Choose the right gig

Two years ago, I skipped down the steps of my former employer’s head office, headlong into 3 months of what’s euphemistically called garden leave. After 22 years on the payroll, I was happy and scared.

Fast forward. I have my own business and lovely clients and associates who’ve helped me develop at an incredible pace. Sometimes the work is intense. Other times it’s slow. Cash flow reflects this. I also contract in an interim leadership role. Cash flow is reliable and to all intents and purposes I’m an employee.

Gig economy

There are lots of people like me who balance short-term projects for multiple clients with ‘employment’. It’s the ‘gig economy’ (let’s ignore negative associations with exploitative employers). This report from Deloitte into global human capital trends is a fascinating read if you’re interested. If you’re in business, you should be.

A third of workers in the US are freelance today and it’ll be 40% by 2020.

Deloitte tell us that ‘Companies in all sectors—from transportation to business services—are tapping into freelance workers as a regular, manageable part of their workforces.’

I see it as professionals tapping into companies to manage cash flow, or for personal and professional advantage.

Looking for the right gig?

I have some reflections that may help. My semi-scientific approach to developing them has involved coffee (wine), and swapping experiences with other stalwarts of the ‘gig economy’. And people contemplating the move (increasing numbers without a redundancy cheque behind them).

This isn’t about employment vs freelancing or pitching big business against small. For many professionals, fulfilment is a blend.

  1. A governing principle – don’t tolerate a situation that means you de-skill. Act quickly to change it, or get out.

  2. It’s ok to be on someone’s payroll for a time, even if you dream of being your own boss. You haven’t failed. You’re managing cash flow or doing something to enhance your personal brand (new skills, knowledge or experience.).

  3. Corporate life has advantages. Focus on these. It’s a platform for new connections. Office politics help you hone stakeholder management skills. You benefit from in-house functional support and infrastructure. And you learn the operational challenges of running a business.

  4. You’ll probably find you work longer hours than you ever did as a full-time, permanent employee. You’ll deliver client projects, do business development and perhaps work a contract all at the same time. But, you have autonomy and flexibility. And it’s fun.

  5. You don’t need the next ‘big’ (senior) job to make the right money, learn new skills, develop strategy or stake a place in your chosen sector. Don’t be seduced by a job title if the job makes you miserable.

  6. At the risk of sounding fluffy (I’m not fluffy), remember the market you’re in is an ecosystem. Business is about people. We’re all interconnected, digitally or physically. My point? Don’t behave like a sociopath to get what you want. Be kind, respectful and a decent person. You’ll win projects as a result. Trust me.

  7. Be flexible with your ‘proposition.’ The market may not need what you believe you ‘do best’. Learn new skills to give clients what they want – especially when you start out. It may feel uncomfortable, but you’ll grow your service, confidence and value.

  8. Use your experience. A methodology and processes that work are invaluable. But remember each client and project will need something unique. Don’t be a slave to your process and use each experience to make your toolkit better.

If you’re gigging (or ever have), you probably have your own reflections. I’d love to hear them.