Can You Make It As a Gig Worker?

Whether you’re working gigs by design or necessity, gig work isn’t necessarily the best way to make a good living. It takes initiative, planning, and a lot of luck to make enough even to pay the bills, let alone have any left over for luxuries like saving.

But because so many Americans are involved in gig work, also known as side hustles, freelancing, or consulting, Billshark wants to help you navigate the landmines and make the most money you can.

First, the bad news. A survey last year by San Francisco-based loan provider Earnest showed that 85 percent of gig workers made less than an average of $500 per month. This is not terrible news if you’re looking to supplement a steady income. It’s more than disheartening if you’re trying to support yourself.

Now, some good news. Thanks to the proliferation of mobile apps, it’s far easier to find gig work than in years past.

According to a survey by Intuit, about 34 percent of the U.S. work force is now involved in gig work, defined as a stand-alone task that has a beginning and an end, and that is not obtained as part of regular employment. This could encompass the more familiar ways to earn money such as using the popular platforms like Uber, TaskRabbit, eBay, or Etsy, as well as high-paid consulting work for Fortune 500 firms, or even construction or farm work. When the single job is completed, the worker moves on.

The term “gig work” arose about the time that classified advertising for jobs moved from newspapers to the Internet, and companies began forming to match job seekers with those needing services (as opposed to those looking to hire full-time employees). The trend soared in the aftermath of the Great Recession, which began in 2008, as traditional employers sought ways to get work done without full-time hiring, and the unemployed became desperate for any way to make money.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calls these “contingent workers,” and lists such diverse gig occupations as administrative and support, transportation and warehousing, and health care and social assistance among other temporary occupations in this category.

Besides the uncertainty in income, the other biggest drawback to this type of work is lack of benefits, including health care, paid vacations and sick leave, and a retirement plan.

If you’re involved in this type of temporary work situation, all these negatives can be mitigated, but it takes a lot of effort. Here are some tips to help you maximize your income and minimize the drawbacks.

1. Be your own boss

This means you have to stay on top of every aspect of your business as if you owned your own company, which in effect you do. You have to manage your employee (you), minimize expenses, keep up with your accounting (including figuring and paying taxes), purchase supplies, do quality control, and attempt to run your company at a profit.

You’ll also need to advertise your services, and not just on the platform you’re using. Put your skills, training, and commendations from clients out on social media, and also advertise in your local newspaper, leave your business card at the post office, tack up flyers at every area supermarket.

2. Diversify as much as possible

Because the work you can obtain depends on someone else’s needs, your workload can fluctuate in ways that hurt your bottom line. Keep in mind that working for yourself gives you a type of freedom you wouldn’t have with a full-time job, in which you’re dedicated to a single employer.

Don’t just drive for Lyft, for example. Sell your homemade bath soaps on Etsy, or proofread college students’ term papers, or dog sit. Your income will likely still fluctuate, but if you have a side-side gig, so to speak, one can help fill in gaps in the other.

The BLS recommends working both on-platform and off-platform; that is, sign up with a third-party company such as Fiverr or Airbnb, but try finding jobs off-platform, too: distributing flyers, posting on Craigslist, or networking through community associations or your local chamber of commerce.

3. Secure your own benefits

Despite cutbacks in recent months, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is still in force, and can help you find health insurance. Schedule some vacation time into your workload. No matter how young or energetic you are, everyone needs some downtime to perform at peak efficiency. And look into ways to save for retirement. You’ll have to be creative and extremely disciplined, but there are such options as SEP accounts or SIMPLE IRAs.

And to help you find a little bit—or a lot—of extra cash, let Billshark take a look at your bills. We can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year!

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