Whether you’re new to the job market or a veteran professional, it’s only natural to be curious about different kinds of jobs and careers available to you. One avenue that’s gained a lot of attention in the last few years is the gig economy. The best way to decide if it’s a smart full-time, part-time, permanent or temporary option for you is to learn more about it, so we put together this quick reference guide.
What is the gig economy?
The IRS describes the gig economy as one where people earn money by providing on-demand work, services or goods for others. It isn’t a new concept. Any teen who has mowed lawns or babysat for neighbors as needed has performed gig work. But the rise of digital apps that connect gig workers to readily available customers—typically for a fee or a percentage of the transaction, has taken the idea to new heights.
Here are some popular gigs and examples of the apps that support them:
- Delivering restaurant take-out: DoorDash, GrubHub and Uber Eats
- Picking up and dropping off groceries or other retail purchases: Gopuff, Instacart and Shipt
- Providing creative or professional services: Fiverr, Freelancer and Upwork
- Running errands, doing household chores and fixing things: Handy, TaskRabbit and Thumbtack
- Renting out a home or part of it: Airbnb, FlipKey and Homestay
- Driving for a ride-sharing service: Lyft, Uber and Via
- Pet sitting: Fetch, Rover and Wag
These are just a few of the options. New gig-related apps pop up all the time. Just beware that each one sets its own rules and pay structure. Make sure you understand both before signing up.
What are the pros and cons of being a gig worker?
Digital technology has simplified the logistics of gig work, but there’s another big reason why it’s becoming more popular. Many people like being their own boss, setting their own schedule and deciding when and what gigs to accept. That independence, flexibility and sense of entrepreneurship are further enhanced by the ability to live where you want and avoid the traditional office or work setting.
Before you jump into the gig economy, realize that it has some disadvantages, too. With gig work, you’re considered a contractor or freelancer, not an employee, which means:
- No benefits, such as health insurance or retirement plans to protect and preserve your money
- No guarantee of steady work that brings in enough money to pay all your bills
- No paid vacation or sick leave when you want or need time off
- No employer career development plans to help you move up the ranks
- No income withholding so you’re responsible for setting aside enough money for taxes
- No supervisor holding you accountable and helping you manage your time
- No set hours to help you balance work and family
When might gig work make sense for you?
The Pew Research Center found that 16% of U.S. adults have at some point worked for an online gig platform, and 9% are current or recent gig workers. Of that latter group, 31% said gig work was their main job and 68% said it was a side job. Here are some situations where gig work might make sense for you as a permanent or temporary part-time or full-time income source:
- In college or graduate school: You can fit gigs in around your class schedule while gaining work experience and earning money to pay for your tuition.
- As a recent graduate: You can start earning income right away and show your industriousness while you explore your career options and look for a full-time job with an employer.
- When considering a career change: You can explore a different career path, such as becoming a writer or graphic designer, on the side before you leave a job to see if you like it and excel at it.
- To build up an emergency fund: Since there’s no long-term commitment, you can take on a side hustle long enough to build up three to six months’ worth of expenses for your rainy day fund.
- In between jobs: Whether you leave voluntarily or are laid off due to a recession, gig work can keep money coming in while you look for another job.
- Young families without affordable or reliable childcare: Because many gigs can be done outside of normal business hours or directly from home, families that need dual income can have more than one parent working without generating the need for daycare.
- In retirement: Whether to make your retirement savings last or provide structure and social interaction in your golden years, gig work makes it possible.
If you decide to try gig work, just watch out for job scams, which target people looking for traditional and non-traditional jobs. Independently research gig-related apps you hear about through unsolicited emails, texts or DMs, and know that anything that sounds too good to be true most likely is exactly that.
Editor’s note: Quorum is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this article and derives no benefit from these businesses for placement in this article.