If you’ve scanned the business section of any news source lately, you’ve likely seen some references to the gig economy. It’s a key part of the discussion around how the nature of remote work is changing in the United States and the world.
But while news outlets are fond of discussing the rise of the gig economy, they less frequently discuss what the gig economy actually is. More importantly, they neglect to mention the tremendous opportunity this new economy presents for hard-working, motivated individuals who are looking to make some extra money (or even replace their full-time jobs).
That’s why we’ve created this guide.
Below, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the gig economy, including how gig jobs work and how you can start making money in the gig economy using tools and skills that you already have.
What Is the Gig Economy?
The gig economy can be difficult to define, since researchers and institutions disagree about what a “gig” is. However, for the purposes of our explanation, we’re going to use the definition from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The BLS defines a gig as…
“a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.”
Looking at this definition, you might be tempted to think that gig work is the same as contract or freelance work.
Certainly, gig work has a lot of similarities with these types of work, but the key difference is that gig work tends to focus on short-term, single projects or tasks. Indeed, most gig jobs tend to be quite short-term, requiring only a few hours (or even minutes) to complete.
With this definition of a gig, then, the gig economy simply describes the combination of companies who hire gig workers and the workers who earn money from completing gigs.
The History and Future of the Gig Economy
The gig economy sure sounds new, but it’s been around a long time. Originally coined by jazz musicians to refer to performances, gigs have taken on a whole new meaning.
As society shifts, gig workers are expected to outnumber traditional workers by the year 2021.
While we also created a comprehensive timeline of the gig economy, the visual below will give a quick reference of the history and future of gig work.
(post continues below infographic and sources)
How Do Gig Economy Jobs Work?
The specifics of gig economy jobs vary as much as the types of work that you can think of.
A gig job could mean driving passengers around for a service like Lyft or Uber, installing IKEA furniture through an app like TaskRabbit, or delivering just about anything through an app like Postmates.
Despite the difference in the specific tasks, however, all these gig jobs have the following things in common:
- Independent contractor agreement (as opposed to a full-time or part-time employee arrangement)
- Flexible schedule (work basically whenever you want to, as little or as much as you want)
- Minimal credentials required (especially in the case of driving or delivery jobs)
- Quick hiring and onboarding process (compared to traditional jobs)
- Task-based payment (as opposed to hourly or salaried pay)
- Reliance on apps and technology (as opposed to traditional bosses or corporate hierarchy)
With most gig economy jobs, all you have to do is apply through the website, meet a few basic qualifications, pass a background check, provide your bank account information, and complete a brief onboarding process.
Once you’ve done this, you can start working immediately. You don’t have to deal with multiple rounds of interviews or extensive training programs. This makes gig work great if you need to make money ASAP and can’t wait on the traditional hiring process.
Given all this, are gig economy jobs right for your situation? Read on to find out.
Are Gig Economy Jobs Right for You?
So what exactly does this mean for you as a worker? Let’s take a closer look and examine how gig economy jobs work (and if they’re right for you).
More and more American workers are choosing to participate in the gig economy. Estimates vary, but the Brookings Institution reports that anywhere from 15.8% to 31% of U.S. workers perform some sort of independent gig work (either to make extra money on the side or as a source of full-time income).
That’s a significant portion of Americans, but is it worth it for you to join the ranks of these independent workers? This all depends on what you’re looking for in your work.
Here are some questions to answer to help you decide if gig jobs are right for you:
1. Do you need a way to make extra money in addition to your full-time job, or are you looking to completely replace your full-time income?
Both are possible with gig work, though earning a full-time income that you can live on will often require you to work several different gigs.
2. Are you comfortable working independently, without a boss or corporate structure?
Gig jobs require you to manage your own time and work output in a way that can be foreign if you’ve never worked for yourself.
So make sure you’re prepared for this new level of self-discipline that comes with these alternative work arrangements.
3. Do you mind having a variable, unpredictable income?
Especially when you start, your income from gigs can vary dramatically from week to week and month to month. If you’re looking for a regular paycheck, then this isn’t the line of work for you.
4. Are you okay with not having benefits?
Gig jobs usually lack benefits such as health insurance for freelancers, retirement plans, and paid vacation.
If you’re using gig work to supplement a full-time job, then this may not matter to you. But if you hope to do gig work full-time, then you should think carefully about how you’re going to provide your own benefits.
5. Are you prepared to withhold and pay your own taxes?
Since most gig economy workers are independent contractors, that means you’re responsible for saving for and paying taxes on the money you own.
You need to be comfortable doing the research on how much you should save (or be ready to pay an accountant to advise you). This can be an adjustment if you’re used to traditional W-2 jobs.
If, after answering the above questions, you think that gig work is for you, then read on to find out how to start working and earning from gig economy jobs.
A few resources to help with taxes:
- FreeTaxUSA: free accounting software for freelancers
- Quickbooks Self Employed: popular small business accounting software
- 6 tax write-offs that are commonly overlooked by gig workers
- Everything you need to know about taxes in the gig economy
How to Make Money in the Gig Economy
The good news about the gig economy is that there’s a type of job for just about everyone.
It doesn’t matter how skilled you are or if you have a degree. All that companies hiring gig workers care about is if you can complete the job, as well as that you have a clean criminal history (most gig economy jobs require a background check).
So what sorts of jobs can you get in the gig economy? Here are some of our favorites, organized based on the following categories:
Do you have a car and like to drive? Then you should look into transportation gigs.
To get these gigs, you’ll generally need to meet the following requirements:
- Have a safe, working vehicle that meets the company’s requirements
- Have a current smartphone that can run the necessary driver apps
- Have current, valid driver’s license, auto insurance, and vehicle registration
- Pass a criminal background check and driving history (DMV) check
- Be at least 21
In addition to gigs driving passengers around, the transportation category can also include related activities such as charging Lime or Bird electric scooters.
To learn more about transportation gigs, check out these guides:
- How to Become an Uber Driver
- How to Become a Lyft Driver
- How to Become a Via Rideshare Driver
- How to Become a Juno Driver
- How to Become a Lime Scooter Charger
- How to Become a Bird Scooter Charger
So let’s say that you like driving (or even riding your bike), but you don’t want to transport passengers. If this is the case, then we recommend one of the many delivery gigs out there.
The specific requirements for these jobs vary, but they generally require the following:
- Have a working vehicle (usually a car, but some apps will let you deliver using a bike, scooter, or even on foot)
- Have the necessary license, insurance, and registration (if using a car, motorcycle, or scooter)
- Have a current smartphone that can run the necessary apps
- Pass a criminal background check (and, in some cases, a DMV check)
- Be at least 18 (though some apps require you to be a bit older)
In terms of what you’ll be delivering, this can vary. There are food delivery apps like Grubhub and Uber Eats, grocery delivery apps like Instacart, and package delivery apps like Amazon Flex. Some apps, such as Postmates, even combine food delivery and courier services.
Have a look at these guides to learn more about delivery gigs:
- How to Become An Instacart Shopper
- How to Become a Shipt Shopper
- How to Become an Amazon Flex Courier
- How to Become a Caviar Courier
- How to Become a DoorDash Driver
- How to Become a Grubhub Driver
- How to Become an Uber Eats Driver
- How to Become a Postmates Courier
Household Task Gigs
Would you consider yourself a handy person? Do you like fixing or cleaning things? Then you might be a great fit for one of the many household task gigs that are out there.
With these apps, customers will hire you to do things around the house. This could be something as simple as putting together furniture to as complex as fixing a car.
The physical requirements for these gigs also vary greatly. Some will require you to lift nothing more than a paintbrush, while others will require that you can haul away bulky junk.
Regardless of the task, most household gigs have the following requirements:
- Pass a background check
- Have a current smartphone that can run the necessary apps
- Be at least 18
- Possess the necessary skills (and, in some cases, prove that you have them)
Looking to get started helping people with household tasks? Check out these guides for more information:
- How to Become a TaskRabbit Tasker
- Bellhops Worker Requirements
- How to Become a YourMechanic Worker
- How to Become a Handy Worker
Do you have experience caring for children, pets, or the elderly? Lucky for you, there’s a whole segment of the gig economy based around these tasks. The requirements for these jobs will vary depending on what you’ll be doing.
Jobs that involve caring for children, for instance, will tend to have stricter requirements than those that involve caring for pets.
Generally, however, you can expect the following requirements for these jobs:
- Pass a criminal background check (which tend to be especially rigorous for these sorts of gigs)
- Have experience providing the relevant type of care (you may have to complete a questionnaire or even an in-person interview to verify this)
- Have a safe, working vehicle (this may be necessary, for instance, if the gig involves picking up children from school or taking an elderly person to the store)
- Be at least 18
You should also be aware that many of these jobs will require you to interview with the people who are hiring you. Most people want to meet the person who is going to be taking care of grandma or junior before they hire them, so expect to complete a phone call, video call, or even an in-person meeting before you get one of these gigs.
If you’re ready to start caring for people or pets, here are some guides you should read:
- How to Become a Papa Worker
- Your Step-By-Step Guide on How to Become an UrbanSitter Worker
- Make Money By Walking Dogs: Your Ultimate Guide to Rover
All of the gigs we’ve discussed so far involve completing tasks in person. However, there’s another segment of the gig economy that exists purely online.
If you want to earn from the comfort of your home while maintaining work-life balance, then these gigs are worth looking into.
In this category, you have a variety of work types and industries. You can earn money selling your clothes online with Poshmark.
Or, you could use a web application like Fiverr to sell pretty much any kind of digital service, including writing, graphic design, and programming (to name just a few).
If you have a skill that you want to teach others, you could create a course on Udemy or tutor learners of all ages through a site like Wyzant or Tutor.com.
This category also includes higher-paid, higher-skill gigs.
For instance, if you have expertise in a particular industry, you could work consulting gigs. If you have skills with a particular software, you can work with a company that helps train organizations and professionals to use it.
The internet makes it easier than ever to find opportunities to put your high-value skills to work.
When choosing one of these online gigs, you’ll generally need to meet the following requirements:
- Have the necessary skills (and be able to prove that you have them, in some cases)
- Have a college degree (necessary for many tutoring apps)
- Pass a background check (in the case of tutoring apps, though most of the other apps in this category don’t require it)
- Be at least 18 (though some apps, such as Poshmark, don’t require this)
Here are some of our favorite online gigs for you to check out:
- 12 Online Tutoring Jobs That Are Always Hiring
- Your Complete Guide to Teaching a Udemy Course
- The Definitive Guide to Fiverr 2019: What Is Fiverr and How Does It Work?
- The Best Online Jobs for Teens
Gig Economy FAQ
To conclude this guide, here are answers to some common questions about the gig economy:
1. What’s the difference between the gig economy and the sharing economy?
Some people will use the terms interchangeably, but there are important differences. The sharing economy refers to any kind of gig that involves sharing an asset.
For instance, Uber and Lyft drivers use their own vehicles (sharing economy) to transport passengers on a gig basis (gig economy).
Airbnb would also fall into this category, as it involves people sharing their homes in exchange for money.
That being said, not all gig economy jobs are sharing economy jobs. With an app like TaskRabbit, for instance, the main exchange is one of services. Sure, a worker might use their own tools, but the emphasis is on the service provided, not the assets involved.
2. Can you work multiple gig economy jobs at once?
In almost all cases, yes. At least, there are no laws or policies that prevent you from working more than one gig.
That being said, you should be careful of stretching yourself too thin. Not only can this cause your job performance to suffer, but it can also take a toll on your physical and mental health.
3. Are there gig economy jobs for workers outside the United States?
There certainly are. Uber, for instance, operates all over the world. And most online gig jobs don’t require you to be from a specific country (Fiverr is a good example of this).
You should check the specific requirements of the gig to ensure that you’re eligible to do it in your country.
4. Are all gig economy jobs “on-demand” work?
Much of the conversation about the gig economy focuses on delivery apps, task marketplaces, and transportation jobs. Most of these are “on-demand” jobs where you get paid for completing a particular task at the precise moment that someone needs it.
While there are lots of gig jobs that fit this category, there are also plenty that occur on longer timelines. For instance, management consulting gigs can last for months at a time, and they usually don’t require you to be available at a moment’s notice.
Ultimately, you need to find the gig that matches your own blend of skills, experience, and interests.
Embrace the Gig Economy to Start Earning Extra Cash
We hope this guide has helped you understand what the gig economy is, how it works, and how you can start earning money with it today. Now that you know all the ways you can earn in the gig economy, the next step is to get out there and start working a gig. We wish you the very best of luck!