Is a Side Hustle For You? How to Make Money in Today’s Gig Economy
Welcome to the Gig Economy.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- Questions to ask when considering freelance work
- Nine freelance opportunities to consider
- How to structure your freelance life, and more
Today, more Americans than ever make a living as independent contractors. For many, this means taking on multiple jobs from different companies rather than working full-time for a traditional employer.
In fact, nearly half of all millennials make a living as contractors today. That’s a massive shift since 1995, when 93 percent of workers counted themselves among the cubicle-dwelling crowd.
Source: Dorie Clark, Harvard Business Review
Workers who’ve grown up in the gig economy are resilient. They understand that they shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket — they should seize opportunity wherever they find it, and focus on building up their entrepreneurial ventures and side hustles. They often hop from temporary job to job –pursuing work as craftspeople, caterers, freelance writers, Uber drivers — or all of the above.
While the gig economy doesn’t offer the stability of a full-time paycheck, it can be a great opportunity for creative people who know how to hustle and enjoy the freedom of designing their lifestyle. Let’s take a deeper look at what it’s like to enter the mobile workforce — and how to build your best work life.
Is a Freelance Role Right for You?
While plenty of people still crave the security of an office job, more are making the leap to an independent contractor lifestyle, whether by choice or necessity. Many people embrace the opportunity to control their schedule and plan vacations based on personal timing preferences, rather than a manager’s schedule. Cutting out commutes and launching into the work day right from the couch is a significant drawing point.
Remote work opens valuable doors for people with limited resources, such as parents with young children and people in areas with declining job markets. The rise of high-speed internet service makes it possible for people to work at all kinds of jobs — from customer service to writing, tutoring, and transcription — from virtually anywhere on Earth.
Though, Freelance roles aren’t ideal for everyone. If you’re someone who thrives in a collaborative environment and love a steady, predictable schedule, it might not be the best career move. On the other hand, if you’re great at time management, and able to shift into a business mindset even when there’s laundry that needs folding, you might make an ideal freelancer.
Questions to Ask When Considering Freelance Work
Freelance and independent contractor roles come in all shapes and sizes. You could spend all day in front of your desk. Or, you might be out on the streets for hours at a time, delivering Thai food for GrubHub. To choose the right fit for your circumstances, consider these questions:
- Do you want to work from home, or be on the go?
Jobs in writing, graphic design, transcription, and customer service, among others, are ideal if you want or need to be based in your own home office. If you’re the sort of person who can’t sit still and enjoys meeting new people all the time, consider becoming a driver for Uber, Lyft, or GrubHub, or handling miscellaneous tasks for an odd-jobs platform like TaskRabbit.
- What’s the upfront investment to get involved?
As an independent contractor, you’re technically a business owner, so you’re responsible for supplying your own equipment. But be careful about “jobs” that have high onboarding expenses—multi-level marketing programs are especially notorious for forcing new recruits to purchase kits that could leave them permanently in debt, so make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into and are prepared to assume the risk. Many independent contractor roles have minimal or no startup costs, on the other hand. In order to work as a freelance transcriptionist, for example, you’ll just need a set of headphones and a computer with a solid internet connection.
- What’s the growth potential?
Does the job offer room to grow your income? Look for opportunities where your customers are willing to pay a premium for experience, or where you can increase your income by boosting your productivity levels and completing projects faster.
- Will you be able to get as much work as you need to pay the bills?
When considering project-based work for the first time, it’s smart to consider bigger platforms that have strong reputations and a huge customer base. It can be difficult to market for customers on your own. By jumping into an existing marketplace, you’ll likely be able to hit the ground running and pick up as many hours as you like.
Opportunities to Consider
Once you understand what to evaluate in a potential contracting opportunity, it’s time to start finding work. While you can build a business from the ground up if you have the connections and marketing chops to make it happen, you can often ramp up much more quickly by starting out with an established work platform or company. Here’s a sampling of platforms to consider:
Amazon Flex: Now available in more than 50 cities, Amazon Flex enables those with a few free hours each week to make $18 to $25 an hour delivering packages for Amazon. While most delivery services require workers to use a car, Amazon Flex allows its employees to deliver by car, bike, or even by foot. As a delivery partner, you create your work shifts and can update your availability at any time. Click here to find out if Amazon Flex is available in your city.
Care.com: Care.com is a matchmaking platform for all kinds of in-home jobs, ranging from childcare to senior care, pet sitting, odd jobs, and house cleaning, among others. Workers set their own rates, typically ranging from $10 to $30 per hour depending on the type of service. Customers pay a membership fee to sign up, but there’s no fee to respond to job offers. Set up a profile to start finding local opportunities in your field.
Handy: If you have skills in areas including house cleaning, assembly, painting, or plumbing, Handy will connect you with clients in need of your expertise. Set your own schedule and earn up to $22 an hour as a cleaner or up to $45 an hour as a handyman. All you need to get started is your know-how and the equipment needed for your job of interest. Apply here to get started with Handy.
Rev: If you’re a quick typist, and enjoy the chance to learn new things as you work, working as a freelance transcriptionist through Rev.com could be a great opportunity for you. Instead of competing on an open platform, Rev delivers virtually unlimited work opportunities to you directly once you’ve been approved. Rev enables freelancers to work from home on their own schedules, and pays based on the length of a recorded audio file, helping you earn more as your skills improve, with income ranging up to $1500 a month. Apply here.
Rover: Are you a dog person? If so, check out Rover to earn up to $1000 a month sitting, boarding, and/or walking dogs in your city. As a sitter with Rover, you can set your own schedule and rates, offer any combination of pet care services, and set pet preferences (such a size or age) that work for you. If you’re out of town, Rover allows you update your location so that you can pick up jobs while traveling.To get started with Rover, apply here.
TaskRabbit: Interested in odd jobs? TaskRabbit connects those in need of furniture assembly, home improvement, moving support, and more with qualified individuals looking for side projects. If you have experience lifting heavy objects, installing appliances, or even helping a friend move with your truck, TaskRabbit has an odd job for you. As a tasker, you select jobs that fit your unique skills and set your own rates. Sign up here to browse jobs near you.
Thumbtack: From makeup artist, to personal trainer, to general contractor, Thumbtack serves as an online marketplace for all kinds of professionals. Select the service you offer and your location and Thumbtack will connect you with paying opportunities in your area—you pay a small service fee to receive incoming leads, but keep all the profits for the work performed. Click here to join Thumbtack’s 250,000 active professionals today.
Uber: If you have a valid driver’s license, a newer-model car or SUV, and a smartphone, you can be approved as a driver on the Uber platform, working on your own schedule. Uber drivers’ earnings vary greatly based on region, with typical ranges between $8.77 and $13.17 per hour after expenses are factored in. If you enjoy driving and meeting new people, sign up here.
Upwork: Upwork is a matchmaking platform for all types of online work, including freelance writing, graphic design, translation, videography, and many other forms, with thousands of job openings available at any given time for contractors to bid on. You can set your own rates on the platform, but Upwork takes a commission fee on each project, ranging from 5% to 20%. If you’d like to find digital opportunities through Upwork, create an account here.
These are just a few of the many places to find freelance work—depending on your interests and location, you’re likely to find dozens of additional opportunities that may be a fit for your lifestyle.
Structuring Your Freelance Life
Once you’ve been approved to work for the platform or company of your choice, you’ll need to start building the habits that will help you be happy and productive in your chosen field. These include:
- Set a regular work schedule — Especially if your workplace is your home, you’ll want to set up a definite schedule for when you’re “on” and “off” your online job so that your work life doesn’t bleed into your home life. Try to set a core set of hours each day when you can forget about household errands and focus on your work, and block time off on your calendar so that you don’t sign on for other commitments. Make it clear to your friends and neighbors that even though you might be at home, you’re on the clock, so interruptions will have to wait.
- Take time to recharge throughout the day — Whether working from home or in a physical location, set up your schedule in a way that allows you to take some time to reset during the day, including a lunch break and a few breaks for exercise or even some focused meditation. Studies have shown that a five-minute walk break for every hour of desk time has a significant positive impact on overall well-being.
- Track your income goals — With freelance work, you’ll need to make sure that you’re taking on enough projects to meet your income needs, as you can’t rely on a steady paycheck. Keep track of your workload in a spreadsheet, including the payment terms, so that you know what your cash flow will look like from month to month.
- Set aside money for taxes — While taxes are typically taken directly from your paycheck in a traditional employee role, that’s not the case as a contract worker. That means you’ll need to make sure that you’re setting aside enough money to cover your state and federal tax payments, and pay estimated taxes on a quarterly basis. If you don’t contribute enough, you may owe more at the end of the year, so make sure you’re conservative with your savings. This tax calculator can help you determine what you may owe.
Build a Workspace That Fits Your Needs
As an independent contractor, you don’t have an office or cubicle to go to each day—you’re responsible for building your own workspace. So make sure it’s a place that inspires you to do your best each day.
- Home office — If you’re working from your home, try to set up a dedicated home office if you have space, or set up a workspace in your bedroom. If you’re doing computer work, you’ll want to invest in a desk, a good computer, an ergonomic chair, and a set of noise-canceling headphones. If you want the option to work from different locations when it suits you, consider getting a laptop computer instead of a desktop.
- Coworking space — If you don’t have a separate space in your home that would make a good office, consider using a local coworking space instead. Coworking spaces typically cost between $100 and $200 per month for a “floating” desk, where you can bring your laptop and make use of additional equipment like big-screen monitors, conference room space, and standing desks. Best of all, coworking spaces come with instant “coworkers”—people working remotely or for their own businesses, who can provide much-needed company during your workday.
- On the road — If you’re a ridesharing or delivery driver, on the other hand, your car is your office—so make sure that it’s well equipped with everything you need for a comfortable ride. That might include a built-in navigation system, a Bluetooth headset, a car phone charger, a few water bottles and healthy snacks, and a smartphone playlist with your favorite podcasts or tunes. Make sure that you also have a roadside emergency kit, and some cleaning equipment for cleaning up after messy customers.
Build a Career on Your Terms
It can take a few months to work out the quirks of navigating a freelance lifestyle, but once you do, you may realize you never want to go back to the land of the 45-minute daily commute.
By gaining the skills to work as a successful freelancer, and generating positive customer reviews or platform feedback, you’ll be able to consistently secure new projects based on your terms and target budgets. You’ll be able to shape your schedule—including vacation plans—the way that you want to. Want to skip work and head to the beach on a sunny day? No problem—you control your hours and your workload, and can decide the best way to shape your work around your life, instead of vice versa.
As you find your place in the Gig Economy, you’ll learn to navigate the ups and downs and build a career that fits the lifestyle you want.