisely to eliminate the number of employees needed to run a business.
To give a visual, think about the drink dispersing machines in fast food restaurants. Those are robots that reduce employer reliance on employees. Then think also about computer software that enables the same work to be done by two people that was once done by 10. A good example here is tax preparation software. Where once CPAs and tax preparation offices needed to maintain staffs of people to collate tax returns, they’re now automatically collated by computer software. Large support staff positions are no longer necessary.
It’s the wave of the future. In an era of rising competition, when increasing revenues is becoming more difficult, employers are turning to cost-cutting measures. Since payroll is typically the largest single expense of most businesses, it represents the richest target for cost-cutting. Employing robots and software to reduce payroll is proving to be highly cost-effective.
There’s nothing any of us can do about this, other than to adjust and move forward. That’s exactly what we’re going to discuss in this article.
Critical Takeaway: There are Two Types of Gig Workers
The Gallup survey at the beginning of this article highlighted an important distinction – there are two types of gig workers. Which you are, or which you choose to become, will determine if being or becoming a gig worker will be either a friend or foe.
The survey identifies two types of gig workers:
Independent gig workers. These include “online platform workers” and independent contractors. They enjoy “high levels of work/life balance, flexibility autonomy meaningful feedback and creative freedom”.
Contingent gig workers. These are the TV version of gig workers, such as those who work in ridesharing, delivery, micro-projects and the like. They’re also referred to as temporary or on-call workers.
Let’s talk about the second category first.
Contingent Gig Workers
We all know people who drive for ride-sharing services, do delivery, work micro-projects from home, and so on. I’ll be the last person to look down on any type of work – heck, in a dark time of my adult life I delivered newspapers in the ridiculously early morning hours.
But most of these pre-packaged gig jobs are a tough way to make a living. You never know if there’s enough work, how much you’re going to get paid, or what it will cost you. That last point is important. In addition to investing your time, you’re often using your own resources, particularly your car.
But the term “pre-packaged” is exactly why so many people enter the gig economy through that door. It’s similar to applying for a job, then being hired. That’s what most people know and understand. But it’s also the Achilles’ heel of the whole system.
Precisely because it’s pre-packaged, there’s always a middleman in the process. You perform the services, then the middleman gets paid by the client or customer, and gives you a slice of the remuneration.
That arrangement virtually guarantees low income. You’ll have to work a lot of hours, do a lot of work, and drive a lot of miles just to earn something approaching a living wage – if that’s even possible.
If you’re working in this capacity, you’ve likely come to see gig work as a foe. It’s something of a hybrid between a traditional job and self-employment, but mostly incorporating the worst aspects of both. You’re highly accountable to the middleman – or more particularly, the middleman’s reputation – but you have all the uncertainty of self-employment.
In most cases, this type of work is seen as temporary, or at least it’s hoped to be.
Independent Gig Workers
If you’re in this group, you probably see the gig economy as a friend. As one who largely earns his living in the independent gig economy, I can personally attest to this. My work as a freelance blog writer puts me squarely in this category. And I completely agree with the Gallup survey assessment that such workers enjoy “high levels of work/life balance, flexibility autonomy meaningful feedback and creative freedom”.
I earn more money – and have more control over my life – than I ever had in a traditional job. What’s more, it has virtually endless future potential. That’s because you have the capacity and freedom to take it in any direction you want.
On that last point, Charles Hugh Smith has described this class of workers as mobile creatives. I never knew I was one until I read his article on the topic. Armed with a label to describe my workstyle, I’ve embraced the mobile creative concept.
This is the side of the gig economy that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the contingent workforce does. That’s too bad, because it offers you an opportunity to earn a living wage, with much greater control over your time, workflow, and creativity than traditional jobs do. And if you get good enough at, I would also add that it’s more secure than a “real job”.
This is because independent gig workers are really self-employed. It’s not self-employment in the sense of selling products or services to the general public, but instead providing very specific skills to a limited number of clients.
In my case, I regularly write web content for about a dozen different websites and blogs. Many other people do something similar, but in different capacities.
What Independent Gig Workers Do
In the most basic sense, independent gig workers provide services to businesses similar to employees, but without being an employee. In my case, I’m a writer providing my services to other websites. Other capacities include providing web support, marketing, accounting, and administrative and organizational services.
Virtually every business has certain needs that must be filled. In many cases, especially in today’s competitive economy, a small business can’t afford to hire a dedicated employee for that need. If you can offer your services – whatever they are – to the many businesses that are available, you can create gig arrangements out of nowhere.
Get two or three such clients, and you’ll be virtually self-employed. It can be full-time or a side business. You may also find some assignments are temporary, but others become permanent. If you’re good at what you do, the business may come to see you as “part of the team”. Those gigs often become permanent, and add a strong measure of security to your gig career.
The arrangement has many advantages:
- Having multiple clients provides the security that many “permanent” jobs no longer do.
- You can earn as much as your skills and time will allow.
- You can shift your direction as you move forward.
- The pace can be either accelerated or decelerated, depending on your availability.
- You can add new skill sets as you go forward, expanding the potential to take on even more assignments and clients.
- Each client or assignment you take on will expand both your gig resume and your experience and skills in a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop.
- One client may refer you to others, expanding your client base.
It may start slowly at first, but as you build momentum, you’ll begin to realize the awesome potential you’re creating.
Why More People Don’t Go the Independent Gig Worker Route
I believe the main reason is that most people think “job” when it comes to making a living. Even when it comes to getting gig work, which is highly decentralized, they’re anxious to find a central source – which acts as a pseudo-employer – that will provide them with a steady flow of business (“jobs”). But if you’re serious about gig work, this arrangement is more confining than it is liberating. Overcoming it is the “secret sauce” to surviving and thriving in the gig economy.
If you’re trapped in that mindset, it’s not your fault. The entire economic system of the economy has trained you to think that way, including and especially the education system. More specifically, if you’re a college graduate, college does not prepare you for self-employment. Instead, it trains you to be a link in a chain in a corporate or government organization.
The other issue is fear – mostly fear of being unable to get business on your own.
If you’ve never been in a position where you had to literally create an income source from the ground up, it’s a legitimate fear – but it’s mostly psychological. That’s the part that needs to be overcome, and it can be.
A Strategy to Get Gig Work and Clients Without the Apps and Middleman Services
If you have certain skills, rest assured there are potential clients out there. The problem is limited thinking. You may have difficulty imagining yourself 1) contacting a potential client to offer your services, and 2) being accepted.
I spent a number of years in sales, and one thing I learned and that every person who ever worked in sales knows, is that it’s a numbers game. Contact 20 prospects, and 19 will say no. But if one says yes, you’ll have hit pay dirt.
So you contact 20 prospects, and land one client. What you do next? You approach another 20 prospects. Then you do it again. By then, you’ll have two or three clients, and you’ll be on a roll.
This doesn’t have to be a traditional heavy sales pitch either. You can approach it as a business-to-business proposal. If you think about it, that’s exactly what you do every time you apply for a job. You send a cover letter and resume to a prospective employer, in an attempt to coax them to grant you an interview, and eventually to make you a job offer.
This is the exact same way to approach prospective clients. But the big advantage is that there’s far less competition. If you’re applying for a job in a large company, or responding to a ad on a job board, you know there’ll be scores and probably hundreds of others competing for the same job.
But if you contact small businesses – and there are hundreds of thousands of them out there – offering to perform a specific service for them for a fee, it’s likely you’ll be the only person reaching out to them.
Which approach do you think is likely to lead to more success?
My Own Experience in Direct Contacting Prospective Clients
I’ve done this successfully in two different industries. I say this so you won’t think this is an imaginary strategy, or one that I pulled off someone else’s blog post.
With freelance blog writing, many of my clients came from direct email solicitations I sent out. Once I had a few clients, I got more as a result of referrals from the existing clients. It’s been a while since I’ve had to send out any emails. Once you get this up and running, it becomes self-sustaining through client referrals.
I learned the “magic” of direct contact earlier in my working life through my career in public accounting. After spending just 3.5 years working full-time in a small CPA firm, I decided I wanted to go the contract route to free up my time for other pursuits. In the accounting universe this is known as per diem work.
With just a few years of experience, and no CPA license, I found plenty of contract gigs just by cold calling small CPA firms. Some of them were part-time ongoing, and some were part-time seasonal. You might think it’s hard to find work in small CPA firms, but nothing can be further from the truth.
You see, they need help at least on a seasonal basis. Many need part-time help year-round. But small CPA firms have a dilemma – no one is lining up outside the door looking for a job.
Their disadvantage was my advantage. They needed help, but couldn’t afford to hire a full-time employee. I was willing to work on a part-time, flexible basis, which filled their need.
Filling a need is the essence of the gig economy. Once you embrace that reality, you’re more than halfway there.
“I’ve only held jobs in my life – what can I possibly offer in the gig economy”
This is a common dilemma for people who’ve never been self-employed, in sales, or found success in the gig economy. But it’s not the problem you imagine it to be.
Start by inventorying your skills. Everyone has them, and so do you. Make a list of every skill you have, including those you use in your current job, on previous jobs, or even in your personal life.
Make a list of those skills, and determine which you want to sell to prospective clients or the general public. Don’t overlook anything. Even if you think “I “only” have administrative or organizational skills”, you’ve got something to offer. Thousands of people are earning extra money – or even making a living – as virtual assistants. They’re providing seemingly routine skills to individuals and small businesses online. It includes everything from working on special projects, helping with marketing campaigns, managing email or social media, preparing for an audit, or dealing with insurance claims.
You should also build a gig resume. It shouldn’t look like a typical job seeker’s resume, because that’s not what you’re looking for. I have a writer’s resume – which I seldom use – that’s mostly an explanation of the services I provide, a list of current and previous clients, and direct links to writing samples. You’ll need to do something similar.
But mostly you’ll need to create a carefully crafted email template that explains what services you can provide and under what terms. It should be concise – no more than two or three paragraphs. If you fail to make your point quickly, which is describing what you can do to fill a need in a small business, your email will be deleted.
Independent gig work is about letting a potential client know what you can do for them.
How to Find Gig Work in None of the Usual Places
Where do you find work and clients if you want to go the independent gig route?
Here’s a hint: Look where no one else is looking.
Remember in the two examples I gave from my own experience that my target client base were and are small businesses? This is the key to the whole process.
Here’s the thing: most workers are looking for three things:
- A steady paycheck.
- Full-time employment to maximize earnings.
- A full package of benefits.
- Job security.
The hope is always the find it with a single employer. And the preference is almost always for larger employers, like government agencies and large companies.
The problem is that there’s a lot of traffic of job candidates applying for positions with those employers. That’s why you can send out resumes or complete online applications with 200 employers and not get a single call back from any of them. Each one of those companies or job postings is drawing hundreds of potential candidates. You’re not likely to stand out in the crowd.
The best strategy then is to do a complete end-run around the crowd. That is, go to precisely those places where the herd of employee candidates aren’t.
That will mean small businesses or going directly to the general public.
Marketing Your Services
If you’re going to approach small businesses, find out who the owner is, and contact that person by phone, email, or snail mail. I prefer email or snail mail because it’s more likely to be read. If the prospect is interested, they’ll respond – then you’ll have a “warm prospect”. If not, they may file your email or letter away, and contact you at a later date. That’s happened to me with several prospects.
In some cases, a small business client will prefer you to work on site. That becomes more of a part-time job than a true gig, but you should be open to it if you’re just starting out. But with more work being done online than ever before, it’s increasingly likely you’ll be able to provide your services online and from home. That also eliminates geographic limits.
If you want to market your services to the general public, start by creating a website explaining your services. Then put ads in places like Craigslist or neighborhood newsletters, or flyers in public places, like grocery stores, laundromats, gyms and houses of worship.
Pricing is a complicated process. When you’re first starting out, you’ll need to charge at the lower end of the scale, unless you have demonstrated specialized skills that command higher pay. For example, nine years ago when I was just beginning freelance blog writing, I was charging $20-$30 per article. Today it’s routinely several hundred dollars. But as a beginner, I knew I had to work up to that level. You may need to do the same.
One important caveat here though. Don’t underprice your services. If someone else charges $200 to deliver a certain service, and you offer to do it for $50, the prospect may assume it’ll be low-quality.
Final Thoughts on How to Find Gig Work in None of the Usual Places
This article is not a call to quit a good full-time job and plunge into the gig economy. But rather it’s to recognize that there are millions of people in this fast growing sector of the job market, many of whom are trying to survive in capacities where the deck is stacked against them. But even more important, it’s to recognize that the gig economy may be the future of employment in the American economy.
Business failures and layoffs are no longer unusual. In fact, layoffs have become a certified business tool. If an employer has a couple of bad quarters, they’ll move quickly to cut their biggest expense, which is payroll. But work still needs to be done, and it’s increasingly being subbed-out to independent gig workers.
The gig economy is definitely a good news/bad news scenario. For many, primarily those working in the app-driven gig economy, it’s typically long hours, hard work, low pay, and burning out your car.
But among independent gig workers, the situation is much more optimistic. It’s not only a preferred way to circumvent an overcrowded job market, but it’s also an opportunity to create a more compelling lifestyle, and even to get the higher compensation traditional employers are increasingly reluctant to provide.
If you’re in the contingent gig economy now, or even if you’re in a traditional job, it’s well worth your time and effort to embrace the concept of independent gig work. You may need to turn to it sooner than you think.