Until very recently, the gig economy was booming everywhere.
A 2019 survey commissioned by the Victorian government found that 7% of Australians had done gig work over the past year.
The research also found that for 15.5% of survey takers, gig work was “essential for meeting their basic needs” while 24.3% said it was an “important part of overall income, but not essential.”
The ensuing events have upended the gig economy, with work drying up for some gig workers in professional services like photography and graphic design. Meanwhile, sectors like food delivery are being flooded by people who’ve lost their full-time jobs, increasing the competition for work.
So where is the gig economy now?
Sharing economy, freelancing, on-demand workers — all of these terms are used to describe workers who take on short-term jobs, or “gigs” for payment.
When we say “gig work” the first thing that springs to mind is often food delivery and people-moving services like Uber or Sheba. And it’s true — 18.6% of those who responded to the Victorian survey mentioned earlier were in transportation and food delivery.
But the people reflected in the survey results also represented other types of work:
- Professional services (16.9%)
- Odd jobs or maintenance (11.5%)
- Writing or translation (9.0%)
Businesses benefit from hiring gig workers because they can reduce overheads and usually transfer the costs onto the customers (such as delivery fees for Uber Eats and similar).
The thing workers love about side hustles is that there are so many options. There are the more ordinary jobs, like:
- Freelance writing
- Web development
Then there are other kinds of jobs that require minimal setup and skills:
- Cleaning houses or offices
- Dog walking
- Lawn mowing
Some of the more unusual offerings from enterprising side hustlers include singing personalised birthday messages in the shower, people painting their finger or toenails on video and reading poetry out loud, as well as more ordinary assignments like face painting or dressing up and performing for birthday parties.
The gigs that are paying right now are those that can be done while maintaining a safe distance.
If you have specialist skills, such as languages or the ability to teach an instrument, this might be a good possibility. Plus, both can be taught via digital conferencing apps like Zoom.
Where can I find work?
There are over 100 digital platforms for freelancers, and more are popping up every single day. Some of the most popular sites include:
Each platform has its own features, but they all allow you to:
- Create a profile
- List your skills and information
- Collect reviews from happy customers
It’s best to focus on one site at a time, building your reviews and positive feedback so you can work your way up to higher-paying jobs.
Pro tip: Focussing on Australian sites will mean you aren’t competing with overseas-based workers who have lower living costs and can afford to offer rates as low as $2 an hour.
Setting yourself up as a gig worker
Once you’ve decided to start a side gig, the first step is to decide what you’ll offer. While it’s tempting to say you can do almost anything, you’ll find the most success if you can narrow it down to two or three key things and focus on building your reputation with those before branching out.
As soon as you receive an offer, work out your target market. This will help you tailor your profile to your audience’s needs.
For example, if you’re offering lawn mowing services, you might focus on the convenience of having someone come and mow your lawn if they’re unable to do it due to disability or the desire to have someone handle upkeep while they shelter in place.
Tips on creating your online profile
Having a clear picture that shows your face helps to build trust from your customers. Make sure you include details about your experience, testimonials from happy clients if you have them, and any details about how you like to work. Will you:
- Issue tax invoices?
- Bring your own tools and equipment?
- Have a van and ladder?
Once your profile is ready, check it over for spelling and grammar mistakes before you publish.
When your profile has been approved, go start promoting your services. Share your profile on your social media, let family and friends know that you’re open for business and start applying for jobs that come up.
Of course, you don’t need to stick to just one platform, or even use a platform — you can work via a Facebook page or create your own website for bookings too.
Editor’s note: GoDaddy now offers a basic version of Websites + Marketing free. Put your new side gig online now.
How do I protect myself?
Even before COVID-19, gig workers were raising questions about the fact that many gig companies refuse to consider those who work for them “employees.” This means these businesses are not required to pay entitlements or health benefits — or even a reasonable wage.
The din has only gotten louder, now that those who deliver food and medicine risk their health.
The irony is that these poorly-paid workers are helping slow the spread of the virus by allowing others to stay at home.
If you decide to pursue gig economy job now or in the future, here are a few tips to guide you:
Look after yourself
It’s important to look after yourself as a gig worker and know what you are entitled to.
For example, DoorDash and Uber now offer financial help to workers who have been quarantined or diagnosed with COVID-19. So before you sign up for any service that requires personal contact, do a little digging to see what (if anything) the company is doing to protect its workers.
Read the fine print
Be sure to read the terms of each site to be aware of how they process payments. Issues can occur around:
- When and how you’ll be paid (some won’t pay out for up to four weeks)
- Which currency you’ll be paid in (watch out for bank fees and exchange rates)
- What happens if a client asks for a refund
Although it’s not the same level of commitment as a full-time job, you still want to go into it with your eyes open.
Don’t rip yourself off
Many bidding and quoting sites can feel like a race to the bottom where the lowest price usually wins. Make sure you’ve done a budget and worked out the minimum hourly rate you can afford to take and stick to it.
You might need to take a few low-rate jobs to get reviews, but then raise your rates to where they should be.
When calculating your fees, it’s important to understand the platforms fees and charges as well. Some sites, like Upwork require users to undertake paid exams to get ‘badges’ or accreditations on their profiles so they can bid for higher-paying jobs. While each of these start at a few dollars, they quickly add up as you need more and more to compete with other bidders.
Other companies require gig workers to cover all expenses. For delivery drivers, this might be petrol, registration, parking fees, tolls, and insurance, which can quickly add up.
Know your status
In many cases, you’ll be classed as a contractor, and will need an Australian Business Number (ABN) and bank accounts to take payments.
You’ll need to work out if you’ll operate as a sole trader or company and if the income you make after your work-related expenses will be taxed.
The choice is yours
Working in the gig economy isn’t for everybody. The insecurity, random schedules and out-of-pocket expenses can feel like you’re better off with a job at the local supermarket some days.
But the advantages of finding something you love that uses your talents and the buzz of getting five-star reviews can make it all worthwhile.