While everyone agrees that the gig economy is here, the practical realities, other than not counting on long-term employment, are not so obvious. In my role as a mentor to many business professionals, I still see some who have no idea how to adapt to the new realities. The simple answer is that we all have to start thinking like entrepreneurs, rather than entitled employees.

To me, that means treating your career more like a business than a job--with a continual and global focus on keeping up with competition, finding customers, preparing for changes ahead, and taking responsibility for your own finances.

With entrepreneurial thinking, this can be a win-win, with you getting more control, and good for companies, which want the more flexible staffing.

On the other hand, if you expect your employer to push you into required future training, to always have a growth opportunity waiting, and to set all your work parameters, then you may find a difficult road ahead.

My recommendation is that you must start preparing yourself for the future, by thinking of your current employer as a customer, and focusing on the following specifics:

1. Quantify your value to your employer, compared with alternatives.

I'm not looking for a personal guess, but some real homework done via networking and the internet to see what other companies pay for the same role.

Then look ahead to assess the likelihood that your job could be eliminated with new technology, artificial intelligence, or robots. This may seem scary, but it's the reality, and what every entrepreneur has to do at every stage of survival and success.

The good news is that this exercise, if done well, will be the best evidence to support your next raise request, as well as showing your readiness for the new gig economy.

2. Assess your intellectual capital and how to increase it.

It's time to take a hard look at your breadth of experience, relevant relationships, connections, and skill depth, compared with your peers in that role. More intellectual capital means that you are worth more today in the marketplace.

Take advantage of any and all current opportunities, such as industry conferences and special projects, to increase your intellectual capital for current roles and gigs in the future. Entrepreneurial thinking is all about being proactive, rather than wait to be pushed.

3. Start tracking your costs as well as income elements.

Most employees I know have no idea what their business life costs, since they have never had to worry about costs as employees.

These costs include travel, training, supplies, office space, bookkeeping, and many others. You need to understand your real income requirements to survive on gigs.

You will find it pays big dividends, even in your personal life, to track and manage expenses with a simple business platform, like QuickBooks or Apptivo, for work and family. With one of these, the step into the gig economy will be much less painful.

4. Build your reputation and visibility beyond your company.

Every employee or entrepreneur needs to build a competitive reputation on the internet, through a website, blog, LinkedIn profile, and social media. Don't let Facebook party pictures be the only way people see you when looking for a professional. Market your business expertise.

In today's gig economy, your professional reputation, references, and ability to market yourself are the keys to success. All of these can be built and will serve you well while still an employee, looking for your next promotion or your first gig.

5. Explore small gig opportunities without quitting your day job.

Just as I recommend that aspiring entrepreneurs get their startup going before leaving a regular job, you should start competing for small gigs that can be done in the evenings or on weekends, to test your fit and needs, before you get forced into this world full time.

In the current vernacular, these are often called side hustles.

They make sense if you just want to pad your savings by creating additional income sources, as well as for testing the waters for your ability to thrive in the solo entrepreneur world of the gig economy.

6. Regularly scan the marketplace for potential anchor clients.

Before you get pushed out into the gig economy, you need to be looking for a few key clients that would likely select you and give you recurring business.

There are already multiple gig platforms, including Upwork and TaskRabbit, that you can freely explore.

You may think that gigs are relevant only to the low end of the skill spectrum, such as data entry and social media monitoring, but I see more and more highly qualified marketing and development people choosing the gig route rather than long-term employment for higher returns and more challenging work.

Don't wait for your next company layoff to get yourself started.

Published on: Jun 21, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.