There’s a movement going on in America, and it’s something retirees, and those even close to retirement, should start studying—hard. It’s called the “gig economy,” and it’s changing how people think about almost everything. Work. Play. And even the fine line in between the two. It’s changing how we pay and get paid for both, and it’s transforming how people look for work and how the work itself is getting done. Whether you’re looking for extra income to help fund your retirement, or you simply want to work to keep your mind and body active in your later years, understanding the gig economy and how it functions is vital to rethinking your retirement.
Anyone who has been forced to look for work recently can tell you firsthand how the gig economy has flipped the traditional work landscape on its head. Old-fashioned resumes have been replaced by LinkedIn profiles, and even the idea of finding a conventional “job” is fast becoming a thing of the past. Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb have provided a way for almost anyone to earn an income, as well as a whole new way for consumers to find and pay for services.
These companies aren’t alone. Today, there’s a website or an app that offers on-demand services of almost any kind imaginable. DoorDash delivers breakfast, lunch, or dinner from your favorite restaurant to your door at the click of a button. TaskRabbit lets you order up a “trusted and local handyman” within an hour. Dogvacay gives pet owners online access to 5-star pet sitters and dog walkers. And there are just as many services for professional freelancers. Upwork helps companies hire web developers, writers, accountants, and virtual assistants. Guru is the place to find professionals in management and finance, engineering and architecture, and sales and marketing. And UpCounsel is the go-to site for legal services.
Of course, every one of these services requires individuals to provide skills. Whether they are driving for Uber or DoorDash, putting together IKEA furniture, or helping a business crunch the numbers, these workers make up a growing workforce that is already in place. That means that if you thought serving up lattes at your local Starbucks was the only job in town for anyone “post-career,” you’re happily mistaken. The gig economy is taking over, and that’s good news—at least for those who get it and can adapt to this new reality.
The business school at UCI certainly gets it. My friend Howard Mirowitz is on the advisory board at the school’s new Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The center is devoted entirely to inspiring innovation and entrepreneurship in the 21st century. Here students learn both why it’s important to become an entrepreneur, as well as the processes and tools to help turn that dream into a reality. The center fills a need that’s positively exploding. While being an entrepreneur may have sounded like a lofty dream a decade ago, it’s fast becoming mandatory for anyone hoping to succeed in an environment where it’s predicted that 43-50% of workers in the US will be freelancers by 2020. Let me repeat that: 43% to 50% of workers will be freelancers. Whatever your age, if you’re looking for work today, you are part of that statistic. Which means that now is the time to figure out what you have to offer the world and how that fits into what the world needs from you, and then begin to create your opportunities as part of this new, dynamic workforce.
For those of us who grew up in a business world where “climbing the corporate ladder” was the norm and playing by the rules led to a coveted lifetime pension, this new era can be pretty daunting. It requires flexibility and agility, not to mention a good dose of personal marketing savvy and technology know-how as well. So where do you start? It may be a moving target, but these five steps can help you take those first important steps:
- Start to think differently. Rather than thinking about getting a “job,” make a list of all of your skills—both skills you learned in the traditional workplace and those you learned in life. Next, examine your list and circle the things you would like to continue doing and what someone else wants enough to pay you for. One of these skills may very well be your next “gig.”
- Get a mentor. There’s no doubt about it: millennials have the gig economy down pat. To them, it’s just the way the world works now. If you need help figuring out how you can offer your skills, or even what skills people might be looking for, ask someone younger to serve as your mentor. You’ll be amazed at the knowledge they can offer.
- Market yourself. Create a great LinkedIn profile that uses keywords that match your skill set to be sure people can find you online (learn all about LinkedIn keywords here). No, you don’t need to include dates that might “age” you or list every job you’ve ever had. Focus on what’s relevant to what you’re marketing today. If there’s already an on-demand service that matches your skills (think Upwork and Guru), explore how to get listed. There are even services which provide that service, helping to market everything from your Airbnb rental to your skills in human resources or healthcare.
- Save madly. While there are many upsides to the gig economy, the downside is that it isn’t always consistent. Even if you do find the perfect niche, there may be off times when your services aren’t needed, or the need may change entirely, causing you to have to rethink your focus once again. Having a sizable emergency fund can help offset potential gaps in income.
- Be flexible. When I left my own corporate career, I realized there was a whole set of skills I needed to learn to succeed at my new goal. If you have some but not all of the skills you need for your new “job,” don’t let that scare you away. And if your interests change, know you have the freedom to change your work focus as well.
The gig economy may be replacing the traditional workplace, but what powers it are three things that will never be replaced: people, knowledge, and skills. By taking a look at the knowledge and skills you bring to the table, you may find that working in the gig economy can help your golden years shine that much brighter. How fun is that?!