How to build a career you really want in the gig economy

Publication date: 13 February 2019
Article type: Blogs and Articles

Joining the gig economy can bring freedom and control, but involves careful planning, writes Thomas Oppong.

Growing careersBuilding a career once meant starting out in an entry-level position in an organisation and working your way up through the ranks. It involved working eight-to-ten hours each day from the beginning of your career until you reached retirement age. It meant living your retirement years on the income from a company-based pension and spending your working years building and growing someone else’s business. Men and women lived out this career formula for generations with many seeing their own dreams falling by the wayside as they did so.

Today’s workforce looks at careers in an entirely different way to previous generations. Rather than allowing their careers to define them, they’re learning to build careers around their families, lifestyles, and other personal preferences. These men and women are breaking with tradition and building the careers they really want – careers that allow them to choose their own work; working hours; level of involvement; lifestyle, and income levels. One simple way to do this is to join the gig economy.

‘The gig economy puts every aspect of your life back into your own hands’

Working within the gig economy means taking on a series of small jobs or projects for which you receive payment. How do these combine to equal a sustainable full-time income? When your income is decided by a single employer, they essentially control your time, your working hours, your income levels, and even your retirement years. The gig economy puts every aspect of your life back into your own hands. You gain time by eliminating a commute, get to step away from office politics and become your own boss. With that complete control comes freedom – and also the need for critical thinking, forecasting, and long-range planning.

Success in the gig economy is achievable with a few key strategies in place. These stem from carefully thought out plans and principles. The keys to success also include creating diverse income streams, nurturing a solid client base, creating a financial plan that allows you to save for the future, and mastering gig marketing. By carefully identifying and developing the right strategy, the gig economy can allow you to build the career you really want.

Creating diverse income streams

All too often, people working in the gig economy focus on one gig. They deliver a single successful product or service offering to every potential client. A more lucrative strategy would be to create a gig portfolio that’s as diverse as your skill set. If graphic design is your talent, start creating diversity there by offering a variety of graphic design-based gigs at varying price points. This allows clients with different budgets to find an affordable way to work with you. You can see how working on business cards, marketing flyers, T-shirts, conference bags, event marketing and small business and corporate websites, grows your suite of products. That, in turn, drives your income from single one-off transactions to higher-paying, ongoing relationships.

Nurturing a solid client base

One of the most challenging aspects of career success in the gig economy is creating a solid client base. Begin by understanding the different segments of your client base, then work toward building a relationship with each of them. Such relationships will reap important benefits because it’s always easier to upsell an existing customers than to cultivate new clients.

Nurturing your clients doesn’t mean accepting unreasonable demands, working for low pay, or allowing ‘scope creep’ to turn a project into an unprofitable nightmare. It means interacting with your clients, sharing resources when possible, and getting into the habit of under-promising and over-delivering. When clients feel appreciated and valued, they come back to you time and again, move into higher product tiers, and make potentially profitable referrals.

Creating a financial plan

Developing your career of choice means producing a financial plan. To do this, you will need an accurate picture of your monthly expenses and a strategy for earning an income that meets or exceeds them. First, assess your monthly bills. Most people know that budgeting includes factoring in housing costs, utilities, transportation and food. Be sure also to include your mobile phone, entertainment costs, clothing spend, digital subscriptions, and other miscellaneous purchases and discretionary spending.

Once you have a clear and realistic picture of your monthly financial outgoings, structure your gig-selling goals around those needs. Understanding your financial picture means you know how many of each gig tier you need to sell each month (with gig A at the bottom of the pricing structure and gig C at the top). It also means understanding the expenses you’ll incur that an employer might otherwise have covered; for example, office equipment and supplies as well as pensions and health insurance.

‘A lucrative strategy would be to create a gig portfolio that’s as diverse as your skill set’

Mastering gig marketing

Having a robust product or service suite won’t do your new career any good if no one knows about it. Marketing in the gig economy means getting your brand noticed by the people who are in a position to purchase your services. This means understanding your target market, making marketing a daily activity and testing marketing methods to see which garner the most profitable results.

Of course, you don’t want to waste a lot of time marketing yourself to the wrong people. That makes identifying your target market the first step toward marketing success. When it handled well, working in the gig economy can be a frustrating and stressful experience. But when it is carefully thought through and backed up with daily, weekly, monthly, and annual goals, a career in the gig economy can be a positive and freeing experience.

Building a career in the gig economy means more than merely creating a series of jobs and projects. More than anything else, the gig economy can provide today’s workers with tangible peace of mind. The diverse income streams the gig economy creates allows people to build the careers they really want, while retaining full control of their finances and their future.

‘Developing your career of choice means producing a financial plan’

Thomas Oppong is the author of Working in the Gig Economy published by Kogan Page.