Let’s talk about the gig economy.

Like it or not, the workplace has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades -- advancing technology and ever-increasing connectivity means, yes, workers are freer to choose flexibility, but employers are also freer to hire for one-off projects on a freelance basis rather than preserving what used to be benefited full-time positions under the company umbrella.

You’ve likely already formed an opinion about whether this change is positive. So are you rolling your eyes right now? Feeling a deep sense of anxiety about your future ability to land a job? Feeling a bit uneasy about how you’ll find enough paying gigs to meet your expenses? Or have you already embraced this new economy, and you’ve spent the last eight months fitting lucrative projects around life obligations or a busy travel schedule? Perhaps you’re padding your bank account with a lucrative side hustle, or dabbling in a little freelance graphic design work as a creative outlet and complement to your day job?

Whatever your response to it, the gig economy shows no signs of fading, so you might as well learn how to game it. Whether you cobble together your entire occupation on freelance work or partake in the after-hours project, here’s your complete guide to navigating the waters.

First off, what is the gig economy?

Broadly speaking, it’s the segment of the economy that doesn’t fit within organizational life. Put another way, it’s the part of the economy that functions on independent contract work -- it’s all those on-demand, short-term, and freelance positions. Ever filled out a 1099? Congratulations. You’re part of the gig economy.

What types of jobs are part of the gig economy?

Any job that’s contracted for a project or set amount of time is really a gig economy job. Examples you might interact with daily include Uber and Lyft drivers, Taskrabbits, cleaning crews, delivery people, and nannies. Creative industries have long been a space full of contractors (think about TV production teams, or freelance writers and photographers), but now even the more traditional creative business functions have moved toward gig work: contract marketers, publicists, content producers and copywriters, graphic designers, UX/UI folks, and others who have may have once been full-timers at agencies are now increasingly stitching together their own project work. You might even say certain types of hourly work are part of the gig economy -- know someone who works a couple of shifts a week at a restaurant to support their freelance writing career? Or someone who’s taken on 10 hours of data-entry work every week to earn a little extra income while their kid naps? Those are jobs functioning more like gigs.

How do you dabble in the gig economy?

It is possible to dip a toe into the vast pool of contract work without taking a full plunge into a freelance existence. Cue: the side hustle. These days, securing a side hustle can be as easy as downloading an app, many of which allow you to fit gig work into your life without upending your routine. Commute daily? Become a rideshare or delivery driver and make a few extra bucks on your way home. Like kids? Check out care.com or nanno.com and pick up a little babysitting work. Want to get a little exercise and don’t mind dogs? Try Rover.com or Wag!, and get paid to walk pets. In creative or professional industries, projects can require as little as a few hours of work, and can often be completed from anywhere in the world. Fiverr, Freelancer.com, and Upwork are good places to bid one-off assignments. Writers might look to MediaBistro for calls for freelancers.

If you are in a creative or skilled industry, make sure you amass your gig work into a portfolio - this helps you land more gigs. Better still if you park it on a website that would-be employers can find.

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How do you thrive once you take the plunge into full-time gig work?

A study by Harvard Business School found that successful full-time gig economy workers often create four types of connections to thrive: to place, routines, purpose, and people. Having a dedicated work space, a set daily routine, meaningful work, and good working relationships helps alleviate the pressure to produce that is the reality of freelance existence.

Worried about missing the benefits usually provided to traditional organization employees? For healthcare, try the Freelancers Union or the healthcare marketplace. For savings plans, set up an IRA. For taxes, look for local accountants who specialize in freelance clients, and brush up on paying social security tax and quarterly estimates.

And a little stability goes a long way in full-time freelance, whether that’s a consistent gig, or a little supplementary hourly work at a local business to cover bills. A few short shifts at a local restaurant or shop may give you some peace of mind.

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