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This Is How To Thrive In The Gig Economy

Love it or hate it, the traditional job landscape isn’t coming back anytime soon.

This Is How To Thrive In The Gig Economy
[Photo: Flickr user jackiembarr]

If you listen to your parents or grandparents talk about their work history, you’ll probably see an alarming trend–they didn’t go anywhere! They stayed at the same company year after year, often decade after decade. Compare that to the average job length as of January 2016: just 4.2 years.

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When it comes to the job landscape, a lot has changed in the past 50 years. Flexible work arrangements continue to shake up the traditional workplace environment. Job hopping is becoming more and more common. Freelancing continues to rise, constituting 35% of the U.S. workforce in 2016.

What it lacks in stability, the gig economy makes up for in flexibility. For some, the gig economy provides the necessary freedom and flexibility in their schedules. For others, the idea of freelancing full-time for their income brings on cold sweats and fear. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, two things are clear: The gig economy is here, and it’s continuing to grow.

Even if you’re not planning on freelancing anytime soon, it pays to understand these emerging forces and how you can get ahead. When you look at people who succeed in this new economy, they all excel at two keys things – becoming a master of their craft and honing their reputation.


Related: You Can’t Gig With Us: Why The Freelance Economy Is Getting More Cliquey


Refine Your Craft And Become The Default Choice

What’s your gig? Does it match up with the type of work you want to be doing? Are you good enough to get paid for it? There are limitless career opportunities and gigs available. The trick is honing and refining your craft so that when the opportunity rolls around, you’re the default choice for companies looking to hire.

Master The Fundamentals, Not The Specifics

Industries are changing so rapidly that it’s no longer enough to know the ins and outs of your specific niche. You need to be adaptable. If your niche becomes obsolete for whatever reason, you need to learn a new aspect and push forward. Instead of memorizing a specific set of tactics for your craft, master the strategic thinking behind them; know the industry in and out, not just a certain set of tools.

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For example, if you’re a growth marketer, Facebook ads and email marketing might be the titans of your space at the moment. In 20 years, it may be a different story. If you only understand those specific tools, you’ll be out of luck. If, instead, you master the skills of thinking strategically, testing new approaches to attracting customers, and learning from the results, you’ll excel regardless of whatever tool is popular.

How exactly do you master the fundamentals? Here are two questions to get you started:

  1. If you had to do your job now without your favorite tool or set of tools, how would you do it?
  2. What assumptions are you making about your industry that might change on a dime? How would you react?

Narrow Your Market

When defining your gig, choose a niche audience that’s big enough to support you but not so big you’ll get lost in a sea of noise. For example, Jean Hsu left Medium and Google to work as a leadership consultant, but she targeted her business even more. “Leadership” by itself may be too broad so she targeted “Engineer Leadership.”


Related: Freelancers: Here’s The Secrets To Getting Long Term Clients 


Define What Good Looks Like In Your Niche

Once you have identified your specific niche, define what the best actually looks like. Who are the titans you look up to and respect? Why are they at the top of the field? What do you need to master to get to that level? List out those items. You now have your to-do list. Get to work.

Refine The Details

Find ways to make your work actually remarkable so customers have a reason to talk about you to potential clients. For example, if you’re a customer service professional, your customers expect fast email replies. What they don’t expect is a personalized message at the top of a welcome email that changes each day. That’s engaging, unique, and yes, remarkable.

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Join A Mastermind Group

These groups are becoming a popular way to grow and network professionally. Choose individuals you want to learn from and soak up as much as you can. As an added bonus, your group may refer work for you later on.

Hone Your Reputation

Once you develop your craft and become the best in your chosen field, make sure everyone knows that. Achieving this requires cultivating your reputation both on and offline. Here are some strategies for showing off your work to potential customers down the road.

Build A (Focused) Portfolio Of Your Work

Your portfolio should should encompass your best stuff and represent the type of work you want to get hired for moving forward. When viewing your portfolio, it should be easy for someone to pull out two things – what you’re good at and what kinds of work you enjoy doing.

Google Yourself Regularly

Your future employers and business partners are likely googling you. You should know what they’re seeing.To stay on top of your Google reputation, follow these two steps:

  1. Go incognito: For the best results, Rich Matta, CEO of ReputationDefender, recommends running a search in an incognito window. Otherwise, your search results will be heavily influenced by your browsing habits, current location, etc. By doing the search in an incognito window, you can be sure you’re seeing what anyone else would see.
  2. You can automatically get notified when your name pops up in new search results through Google. For example, I have mine set up to automatically notify me when my name appears in new searches with at most one email per day.

Narrow Down Your Networks

Whenever a new social network hits the scene, everyone rushes to register their username and build a dominating presence. The result is social media FOMO and the feeling that you need to be everywhere on social media.

Your online reputation is key in the gig economy, but that doesn’t mean you have to adopt every new social network that comes out. Instead of trying to be everywhere, narrow your focus to one or two networks and really focus on excelling.

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Related: The 5 Worst Social Media Practices Brands Should Avoid 


Pick The Harder Option

When presented with two equally viable options for building your audience, pick the one that will be harder for others to emulate. For example, it’s easy to share software development links on LinkedIn. It’s much harder to answer questions every Friday on StackOverflow or regularly post on Medium and building a reputation for knowing your stuff.

Own Your Audience

If you put all of your eggs in one basket and then that basket shuts down, you’re going to be in trouble. When possible, you want to own your audience. For example, if you run an email list through Mailchimp, you “own” those email addresses meaning you can export them and move them wherever you choose to go next.

This isn’t always possible (you can’t easily export Twitter and Facebook followers, for example), but it is a factor to consider. At the very least, I would suggest having one avenue where you own your subscribers (email or blog subscribers, for example) and another where you’re left at the mercy of a platform (YouTube, Instagram, etc).

When Possible, Avoid Crowds

If everyone is going one direction, think about heading the opposite direction. It’s easier to stand out when you have less competition. This doesn’t mean you should ditch Facebook for MySpace and be a big fish in a non-existent pond. It does mean that instead of posting aimlessly on Twitter every few hours hoping someone will find your work, you could join a few smaller, targeted Twitter chats involving your target audience.

Personally, I find the gig economy both exciting and terrifying. On one hand, it’s possible to forge virtually any path you want. Niches exist anywhere and everywhere with customers waiting for you to show up.

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On the other hand, this means success is largely up to you. Success in the gig economy isn’t based on tenure; your next promotion and pay raise aren’t guaranteed. You have to work at it day in and day out, refining your craft and honing your reputation. It takes constant work, but if you do both well, you’ll have customers banging down your door for a product only you can provide.


A version of this article was originally published on Doist and is adapted with permission.