What Is a Gig Worker? Definition and How To Find Gig Jobs

What Is a Gig Worker? Definition and How To Find Gig Jobs

In a world of rapidly evolving technology and shifting employment dynamics, the traditional 9-to-5 job landscape is undergoing a profound transformation. Enter the “gig economy,” a burgeoning labor market characterized by short-term contracts and freelance work as opposed to permanent positions.

From rideshare drivers to freelance designers, millions are redefining what it means to earn a living. In 2022, 39% of the American workforce did some sort of freelance work—up 3% from 2021.  

But what is a gig worker? And how do you navigate the gig workforce? In this article, we’ll delve into understanding gig work, its benefits, and the challenges that come with its freedom. We’ll also offer insights on how to find a gig job and share tips on thriving in the gig economy.

What is a gig worker?

A gig worker is someone who takes on short-term or project-based jobs, often for multiple clients at once, rather than being employed by a company. Many freelancers find gigs through online platforms.

Unlike traditional employees, gig economy workers lack the security, perks, and employee benefits that come with being a full-time employee. For example, they usually have to provide for their own health insurance, retirement plans, and other benefits that a traditional employee might get as part of their compensation package.

However, gig workers tend to enjoy more flexibility. They’re considered independent workers who can pursue other jobs or side hustles based on their schedules and interests. Plus, many gig roles offer the luxury of working from any location.

Think of the ridesharing apps Uber and Lyft, the food delivery app DoorDash, or Instacart for grocery delivery. For work that can be done remotely, such as graphic design or virtual assistant , businesses might look to a platform like Upwork, such as contracting a graphic designer to create a pamphlet or logo.

Many industries, including tech, education, and finance, now rely on gig work to fill labor gaps, reflecting its versatility and the growing demand for flexible work arrangements.

Benefits and challenges

If you’re interested in gig work, make sure you understand the pros and cons that come with this type of work. To help you weigh your options, we explore both sides.

Benefits

  • Flexibility. Gig workers often have the freedom to choose when, where, and how much they work. This is especially beneficial for those who have other commitments or prefer nontraditional work hours. For example, a rideshare driver might choose to work only during peak demand times to maximize earnings, while a freelance writer might opt to write early in the morning before their kids wake up.
  • Independence. Being your own boss means taking charge of your projects, rates, and workflow. This can be a big plus if you’re a self-starter and thrive in environments where you have the freedom to make decisions. For instance, a freelance graphic designer can choose clients that align with their style, while a consultant might pick projects based on interest or expertise.
  • Diverse opportunities. From driving for Uber to helping with software development, the range of opportunities in the gig world is diverse. For example, on TaskRabbit, you can find contract work walking dogs, painting walls, building furniture, and hanging Christmas lights.
  • Expanding network. Gig workers often meet various clients and professionals. An event planner, for example, might connect with caterers, DJs, and venue owners, expanding their professional network and potentially leading to more opportunities.
  • Supplemental income. Gig work is often used to supplement a primary job’s income. For instance, a teacher might tutor students in the summer, or an artist might sell crafts on Etsy to support their primary passion projects.
  • Increased work security. Freelancers have a different expectation of the cycle of their professional relationships. Because they’re often doing short-term work and have multiple clients at once, the end of a professional relationship doesn’t mean their income stops. They likely have a fully updated portfolio and can quickly transition to new clients, or they may be able to take on more work with a client they’re already collaborating with.

Challenges

  • Lack of job security. Unlike a traditional 9-to-5 job, gig work doesn’t promise long-term employment. An employee who is fired might take redress with their company, receive a severance package, or apply for unemployment. But these avenues are typically unavailable to gig workers; their professional relationship with their client ends when the contract is met.
  • Lack of benefits. Many gig workers miss out on employer-provided perks. For example, freelancers don’t typically receive health insurance, paid time off, or a retirement plan from clients, unlike their counterparts in full-time roles.
  • Inconsistent income. Earnings in the gig economy can be erratic. For example, a freelance illustrator might land several commissions one month and none the next, making financial planning essential yet challenging.
  • Isolation. Working independently can sometimes mean working alone. For instance, a virtual assistant working from home might miss the camaraderie and team environment that comes with office-based roles.
  • Administrative tasks. The behind-the-scenes work can be daunting. For example, gig workers have to handle their own invoicing, tax deductions, and marketing—tasks that are typically spread across departments in larger organizations.

Legal considerations for gig workers

Navigating the gig economy requires skills in your chosen field, and also an understanding of some fundamental legal issues.

  • Independent contractor status. As a gig worker, you’re often classified as an independent contractor, not an employee, which can affect your tax responsibilities, benefits, and legal rights. For example, you might miss out on things like minimum wage, overtime, and unemployment benefits as a contract worker.
  • Self-employment taxes. Taxes aren’t as straightforward when you’re your own boss. You need to take care of both the employer and employee parts of Social Security and Medicare taxes. Be sure to save for any taxes you may owe. Even though platforms like Uber or DoorDash might give you a 1099 form, also keeping your own records is wise.
  • Insurance. Many protections offered to traditional employees, like workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance, may not apply to gig workers. You might also need to arrange your own health insurance.
  • Business licenses. Depending on where your office is located and what you do, you might need a small business license. Be sure to check your city’s or state’s requirements.
  • Contractual agreements. Before diving into a new gig, take the time to read the contract. It’ll tell you about payment, what you’re supposed to do, and any liabilities. If you’re not sure about the language, consider getting legal input from a professional.
  • State laws. Some states have specific laws regarding gig workers. For instance, California’s Assembly Bill 5 has implications for the classification of workers in the gig economy. Stay informed about the laws in your state or region.
  • Intellectual property. If you’re creating original material—such as designs, content, or software—you should know the ins and outs of intellectual property laws. Depending on the contract, once a client pays, they might own the rights to your work. Make sure you’re clear on that upfront.

How to find a gig job

We offer some steps you can take to get started as a gig worker.

Gig job steps:

  1. Identify your skills and interests
  2. Research relevant online platforms
  3. Build a strong profile
  4. Create a portfolio
  5. Start small
  6. Set competitive rates
  7. Deliver high-quality work
  8. Network
  9. Stay updated
  10. Regularly update your profile and portfolio

1. Identify your skills and interests

What are you great at? What gets your heart racing with excitement? Are you a whiz with numbers, a wizard with words, or a maestro with marketing? By understanding your skills and passions, you’ll be better positioned to offer services that you love and that are also valuable to business owners.

Want to see if your skills are in demand? Check out our guide.

2. Research relevant online platforms

Once you’ve pinpointed your skills and interests, capitalize on your skill set with the right digital platform.

If you’re a whiz at software development, graphic design, copywriting, and other online services, platforms like Upwork can be a great fit. Learn how to get started as a freelancer on Upwork. More of a jack-of-all-trades? TaskRabbit allows you to do different tasks, from running errands to DIY projects. Explore, compare, and find the platform that fits with what you bring to the table.

3. Build a strong profile  

Imagine walking into a job interview. Your resume is crisp, you have experience, and your skills are top-notch. For online gigs, that interview happens every time someone clicks on your profile. On platforms like Upwork, your profile is like your resume.

A powerful profile is more than a list of your name and skills—it’s your story’s narrative. Upwork profile examples can give you some inspiration. Highlight your experiences and special skills and share past projects or work you’ve excelled at.

As you take on work, positive reviews and testimonials can boost your reputation. Check out these tips to help your profile stand out.

4. Create a portfolio

A strong portfolio is tangible proof of your skills. For example, designers might show off their best logos and designs, while writers may add links to compelling pieces they’ve written.

Need inspiration? Dive into these tips to build a freelancer portfolio that truly stands out. Remember, it’s all about showing, not just telling, your worth.

5. Start small

Start your gig journey by opting for simpler, more manageable tasks. For instance:

  • Beginning graphic designers might design logos or business cards
  • Writers could draft a few short blog posts or product descriptions as a good starting point
  • Aspiring photographers can offer portrait sessions or cover small events
  • Web developers can start by tweaking or updating existing websites rather than building new sites from scratch

Tackling these initial tasks can help you gain experience, refine your skills, and gather positive reviews. As you establish a sound foundation, you’ll build confidence to take on more comprehensive and lucrative opportunities.

6. Set competitive rates

Are you figuring out how much to charge? Starting out, you might want to go a bit lower to draw in those first few clients. As you get more gigs under your belt, you can bump up your rates.

Check out our Hourly Rate Guide to see what’s typical in your field. If you don’t see your field on the list, do a Google search and use a few sources to find a good average.

7. Deliver high-quality work

In the gig economy, the caliber of your work sets you apart. Every task or project you take on is an opportunity to showcase your skills, dedication, and professionalism.

Whether you’re designing a logo, writing an article, or consulting on a business strategy, maintaining a high standard ensures you not only meet but exceed client expectations. By consistently delivering top-tier work, you create a positive impression that often translates to favorable feedback, testimonials, or ratings.

These endorsements serve as social proof for potential clients, showcasing your reliability and expertise. Satisfied clients are more likely to return for your services or even recommend you to others.

8. Network

Your professional network is often as valuable as the skills you bring to the table. While each job is an opportunity to demonstrate your abilities, it’s equally an occasion to forge meaningful connections.

Interacting with clients beyond the transactional layer can lead to deeper relationships, fostering trust and understanding. It’s not just about seeking the next job—it’s about cultivating a community of allies, mentors, and potential collaborators.

Connecting with other gig workers can offer a wealth of insights. Sharing experiences, challenges, and strategies with peers can provide unique perspectives, revealing market trends or innovative solutions to common problems.

Learn how to network for a job with our step-by-step guide.

9. Stay updated

The dynamic nature of the gig economy demands constant adaptability and a proactive mindset. As industries evolve, so do the tools, technologies, and best practices within them.

Keep informed and updated to ensure you remain relevant and desirable in the market. For instance, a digital marketer who keeps abreast of the latest algorithms and platforms will have an edge over those who stick to older methods.

And by subscribing to industry-specific newsletters or participating in relevant online forums and Facebook groups, you not only gain access to new information but also join a community of like-minded professionals.

10. Regularly update your profile and portfolio

As you tackle more gigs and hone your skills, don’t forget to refresh your profile and portfolio.

Whether it’s a groundbreaking design project, a well-received article, or a software solution that made waves, highlighting these triumphs can pique the interest of prospective clients.

Regularly updating your profile also signals dedication, professionalism, and growth, making you an appealing choice for those seeking top-tier gig workers.

Top gig economy jobs to consider

The gig economy is flourishing, offering many opportunities tailored to diverse skill sets. We present some gig jobs to consider.

  • Freelance writer. Freelance writing offers the flexibility to write for various clients on diverse topics. From blog posts to e-books, there are a lot of options. Find writing gigs.
  • Graphic designer. Have an eye for design? Brands are always on the lookout for logos, infographics, and more. A robust portfolio can set you apart. Explore design opportunities.
  • Software developer. A software developer designs, writes, tests, and maintains software or applications to fulfill specific user needs or solve problems. Check for software gigs.
  • Online tutor. The education sector has witnessed a shift to e-learning. Online tutoring could be your niche if you excel in a subject or skill. Upwork has a range of teaching opportunities.
  • Virtual assistant. Businesses, especially solopreneurs, seek virtual assistants to handle scheduling and data entry tasks. Check out VA roles.
  • Freelance photographer. Whether it’s product shots, portraits, or event captures, if you can snap it right, there’s a gig waiting for you. Find the latest photography jobs.
  • Rideshare or delivery driver. Platforms like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have changed the dynamics of transport and delivery. It can be a lucrative side gig if you have a vehicle, license, clean driving record, and time.
  • Airbnb host. Have a spare room or a vacation home? The hospitality sector has transformed with platforms like Airbnb. Play host and earn by making someone’s stay memorable.

Become part of the gig economy

The gig world is full of opportunities and freedom. Of course, with freedom comes responsibility, like sorting out your own taxes and liabilities. But once you get the hang of it, and with platforms like Upwork offering guidance and job listings, it can be a rewarding adventure.

Whether you’re looking to turn a hobby into a side hustle or to dive headfirst into freelancing, the doors are wide open.

Check out the latest freelancing jobs and get started with your first gig on Upwork.

Upwork does not provide tax or legal advice. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze the laws that apply to their business endeavor.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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What Is a Gig Worker? Definition and How To Find Gig Jobs
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