Welcome to the Gig Economy
Welcome to the Gig Economy

Looking for a new challenge? Tired of the daily grind? Need to make a quick buck? If so, it might be time to insert yourself into the growing phenomenon called the gig economy, where almost anybody can fire up their mobile phone and perform quick, transactional tasks for cash.

What kinds of gigs are out there?

We’re all familiar with some of the big players in today’s gig economy, having seen the rise of services like Uber and Lyft, both of which let you turn your car into a cash-flow engine. There are also sites like Airbnb.com and VRBO.com that make it easy for you to lease a spare room, or rent out your whole house, in order to buoy your bank account.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, however. The freelance and contract landscape has absolutely exploded in recent years, to the point that there are now project-focused companies operating in hundreds of different occupations and interest areas. For example, a friend of mine who is a massage therapist uses a site called Zeel.com to land on-demand massage appointments. Another friend recently tapped into Rover.com to find somebody willing to dog-sit his German Shepherd for a weekend. And my sister recently jumped on Dolly.com to track down a beefy, bearded dude who was willing to show up on short notice, with a van, to help her move a refrigerator over to a friend’s house.

Honestly, it’s hard to think of many professional service areas today that haven’t been giga-fied, at least to some extent. And in some of the hotter categories, like ride-sharing or delivery services, there are literally dozens of companies jockeying to become the leading player in the field.

So how do you find gigs that fit you?

For most people interested in exploring gig employment options, the first step is usually to identify a particular skill you have to offer (creative writing, cooking, gardening and so on) or a resource you have available (your home, car, etc.). Then run the name of that service or item through Google — along with words such as gig, contract, consulting or freelance.

Typically this approach will surface the relevant companies in a given area, since most of these organizations use keywords on their sites and in their advertising to help their names rise toward the top of search results.

Additionally, you could turn to the growing number of broader sites designed to broker short-term jobs within a certain high-level category. For example, there are sites like Handy.com and TaskRabbit.com open to people willing to help their neighbors with household chores such as cleaning, yardwork, packing and home repair. Or you could turn to Care.com if you’re willing to provide child care, senior care, pet care or similar support or visitation services to folks within your community.

There’s also the irreverent Fiverr.com, basically a clearinghouse for anybody who can think of something they’d be willing to do for five bucks — whether it’s designing a book cover or writing a poem or recording a personalized happy birthday song for your spouse in a funny voice.

The platform I’ve got my eye on most these days, however, is LinkedIn’s new Freelance Marketplace (also known as ProFinder), which represents a major play by the company to become a broker of project-based work across various professional categories. This new feature, which can be found on the Interests menu of the site, allows you to sign up to provide almost any kind of service — from accounting to graphic design, legal services to career coaching. It then connects you with interested buyers.

While this new feature is just getting off the ground, LinkedIn has the benefit of more than 400 million professional profiles in their database. That’s a lot of muscle they’ll be able to deploy to rally potential buyers and suppliers around this new platform.

Is taking on gig work the right decision for you?

Again, as demonstrated by the examples above, there can be no denying that gig work is one of today’s hottest market trends and offers a new option for people looking to expand their horizons beyond traditional employment. Is this avenue the right choice for you?

The obvious benefit most people trumpet is the ability to generate near-instant cash flow when you need it, on your schedule. Gig jobs allow you to work all sorts of unorthodox hours and, in most cases, to step away from the politics and bureaucracy typically associated with an office job.

These short-time assignments can also give you a chance to gain valuable experience in areas you’re targeting for permanent employment — or to apply your strengths in fun and rewarding new ways. For example, if you’re an accountant by day, you might enjoy the chance to share your scintillating sense of humor while chauffeuring people around the neighborhood in your free time.

On the flip side, however, gig jobs are highly unpredictable and the amount of work can ebb and flow greatly based on factors beyond your control. You also might find that pay rates in many gig roles are minimal, at best, and don’t typically provide benefits coverage. Those spur-of-the-moment service calls could also lead to dealings with unsavory or challenging customers, on occasion.

What’s more, there’s a storm of discussion brewing about the potential legal liabilities of some of these emerging business models, given that many gig workers don’t technically fall under the IRS definition of independent contractors. So just when you get used to the convenience of this type of work, you might find the rug pulled out from under you due to increased government intervention. We’ll have to wait and see.

For now, however, I think it behooves all of us to be aware of this new quasi-entrepreneurial work option and the pros, cons and emerging possibilities it presents. With some experts claiming that as many as 45 million U.S. residents have already offered up their services in some form of gig fashion, it’s clear this development isn’t a passing fad. It’s mainstream!

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Matt Youngquist

Guest writer Matt Youngquist is a recognized career coaching expert and LinkedIn trainer in the greater Seattle area. He’s the founder and president of Career Horizons, where he helps clients across the Pacific Northwest tackle the challenges of job hunting and employment transition.

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