The Gig Economy ain’t no fad, son

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The gig economy is here. It’s very real. It’s not a fad.

I hate it when people have to use a separate and distinct term to describe something that’s very clearly commonplace. Companies have “digital marketing” teams and “marketing” teams, for example. WTF is that about? Almost everyone most companies are trying to reach — i.e. white-collar, first-world types — are “digital” by definition. They exist on computers and phones all day. So why are we pretending “digital marketing” is this sidebar thing, instead of integrating it into everything we do?

It’s the same with “The Gig Economy.” We keep talking about it like it’s this thing over here that hipsters with beards do — “They pick up people in their cars, Gary! I saw it with my own eyes!” — when in reality, it’s here to stay. Concepts around employee loyalty are dying, and most economic researchers are saying 40 percent of the American workforce will be freelance/self-employed in 2020. That’s almost 1 in 2 people!

The Gig Economy is becoming the economy. That’s a massively complex topic that will change many other things. Let’s try to break it down.

How did we arrive here on The Gig Economy?

Many reasons. People love to throw out breathless analysis of the gig economy. My two cents? Millennials aren’t as different as we think they are, but … they want some respect and family time out of work. They saw their dad as the workaholic road warrior, and guess what? In 2008, the economy still shat on their dad. That’s a generalization, yes, but many of us Gen-X would-be yuppies fit into that.

People have also realized that companies don’t operate according to moral norms, that the hiring process is a bad punchline at most places, and that time can make you happier than money.

As all this happened, technology made it much easier to find jobs and connect with people from around the world.

I do freelance right now. I’ve been doing it about seven months. It’s going well. Now, I got semi-forced into it initially because I got laid off — but everything I’ve said above has been true for me as it’s evolved. Companies, and the people who run companies, by and large don’t give a crap about people. Empathy declines as power increases; we all know this inherently. “Talent strategy?” That’s a farce to most execs. Your career goals? Your boss could care less. Opportunities for growth in your role? “Can’t talk Billy, rushing to my 1:15!”

All this created the gig economy. And it’ll keep the gig economy here to stay.

Why isn’t The Gig Economy a fad?

Let’s cue up some LinkedIn product manager writing in Fast Company for some more on this:

We’re about to see more power shift away from companies and into job seekers’ hands as technology makes it easier than ever to find or change jobs. The rise of gig-economy players like Uber, Lyft, and Upwork is just the latest evidence of a trend that’s set to continue, with technology empowering people to take more direct control over their careers and livelihoods — even if the world that ultimately creates isn’t something we’ll still call the “gig economy,” as though it’s something distinct from the job market overall. Because increasingly, it won’t be.

I definitely agree with his last quote. The gig economy is here for real, and it’ll become a much larger part of society in the next 20 years. That’s one great thing technology did for all of us: connectivity and empowerment. (Let’s ignore the ‘thoughts and prayers’ culture it also created.)

I don’t know about power shifting away from companies, though. There will always be a sub-section of any populace that wants to work for a big company and chase a fat salary later in their career. And even as companies lose hiring power, they won’t necessarily realize it. Companies are just about some of the most myopic things in the world. And again, we arrive at another reason for the gig economy.

The Gig Economy and managing your own time

Here are some things I periodically do with my day:

  • Write/edit stuff for people
  • Walk my dog
  • Meet up with friends
  • Go to co-working spaces and meet new people
  • Grab a beer across the street
  • Watch Counting Crows videos on YouTube

I’ve said too much. But … this is the gig economy deal. I don’t make a ton of money, no. Some months are a hustle, yes. Some months are scary. But I manage my own time, and the intangible value of that is unbelievable.

Consider now what I did at my last gig and most gigs before it:

Again, I’ve said too much. But see the difference between the first set of bullets and the second set of bullets? As more people want to navigate that deal, the gig economy will only continue to cement itself.

The Gig Economy, personal branding, and caveats

Look, not every skill set is set up for the gig economy, and I get that. So it’s not universal by any means. But still, 40 percent by 2020? Kind of high.

If you believe in the power and the future of the gig economy, then you also need to believe in personal branding. That’s a buzzword, yes. But it’s vital. You know what happens when you Google someone and add their current city to the search? Usually you get their LinkedIn profile first. Despite this, most people totally half-ass their LinkedIn profile — even though, via laziness, it’s probably the first interaction point someone has with you online. That kind of stuff is why personal branding is important. You’ve got to put out who you are and why you matter.

It’s a crowded world and you won’t grab everyone’s attention, but even 2–3 people here and there is a good start. Then go drive an Uber or hop on TaskRabbit or something. Suddenly you’re a business of your own — and you don’t need to worry about a target-chasing boss or the 12 worst kinds of managers out there.

Long live the gig economy — er, the economy.

My name is Ted Bauer. Here’s the main place I brisket-smoke my deliverables.

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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