These 4 Skills Are Essential To Succeeding In The Gig Economy

There are skills you’ll need in order to make it in our evolving economy that you don’t learn in college.

These 4 Skills Are Essential To Succeeding In The Gig Economy
[Photo: Rawpixel]

College prepares you for your career, but the curriculum may not be enough to prepare you to work in the gig economy. While education is important, you’ll need more than your degree to succeed, says Laurie Pickard, author of Don’t Pay for Your MBA: The Faster, Cheaper, Better Way to Get the Business Education You Need.


“[It’s not] just having a degree or certification, but rather having skills that are relevant to the needs of the market,” she says. “People participating in the gig economy need to continually build, expand, and refresh their skills in order to stay competitive.”

Currently 34% of the workforce is made up of gig workers, and this number is expected to reach 43% by 2020, according to a study by Intuit. The gig economy is creating micro-entrepreneurs, says Marion McGovern, author of Thriving in the Gig Economy.

“Whether it’s copywriters, marketing consultants, handymen, or Uber drivers, they’re running their own businesses,” she says. “Most don’t know how to make the most money as independent contractors. A whole ecosystem has sprung up around gigs, and we need a re-education.”

While courses on the service you provide or the niche you fill help you develop your expertise, gig workers need to proactively seek classes on these four topics to succeed:

1. Critical Thinking And Logic

In order to keep up with a changing marketplace, gig workers need to learn how to ask better questions, says McGovern. “Our current education system is traditionally all about getting the right answer, rather than the process of experimentation and what that teaches you,” she says. “You need to become comfortable with uncertainty.”

A class on critical thinking or logic will provide the basis for thinking about problems in a different way. “Gig workers need to be able to ask the right questions, and develop different ways to view data, issues, and solutions,” says McGovern.


2. Human Resources

While gig workers are independent contractors, they need to understand what a company needs from someone they hire, and few students come out of school with an understanding of what it takes to be a good employee, says McGovern.

“I ask my students, ‘What does it take to be a good manager?'” says McGovern, who taught HR and business communications at the University of San Francisco. “When I suggest ‘Being on time,’ they often say, ‘You don’t have to be on time when you’re the manager.’ In the gig economy, you need to know what a good employee looks like, and be able to emulate those traits to be successful in your career.”

Classes in human resources, team building, and hiring will offer exposure to the insights that can help you become a preferred contractor.

3. Finance

Gig workers need to understand finance and taxes. They also need to create financial flexibility, and be able to look at monthly capital and revenue statements to determine if they’re profitable or not, says Diane Mulcahy, author of The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life you Want.

“You need to understand your personal burn rate, which is about cash flow management,” she says. “I tell students, ‘Imagine you had no revenue whatsoever. What would your expenses look like in that month?’ Then prepare by saving and considering expenses.”

4. Marketing And Communication

No matter what their core skill set or area of expertise might be, freelancers need to be able to understand the needs of the customers and communicate with them in a compelling way, says Pickard.


“You can’t just focus on being good at delivering your core product or service,” she says. “You also have to be in charge of sales, branding, marketing, and new product development.”

Classes in marketing or communication will help you convey your value, and build relationships with your clients.

Where And Why

Mulcahy teaches a class on the gig economy as part of Babson College’s MBA program, with plans to offer the course online. You can also learn individual skills by taking classes in college as well as through academic MOOC platforms, such as Coursera and edX, suggests Pickard. Professional platforms like Udemy also offer classes taught by professionals. Finding a variety of sources can broaden your perspective. “You get both the big picture and some concrete skills and techniques,” says Pickard.

Even if you work for an employer, you can benefit from having these skills, says Mulcahy. “People may not necessarily work this way consistently for their entire career, but I tell my MBA students to expect to work this way for part of their career,” she says. “We all need to adjust from employee mind-set, where you outsource your professional development, sense of security, and financial stability to the employer, to a mind-set where you manage that all yourself.

“Job security is dead,” she continues. “Employees must deal with layoffs, downsizing, mergers, right-sizing, acquisitions, failed startups, failure to raise money, and pivots that eliminate an entire department. You have to think about how you can create a portfolio of work that gives you income security.”