What’s it like to work in the Gig Economy? There are infinite answers, but I’ll pass along something I’m experiencing. I have seven bosses, and that can be a good thing. And, it can also not be enough.
To corporate types who have experience with convoluted organizational charts, allow me to point out that this isn’t that. I’ve been in the mix of multiple contracts, conflicting lines of authority, and political battle and mine fields. This ain’t that.
To get a feel for life in the Gig Economy think about what it is like to celebrate getting a new gig: new opportunities, new people, new ideas, new skills. It also means, a new contract, a new way to invoice, new culture, new software, new business strategies, and new motivations. For several years, I’ve gotten by with about two or three, depending on the season. Now, as my two main long-term clients have dropped their budgets and third is suggesting something similar, four new clients have arrived. Only one is close to quarter time. The rest are good gigs but are limited to a few hours a week or a month. I don’t know if they all equal full-time employment because the pay scales are shifting so much, but I do know that they fill a seven day, 10-12 hour per day schedule.
The Gig Economy makes sense to businesses. They pay according to an invoice, but don’t have to pay for and manage benefits like health care. Scaling up or down doesn’t involve union negotiations. The workers take care of the facilities and equipment. While it helps big businesses increase profits by lowering expenses, it also means smaller firms have a better chance to get started because their cash flow is simpler. The Gig Economy is to the old model of corporate careers as online dating is to traditional marriage, a suggestion of a long term relationship but with no commitment and simplified breakups.
I enjoy my work, especially lately. For three separate assignments I’ve been able to interview architects. Architects are easy to interview. The nature of their business is to have a perspective, understand why they have it, know how to act on it, and know how to articulate it to others. Three articles overlapped with topics, people, images, and ideas. I was happy to exercise some economy of scale. Three other assignments involved whales and a bit of history. I was lucky enough to schedule two interviews on the same morning at the same place with different subjects, and all I had to do was shift my perspective from asking about whale parade (yes, Langley has a whale parade for people) to asking about what happens to the whales after they parade on by. One trip, two conversations, some hooks into the third assignment for later, and more economical use of my time, again.
Eight interviews in two days and I might just spend an evening listening to nothing in particular. The fascinating stories in my head have to quit swirling, settle down, and arrange themselves so I can pull them apart into separate articles over the next few days.
As stock investors know, diversification lowers risk. As some stocks rise, others may fall, and hopefully the balance is positive. As anyone who’s read this blog and tracked my portfolio’s recent performance knows, perfect storms of bad luck can happen. Perfect storms of good luck can happen as well.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am happy to help as a consultant. Most of my longer-term jobs are in program or information management, or as a content producer. This last week or so has been a special joy because I’ve helped four consulting clients with personal projects and business plans. That’s in addition to my seven bosses mentioned above. More diversification. More conversations with passionate people. And more contracts, agendas, and deliverables to manage.
That’s why I said in my interview on Marketplace,
“What I’ve found is, this is actually an expensive way to work. I can pay for almost all my bills with all this work, but not quite. I can either pay for everything except income tax or pay for everything except health insurance.”
There may be an economy of scale within some of the articles, but such diversification has some of the very costs that corporations try to avoid. Simplification can save time and money, and lower stress. Participants in the Gig Economy can’t afford the luxury of simplified businesses because their revenues require diversification and self-management.
I write this partly to chronicle my financial path so others can see they aren’t alone, partly to document it for myself and the possible sequel to Dream. Invest. Live., and partly so others can be disabused of the perception that the Gig Economy is a relaxing and freeing way of working. I also mention it because I’ve found one perspective that has caused shortfalls for me and others. I’ve found that when I add another boss, some of the other bosses assume that’s a good opportunity to cut back. They think someone else will add what they subtract. Add an hour from one boss and possibly lose several hours from the others. I can see why many members of the Gig Economy are secretive about their situation. Revealing any insights into their situation can become a disadvantage in negotiations. The loss of commitment creates a loss of openness.
I have plenty of work to do this evening, but I decided to take the time to write this post. While I am glad to have seven bosses and multiple clients, I also have to demonstrate a commitment to myself. It is good to be in service to others, but it is necessary to also be in service to one’s self. That’s the one boss that must be respected and obeyed. Pity that boss doesn’t generate any revenue, but at least there are other benefits.