5 top tips to make it in the gig economy

By Andrew Robinson Time of article published Feb 12, 2020

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The gig economy has changed the world of work extensively. 

Fewer people these days work full-time for one employer, going into the same office every day, doing the same job with the same colleagues and drawing the same salary every month.

Freelancers – the old-fashioned name for gig workers – have chosen this approach to work for one of several reasons; whether it's a need to live out their passions for payment so they can take photos, and design websites and bake beautiful birthday cakes all in a day's work, or they don't like corporate culture or want a work-life balance that's hard to find through permanent employment, or economics dictate that they either can't find full-time work, or need more income than just one job offers, or simply they want to be their own boss.

In South Africa, it is estimated that 50% of full-time workers are, in fact, freelancers. A 2019 report by the Southern African Freelancers' Association (SAFREA) revealed that 40% of respondents had only been gigging for the last five years, a testament to the growth of this 'sector' locally.

Whatever their reason, giggers get to choose how they spend their days. They decide which clients they work for and which projects they work on. They work when and where they want, whether that’s midnight on Sunday to meet a high-paying deadline, or for four hours every morning so that they can spend the rest of the day surfing. Working from home means they can go to work in their pyjamas if that’s what they want to do.

Sure, gig workers get to decide how much they want to earn, taking or leaving jobs depending on their financial situation, or planned holidays. They have ultimate flexibility and independence. But there is another side to this idyllic-sounding life.

Financially you can make a lot of money gigging, but the truth is that to earn well you need to make work a priority, not surfing. It’s about using all that flexibility and independence wisely.

Every gig worker must cultivate clients and a reputation for reliability. Turning down a job you don’t feel like doing is fine, but will that potential client choose you again next time they need the service you offer?

As for working in pyjamas, to grow your business, potential clients need to know who you are which means you have to dress up and show up wherever and whenever possible, which is tricky to do in your PJs! This is why, as the gig economy grows, the trend towards co-working office spaces is growing too. There’s no question that an essential element of being a successful gig worker is discipline and going to work is good for productivity. It’s not just about being surrounded by similar people to socialise with over a cup of coffee. It’s as much about sharing experiences, bouncing ideas around, sharing frustrations and, above all, networking.

Gigging isn’t just something that new moms, retirees or millennials do. In the US, EY reports that 60% of millennials are not involved in the gig economy at all, and only 24% report earning money as gig workers. Closer to home that SAFREA report from last year had respondents ranging in age from 19 to 80. So anyone and everyone can and is gigging, which means competition is tough. I've been gigging almost my whole professional life – after a short stint as an analyst - and these are my top tips for making it work:

  • Cultivate clients by delivering what was expected on time, every time
  • Apply as much discipline to your gigging life as you would to full-time employment… and you’ll find that you can enjoy more downtime. We all have to earn our freedom!
  • Stay on top of your paperwork
  • If you’re not good at being on your own most of the working day, consider a co-working space
  • Be loyal to clients if you want them to be loyal to you
Andrew Robinson is co-founder and executive director of SiSebenza. 


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