A growing number of people are trying their hand at the "gig economy," the increasingly common practice of moving from one short-term job to the next, as opposed to accepting full-time employment. Sometimes people "gig" part-time to supplement their day job, but often, it is a lifestyle choice. Many people work exclusively as soloists, while others run small microbusinesses that employ one to five people.
According to an annual survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, 35 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 55 million people, are freelancers. LinkedIn predicts that number could reach 43 percent by 2020.
Working for yourself allows you to manage your own schedule, gain new experiences, and enjoy all that is great about entrepreneurship. But there is another side of that coin. In addition to being good at what you do, you also need other skillsets-;business development, organization, professionalism, and major hustle. Before you go "giggin' it," make sure you understand what it really takes to succeed in the gig economy.
1. Passion and talent are not enough.
The most common mistake people make is thinking that simply "going ahead with what they are passionate about" is enough to succeed in the gig economy, explains Lars Sudmann, former CFO of Procter & Gamble Belgium. Sudmann is now a keynote speaker, executive coach, and university lecturer. Not only has he researched and spoken about the gig economy, he makes his living in it.
"In the conference speaking world, there is a saying: 'The hard part is not giving the speech; the hard part is getting the speech.' Replace 'speech' with 'assignment' or 'job,' and this saying is valid in most parts of the freelance and gig economy," he says.
In addition to having a clearly-defined skill or expertise, you need to know how to articulate its benefits and how to connect with prospects. Network, ask for referrals, and explore how technology platforms like UpWork can help connect you to new clients.
You also need to be self-motivated. For many people, Sudmann included, this is the hardest part. "When you work in an organization, you go with the flow. Everything is laid out for you. When you work in the gig economy, there are no real processes anymore," he cautions.
To stay organized, Sudmann sets a key vision and strategy and assesses it routinely. He also has "accountability partners," a group of trusted colleagues and friends he can share his goals with, that way he is accountable for whether or not he achieves them.
2. Professionalism matters--tenfold.
Despite the growing number of freelancers and microbusiness owners, there are still misconceptions about what the lifestyle entails. Kelley Buttrick, founder of KB Voiceovers, goes above and beyond to project a professional image, knowing full well that people sometimes make false assumptions about what it is like to work from home. "You need your clients to feel comfortable with you and not think they are working with someone in their PJs. When I am presenting myself, whether, at a networking event or an in-person meeting or job, I dress one level up to combat the misperception," she says.
Since Buttrick works out of a professionally-equipped studio in her basement, she doesn't always get a chance to meet clients face-to-face. "One of the first things I did when I started my business was establishing a mailing address at my local The UPS Store, since my home address screamed 'private house,' not 'recording studio.'" She also invested in a high-quality website and marketing materials and makes sure all of her client communication, from emails to phone calls, exude professionalism and reflect her brand personality.
3. It's okay to outsource.
Yes, you need business acumen, but that doesn't mean you need to possess every single skill it takes to run a business. For example, you may need a partner to help with your company branding, accounting, or taxes. Buttrick did everything herself the first year, then hired partners for certain functions. "Doing it all yourself year one helps you get a grasp of how every aspect of your business works, but then as it starts growing, you should focus on what you do well and pay others to do what they do well," she advises.
4. You won't actually control your schedule.
One of the biggest allures of joining the gig workforce is flexibility, the notion that you will have more control over how much you work, and when. Spoiler alert: That's not always the case. "People think if you are working for yourself, you control your schedule. My clients control my schedule--not me," says Buttrick. One easy way to get on Sudmann's nerves is to say, "Wow, you can choose when you do your work."
"It doesn't always work like that," he says.
In the gig economy, you don't have the luxury of guaranteed, steady work, and you can't always be sure when the next project will hit. To succeed, you have to accept that it is your clients who dictate your work week, not your own expectations.
Of course, you can control how and when you tackle your work and more easily balance personal commitments and passions. That is part of what makes the gig economy so enticing. But to succeed, you need a healthy dose of realism.