5 Tips on Succeeding in the New Gig Economy

Whether you believe the “gig economy,” as it has been dubbed, is the next big economic paradigm shift or an overstated trend, the fact is that the workforce at large is evolving significantly. New social collaboration tools, the continuing demand for job flexibility and general economic fluctuation, among other factors, have lead to more and more off-site and freelance work—especially in the realm of technology¹.

Gig work can mean more control over your career trajectory and more freedom in defining the boundaries of your professional and personal lives, but the figure-it-out-as-you-go approach can easily lead to floundering and frustration for those who dive into this brave new world unprepared. With studies suggesting that the on-demand workforce will double in size by 2020, it’s becoming increasingly important that we understand and adapt to this metamorphosis. We’ve provided five tips to assist those who are considering a transition into the bustling world of freelance work.

1. Be Flexible

One of the great perks of freelance work is the ability to work on your own terms.  While this freedom is a great perk of the lifestyle, establishing too rigid of a schedule can greatly reduce your likelihood of receiving consistent work.

Alternately, making an exception for a valued client – whether in the form of working the occasional Saturday or waking up early to join a conference call – shows an interest and commitment to a project that will set you apart from much of the competition. Keeping a tightly managed schedule can help you make such exceptions without compromising your personal boundaries.

2. Be Human

You probably saw this one, looked at your opposable thumbs and thought “done.” But the fact is demonstrating your three-dimensionality in a screen-based relationship can prove to be more work than simply existing. While it was once standard for contracts to be sealed by a handshake, it is now commonplace for hired talent to complete a job without ever meeting their client, making it easy for the names and email addresses of distant collaborators to become indistinguishable from one another. Such impersonality will not only make for a less fulfilling work experience but it may significantly dampen your ability to leave an impact on a client and thus receive future work.

Attend meetings virtually whenever possible, and if ever the opportunity arises to meet a client in person, do so. Do not let your physical absence discourage you from participating in company culture. This goes beyond the simple idea of leaving an impression; it means actively working to perpetuate meaningful professional relationships—an important aspect of our working lives that has been put in danger by the ever-increasing separation of collaborators.

3. Invest in Personal Growth

This one is easy to ignore when you’ve got steady work coming in, but freelancers must always be prepared for unexpected lulls. Such lulls should not be seen simply as opportunities to perform administrative duties but as a time to focus on personal growth as well. A good first step in this area is to decide whether you wish to specialize in a specific skill (typically this means fewer job options at higher pay rates) or develop a broader set of skills (more options at lower pay rates). From there, create a list of potential growth areas and interests pertinent to your work and make a habit of studying and practicing during downtime.

Whether in the form of digging into a relevant book, interacting with the Experts Exchange community, attending college classes or taking advantage of one of the many free online learning resources, downtime should be utilized in a way that makes it productive and fulfilling rather than quiet and dreadful. Adding certificates, skills and knowledge to your arsenal will make you more desirable to companies looking for freelance help.

4. Take Care of Yourself

There are countless traps that ambitious freelancers don’t realize they’ve fallen into until it’s too late. Perhaps the most dangerous of these traps is taking on too many jobs at once. As painful as it sounds, there may be times when it is necessary to turn down a job for the sake of your sanity and the quality of your output.

Learning when and how to say no will become easier as you develop a reliable measure of your limits (time tracking services like Toggl or Asana can help in defining a reasonable workload). Being your own boss means no organized break times and no HR department to watch after your well being, so establishing reasonable boundaries and defending them is important in order to prevent over-saturation and burnout.

5. Enjoy the Freedoms, But Don’t Let Them Interfere

Those new to freelancing who are used to more traditional job roles will quickly learn just how much they relied on the structure and discipline of the standard work week in order to get their jobs done. The threshold leading into the office acts as a sort of psychological trigger that says “get to work” when passed over, and there’s no reason that threshold can’t be established at home. However, keeping a productive mindset when Netflix is within arms reach and your cat is climbing the back of your chair is a skill in itself. Maintaining momentum is necessary in order to effectively complete freelance work and establishing a set of rules to encourage productivity is a great practice. Such protections may include not wearing pajamas when working, placing a sign on your office door to ward off distractions, scheduling strict break times or keeping your phone on silent during work hours.

When starting out, be mindful of your bad habits and actively work to determine what external forces are most threatening to your productivity. All that said, what’s the point of freelancing if you’re not going to enjoy some of its practical freedoms? The ability to build your own schedule, pursue the jobs that most interest you and tackle them while blasting your own music (without headphones!) are perks that make all the self-discipline a small price to pay.

Of course, the biggest hurdle when entering the freelance world is landing your first job. Getting noticed as a newbie requires having a solid, fine-tuned profile that tactfully highlights your professional achievements and projects completed. For more advice on landing that first gig and an in-depth guide covering the nitty-gritty details of how to go out on your own, visit Experts Exchange.

¹ https://www.knoll.com/media/18/144/WP_FiveTrends.pdf

About Morgan Condict

I got my start doing QA in the San Francisco video game industry. Today, when I'm not writing or testing at Experts Exchange I'm likely reading, drawing, drumming, or out exploring San Luis Obispo with my wife and dog.