The gig economy in Canada and the United States is growing. In 2017 studies estimated that at around 20 to 30 per cent of the workforce was made up of include freelancers, independent contractors and consultants. That same report also states that 85 per cent of companies are increasingly looking to move to an agile workforce.
Does that mean it's a good time to become a freelancer or independent contractor? Or is this just another way for companies to outsource labour to save money?
Two and a half years ago I quit my great-paying full-time job as a national marketing director to focus on creating the career I wanted. I decided to take an active part in our new "gig economy" to see if I could make it work for me, and here's what I've learned.
Expect a rough start
You can quickly get consumed by the jobs you're taking, and be in a worse situation that you were when you were employed: no benefits, lower pay and more responsibility. This is exactly what happened to me.
When I first started, I took almost any job I could, for almost any pay they would give me. After all, I have mouths to feed! This quickly escalated to where my hourly pay had plummeted. I don't mean it plummeted to minimum wage, I mean there were days where my hourly rate was in the same range as someone working at an outsourced call centre.
It wasn't until I sat down and really defined what I wanted to get out of my new employment situation did things improve.
My wage issues were entirely my own fault, mostly due to bidding too low on a project, or not charging for a mistake I had made. I eventually overcame both issues by pricing things appropriately and creating better processes to minimize errors.
Know what you want to achieve
There were two things I wanted out of freelancing. The first was that I wanted to spend more of my time with my family. This didn't mean working less, but it did mean choosing the hours I would work. The second was to make the decisions I thought were right, and work on the projects I wanted to. I didn't want my hands tied by corporate policy, and I wanted to say no to projects I didn't like.
For the first six to 12 months, I was failing miserably on all fronts. It wasn't until I sat down and really defined what I wanted to get out of my new employment situation did things improve. It's important to note that I couldn't really turn down work or raise my rates until I was in a position to do so, which is to say, I was busy. It's a bit of a chicken and the egg scenario.
Local gigs are almost always better
The hardest lesson I learned was that online gigs are not a path to riches. Online job sites seems like a dream come true — a whole database filled with clients just waiting to hire me! I figured this would give me the best show at achieving the type of hours I wanted.
My initial attempt at this was to use a site like UpWork to grab gigs. I figured this would open up my geographical range and allow me to only choose the best paying jobs that I wanted to do. Unfortunately, clients use the internet for entirely different reasons. The client would often want to expand their geographical area to find the best freelancer at the lowest rate. That's capitalism at work.
After a few months of bidding against residents of countries with a much lower cost of living, I realized if I wanted to succeed in the gig economy, it was going to be with an in-person meeting and a handshake.
Without question, local jobs have paid me significantly better than any online gig. The local projects are bigger, better paying, and often repeat business. Plus, the relationships are more solid. I've never once received a word-of-mouth referral from an online client, but local clients will sing your praises to everyone if you do a great job for them.
Getting paid for quality vs. quantity
The online gig world did teach me something: there's value in quality work. Online, it's all about quantity. You complete as many gigs as possible to get paid. Locally, it's all about quality. Local businesses just want things handled, and they don't want any issues. In fact, I've picked up many projects from clients where the initial contractor (sometimes from a site like UpWork) couldn't deliver quality.
Business doesn't just magically knock on your door, and it's a lot more competitive.
I've also found that I can charge a little more money as long as I deliver quality results. This has led to turning down gigs if I don't feel I can deliver the quality that's required for the budget they're offering. Price is often a consideration for many businesses, but great business aren't afraid to pay for quality.
You have every job title
Gig economy or not, freelancing hasn't changed. You have every job title. Salesperson, CEO, accounts receivable — and complaints department. Some days you'll be working in a department you'd rather not be.
You're a salesperson everyday. Business doesn't just magically knock on your door, and it's a lot more competitive. I've found that you need to differentiate yourself, and deliver results.
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Is quitting your job and going solo right for you? I have no idea. What I do know it worked for me, and now it's working for my wife, and we've never been happier. We're not only surviving in the gig economy, we've found a way to have some modest success.
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