Whether you like it or not, the labor landscape has shifted. Over the last few decades the idea of working until retirement at the same company, where you earn that fabled gold watch, has been more fantasy than reality. But now, even landing a full-time position with benefits is becoming rare.
We’re living in a time when the economy rewards companies that disrupt old ways to create new models that drive financial success. One of the biggest trends in this disruption culture is what’s called the gig economy. The gig economy was created by companies that chose to hire contractors or freelancers for positions instead of full-time workers.
In theory, organizations save on their bottom line, and workers are supposedly given the freedom to set their own schedules and even work from home, where they connect with coworkers via collaboration software or email. It sounds ideal, but it can become problematic for the person looking for the gig. If they can’t find their preferred freelance opportunities, they can get stuck driving for a car-sharing service like Uber or Lyft, using their own resources and working long hours behind the wheel just to survive.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. As in any economy, the better your skills, the more power you have. Contractors can be in a uniquely strong position to set their own terms if they’re highly skilled, and those skills are in demand.
Projects by definition end, so they’re the perfect environment for someone looking to take advantage of the gig economy. While some projects are executed by teams under full-time employ of the organization initiating the project, more and more project managers are seeking distributed teams who work on contract. If you’re one of those workers, here’s how to reap the rewards of a gig economy.
Create a Financial Plan
The uncertainty of not getting a regular paycheck is a heavy weight to bear. It’s stressful. Most freelancers talk about how it’s feast or famine. They’re always looking for work and never turn anything down, which can leave them overburdened and even unable to complete the tasks assigned to them. Of course, the reason they never say no is because they don’t know when the next job is coming.
The best response to this monetary uncertainty is to plan. The reason all jobs are acceptable is because of the constant pressure of staying financially solvent. But you can give yourself more freedom to choose and build equity in your professional life by creating a financial plan. Start by saving. Put aside a certain percentage of your earnings into an emergency fund to protect you against those fallow periods.
That emergency fund should have enough cash to cover at least six months of living expenses. But you can also investigate unemployment insurance. Few contractors know that there are federal unemployment benefits if you qualify for the Self-Employment Assistance Program. Find out if you are eligible by contacting your local Department of Labor office.
Don’t forget to figure out your taxes, which you’ll be solely responsible for as a contractor. This also goes for creating and contributing to a retirement fund. All the financial benefits you’re missing from being on payroll need to be addressed.
According to a recent study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, the most successful contractors in the gig economy were those who cultivated four types of connections: place, routines, purpose and people.
Place is important because, as someone working in the gig economy, you’re either jumping from one corporate space to another or working in the isolation of your home. If you’re not working on site, it’s crucial to your productivity that you find a place that is dedicated to working and minimizes distractions.
Another connection is routine, which research has shown helps people focus and perform better. This means keeping a schedule, having a to-do list to structure your day, knowing which time in the day you work best and putting your more challenging tasks into that period.
You can also end the day with a hook that makes starting the next day easier to do, whether that’s not fully completing a task or starting a new one. But most importantly, when you find a ritual that works for you, have the discipline to maintain it.
Connecting to a purpose might sound like an idealization, but it’s actually a practical step towards success in a gig economy. If you can connect to work that speaks to your larger concerns, you’re going to be more motivated and your work will be stronger. It gives you a lodestar to follow, which provides stability and keeps you inspired.
Naturally, balancing the need to make a living with the desire to work towards goals that align with your ethical choices is not a simple process, but the more you address it, the more successful you’ll be.
Finally, and not surprisingly, staying connected with people is critical to one’s well-being and success. Other people aren’t just a way to socialize and make work more pleasant. They are the connections that can advance your career. They are role models that can help you learn. Social isolation is psychologically bad and could leave your career stagnated. Find people in your field, be they colleagues or friends, and cultivate relationships with them.
Not everyone feels comfortable tooting their own horn, but if you don’t make noise in the crowded gig economy, you don’t get noticed. That doesn’t mean being obnoxious. That’ll backfire on you. What you want to do is market your skills and make sure that there are always opportunities on the horizon, so you can choose your gig and not be forced to take something you don’t want.
There are many ways you can get your name out there. One option is to register with several agencies that place jobs with your skills. They have connections that will do the footwork for you, opening doors that you can then walk through and close the deal.
Another venue is online work sites that specialize in contract work. There are many such locations on the internet, some that are more general and others that deal with only one industry. Find the one that fits best with your interests and skills. Use that site to connect with organizations that you might not have even known were looking for people like yourself.
Of course, there are also larger platforms, such as LinkedIn, where you can set up a personal page for your professional life. Recruiters are always trolling these sites for candidates for open positions that they are trying to fill. When creating a LinkedIn profile, it’s important to do some research and figure out the keywords that people in your industry are using. This is useful for connecting to humans, but also software that searches for candidates based on the frequency of keywords that appear in profiles.
Optimize your online profile, your connections, your financial plan and your portfolio, and you’ll be succeeding in the gig economy in no time.
The gig economy isn’t going away, and if you’re trying to make a living in it, then you’re going to need more than practical advice. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that gives you the tools to be more competitive in the job market, as well as organize, monitor and track of those jobs. See how it can help your career by taking this free 30-day trial.