As modern business people and entrepreneurs will tell you, the days of working one job, moving up the pay scale, earning a 401k and retiring by age 65 are long gone for many people in the current “gig economy.” Contrary to the economy of past generations, today’s economy is characterized by freelancers, independent workers and short-term contractors instead of permanent, full-time employees. In fact, a study conducted by Intuit predicted that by 2020, part-time, independent and freelance contractors will constitute about 40 percent of the U.S. workforce . As the number of contingent workers rises, it is important to know how to survive and thrive in a gig economy, so here are a few strategies to employ in a gig economy to keep your customers content.
Clarify and Communicate
Naturally, a freelancer will want to finish every project on time, but sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, revisions to the project or even misunderstandings about the entire concept. One crossed wire could mean the death of a project and the end of your gig with that client.
Tip: Make a checklist of items to address before beginning any project and go over it with your client to ensure there is no ambiguity or potential for misunderstanding. Include the following topics of discussion in your checklist:
- Purpose – the end goal or objective of the project.
- Parameters – where does the project begin and end, and are there any specifications to include or avoid?
- Scope – what is the big picture and how does this specific objective fit into it
- Measures – how will your progress and success be gauged for this project?
- Reports – how will you communicate your progress to your client?
- Deadlines – the precise date in which all work on the project must be completed.
When you are certain that you understand the client’s needs and wants, only then should you proceed to sign the contract and begin work on the job. Whether you are contracted to write a feature story for a magazine, redesign a kitchen or write computer code, the fundamentals of “gigs” are the same. The success of any job hinges on clarity and communication.
Keep Detailed Records
Organization is imperative when you are essentially your own boss. You will need to develop a filing system for projects, clients, payments and invoices. You will also want to keep a communication log of the date, time and brief description of each time you speak with a customer; use a digital voice recording if you and the third party agree on it.
It may seem excessive to go to these lengths just for the sake of accuracy, but the first time you have a “But you said…” situation regarding payment or after you have a disagreement about what work was promised or discussed, you will be glad you have those records and/or recordings handy.
Tip: Set up quarterly payments with the IRS in advance. It will depend on the kind of contract or freelance work you do, but with most “gig” work, taxes are not automatically deducted from the individual, private payments you receive. It is up to the freelancer to keep track of earnings and to pay Uncle Sam, either quarterly or annually, so sloppy bookkeeping can cause serious problems.
Use Tech and Automation to Supplement, Not Dominate Work
As an individual contractor, you have the advantage of being a unique human being, not a soulless corporation or a faceless name in a customer’s inbox. Give your clients your cell phone number to reach you and be sure to use the little-known feature called “voicemail.”
Though it may seem, in this age of texting, social media and IM, that many have forgotten the lost art of using one’s voice to communicate, setting up your voicemail to reflect your specific contract expertise and turning your voicemail on is of immense importance in this gig economy. Even modern customers who use social media have little patience for businesses that aren’t easily reachable.
Tip: Understandably, if you are a freelancer who came into being after recording messages on phones fell out of fashion, you may need a step-by-step guide. T-Mobile customers can find instructions on how to turn on their voicemail.
Be Professional and Personable
Regardless of the difficulty level of your work, you must be (or at least appear to be) working at all times. Do not make the mistake of thinking that because you do not work in an office with a dress code that donning yoga pants or gym shorts when meeting a client is quirky or charming. It’s neither. Freelance or contract work is your profession: dress professionally.
This is not to say that you should bench your personality. Quite the opposite. Engage your clients, develop professional relationships based on mutual respect and considerate boundaries. As these relationships solidify, they will frequently lead to your clients referring new business to you, because that is what professional friends do.
Though the uncertainty of a gig economy can be frightening, it is possible to thrive without a guaranteed paycheck and pension. A happy customer base means a busy gig worker, so employ these tips to ensure that your gig isn’t up.
Founder Dinis Guarda
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