So you work for the gig economy. Who’s your boss? Theoretically, it’s whatever platform you work for, right? Uber, Lyft, Postmates, DoorDash. Practically, it’s your smartphone (let’s face it, it’s always telling you where to go, isn’t it?). At the beginning of the day, it’s the budget that’s motivating you to go to work. At the end of the day, it’s the customer you’re serving.
So who is it, really? Who is your boss?
You are the Boss, Not the Employee
Like it or not, gig economy workers are still legally classified as “independent contractors.” There are differing opinions on whether or not that is an appropriate title and on what—if any—upsides it has. But all of that aside, it’s still your title, so you might as well work with it.
What does “independent contractor” mean? It means you set your own hours. It means you sometimes set your own rates. It means you find your own next “big thing,” you control all your own vacation time, and you file your own taxes.
These are characteristics of a business owner, not a company employee. You are, essentially, functioning as your own business. That means you are the boss, and if you want to succeed in the gig economy, you have to act like it.
What does that look like?
Invest in Yourself
If you were working for someone else, they would, at the very least, have poured time and money into training you when you first started. Most companies that are any good also have professional development opportunities—and expectations.
This looks like taking online courses, reading books (like our free PDF here at Courier Hacker) etc.
Watch Your Business Trends
Business owners have to pay attention to the business climate around them. If you’re going to treat your gig economy work as your own business, you’re going to have to do the same.
There are patterns and seasons to the gig economy. It can be as simple as knowing that mealtimes are prime time for food delivery and as complicated as knowing which times of year are more lucrative for Airbnb versus Uber (hint: they both go up during football season).
It’s not just seasons you need to watch. Social media trends, technological advances, and even political moves can play into the successes or failures of your business.
Watch the news, and not just for the platforms you’re using now. Watch the broader gig economy news. Watch for promising opportunities that you can jump onto ahead of the curve, not behind it.
Don’t Let Yourself Get Stuck
Have you ever worked a traditional job and felt stuck? Many get stuck in a traditional job that they hate because they can’t manage to see another option. Many are afraid to give up benefits like health insurance, retirement, and a steady paycheck.
However, the gig economy doesn’t carry any of these benefits. So why stick with something that doesn’t work?
One of the keys to being successful in the gig economy is to not be afraid to try new things. Getting bored with Uber? Try Postmates instead (and if you don’t like it, quit). Don’t be afraid to try a platform for a day, week, month—whatever works for you.
Don’t Forget Taxes
A downside to the gig economy is that you don’t have an employer taking taxes out of your check. There are plenty of apps that help you track expenses, but make sure you’re not surprised by a giant tax time bill, either.
Hiring an accountant can be a great idea. Also, be sure to check the IRS website, as their regulations for self-employed individuals can change. Currently, they require you to make your tax payments quarterly. These payments are based on an estimated annual tax.
Don’t put this one off until tax time—you work for yourself, remember? Bosses don’t wait until April to start worrying about taxes.
Also, be sure to keep these tax deductions in mind.
Plan Early for Retirement
No one feels like they have time to plan for retirement. However, even people with the benefit of an employer-managed retirement account have to worry to some degree. For gig economy workers, planning for retirement is an absolute must.
Putting money—even just a little each month—into a retirement account now will give it the best environment in which to grow for the future.
Some great options for gig economy workers include an IRA, a Roth IRA, or a self-funded 401K. If you have (or will have) a traditional job, that’s great! You can have two retirement accounts going then. In the meantime, your self-funded retirement account can start growing now.
Apps like Acorns and Stash offer you a few dollars to sign up for them. They then pull whatever amount you choose (even very small, manageable sums) from your bank account each month and into your retire
ment account. Simple, right?
Be the Boss
On the days when orders are slow, tips are low, and customers are cranky, it’s easy to find yourself wishing for the stability of that steady paycheck. But if you learn to act like the boss, not the employee, you’ll be able to control your place in the gig economy rather than having it or any other employer control you.