The Gig Economy: 12 Lessons

In 2015 I entered the gig economy, better known to many as freelancing. Had you shown me a glimpse of my current life a few years ago I would have never believed it. Instead of hours and minutes filled with mundane activity that creates wealth for someone else, I work my ass off to put that jingle in my pocket. Plus, I never know what I’m going to be doing, or who I will meet along the way.

A typical day for me at the Little Red Wagon Press can include social media and public policy related blog posts for a nonprofit, marketing direction/content writing for my private sector clients, interviewing a person of interest, industry education, monitoring PR for clients, and petting the office dogs. It sounds simple enough, right? Well as freelancers, consultants, or those working gig-to-gig, we hope so. But here are a few things I have learned along the way:

  1. Never underestimate the power of a promise. If you say you are going to deliver something on Tuesday, you better deliver it on Monday. Build yourself in a couple of days for the unexpected.
  2. You are only as good as your previous work. Why? Some would say that it is because your reputation will proceed you. Which is true, but I think it’s more nuanced than that… I think you will carry the baggage of letting someone down to your next project, especially if you did not do everything in your power to fix it or own up to it. It is likely to grate on your self-esteem and threaten to sabotage your next project.
  3. Be careful with whom you associate. Bringing someone on to help you means that they are part of your reputation. If they are late, or get sloshed, act snarky or are dressed inappropriately, guess what? So are you.
  4. Take control of your work. This means taking credit for your work and ensuring the person you are working for does the same. It also means that if you decide to release a draft be sure that it is read-only or set up in a way to track changes! If someone starts to modify your work you lose control over the final result and lose track of which version is the newest version.
  5. Don’t be afraid to “work in the mailroom” or for free. If you are switching careers, working for free gives you an incredible 360-degree view of the organization, the work and whether it is worth your time pursuing.
  6. Educate yourself, relentlessly. Read books, subscribe to newsletter or trade magazines, go to school. The beautiful thing about continuing education is that you can find so many sources FOR FREE! I like Coursera and edX.
  7. Find your backbone. Stand up for what you believe in especially in the ethical arena.
  8. Find your sense of humor and humility. If you make a mistake own it, learn from it and move along.
  9. DO NOT work for someone who does not respect you or your work. If they do not respect your work upfront, they will not respect you during the life of the project.
  10. Maintain and work your network; keep up with colleagues from previous jobs. This will help you keep leads in the pipeline.
  11. My favorite lesson – know what is going on in your area. Civic engagement enriches your life simply by participating in the democratic process. The dual benefit? If you are working with, say a start-up business, think about the benefit you provide to your client by knowing the county and city budget concerns, issues in the area, like on the horizon, and current zoning regulations.
  12. Learn the difference between work that you can not do because of your current skill set/time constraints and work that you can but it scares the bejesus out of you.

    Bonus: Do the work that scares the bejesus out of you. THIS is your growth moment.

Fellow freelancers and self-employed folks – I’d love to hear some of the lessons you have learned. Or, if you are thinking about taking the leap, it would be great to hear from you as well!




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