To Gig or Not to Gig?
After four years as a gig worker, I'm wondering: How can something that looks so good feel so bad?
Roughly three years ago, a journalist friend of mine explained to me that I was transitioning from a full-time employee to a gigger. And I wondered, what the hell is that? He explained that it's when you go from temp job to temp job in an attempt to earn what you need (usually), in the gig economy, rather than committing to a single employer long-term.
As someone who pretty much went from full-time job to full-time job as if they were sequential gigs my entire worklife (mostly corporate marketing and sales jobs), I suspected that joining the gig economy in my 60s would be a great fit. It also seemed to be a great way to experiment with a lot of different areas that I had skills and experience in, to see what I enjoyed most.
The postings I saw on various job-broker sites for gig work read like an ice cream list to me. Each flavor was more tempting than the next.
"Write about sports…ad copy for a new product….ghostwrite memoirs of a Holocaust survivor… create dating profiles for frustrated singles…" The prospect of doing this kind of thing every day until the day I die was exhilarating.
My Hopes Entering the Gig World
These jobs, I thought, spoke to my pragmatic and creative side, required absolutely no kowtowing to higher-ups and would provide the daily job satisfaction I rarely experienced in my "Rat Race to Riches" career.
Economically, however, gigging (an email ad here, a marketing plan there, a website edit, a PR release) has turned into endless digging for consistent work.
Even after a slow start joining the gig economy, I was optimistic that over time (and some sterling reviews), I'd quickly get to a point where I would be chased for projects rather than the other way around.
Too good to be true? So far, I would have to say, unfortunately, YES.
I'm not giving up, and the job satisfaction piece has definitely held up for me. Economically, however, gigging (an email ad here, a marketing plan there, a website edit, a PR release) has turned into endless digging for consistent work.
And inconsistent work makes for an abject shortfall of income.
The quest for good gig jobs is an endless undertaking. I have used almost exclusively one broker site whose entire business model revolves around gigs. It supports both the posting and applicant side of gigging with live and text support as well as seminars to help novices.
That said, there should be a big billboard on the home page that reads, "Warning! If you are applying for a lot of gigs and getting denied, you are out of luck. Use this site at the peril of insolvency."
Its customer support's favorite line is, "We do not tell the client who to pick." Yes, I know that. Thanks.
My plan at the outset was to bid low on jobs, get some experience and then gradually increase my hourly wage as I built up a successful job history with some stellar reviews.
A 5-Star Review
About a month ago, I received a 5-star review that practically made me blush. The concepts and copy I supplied for an ad agency's voice-over ads to help it get more clients earned me praise like "head and shoulders above the rest" and "as if he had been working with the company for years…"
I put that review everywhere people could find me — on the site, off the site, and even on my mother's coffee table.
It was time to strike while the iron was hot, as that anachronistic cliché goes. So, I put out 20 applications in the next two weeks. I've only received one response. And that job paid miserably.
The most incredulous aspect of all of this to me has been the ratio of time and energy required for each submission vs. the pay and lifespan of the jobs.
It is not uncommon to see gig writing job postings calling for 1,500 words and a fee of $30 or screenplays for TV pilots and YouTube videos for under $200. There could be only two reasons someone would apply for any of these: for the sheer thrill of them or hoping they'd lead to either much better paying gigs or full-time work.
As someone in my fourth year in the gig game, this is not only unappealing but makes me question the validity of the entire gig idea.
Sooner or later, especially on the back nine of life or simply in pursuit of a modest living, one has to question how the gig thing can ever work.
Looking Back at My Time as an Uber Driver
When I first quit mainstream business, I drove for Uber and Lyft to make ends meet. While there were good and bad earning days, my average was pretty close to $20 an hour in rider fares. I made $500 a week, before taxes and expenses.
My pay range for mostly ad, press release and site revisions this past six months has ranged from $30 to $40 an hour.
I should be able to match my previous driving income by working half the hours. Problem is, I haven't had a single job in the last four weeks and cannot apply for many more or reduce my rate to appreciably change the situation. There are only so many hours in the day and so many applications to field.
Many clients who've used me and have seemingly been happy have failed to provide "more work will follow" as promised.
Writing cover letters, filling out applications and answering additional questions just to secure a job that will put at best a few hundred dollars in my pocket and last on the average a couple of weeks — it doesn't add up.
And many clients who've used me and have seemingly been happy have failed to provide "more work will follow" as promised.
It all comes down to supply and demand in the gigging world. There are simply too many applicants turned on by the "fun" assignments for the number of job postings available.
I'm not in a position to do this "just for fun."
I am sure there are exceptions out there, giggers who are having a decent time of it. But I'm also fairly confident that many more people have given up, or are on the verge of doing so, because the strain of having to always look for the next job and the economic consequences are simply too severe. The gig is up.