Building Your Base: How to Weather the Gig Economy

by Taylor Slattery | August 19, 2020

Building Your Base: How to Weather the Gig Economy

The adoption and growth of the gig economy has had a massive impact on how we live our lives. As consumers, access to goods and services has become more convenient than ever before, and as members of the workforce, we’re granted an alternate means of earning money outside of the rigid 9 to 5. Whether that means working full time within the gig economy, splitting your time between various jobs, or simply using your nights and weekends to supplement your income, we have more options than ever before.

This sort of freelance lifestyle is not without its risks, but it comes with a number of benefits that speak to a cultural shift in the way we think about work and the role it plays in our lives. The rigid structure of a typical workweek can leave us feeling like we’re simply living to work, devoting the majority of our time and energy to our jobs, and using the little time and energy we have left to spend with our families or on personal pursuits. The gig economy has allowed people to have more agency over their lives. You have the freedom to control your schedule. You choose when you work, with whom, and how much. You don’t need to ask permission to take time off, whether for travel or personal reasons, and your hours are flexible, allowing you to more easily schedule around things like doctor’s appointments or your kids’ dance recital.

There are downsides, though. Namely, the ebb and flow of work. It can take a while to reach a point where you have steady, regular work, and even once you reach that point, you’re still at the mercy of your clients. With the widespread availability of online learning resources and open lines of connection with potential clients, there’s also more competition than ever before. It’s not uncommon for freelancers to experience periods of time where job offers stop coming in and money gets tight. This can be hard both mentally and financially. The stress and uncertainty of not knowing when your next payday is coming is something that unfortunately, as a freelancer, you have to learn to live with.

Until you reach the point where you aren’t depending on clients, that is. For most, it’s the lifestyle that attracts us to freelance work. The thought of escaping the office and having the freedom to work from anywhere in the world is certainly appealing, but our dependency on clients imposes some very real limits to that freedom. There are factors outside of our control that impact our ability to make a living, and until we take steps to mitigate these, we will always be at the mercy of our clients.

It’s important that you begin to find ways to build a base of income outside of your work for clients. There are a number of ways you can diversify your income streams, and you should take advantage of as many as possible. Think about what you have to offer and how best to connect with those who would benefit from your service or good. Author Kevin Kelly popularized the idea that in order to be successful financially, all you need is 1000 true fans. These are the loyal people who will consume everything you make, whether that be a physical product or digital good.

You may be thinking, so I need to find 1000 people, well, what’s the best platform to invest my time and energy into? Youtube, Instagram, or Twitter? Try them all and see what sticks. The process will take a while and you may find your medium lends itself more successfully to one platform than another, though YouTube is a tried and true means of building an audience. It doesn’t matter how people find you so long as they connect and engage. The process can be somewhat unpredictable, as there’s no set ratio between those that will casually engage with your content and those who are true fans. It’s possible to amass 100,000 followers without a single one of them willing to support you, so it’s best to get started early as there’s no telling how long it will take.

In the meantime, start to build your revenue streams so that as your audience grows, the other pieces are already in place. If you’re an illustrator or a photographer, sell prints or design merchandise featuring your work. Also ,think about any skills you have that you can teach others. Developing an online course or other digital good is another great means of generating passive income. They require a larger upfront investment of time and effort but can generate income for years to come as your audience continues to grow. Services like Patreon, which allow creators to connect directly with their supporters are also a great means of diversifying your income.

The path to freedom from client work may feel like a long and arduous one, but like all journeys, it starts with a single step. Break things down into smaller, more digestible pieces and incorporate them into your routine. Make a habit of tracking your progress and you’ll be there before you know it. As long as you depend on clients, your agency is limited, so use this as motivation to make it happen.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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