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Maximizing Your Value in a Gig Economy

Ever dream about having a more flexible schedule? Every day, more and more Canadians are taking the leap from traditional full-time work to what’s known as the gig economy. If you’re a self-starter who is comfortable marketing yourself, you could too.

But before you make any decisions, check out the answers to these commonly asked questions:

What is the gig economy?

The gig economy, where self-employed people take on multiple short-term contracts, is quickly taking over both here and abroad. In fact, it's estimated that about 45% of our country's workforce could be made up of freelancers, contractors and "on demand" workers by the year 2020.

It's not just millennials either—gig workers come from all corners of the province and vary in age, skill and income level.

How does the gig economy work?

In a gig economy, people bid on pieces of work with different employers and take on multiple short-term jobs at a time.

The idea of being paid by the task isn’t new, but today’s technology platforms enable people to easily do new forms of gig work. This includes things like graphic design and photography.

Think of it as “doing jobs” instead of “having a job.”

Who are gig economy workers?

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 multiple commitments at once, keep yourself organized and excel at networking and self-promotion. Perhaps most importantly, you need to be accountable.

Remember, in the gig economy, you won'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 rural people also do gig work, usually related to digital services.

Some people doing gig work would rather have a full-time employer but may use short-term jobs to make ends meet for now. Others may combine gigs to create full-time work, or to gain experience until they land a full-time job with a single employer. In that case, they may even decide to continue taking on short-term work on the side.

Why is the gig economy trending now?

This workplace trend has taken off due to factors like:

  • Demographics: Newer generations value work/life balance
  • Technology: The internet, apps, smartphones and platforms support gig work in a cost-effective way and new technologies are constantly being developed
  • Selective clients: Some people are willing to pay a lot for specialty items or services

The gig economy is also growing because it benefits employers:

  • Fewer full-time positions mean 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 elsewhere)

What are the downsides for gig economy workers?

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

  • 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

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.

How can you benefit from the gig economy?

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

  • Have specialized skills or expertise
  • Are confident, disciplined and self-motivated
  • Are creative and adaptable
  • Want to dictate your own schedule
  • Feel comfortable marketing yourself
  • Excel at networking
  • Have an entrepreneurial spirit
  • Have contract-managing skills
  • Can juggle multiple commitments

What types of jobs are available in the gig economy?

Some gig workers do jobs like yard work, snow shoveling, babysitting or pet-sitting. These jobs are often found through a central website or app. The gig economy also has a place for many other industries, from writing, to consulting, to web design. In fact, 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 most often found in major urban centres:

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

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:

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

Can the gig economy work for me? 

Want to give it a try? Use the examples below to start thinking and working like a small business owner: 

  • Make a plan: What does success look like for you?
  • Think about the 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

Taking on gig work may not mean you can avoid the formalities of setting up a business, like getting a business licence or number. Whether or not you will need these 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 erratic income, but it can also be the perfect fit for the right person.

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