The Gig Economy Ain’t All Bad
If you’ve been watching/reading/listening to the news lately you may be forgiven for thinking that the gig economy is a completely bad thing. Bad for workers rights, bad for the economy. I don’t disagree that some companies are taking advantage of the system. If you’re paying a self-employed person so little that once they pay their expenses they’re on less than minimum wage, then you’re a crook taking advantage of people. Simple as.
But long before the term ‘gig economy’ even reared it’s head, self-employment has been a perfectly viable, sometimes even lucrative employment option for many. And still is. We’re not talking about your average self-employed 9–5 business here like your local garage or hairdresser, but people who pick up short term contracts with various businesses. They will switch between businesses, and in some cases, even job roles. Is is sustainable? Yes it is. It’s not easy, I’ve certainly experienced the fear of not knowing where my next job is coming from, but it’s possible. For me, there’s not currently anything quite so attractive.
Why is it so attractive for me?
One simple reason: flexibility. In November 2013 I became a mother. After a year of maternity leave, I returned to work as an in-house graphic designer, but reduced my hours to a 3 day week so I could spend more time with my daughter. I was lucky. Very lucky that my employer agreed for me to drop my hours down this drastically. Try finding a part time graphic designer job. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but in an extremely competitive job market, you would be damn lucky to get one.
I could have stayed there, but in all honesty I don’t know how sustainable that would have been. There was no flexitime — I had to be in at 9am. Our little one doesn’t usually wake up until 8/8:30 (I know! Lucky me!)… so on workdays I would have to go wake her up.
Cue grumpy baby and massively guilt laden mum.
If she was sick on a day I was meant to be working, I would have to call in work and take the day off.
Cue massively guilt laden employee.
I was breastfeeding, but the idea of pumping in work, being ‘that’ person who asked for a suitable area to be made just for me to go pump made me just cut down the breastfeeding to when we were together.
Cue massively guilt laden (and milk laden!) mum again.
Your standard job just doesn’t have the flexibility new parents need. Coupled with the itchy feet to get more creative (I’d been working at the company 9 years) and do something different, self employment was looking more and more attractive. So I made the leap. I became a freelance graphic designer.
And here’s the really good bit. I worked out that if I charged the industry standard for freelance design work, I would only have to get 5 days of work a month to match the income I was getting from my job doing 12–15 days a month. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?! I’m going to be rolling in it!
Well, not exactly rolling in it…. leaving a job with no clients set up already means there’s a massive uphill struggle. It’s taken me over a year to be properly convinced I’m doing the right thing. But in that year I’ve not had to be in at 9am, so our little one gets her full nights rest. I’ve been able to be with her if she’s sick, because I’ve either had no work on, or been able to move things around her.
Until very recently her Dad was self employed too, so she got to see loads of him as well. If he didn’t have work on, he could play with her. Either of us could do the nursery drop off/pick up, because neither of us had to be somewhere at a certain time. We just had to get our work done. For us to have had the privilege of spending so much time with our little one in the first 3 years of her life has been brilliant. It’s time you never get back. And whilst there have been times we’ve been on our arses skint, we wouldn’t have changed it.
My working days have loads of variety. One day I might be doing social media guidelines for an global food brand, another day I might be doing a branding project for a local startup. I would never have got this kind of variety from my in-house role, and I’m loving stretching my creative legs.
I hope in time a for a more consistent income, meaning not only do I get the flexibility of freelance working, but enough money to do some nice things too. I know it’s possible, because there are people doing it. Not all the gig-economy workers are being taken advantage of by large corporations looking to squeeze every drop of profit out of every venture. Nobody is taking advantage of me. My problem isn’t what I get paid, but how many clients I have… and it’s down to me, and me only, to fix that. I truly am the master of my own destiny 😀
And for businesses?
The ability to temporarily hire expertise into your business that you don’t require on a continuous basis is essential for growth. Not many businesses need a full time web developer, but most businesses need a website. Not many businesses need a full marketing team, but they sure do need to do some marketing.
In the digital & technology industries, freelancing should be king. With the amount of different programming languages, frameworks and new emerging technologies out there you would need a massive team of people to have it all covered. You can’t sustain that. Bringing people into your business who are great at a specific thing, when you specifically need it, makes sense in efficiency, cost and speed. Yes you could get existing employees to learn on the job, but their mistakes will cost you.
With tech roles offering anything from £200 — £480 per day, you can see why someone might opt to give contracting a go. I’m not saying it’s for everyone. It’s not secure (it’s why my partner ended up taking a full time job, we couldn’t deal with the constant not-knowing where the next job was coming from for the BOTH of us. You need to be constantly looking for the next ‘gig’, you need to be organised, put money aside should you be sick, or want to go on holiday. You need to keep up with your books, you need to be able to sell, to pitch, to close a deal, to be a lot of things at once. But right now, it’s all I want. Work/life balance is bloody important, and the gig economy can offer you the opportunity to get that right.
Maybe if more companies move towards the ‘just make sure your work for the week is done’ rather than the ‘your bum has to be on that seat or you’re not working’ mentality, I’d consider going back… but nah… I’d rather run my own company and be the one to offer flexible working hours to my employees 😀 Wanna come work for me? Duvet days, flexible hours, an understanding boss….ahhh what a dream.