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by Gemma Williams | July 09, 2024


Although short-term contract and freelance work isn’t for everyone, many people rely on the “gig economy” for their livelihoods. Here, we take a close look at the gig economy, focusing on how it can benefit students, how to find gig work, and how to overcome common challenges associated with freelance and contract work.

What is the gig economy?

The gig economy refers to the labor market that matches up organizations with short-term contractors or freelancers. These contractors and freelancers use the gig economy as their side hustles or main sources of income. The gig economy is a sector that now includes a huge array of work arrangements and opportunities. For example, many people in higher education offer their research and writing skills for blogs, articles, and other forms of writing and editing. In addition, many tech-minded professionals take advantage of income-generating opportunities in technology, offering web design services, video editing, IT services, coding, and reseller hosting. There are also people who provide micro-tasks like survey filling, data entry, and general admin work. Indeed, the opportunities are broad, and there is plenty of gig work on offer depending on your skill set.

Benefits for students

Today, nearly 70 percent of U.S. students engage in some sort of gig work. And one of the key things that leads students into gig work is the flexibility that gig work offers. Typically, students’ schedules are different from day to day, or week to week, and their days aren’t usually full during the 9 to 5 workday. So, if you don’t have time to squeeze in a regular part-time job, taking gigs could be the ideal way to work.

In addition, gig work could be a way to improve your existing skills and learn new skills. Gig work online can also be a great way to practice time management and work efficiently. You’ll learn a lot about workflows, your most efficient hours, and how to manage your time between multiple projects. You might also be learning how to liaise with clients and how to price your own work and time correctly, and you’ll be getting a head start on the industries you’re interested in, gaining some great experience for your resume.

Of course, another important benefit of taking advantage of the big economy is you can earn a lot of money that can supplement other jobs and cover the numerous expenses of student life.

Finding gig work

All of this sounds great, but there’s no point in getting excited about the benefits if you don’t know how to find gig work. Here are some rapid-fire tips that you should tick off before you get started.

1. Make the most of online platforms

Platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, TaskRabbit, and many others can be great ways to make connections and find jobs in your niche.

2. Make sure your profiles are strong

Having a presence on these platforms is one thing, getting work is another. Take as much advice from peers, professors, parents, online articles, and any other sources as you can. Your profile is how people will find you, trust you, and, hopefully, hire you.

3. Price yourself correctly

While it’s important to be affordable, you must ensure you’re getting enough reward for the time you’re putting in. Slogging away for hours on a beautiful branding logo is wonderful, but getting paid $10 for your hard work is not. You may need to offer your services at a discount when starting out, but make sure your price reflects the quality of work as you improve and gain experience and reviews.

4. Apply, apply, apply

As you will quickly discover, there are thousands of micro-jobs, short contracts, one-off opportunities, and mini-roles. Don’t be picky when you’re starting out. If you think you can do it, then go for it. You have to remember there will be a lot of competition so a scattergun approach is best at first.

5. Use examples of your work and get references

Clients want to be able to see your work quickly and easily, so make a portfolio you can send to people with great examples of work and references from happy clients

6. Make the most of social media

Social media is a great way to get your name out there, and platforms like LinkedIn are superb for networking and meeting potential clients.

Overcoming the challenges of gig work

First and most importantly, you can’t let your studies take a back seat. Balancing your time spent working and studying is no mean feat, so if you need some help then consider using time management software, seeking help from college counselors, or trying to be as organized as possible.  

Secondly, you’ll need to take things quite seriously once the money starts coming in. Finances and taxes are a very serious part of working for yourself, so make sure you have a full understanding of what you need to do; and if you don’t, then hiring an accountant is a very sensible thing to think about. 

You’ll also want to think about professionalism and the importance of maintaining a professional attitude and demeanor when talking with clients; their impression of you could shape their review and recommendation to other potential clients. 

Up until this point, it seems like an absolute breeze to make money online, but that is unfortunately not always the case; this is the real world after all. There are some major downsides that might not work for everyone, one of which is the total lack of job security. It’s not uncommon for freelancers to have their very best month followed up immediately by their very worst, so your financial management skills will come in handy here! You’ll also quickly realize that without holiday pay, sick pay, pensions or medical care, things can get a bit tricky when you fall ill or want to go away.

You may also get to the point where your social life, or performance in your education, begins to suffer, at which point you must consider your priorities; it may be time to turn down work and take some more time for yourself. Work-life balance is super important and should never be underestimated.

Gemma Williams works remotely from as many coffee shops as she can find. Gemma has gained experience in a number of HR roles and is now focused on growing her personal brand and connecting with leading experts in the industry. Connect with her on X: @GemmaWilliamsHR.