Thinker Ventures hosts a 1 Million Cups networking group every Wednesday. The movement was started by the Kaufman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, which aimed to build an entrepreneurial community by inviting small-business owners and startups in weekly for free coffee and presentations.
It’s grown to chapters in more than 130 cities, each meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesdays. The goal is to have 1 million entrepreneurs sharing coffee at the same time.
On Feb. 7, our 1 Million Cups Rockford chapter had Jazz Keyes in as a speaker. Keyes talked about her business incubator The Local in Rockford, Illinois, where small businesses can rent space and local artists can display and sell their work. It drew our largest crowd to date, which isn’t surprising because what Jazz is selling and what many people who come to 1 Million Cups are looking for are are more ways to grow their business in the Gig Economy.
There are no exact figures as to how large the Gig Economy has become. A 2016 McKinsey Global Institute Report found that 27 percent of working-age people in Europe and the United States worked at least partially independently. A 2016 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found that 37 percent worked side or freelance jobs.
Perhaps Intuit, owner of Turbo Tax, has the most reliable figure. It reviewed its tax returns and found that 34 percent of the workforce in 2017 were independent workers and, based on the trends it is seeing, expects that to grow to 43 percent by 2020.
Many people think Uber when they hear the term Gig Economy. It’s much larger than that. Handymen, tutors, writers and musicians have long been part of the Gig Economy. It’s expanded from there. According to Careeraddict.com, the 16 best Gig Economy jobs for 2017 include chef, tourist guide, renting space or equipment, becoming a virtual assistant and consulting in computers, information technology, human resources, sales, marketing, accounting or public relations.
Undoubtedly, many have turned to the Gig Economy because large corporations have cut costs by outsourcing jobs traditionally done in-house. Others, now that the Affordable Care Act has made purchasing individual insurance more affordable, have chosen to cut the big company cord in favor of lifestyle. Whatever the motivation, you are trading certainty for something that isn’t quite as certain. It takes total buy-in to survive in the Gig Economy. The pennyhoarder.com, a site everyone should have listed among their favorites, listed 11 crucial tips to thrive in the Gig Economy.
- Take a vacation. No, not at first. But do not believe that 52 straight 80-hour workweeks will lead to success. You eat what you kill in the Gig Economy, which means you are always hunting. That can be exhilarating — and exhausting. Schedule some downtime or you’ll burn out quickly. And don’t make it a working vacation. Leave the computer behind and truly get away.
- Work away from home: Northern Illinois University runs co-working spaces near Interstate 90 in Winnebago County. RockTek in Roscoe was started by FatWallet.com founder Tim Storm. In downtown Rockford, Urban Equities, a historic-building remodeling company, is taking a former law office and turning it into co-working spaces. Keyes offers co-working options at The Local. These kinds of businesses continue to grow because you physically and mentally need to get away from your workspace. Those who choose to entirely work from home run an increased risk of insomnia and work-related stress.
- Select your jobs wisely: Most people who go into business for themselves just want to get some money coming in the door, so they take on gigs to build a track record. Once you’ve established a price, it can be awfully hard to get above that price; pretty soon you are working many hours for, essentially, minimum wage. Learn early what your worth and stick with it — even in the lean times. It’s better to spend time networking for good paying work than it is to spend three days on a project for $100.
- Make sure to check out potential clients: A big drawback of the Gig Economy is invoicing and the potential for getting stiffed. Don’t hesitate to ask a potential client for references and make sure to find out whether they pay their invoices on time. If a potential client can’t or won’t furnish references, take a pass.
- Don’t work for free: You need to shut down a number of conversations quickly. Clients may offer you job in which your return is “exposure,” or they want to you to do a project to “see if you’re a good fit.” They essentially are looking for free work. You should move on.
- Limit work-related calls: Factor in the amount of time you’ll have to spend on the phone doing a project in your proposal. Unless the client is willing to pay for that time, you run the danger of spending too much time on the project, lowering your rate of return.
- May your work time off-limits to friends: A major advantage of the Gig Economy is that you are master of your schedule. That’s crucial to many parents. However, you have to be disciplined. Since you don’t report to a corporate office, friends and family may not respect the fact that you actually have to get work done to be able to send an invoice. Set expectations that certain hours are reserved for work, except for emergencies.
- Make a schedule and stick to it: Without someone looking over your shoulder, it’s far too easy to get an extra 30 minutes of sleep or check your Facebook status. Time is your most valuable commodity, no matter what you do. You can’t get it back, so set a schedule to use it wisely.
- Treat yourself like a business: Watch your expenses. Create a professional invoicing template. Develop an elevator pitch. Present yourself well in public. Tone down the Facebook rhetoric if you lean too far one way or the other. Stick to inexpensive business cards. Learn how to use social media to market yourself.
- Get professional tax advice: You pay your own taxes now. There are lots of advantages to being an independent contractor. Learn what you can do and, more importantly, what you can’t. Nothing shuts down a business more quickly than a big IRS bill.
- Don’t isolate yourself: Too many people make the mistake of believing that modern technology is all you need to find work. If you can master that, great. The rest of us need to get out and mingle, even if it’s to just find other people like us. In any city of size, there are a plethora of networking groups where you can find potential clients, potential partners or people who know people who may need some work done. If you want to know how to maximize your time at these events, check out our networking tips. To get started, check out meetup.com or mine your Facebook friends for suggestions.