Image: Markus Spiske via Flickr
The Sunday Business section of The New York Times set the stage for a closer look at life in the gig economy with the buzzing of a 4:00 a.m. vaccum cleaner. The featured freelancer, Jennifer Guidry, was vacuuming her car long before the sun came up, and the Times followed her as she worked a grueling day — netting only a modest income for her troubles.
The premise of the article? Gig work and brokers like Fiverr, TaskRabbit, Lyft, Uber, and others exploit freelance workers by failing to provide them with adequate wages and or sufficient social safety net.
The Times isn’t wrong in its critique. Working people should be fairly compensated for their labor and underpricing services just to undercut competition ultimately hurts everybody. But the Times misses the opportunity to take a broader look at the life of independently employed workers and long-time freelancers like photographers, graphic designers, and filmmakers.
Creative professionals have long been dependent upon the gig economy for their earnings and they’ve been at it since well before the advent of online brokerage sites and apps that connect client to service provider. And it hasn’t been all bad. In fact, Jennifer Guidry, the early-riser featured in the article, outlines many of the benefits of assembling an income out of odd jobs and gig work. She also pinpoints some important lessons all freelancers could benefit from to minimize the risk and avoid the perils of gig work.
Don’t get screwed by the gig economy. Here are 5 freelancer rules to live by:
Cultivate relationships. In the Times article, Erin Mata, a single mother in Austin, was weathering changes made to the TaskRabbit platform because she’d already parlayed part-time work with a former TaskRabbit client into a regular paying gig. While most of us can’t expect and don’t want our gig work to turn into full-time commitments, we can leverage those relationships as stable sources of income. Do right by your clients, stay in touch and you can expect to be hired by them again.
Diversify. CreativeLive instructor Susan Stripling started offering boudoir portrait services. Meg Auman started teaching. Tina Roth Eisenberg talks about “passive income.” Every experienced professional knows that you have to be more than a one-trick pony to keep the work coming in. While the subjects of the Times articles tended to open up multiple apps to keep the work consistent, any freelancer can do the same by simply expanding their list of services.
Avoid the race to the bottom. Jennifer charged more per hour for her fix-it services than many of her competitors on TaskRabbit, but she wasn’t willing to lower her rate because she knew how much she needed to earn and low and behold, she still got jobs. Its an important lesson – you must charge the rate you want (and need) to earn, even when others are willing to take less because there will always be clients willing to pay for quality.
Anticipate your client’s pain points and offer service to remedy them. The reason the vacuum was buzzing at 4:00 am was because Jennifer knew her niche. Jennifer set her alarm in the early morning hours because she wanted to serve the business set and she knew she could count on them to be catching flights in the wee morning hours. While you probably don’t need to rise before the dawn to meet clients needs, you can learn from her ingenuity. When you know who you want to work for, you can anticipate their needs and tailor your services to fill the gaps in the existing marketplace.
Set a schedule that works for your life. The standard 9 to 5 doesn’t fit everyone’s lifestyles, life demands, or ability. Jennifer started taking odd jobs when her full-time job didn’t work for her family’s needs – freelance work gives people the opportunity to construct a schedule that works for the way they want or need to do life. Take advantage of it. If you have kids in school, set your hours 9 to 3 and don’t feel bad about doing it. There will always be trade-offs and if you are opting for the slightly less secure piecemeal employment, take advantage of its perks and work the hours that work for you.