That Gig Economy Life: 5 Tips To Survive & Thrive As Your Own Boss

Here's the real deal on surviving and thriving in the gig economy.

Workin’ Girl

When I left an awesome full-time job to become a consultant, I felt both terrified and exuberant. I wanted a change in my life that would not only challenge me mentally and spiritually, but would afford me a life where I could call the shots and be in total control of how I spent my time. I also wanted to travel more and really live. I'd dedicated the first 10 years of my career to mostly work, and had never even really had an adult vacation or visited the places I'd written down in my journal as a child.

I took a leap of faith, built a steady roster of clients, faced failures, and accomplished major wins. I made and lost money. I traveled the world—some trips with clients, others solo.

Then reality hit. During slow months, I found myself among other professionals participating in what experts call the "gig economy", taking on work I never thought I'd even be open to doing. (Hey, when you have a dream but still have bills to pay, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?)

Whether it's about gaining financial freedom, having independence, reaching a savings goal, or getting out of a money jam, jumping into the gig economy—that 1099 life as I like to call it—can be a liberating way to become the boss you always wanted to be. The gig economy involves freelance work or side jobs you can do for quick cash, such as website design from a successful Upwork contract, a short-term blog writing gig from a Craigslist post, or Uber or Lyft driving during a holiday or game season. There are so many companies and opportunities to choose from if you're open-minded, willing to do the legwork, and are a bonafide self-starter.

Here's the real deal on surviving and thriving in the gig economy:

Know yourself and your limits:

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I once signed up with a popular food delivery company, and it was actually an exciting and eye-opening experience. As an introvert, I knew I just wasn't comfortable driving strangers around. Transporting take-out was a better option because it was safer and involved less interpersonal encounters. I got to travel to different areas and places, learn about restaurant culture and customer service, and enjoy the convenience of weekly checks directly deposited into my account. Cons?

I spent lots of time waiting in my car for a delivery alert; the market was saturated in the area I worked, so I often only got delivers during unsavory hours or in areas that are not quite popular. (Oh, and there was that one time that involved a gravel-filled country road, several pitbulls, and a huge heavy box full of chicken and fixings that led me to take a few weeks off and reconsider ever delivering again.) Be sure you're taking on gigs that are a fit for your personality and skills.

Consider the return on investment:

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Your skills and time are valuable. Be sure that whatever gig you're taking on is actually worth it in terms of time and value of the service you're offering. If you're designing a website, for example, calculate the cost per hour based on your experience and how much time it will take to complete. How does the project or gig enrich your life experience, career, portfolio, or resume? Do you feel safe, productive, and fulfilled? Will you earn enough funds to reach your goal or adequately pay your bills? Take these factors seriously, and consider them before pursuing or continuing to pursue a gig.

Closely consider and take care of your finances—especially taxes:

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If you're in an industry that requires receipts for tax breaks, keep those receipts. Utilize apps where you can record, organize, and monitor things like receipts, time, mileage, food and other expenses related to the gig. Also, get tax help from a free resource offered by the base city where you work or hire a tax accountant or preparer. You'll need to be well-informed on properly filing taxes and managing your finances as a gig worker, otherwise it's just not worth the trouble.

Become super-OK with having to pivot and change activities and mindsets, sometimes at a moment’s notice:

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At one point, I was doing deliveries, taking on editing gigs, and doing short-term consulting projects all at the same time. I was literally wearing three different hats, and I had to be able to shift in a way that was professional, fluid, and flexible. The gig economy can be very fast-paced and competitive, so having the ability to quickly transition into a different career mode or activity was key.

Keep balance at the forefront:

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Thriving in the gig economy involves lots of hustling and mental tenacity. Be sure that you are incorporating self-care in your schedule and that you are avoiding burnout by not taking on more gigs than you can handle. I had to deliberately schedule morning meditation and workouts at least three times a week simply to protect my sanity. I also needed to be in top mental and physical shape to do well at multitasking the gigs I'd get per month. It's awesome getting checks from more than one source but you have to maintain integrity, do quality work, and still take care of yourself.

Being your own boss and having multiple sources of income can be rewarding. Just know exactly what you're getting into and how it will benefit you in the long run. If you can focus, know your why, and get a great return on investment, the gig economy might be the ideal place for you!

Featured image by Shutterstock

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