Ronald West starts his day at 3 a.m., picking up passengers who are trying to catch early morning flights from Chicago’s downtown to its two busy, international airports. Around 6:30 a.m., the former retail salesman turned Uber driver, takes a break to avoid the frustrations of the morning rush hour traffic.
At 8:30 a.m., West resumes his day, shuttling passengers across the Second City and its suburbs until 3:00 p.m. West loves his work, and at the beginning of this year, turned down what many people would call a “good job”— medical benefits and a retirement package included—for the freedom and independence that the fast-growing “gig economy” offers.
Gigs, freelance projects, short-term assignments, on-demand jobs, or single task opportunities have been around for ages. The difference today is that technology is allowing people who need a service to quickly and easily connect with someone who wants to deliver it. Apps from companies such as Uber, Instacart, TaskRabbit, and Dogvacay, have given birth a whole new way of finding work that has its pros and its cons, depending on what you want out of work and life.
“The mindset of someone who wants to have a gig economy job has to be the belief that success comes from within,” says West whose gig is his full-time job. “Most people want a guaranteed job, but I want to guarantee my success by knowing that if I go out and do the work, the income will come in. I have to pay my bills like everyone else, but I also want time to do things that I enjoy by having the flexibility this work allows.”
West, who is a spoken word performer most weekends, opted to give a gig job a try because the job he had and the ones he was researching didn’t allow the kind of time he needed for practicing, writing, and lending support to fellow partners in rhyme, all of whom are committed to following their passion.
Pros and cons
Freedom, flexibility, and independence are the big plusses often cited by those taking advantage of a gig economy job. But other folks see some big drawbacks, even West recognizes. “There’s no medical insurance or retirement plan,” notes West, who is single with no kids, “so you will have to do some homework to find affordable and adequate health insurance, and you’ll want to talk to an accountant to make sure you’re taking care of your taxes and putting something away for retirement. But if you’re willing to take a calculated risk and step out on faith, a gig economy job could work for you.”
A TIME article reports that 55 percent of Americans who offer services from a gig economy platform are racial and ethnic minorities. It’s a whole new frontier of immediate income opportunities that many say has to be balanced against long-term career goals.
Before deciding to take a gig economy job, you’ll want to ask yourself:
- Can I deal with an inconsistent income? There might be high and low-income months and you’ll need to develop a budget that accounts for irregular income.
- Am I a people person? You might be called on to engage with a wide variety of people and provide them with a customer experience that they’ll want you or others to provide again.
- Am I self-motivated? No one will be telling you what to do, how many hours to work or setting deadlines; but you still need to set a work schedule for yourself and stick to it.
- Do I like administrative tasks? If not, accounting, project, and time management apps can take some of the clerical work out of your day so that you can spend more time on the core activity of your work and life, knowing that important financial and administrative details are being taken care of.
- What service do I want offer? The range of services being offered via gig economy platforms is growing by the minute. You’ll want to research several companies to determine what their services are; if you have the skills and tools—such as a car—to do the work; and whether this is a service you’d like to provide.
- What’s my long-term goal? If the service you provide can be a stepping-stone or provide experience for what you want to do in the future, a gig economy job might be right for you. It may also be a good place to start if you’re not sure what you want to do and you want to test out a few options. In either case, you’ll want to take some time to think about where you want to go and how this gig will help you get there.
“I love offering transportation services,” says West. “And sometimes, if my passengers are open to it, I’ll try out a few of my spoken word lyrics on them. Being able to bring all of who I am to all I do is what I believe life and work is about.”
- The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015
- 20 Surprising Stats About the Gig Economy
- The gig economy is coming. You probably won’t like it