That title should be plural; Waiting for the gigs. Saying “The Big GiG” on Whidbey can be misleading because that’s the name the local telecom (Whidbey Telecom) is using for their new service that delivers the Internet at 1 Gig, or as high as 10 Gig. That sounds good; but the main things on my mind today are two gigs that I’m being considered for. They would be welcome ways to fill in a gap that appeared in my work schedule last year. Such is life in the Gig Economy.
Getting fast Internet sounds like a fine luxury. I’ve used it. Upload tasks that take an hour at home take a minute or a few seconds in the businesses where I’ve been able to test drive the service. It is a great feeling to have work flow so well. Ironically, it’s personally counterproductive for tasks where I’m paid by the hour. I do it anyway because life (and client’s funds) are best spent doing something beside looking at progress bars.
I’ll get to the luxuries after I’ve taken care of the necessities, and right now, taking care of the necessities is in a bit of doubt. That’s the nature of the Gig Economy, uncertainty.
The Gig Economy sounds like a new thing, but it isn’t. Anyone dealing with an uneven flow of clients and tasks is familiar with the situation. Uneven work means uneven income as well as uneven expenses, with the uncomfortable fact that income can go to zero but expenses are always there. Doctors, lawyers, consultants, and real estate brokers (of which I am now one) have dealt with this for a long time.
The size of the Gig Economy is the real news. The general economy has recovered nicely from the Great Recession. Millions of jobs have been created. The stock market is setting records. Consumer confidence is up. But as I documented on one of my other blogs, PretendingNotToPanic.com, “Since 1995, Gig-style jobs have grown from 9.1% of the workforce to 15.8%, and are projected to account for about 50% of the jobs by 2027.” Rising from 9% to 15% may not sound like much, but “All of the net job growth has been in the Gig Economy.” Full-time jobs have been created, but just as many have been lost.
As employees are replaced by contractors or robots, corporate profits rise because the companies don’t have to pay as much for benefits like healthcare and retirement plans. Corporate tax revenues decrease because income taxes follow income. Meanwhile, the contractors must pay for those same necessities while also navigating a shifting mix of gigs.
My bills for those necessities have been paid, but there’s far less left in the checking account as I head into a new month. It is a scary feeling, and one that many share. No wonder workplace stress is increasing. It’s now happening outside the workplace.
Conventional wisdom about personal finance is based on careers, forty-hour workweeks, benefits, vacations, and stability. If the Gig Economy grows to 50% of the workforce by 2027, then entire bookshelves of advice will become obsolete. This is an environment that is being redefined quickly.
Coffeeshops, coworks, and home offices aren’t the same as cubicles. That can be a good thing, but it also means frequent changes in work ergonomics, exposure to insecure networks, and the need to carry an office in a briefcase. I’m glad the local thrift store usually has a good replacement for less than $10 because I wear out briefcases quickly. At least coffeeshops and coworks are more social, and home offices provide opportunities to eat cheaply and get the laundry done.
Benefit packages aren’t packaged. Pieces must be gathered to provide the necessary coverage. That allows customization, but it also requires hours of non-billable research, opportunities for mistakes, and increased costs from the lack of collective bargaining.
One of the advantages of Gig Economy for clients is the ability for them to customize what they consume. Workers are hired for specific tasks that frequently have specific timelines. Instead of the company employing them between tasks, the company lets them go until they’re needed again. That’s a relief for the company, but the cause of anxiety for the workers.
The turning of the year is a natural interruption. The end of the year closes many budgets, sometimes with a pre-holiday surge. Spend it or lose it remains a fact in business. The start of the year starts the new budgets and the negotiations for the new tasks. Week one, tell stories about the holidays. Week two, review budgets, missions, and goals. Week three, identify short and long term tasks. Week four, request submissions for the work. Week five, aka February, get to work. The process doesn’t have to follow those steps, but it illustrates how easily members of the Gig Economy can approach January with caution.
Personally, my situation is compounded by a similar slowdown in real estate. Far fewer folks are shopping for houses during the season they are shopping for gifts. After the holidays, there’s a delay as sellers are deciding to sell, and taking the requisite time to prepare the house for the market. Buyers have less to look at, and the weather reinforces their desire to stay home rather than try to imagine the views that are obscured by clouds.
Here, at the end of January, I, like many, sit wondering what the remaining eleven months will hold. I feel like a farmer wondering if the crops will sprout. Will at least some grow fast enough to pay the self-employment tax hidden in the 1040? Can I get far enough ahead this year to harvest a stockpile and seeds carries me into next year? Paycheck growth is easy to track by watching raises. Revenue growth is harder to witness because of the sporadic nature of the work and payments. Imagine pumpkin vines lying desiccated in the field, then suddenly producing big, round squashes with the ding of an email or the ring of a phone call.
I take data. Looking back over the last few years there is a general growth trend that is encouraging, but nothing grand enough to celebrate. If it was, I wouldn’t be sitting here wondering and typing about the gaps in my gigs.
As I look ahead a few months, I see plenty of reasons for optimism. Whidbey may catch Seattle’s real estate fever, and even if it doesn’t, just climbing back to “normal” should help lead me to helping other with houses and myself with commissions. (Want to buy a house, or at least learn more about living on Whidbey? Check out, AboutWhidbey.com.) Some of my favorite clients are talking about getting busier, or reaching critical phases of long-term projects. I’m hearing good word-of-mouth about my services. Thanks to everyone who is spreading the word.
For tonight though, I think I’ll publish this post, enjoy some leftovers, take myself out for a walk, and generally distract myself for an evening. This lull could be just the break I need before launching into very busy, gratifying, and profitable times.