Can't Wait to Freelance in the Gig Economy? Read This First

Many of us dream about quitting our mundane 9-to-5 desk job and pursuing the freedom and flexibility of a prosperous freelance career. With the rise of the gig economy and the growth of various platforms, there's very little stopping you from following that dream. It's now possible for entrepreneurs, business owners, and freelance contractors to connect with buyers worldwide.

You'll need to consider several pertinent issues before you quit your current job, however.

The Growth of Freelancing in the Gig Economy

"The gig economy is small but growing," says Mariano Mamertino, an economist at the popular job site Indeed. "Clearly, interest in these roles is on the increase. They appeal to workers who would like to work part-time around other responsibilities, or as a supplement to their regular full-time job. In some cases, workers are trading in the regular 9-to-5 altogether and working a gig job full time on their own schedule."

Professionals across various industries have long supplemented their regular full-time jobs with freelance work, but for the first time ever we're seeing gigs become less of an afterthought and more of a priority.

In the past, most people regarded the decision to quit your 9-to-5 in order to pursue gig work as questionable at best. The inconsistency of the work, in addition to the challenges associated with connecting to a large enough marketplace to sustain a full-time income, made it risky for people to go out on their own. Now that the gig economy is much stronger, it doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

It should also be noted that you don't have to quit your day job in order to join the burgeoning gig economy. While many people do opt for a 100 percent freelance structure, others choose to combine a part-time job with multiple freelance gigs in order to enjoy both reliability and flexibility. Some even maintain a full-time job and freelance at night.

Whether you're onlooker (that is, someone who's trying to understand why anyone would ever leave a stable office job for the steady hunting of being a freelancer), or an insider who's itching to join the gig economy, it's helpful to grasp why this work lifestyle has taken off in 2016.

Here are several of the prime reasons for the rise of the gig economy:

1. Opportunities Abound

There are more opportunities in 2016 than ever. If you want to be a freelancer, you no longer have to pick up the phone and make hundreds of cold calls per week. Dozens of platforms, for a variety of professions, are designed to connect freelancers with clients worldwide. Whether you're looking to supplement your existing income or branch out on your own, these platforms make it easy:

Consider the following four examples:

  • Creative Market. For designers, photographers, and other creative professionals looking to leave stressful client work and delinquent invoices behind, or looking to make some money on the side, consider a platform like Creative Market. With over two million members and a variety of product categories like fonts, graphics, and photos, there's a ton of opportunity on this platform. Shop owners set their own prices, have no exclusivity lock-ins and can repurpose past client work to sell. Even better, you join a thriving, established online community of buyers and graphic designers.

  • TaskRabbit. If you have a career skill that depends on local customers - such as cleaning, moving, construction, or handyman services - then TaskRabbit is the platform for you. TaskRabbit lets freelancers easily view nearby jobs, choose ones that fit their schedule, set the right rate, and then complete the job.
  • Udemy. For professionals with lots of experience in a particular specialty, one of the most overlooked opportunities for monetization involves teaching. Well, Udemy makes teaching practical. Using the growing platform, you can set up courses, find students, and supplement your income with regular teaching. It's a great way to grow your name and do something that's a little different from your typical work responsibilities.
  • Upwork. This substantial platform connects freelancers with clients by allowing them to bid on jobs and contracts. Upwork is ideal for Internet-based activities such as SEO, content writing, virtual assisting, and so on.
  • These are just four examples of platforms that make it easy to thrive in the gig economy. Freelancers still have to battle the competition, of course, but it's nice to know there are existing marketplaces where you can sell your services without having to invest in expensive marketing or awkward cold calling.

    2. Freedom and Flexibility

    You can't discuss the gig economy without mentioning the underlying benefits for freelancers: freedom and flexibility. According to a recent survey of nearly 1,000 freelancers, 40 percent report "better control over their time" as the number-one benefit, followed by 24 percent who enjoy the ability to do things on their own terms. An impressive 74 percent indicate they will always prefer freelancing or small business ownership over a traditional full-time job.

    3. Access and Choices

    Many freelancers in the gig economy believe one of the biggest primary benefits is the access they enjoy to many different jobs and the autonomous choices they're able to make. In a traditional job setting, employees are forced to accept whatever work their employer assigns, but freelancers can pursue or deny any particular task. This ability to make constant work choices is another reason so many people have joined the gig economy.

    Five Things You Need to Know

    Before turning in your two weeks notice and launching a career as a freelancer, you should give careful thought to several critical items. While it may be tempting to get started as soon as possible, your transition freelance work will involve some cautious and calculated moves:

    1. Calculate How Much You Need to Make Up Front

    Before starting out, you should have some concrete financial goals. Begin by identifying a specific figure you need to make in order to pay the bills and maintain your current lifestyle. This might be the salary you're making now, or it could be considerably less.

    Though you might desire to make twice the amount of your current salary, it's unnecessary to set that goal right now. Instead, set a reasonable monthly figure and start from there. In the future, you can think about how to increase your income and reassess your goals accordingly.

    2. Start Saving Money

    The next thing you need to do is save some money. You'll need at least three to six months of cash reserves on hand. Ideally, you'll have more, but this is a safe amount.

    The cash will help you get through the lean startup period, when it could take weeks to find steady work. It's also helpful to have some money in the bank to launch a website, pay for services, and possibly advertise.

    3. Find a Couple of Clients

    If at all possible, try to find one or two clients before you leave your full-time job. This will at least give you a starting point and ensure your income will be greater than zero. Nothing is certain when it comes to freelance work, but pre-existing client relationships will give you the confidence you need to move on.

    4. Don't Underestimate the Competition

    One of the most naïve things you can do is enter the gig economy thinking it'll be easy. The reality is that competition is fierce. You'll be competing with freelancers who have been in the business for 10 or 15-plus years, and you'll need some sort of factor that sets you apart. Become a "student" of your industry and study the most successful people and brands in your niche. Soon, you'll identify exactly what it takes to be successful.

    5. Don't Burn Any Bridges

    The last thing you want to do is burn bridges on the way out of your current job. It's impossible to know how your experience as a freelancer will go; it could turn out to be the greatest decision you've ever made, or it could end up fizzling out.

    Since that's the case, it's worthwhile to maintain healthy relationships with former employers and peers. You never know when you might need them again.

    Ready to Become a Freelancer?

    The opportunity to be your own boss, set your schedule, pick and choose clients, and work from wherever you like is certainly enticing for most people. While a traditional 9-to-5 job offers its own benefits -- starting with stability -- the gig economy is rapidly and permanently altering the marketplace.

    Take care before jumping in ... but seriously think about the possibility of becoming a freelancer!