Are You Meant to be a Gigger?

By Carol Berman

giggerThe word "gig" elicits thoughts of comedians and musicians, getting gigs at clubs to pay the bills or cover the bar tab. It also means "small boat," but perhaps the only connection to that 14th century use is that people today hope gigs will keep them afloat. "Freelance" is out; "gig" is in. (Don't miss Buzz (Over) Kill: Modern Office Catchphrases.)

In the past, people often in creative fields chose to freelance for many reasons: a flexible work schedule, the chance to work for many clients, no office politics, autonomy, and no profit sharing. Today, after layoffs, some people are finding that "gigging" is the way to go; with a skill and a little marketing or word-of-mouth, former corporate employees can even make a larger salary with gigs.

It worked for Chicagoan Julie Babikan. Julie lost her job in the learning department at a large accounting firm. She decided to try her hand at being an independent illustrator and animator. Now, she's juggling more than four projects in addition to administration and billing for her company, The MRD Group.

"The best part is the commute, flexible schedule, and picking projects I like," she says. "I also hate the administrative side of things; sometimes I spend way too much time answering e-mails, invoicing clients, bidding on jobs, and before I know it a half day has gone by. I'm learning as I go, and I have one client who hasn't paid me for several hundred dollars of work I did for her six months ago."

The check is in the mail

Hopefully, securing payment for freelancers won't be a problem forever. Julie has an organization lobbying on her behalf -- the Freelancers Union. Sara Horowitz is pushing for several key benefits for freelancers, including unpaid wages. Because labor laws are state-based, she is starting in New York, introducing legislation so workers can go to the Department of Labor if they don't get paid. The union is also looking to help freelancers save money in a tax-advantaged way because many don't have work all the time.

This isn't a small population; the Freelancers Union has 140,000 members nationally. That's about as many people as work for Marriott International. But not all freelancers are counted, and that's part of the problem.

"Freelancing is going mainstream. It's going to be a part of everyone's life at one time in their life. I think when I started the idea we thought, 'slacker dude,' and now they see that people are working. And now let's let the government catch up," says Horowitz. "One, they need a much better count, two, people need to start looking at unemployment, and three, unpaid wages. It's a part of the work force that's really mobilizing."

Giggers stay afloat

As gigging or freelancing evolved, is one company that has seen effects of the economy on giggers. Elance started in 1999, providing freelancers a more structured exchange to connect freelancers with projects in a variety of industries, from the creative to the technical. They also facilitate the payment process between the parties. The company makes its money through service fees, paid by both the project manager and the freelancer.

"When Elance first started, many of the freelancers were technology-focused-- these were the early adopters. While technology is still the largest category on Elance, we have experienced huge expansion in the types of jobs and the number of skills available on the site," says Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance. "For example, graphic design, writing, marketing, customer service, and legal services are all growing areas."

Are you mean to be a "gigger?"

Before launching a gigger's lifestyle, consider these thoughts:

1. Are you an entrepreneur?

Horowitz says people often have more entrepreneurial spirit than they thought they had. If that's you, you might try gigging.

2. Your market is the entire world.

Rosati says people new to e-lancing should think of themselves as start-up service professionals who can build their client base from not just in their geographic region but from all over the world.

3. Don't just be good at what you do, be outstanding.

The more freelancers can hone their particular skills and carve out a niche that is in demand and stay current with the latest information and trends in that area, the more valuable they will be to potential employers, according to Rosati.

Babikan, now in her second year of gigging, can pick and choose clients. She does not have health insurance yet, but will soon. She's making more money than she did before in her corporate job. And most importantly, she says she has more time for friends and family.

Next:Should You Strike Out on Your Own? Or Will You Strike Out? >>


Carol BermanCarol Berman, an award-winning journalist, writes the blog, The Scribble Lounge, taking a unique look at current events and pop culture. Carol also owns City Girl Media, a media consulting company. She's New York bred and now lives outside Philadelphia.

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