The gig economy is on the rise, and we’re all a part of this exciting workforce movement. Whether you’ve got a side hustle or you’re a full-time solopreneur, you’re spearheading a massive shift in the economy. And this shift has many of us wondering if we’re witnessing the end of traditional employment. Big changes are happening — so, what does the future look like for freelancers?
The Rise of the Gig Economy
The term “gig economy” is used by media and researchers to refer to less structured work arrangements that are often comprised of on-demand contract and freelance jobs. For instance, this economy incorporates those who earn money through online platforms, like Airbnb and Uber. And now, various new terms are emerging to further define specific segments of this audience. For instance, you may have a “mosaic career” and be categorized as a “slash worker” — meaning that you have multiple professions and switch gears often. Here, you can be thinking along the lines of a Writer/Editor/Photographer. Now, more and more people are making a living through multiple income streams — especially as 61 percent of freelancers specialize in two to three specific talents.
In a 2016 survey, 35 percent of the U.S. workforce was made up by freelancers, and that number is predicted to rise to 43 percent by 2020. In Accenture’s Technology Vision 2017 report, the authors make a strong argument for why the gig economy is growing, and what it means for the future of work: “Driven by a surge of on-demand labor platforms and online work management solutions, legacy models and hierarchies are being dissolved and replaced with open talent marketplaces.”
According to Accenture’s researchers, the workforce’s paradigm shift is as significant as the emergence of the current bureaucratic management models that first materialized in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. According to the report, 73 percent of surveyed executives claimed that corporate bureaucracies restrain the innovation and productivity needed to respond to a fluctuating market, and 85 percent of surveyed IT and business executives have plans to increase their use of freelancers this year.
Navigate the Future of Work As a Solopreneur
The rise of the freelance economy is an exciting movement for those of us who have already chosen this line of work. It means more job opportunities and a better understanding of freelancing by everyone, from the government to our own families. That being said, a workforce shift can lead to a volatile market. In order to stay on the right track this year, freelancers need to remember to do the following:
1. Keep Up Your Branding and Networking
The gig economy is growing, but that doesn’t mean solopreneurs will be handed jobs without proving their qualifications. Available freelance opportunities are often localized — even personalized — and you’ll have to do a little work to find the right ones. As always, whether or not you’ll have work tomorrow depends on the extent to which you cultivate your own network and visibly build your brand. Just because the gig economy is growing doesn’t mean your business will automatically grow, too.
In fact, an increase in the freelance workforce will mean more competition. Stay vigilant and keep your skills sharp to distinguish yourself from others. Luckily, you have one advantage: You already know what it’s like to be a freelancer, so you’ll be better prepared to secure your business as others enter the gig economy.
2. Never Bet All Your Money on Red
Any honest economist will tell you it’s impossible to predict market shifts with absolute certainty. If you’re someone who’s considering going full-time freelance, make sure your decision is based on sound reasoning: Is your side business ready to be your sole source of income? Then, make sure your finances are adequately protected, especially if your income supports others besides yourself.
If you’re going to cash in your life savings to set up a 3D printing business that makes miniature pet replicas for loving dog owners, do your research and testing. Learn more about your competitors and how you’ll price your products — and if your new business will be enough to sustain your lifestyle. And even then, try to avoid cashing in your life savings. During the ebbs and flows of freelancing, you’ll want that extra financial stability in your life. Save it for when it really matters.
3. Remember That Your Career Is a Long-Term Investment
One of the most important things to remember after you’ve gone full-time freelance is that you alone are responsible for your benefits and savings. Don’t forget the importance of investing in your health and wellness now, even if frugality may be tempting in some areas if it saves you a few extra dollars.
As a freelancer, you won’t have an employer deducting your health insurance or tax payments from your paycheck automatically. With the rise of the gig economy, we all need to make sure we’re working toward better long-term planning and financial self-control. These assets will be the key determinants of a stable economy in the future.
4. Advocate for Yourself and Other Freelancers
Right now, entering into freelance work is what some people may describe as “precarious.” Sometimes it feels like a Wild West lifestyle, and laws and protections haven’t yet caught up to properly support such a massive shift from safe, full-time employment to gig work. This means that freelancer advocacy is super important. Creating and participating in freelancer unions and advocating for better legal, financial and health support is paramount to the stability of your workforce.
We all have a responsibility to support one another and put the necessary protections in place. If we’re currently witnessing the end of traditional employment, we’ll all have to work together to create a new model of work that best benefits freelancers and their lifestyle.