10 skills you need to thrive in the gig economy

a man with green hair celebrating success in gig economy

If you’ve ever called a Lyft, had Postmates bring food to your door, or ordered a logo on Fiverr—you’ve participated in the gig economy.

On-demand apps and platforms that allow anyone to buy and sell services continue to proliferate. It is the future of the global marketplace—according to McKinsey, up to 162 million people in the US and Europe are employed in the gig economy.

This article digs into the benefits and drawbacks and how it allows a new wave of “solopreneurs” to thrive.

Plus, we'll tackle the skill sets you need to find success in the gig economy and the type of jobs available to independent workers. Hint: you're only bound by your creativity.

Table of contents
What is the gig economy?
What created the gig economy?
How did the pandemic affect the gig economy?
Gig economy jobs
How does it work in the real world?
What are the benefits of the gig economy?
What are the downsides of the gig economy?
Would joining the gig economy suit you?
Thrive in the gig economy with these 10 crucial skills
Are you going gig?

What is the gig economy?

The gig economy is a labor market characterized by short-term, freelance, and contract work. Individuals operate as independent workers rather than full-time employees.

Gig workers encompass roles such as rideshare drivers, freelancers, handymen, and more, often finding opportunities on platforms like Upwork, Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Instacart, and Shipt.

According to a 2018 report by Edison Research, of the 1,044 Americans surveyed, nearly a quarter made money in the gig economy. And of those, 44% relied on gigs as their primary source of income. Gig workers tend to be young, with the largest percentage (38%) being 18 to 34 years old. Check out the best cities in the US for gig economy workers here.

What created the gig economy?

As with many major movements, a combination of business trends, tech, and culture is shaping the gig economy.

The 2007 global financial crisis fundamentally changed the way businesses operated. Companies of all sizes began prioritizing agility, preferring to access resources when needed instead of making full-time hires and therefore saving on overheads like office space, benefits, and training.

Additionally, a contracting model allows businesses to access experts for specific projects or busy periods, benefiting from talent that might otherwise be too expensive to keep in-house permanently.

In tandem with this change in how businesses operate. Tech platforms have sprung up, offering new ways to connect with a wider market, often on a global scale. So instead of a business hiring a staff member for graphic design, they can outsource (also known as “offshoring”) through online marketplaces.

This means that skilled individuals are in high demand in a gig-based market. And, empowered by this new ability to access income outside of traditional employment, people are taking advantage of new ways to earn a living. Not only are they selling skills to businesses, but also to other individuals via platforms like Airtasker or Upwork. These individuals are a type of “solopreneur,” weaving gigs together to create their incomes and operating as their own bosses.

How did the pandemic affect the gig economy?

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, previously underappreciated jobs were suddenly deemed “essential” by the government. Because of quarantines, social-distancing measures, and curfews, gig economy workers, such as those providing food delivery service, became heroes, as millions in lockdown relied on them for basic necessities.

On top of that, employers began to offer flexible hours and remote or hybrid work settings. When it came time to come back to the office, many employees jumped ship and took their chance as freelance professionals.

The indispensability of gig workers coupled with the slew of layoffs that followed the pandemic exposed a harsh truth: Being an employee isn’t as secure as we once thought it was. When you’re an employee, you have one job. Lose that job, and you lose 100% of your income (unless you get unemployment benefits). But when you’re a gig worker, you have multiple contract jobs. Lose one—or even a few—and you still have some work rolling in.

Gig economy jobs

The sky is the limit with gig economy jobs. Always wanted to be ar Here are some examples of common gig economy jobs:

  • Freelance writing
  • Delivery drivers (think Uber, Postmates, Amazon Flex, Roadie driver)
  • Food delivery service
  • Graphic design services
  • Massage therapist services
  • Pet care services
  • Landscaping services
  • Photography and other creative gigs
  • Business consultant services
  • Virtual assistant
  • Software development and other tech roles

How does it work in the real world?

Because there is so much flexibility in the gig economy, some people might have full-time jobs and run a side hustle for extra income in the evenings. Some run their own businesses as independent contractors or freelance workers. Some will blend multiple income streams with a series of freelance gigs, micro-businesses, and e-commerce.

What’s common to all solopreneurs is that they’re individuals running their own small businesses, who typically make use of tech-enabled platforms and gig economy apps to sell their skills. They manage their own monthly income and time.

Most type of gig work requires an internet connection, and possibly a reliable vehicle, and a valid driver's license. Some gigs pay more during peak hours or provide bonuses so it's important to do your research.

What are the benefits of the gig economy?

The benefits of the gig economy are numerous. There’s the empowerment of being your own boss and choosing work that interests you. There’s the potential to make more money than is possible as an employee, depending on your skills.

Many people are drawn to the flexibility the gig economy allows beyond the traditional 9-to-5, and getting the right work-life blend or balance for them. According to a 2019 MetLife report, three in four respondents said being a gig worker gives them the flexibility to manage work and life.

Fancy traveling? Take your work along with you. Want to build a business? Make use of gig economy platforms like Upwork to connect with a global marketplace.

And because the gig economy works around your schedule, you don’t have to quit your desk job. Don’t be surprised, though, if you end up wanting to step away from traditional employment forever—49% of employees plan to leave their jobs in the next five years to be full-time gig workers, according to MetLife.

What are the downsides of the gig economy?

Of course, there are challenges to joining the gig economy. Namely, it can be a struggle to bring in a steady, reliable income. Unlike being an employee, as a gig worker, you can’t expect a paycheck every two weeks.

And that lack of stability can take a toll on your mental health. In its 2018 survey, Edison Research found that gig workers are more likely to have high anxiety levels than those in traditional employment. And those who rely on the gig economy as their primary source of income, 80% say it would be hard for them to cover an unexpected expense of $1,000.

The coronavirus pandemic exposed another downside of the gig economy: Even when demand is high, gig workers’ earnings can suffer. As Time magazine reported, although demand for services like grocery delivery skyrocketed during quarantine, so too did the supply of gig workers thanks to people who lost their jobs and needed a way to earn money. That meant more workers competing for each gig that came through, driving wages down.

And lastly, being a gig worker means you don’t get the benefits that come with traditional employment, such as health insurance, stock options, and 401(k) matching. So you have to take that into account when calculating how much extra money you’ll need to earn in your contract work to make it worth leaving your desk job. Plus, you might need to consider unemployment insurance, accident insurance and the cost of a health insurance plan.

Would joining the gig economy suit you?

Despite it becoming increasingly common, solopreneurship in the gig economy isn’t for everyone. If you’re considering becoming an independent contractor, ask yourself:

  • What technical skills can I offer? Do I need to improve my skill set?
  • Can I deal with uncertainty?
  • Am I a self-starter who gets things done?
  • Are people willing to pay for what I’m offering?
  • Do I need the structure of the office, or do I prefer flexibility?
  • Do I have the tools needed for the type of job I'm pursuing? Such as a suitable vehicle, reliable internet connection, or a modern smartphone.
  • Am I motivated enough to create the income I need?
  • Can I manage the costs involved in running my own business?
  • Can I take responsibility when things go wrong?
  • Where will I find potential and individual clients? Can I maintain a client base?
  • Can I create and stick with a healthy work routine?

The great thing about being a solopreneur is that there is no right way to do it. And if you answered “no” to a few of those questions, it doesn’t mean that you can’t become a solopreneur—it just means you’ll need to develop some essential skills.

This is where F4S can help. We've spent more than 20 years researching entrepreneurs and workplace motivations. To get started, take the free F4S assessment. You'll gain instant access to your results which will show you areas in which you thrive, and areas that might be a blind spot - meaning, areas that have potential for growth.

F4S shows your workplace motivations so you can thrive in the gig economy
F4S dashboard

For example, your results might show that you score high as a self-starter, which is a vital skill for being self-employed.  If you score low in being goal-oriented, you might need to develop your technical skills related to setting targets and staying focused.

Once you review your results, our AI Coach Marlee can help you set and achieve any goal you have in mind.

Our free starter plan even includes one coaching program such as Goal Catcher or Big Picture Thinker.

Thrive in the gig economy with these 10 crucial skills

Based on our 20 years of research on workplace motivation, we’ve identified 48 motivations that shape how you operate at work. If you want to join the gig economy to earn extra money, it's imperative to develop your technical skills, as well as your soft skills.

We've identified some of the motivations that are crucial if you want to be a successful gig worker:

  1. Initiation: We found that those highly motivated toward initiation don’t wait around for someone else to take charge—they quickly jump in and get to work. They feel energized by opportunities. These are traits you’ll need as a gig worker because when a gig opp comes through on your app, you may have only seconds to claim it before someone else does.
  2. Lateral Thinking: Our research identified two motivation types when it comes to how flexible and adaptable we are: alternatives and procedures. Those motivated toward alternatives are extremely flexible and like to keep their options open (think flexible hours and ways of doing things). They also tend to be creative and enjoy finding and creating new options for projects. This is the perfect attitude to have as a gig worker because the gig economy can be unpredictable.
  3. Sole Responsibility: Those with a high motivation for sole responsibility prefer to work unsupervised on clearly defined tasks, rather than sharing responsibility with a team. As a solopreneur, you’ll need to be able to work autonomously, accept full accountability for your gigs, and take responsibility for ensuring you have enough monthly income.
  4. Goal orientation and problem-solving: How do you motivate yourself and others? In our research, we identified two motivations in this area: Goal orientation (energized by working toward a mission and goals) and problem orientation (interested in predicting, preventing, or solving problems). In the gig economy, though, you’ll typically need to have a little bit of both.
  5. Pioneer: How much change and variety do you like? If you want to join the gig economy, having high levels of evolution and/or difference will suit you well. Evolution means you appreciate gradual change and enjoy an agile environment. Pioneering is more extreme, meaning you like rapid change and want to pioneer new projects from scratch. Both are conducive to the ever-changing landscape of the gig economy. If, however, you’re motivated by sameness, the lack of stability in the gig economy may stress you out.
  6. Assertiveness: Assertiveness refers to the level of importance you place on rules and standards and how comfortable you are telling others what’s expected of them. Since you’ll be working solo and not managing any employees, a high level of assertiveness isn’t necessary. As a gig worker, though, you’ll need at least some assertiveness because you’ll need to be your own advocate—no one else is going to speak up for you. Additionally, our research found that assertiveness is positively correlated with profitability.
  7. Money: Our research found that successful entrepreneurs have a high focus on money—but this doesn’t mean you’re in it only for the cash. Rather, it means that you’re motivated to work on the commercial and financial side of the business. You’ll be focused on profit, loss, and margins. This is essential because one of the biggest challenges as a gig worker is getting enough gigs to make it financially viable. You don’t want to max out your hours only to find out that you’re still not making enough to pay the bills.
  8. Low in consistency: Those high in consistency motivation are skeptical in decision-making and feel the need to check their work again and again. This is great for providing excellent customer service, quality control, or any role with a high need for consistent safety standards. But with the fast-paced and short-term nature of the gig economy, you don’t have time for endless checking—you need to get the job done and move on to the next. If you want to make it as a gig worker, you’ll probably find it easier to be in the middle or lower range of consistency.
  9. Willingness to learn: In the gig economy, skills matter. The more skills you can sell, the more you can charge for your hourly wage, and the more money you can make. It’s common for one gig worker to toggle between two different delivery gig apps—food delivery and rideshare, for example—in one day. To land highly paid freelance work, you must be willing to learn new things to diversify your income sources.
  10. People skills: At the end of the day, as a gig worker, you’ll be in direct contact with your client base, whether that’s when you chat with them in your car as you drive them, when you hand them their meal at the door, or when you have that zoom meeting to discuss the freelance writing project. You'll need to ensure you acquire positive reviews for your work, which can help grow your client base.  Cultivating your emotional intelligence, listening skills, and empathy will go a long way in being a successful solopreneur.

ven if these skills don’t come naturally to you, you can still succeed in the gig economy! Through awareness and coaching, you can develop these skills over time.

Are you going gig?

From grocery delivery to rideshares to freelance graphic design, we’ll all probably be users of the gig economy at some point. Whether you decide to join in as a gig worker is a decision you’ll have to make. While taking on contract jobs gives you the autonomy to be your own boss and allows you to be selective with projects, it comes with challenges. Arming yourself with the above ten skills will boost your chances of success.

Regardless of its ups and downs, the gig economy is here to stay. Will you sign up for it?

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