Future Friday: Just what is the “gig” economy and can you get into it?

This is the image that many have of the gig office. It would be nice.

There is still a lot of confusion, or at least different interpretations, of what the “gig” economy consists of and how many people participate. As a full-time and long-term participant of the gig economy, I watch this information with interested.

A glamour picture

I came across an article in Forbes called How To Make It Work As A Digital Nomad, by Manon DeFelice. Ms. DeFelice tells the story of a Salesforce executive who left and went on the road as a freelance worker. She travels the world picking up work advising startups, or selling jewelry or even doing English translation. She lives in co-working hotels, such as the one developed by ROAM. She has lived in Tunisia, Tuscany, Columbia, and Miami. It sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? But most people are not interested in divesting themselves of their property and being on the move all the time. But if you are interested in this Ms. DeFelice runs a company called Inkwell that can help get you started.

What are the numbers?

I received an email pointing out that participation in the gig economy may not be as widespread as many say it is. While sites like Investopedia say the participation rate in the gig economy is 34%, rising to 43% by 2020, a survey of 10,000 workers by the site dealsptr showed that participation is less than 6%. The participation is also much less glamorous than our story above. Many of the gig workers in this survey did things like drive for Uber, perform tasks for TaskRabbit, or rent out property through Airbnb.  The majority of these workers do this to supplement income rather than live off the income, thought 16% make over $10,000 a month in their gig jobs.

What we used to call it the gig economy

The gig economy is not anything new, in reality. We used to call it self-employment. Many of the great companies today started off in that manner. Cowboys in the old West, who traveled from ranch to ranch looking for work, were part of the “gig” economy of that time. What has changed is the technology involved. In essence being in the gig economy is being an entrepreneur, or a freelancer (a term that came from the middle ages with knights offering their services to anyone willing to pay protection.)
Not everyone is cut out to be gig worker, or in my world a consultant. It is not just a matter of helping someone, it is a matter of making it a business, and that takes a lot of work and a skill set different than just offering advice. I know some people who do that quite well, Trish McFarlane for example, but I have also known many who were not cut out for that life. Before you head out to be a “gigist” understand what you are getting into by doing your research. But go ahead and be bold. Who knows you may be able to live the glamorous life too.

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