When you picture an independent contractor, what images come to mind? Do you think of an Uber or Lyft driver? How about a graphic designer? What about an accountant or a programmer?
All of these occupations—and more—are part of the so-called gig economy. Millions of workers around the world are now working and earning without being employed in the traditional sense.
However, with liberation comes an enormous degree of personal responsibility for one’s career destiny. Gig workers have to navigate a labor landscape that often doesn’t offer the same protections and benefits as a traditional job. On top of that, gig workers may have to obtain similar credentials as employees, such as specific licenses or bonds.
In this article, we’ll talk about how to navigate the unexpected challenges of the gig economy and make the most of the upsides. Here are six ways that you can make your work in the gig economy productive and profitable.
1. Make your space a comfortable place to work
Whether you’re a Lyft driver or a freelance writer, you need to have a space that encourages you to do your best work. For writers, coders, accountants, and designers, try to find a space that you can use as a home office so you’re not just sitting in your bed or on your couch while working. Bringing the space to life with decorations and plants will help make it a pleasant place to get your work done, and a pet can help keep you company.
For other types of gig workers, this can mean creating a “home away from home.” Rideshare drivers often have their cars equipped with chargers, snacks, water bottles, and favorite decorations for the benefit of both themselves and their customers. Someone who works making food deliveries on a bike should invest in a comfortable seat, rugged handlebar tape, and a sturdy, breathable helmet.
2. Establish a productive routine
A routine is a critical tool for most gig workers. Despite the freedom that a gig economy job can offer, most independent contractors still need a basic framework of routine around which to structure their time.
A rideshare driver, for example, will often have a set schedule of times at which they drive. A freelance coder or graphic designer may choose to always attack their most difficult task as soon as they start work. A freelance dog walker may need to establish a set order for getting around the city in order to get to all of their furry clients on time.
Try to build your productivity routine into your daily life. Establish a set time to get up and start work so you don’t put it off. Many freelancers also find that scheduling meal breaks at certain times helps to keep their routine more consistent and ensures their bodies have the fuel they need.
3. Don’t ignore the legal requirements of your field
Just because you’re a gig worker doesn’t necessarily mean you’re exempt from the normal requirements of working in your field. Some gig economy fields may require special state licensure like a freight broker license.
Most gig economy apps and platforms will inform you about the required qualifications before allowing you to accept jobs. However, if you’re getting gigs through less formal channels (such as Craigslist or social media) those requirements might not be accurately communicated. Take the time to learn about them and make sure you’re staying in compliance with the law.
4. Plan your finances carefully
In the gig economy, you’re almost always on your own when it comes to health insurance, retirement plans, vacations, and all of the other benefits that traditional jobs usually offer. To make sure you can afford these essentials, you’ll need to seriously brush up on your budgeting skills.
And that’s not even taking taxes into account. Many freelancers have been shocked by their first tax bill. Even experienced independent contractors often find it challenging to keep track of the many receipts and expenses that they accrue. If your finances are becoming too complex to manage with simple spreadsheets, consider getting one of the many low-cost freelancer accounting software products available.
Finally, the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the importance of having a savings cushion. Try to determine ahead of time how much you’re going to put in savings from each paycheck for a rainy day. Most experts recommend saving at least 20 percent for your personal savings, but remember that at least another 20 percent on top of that will likely be required for taxes.
5. Diversify your skills and your gigs
An independent contractor’s worth in the labor market is always measured by their skills. The more abundant and diverse your skills, the more secure your earning power will be in an ever-changing economy.
Try to find some time in your day to work on cultivating new skills such as learning a new piece of software or learning a new language. Even half an hour a day here and there can add up quickly.
This can also mean giving more consideration to side gigs to make ends meet. A freelance artist might do graphic design, sell their own artwork through platforms like Etsy, and teach art to kids. The more you do, the more you’ll know, and the more experience you’ll have in your back pocket.
6. Find a way to market yourself
Self-promotion is one of the biggest challenges for many freelancers and gig workers. You can think of the gig economy as a never-ending series of job interviews—so you’d better make sure to have something on your resume that sets you apart from the competition.
Marketing yourself will look different in every industry. Rideshare drivers, for example, will often have to differentiate themselves after the fact by offering amenities that other drivers don’t. Some freelance contractors invest in pay-per-click advertising on social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, which allows you to precisely target people who might be interested in your services. Try out some different strategies and find what provides the best results.
The gig economy has created a brave new world in the labor market, and it’s one in which the rules are constantly changing. To navigate that landscape successfully, you’ll need to make a true investment in yourself and your business.