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Maximizing Your Value in a Gig Economy

Digital platforms such as Uber and Skip the Dishes have given gig workers more earning options than ever before. But gig work can be precarious.

Before you make a decision about whether to become a freelance or gig worker, learn about what the gig economy is and how it could fit into your professional life.

What is the gig economy and how does it work?

Think of working in the gig economy as “doing jobs” instead of “having a job.”

In the gig economy, people take on temporary or freelance work gigs instead of pursuing a traditional 9-to-5 career working for a boss. But working in the gig economy can look all sorts of ways. It can mean that:

  • You are self-employed. You market yourself as a professional (say, as a designer or a writer), take on multiple short-term contracts, and act as your own boss.
  • You have a full-time job working for someone else and do gigs on the side—as a passion project, hobby, or extra source of income.
  • You use online platforms such as Uber, Skip the Dishes, or Upwork (designed for freelancers) to find work—either as a supplement to your other work or as a full-time commitment.

There is no single definition for gig work, and ideas about it are constantly shifting as technology advances and new platforms start up.

What we know for sure is that gig work is important in Canada. About 13% of Canadians identify as gig workers. And 3% have become gig workers as a result of shifts in their employment since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.

The idea of being paid by the task isn’t new, but today’s technology platforms allow people to easily do new forms of gig work.

What types of jobs are available in the gig economy?

Some gig workers do jobs like yardwork, snow shovelling, babysitting, or pet-sitting. These jobs are often found through online platforms. The gig economy also has a place for many other industries, from writing to consulting to web design. Tech-based jobs like web or software design are among the most popular.

Depending on where you live, opportunities for employment in the gig economy vary greatly. The following gig-economy jobs are easily found in major urban centres:

  • Caregiving services
  • Delivery services
  • Moving services
  • Peer-to-peer property rentals
  • Ride sharing

Such gigs tend to be based on digital platforms that connect workers with jobs. The rise of smartphones means the work is easier to access than ever before.

Other jobs in the gig economy don’t rely on being near a city. These gig-economy jobs need only an internet connection and the required expertise in a given field:

  • Computer programming
  • Consulting services
  • Social media marketing
  • Website development
  • Writing or editing services

Who are gig economy workers?

Though many young people are part of the gig economy, not all gig workers are millennials. They come from all corners of the province and vary in age, skill, and income level.

Gig workers may be students, stay-at-home parents, retirees, recent graduates, or mid-career professionals. What do all of these people have in common? To be successful in a gig economy, you’ve got to be confident, disciplined, and self-motivated. You have to be able to juggle many commitments at once, keep yourself organized, and be good at networking and self-promotion.

Maybe most importantly, you need to be accountable. When you do gig work, you don’t have a boss covering for you if things don’t get done.

In Alberta and across Canada, gig workers are more likely to live in larger urban centres where they can develop a solid customer base. But a great benefit of gig work is that rural people can also do it remotely. Since the pandemic, people are more comfortable with remote work. Many may be moving away from traditional office arrangements and toward flexible gig-work lifestyles.

What traits do you need for the gig economy?

It used to be that people needed expertise or specialized skills to get gig work. But the rise of online platforms has meant that unskilled workers—such as delivery people—also have access to gig work.

You may be a good candidate for gig work if you:

  • Are confident, disciplined, and self-motivated
  • Are creative and adaptable
  • Want to dictate your own schedule
  • Have an entrepreneurial spirit
  • Can juggle multiple commitments

If you’re a professional freelance worker such as a designer or photographer who juggles many clients, you may need a few other skills. For example, you’ll need to excel at networking, feel comfortable marketing yourself, and be good at managing contracts.

Why is the gig economy trending now?

This workplace trend has taken off as a result of many factors:

  • Technology. The internet, apps, smartphones, and digital platforms support gig work in a cost-effective way, and new technologies are constantly being developed—especially since the pandemic.
  • Shifts in work style. Workers are more comfortable working remotely since the pandemic. Many are less inclined to answer to a boss.
  • Demographics. Younger generations value the work-life balance that gig work can provide.
  • Selective clients. Some people are willing to pay a lot for the specialty items and services that the gig economy provides.

The gig economy is also growing because it benefits employers:

  • Having fewer full-time positions means lower costs for the employer—a business can save money on salaries, benefits, and office space.
  • Businesses can have easy access to top consultants on an as-needed basis.
  • The gig model helps businesses be lean, nimble, and flexible.

There are positives for workers, too:

  • The chance to do self-directed, engaging work
  • The ability to earn money for immediate needs
  • A flexible work-life balance
  • More variety in your work
  • The chance to avoid long commutes by working from home (or anywhere)

What are the downsides for gig economy workers?

Not all workers view the gig economy as positive. Some negatives are that:

  • You always need to line up the next job.
  • You won’t get benefits, like health insurance or paid holidays.
  • Your income may be hard to predict.

The emergence of online platforms has created even more skepticism about gig work. By acting as go-betweens that match workers with gigs, platform operators can shift nearly all the business risk and costs onto employers and workers.

If factors like these make you uncomfortable, you may be better off in a regular, full-time job. But keep in mind that not all “permanent” jobs are as secure as they sound, and some may pay less than you could earn doing gig work.

Can the gig economy work for me?

Want to give the gig economy a try? Use these tips to start thinking and working like a small business owner:

  • Make a plan. What does success look like for you?
  • Think about hidden costs, like office supplies, phone, and internet.
  • Join multiple platforms to expand your reach.
  • Set goals and follow through.
  • Schedule tasks and mark them as completed when you’re done.
  • Keep records and receipts for income tax purposes.
  • Set aside earnings for income tax, health coverage, and benefits.

When you take on gig work, you may need to go through the formalities of setting up a business, like getting a business licence or number. Whether or not you do depends on your line of work.

The gig economy rewards energy and ingenuity. You need to be proactive and determined. Know there will be times when you’re not busy, and remind yourself not to panic.

Joining the gig economy can be a wild ride with an unsteady income, but it can also be the perfect fit for the right person.

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