Paula Kiger

Think About This Before Joining the Gig Economy Nation

By: Paula Kiger | July 27, 2017 | 

solopreneurWhen I quit my job a few months short of my 20-year anniversary in May 2014, I had ideas about how my life would go.

Although the ideas were pretty vague at the time, the options seemed limitless: Get a different “traditional” job that made my heart happier.

Or perhaps put together a combination of part-time or short-term assignments to contribute to the family’s bottom line.

The “limitless” part went out the window three weeks later when my father-in-law developed medical complications and moved in with us.

The “different traditional job” was out too.

And anything I took on would have to be something I could do from home unless I secured supervision for him.

I took on one contractor position with a digital book marketing agency in October 2014, and added one with a B2B newsletter production company in January 2017.

According to Intuit, 43 percent of the workforce will consist of contingent workers by 2020, so I am not alone.

If you are already a primarily on-demand worker otherwise known as solopreneur, perhaps these characteristics of the on-demand life will sound familiar to you.

If you are considering leaving the traditional workplace to “be more flexible,” do yourself a favor and think it through first.

Time Management Matters

If your fantasy of being a solopreneur involves sunbeams streaming in through your window as you gently wake up to a new day, coffee brewing as you do a few vinyasas, and an unlimited expanse of hours ahead of you in which to produce, you might want to revise your expectations.

Being a solopreneur demands more discipline than I ever had to muster in a traditional job.

My situation was a little different because I had my father-in-law’s care needs to attend to throughout the day, which could be unpredictable.

But it is awfully easy to go down the Facebook rabbit hole, get engrossed in organizing your closet (I just said that one as a hypothetical—one look at my house and you can tell I don’t procrastinate by cleaning!), or fritter away your time in five-minute segments until you find yourself at 10 p.m., scrambling to finish your work for the day.

No Work, No Pay

In addition to the challenge of disciplining yourself, there is the fact that you only get paid literally when you work.

(Sorry, Laura Petrolino, but you have to agree the “literally” applies here!)

This is not the case for all solopreneuers but for many of us (when we are being honest on our time management systems).

If we are away from our work to walk to the end of the driveway and check the mail, on the phone with a friend planning the weekend’s movie excursion, or in the restroom, we aren’t on the clock.

I think back on all the conversations I had at my previous traditional job, the kinds of conversations that go from “Hey, did you sign off on that report?” and digress before you know it into the next running race you have planned or your three-year-old’s Peppa Pig party plans, using 10 minutes of time you are being paid for.

We had entire birthday parties and bridal showers on the clock.

For me, one situation is different than the other because one is project-based (I work at my own pace) and one is newsroom-style (defined, specific deadlines with other people counting on me to finish my work before they can do theirs).

While I am grateful for both positions, I know myself well enough now to know that in general, I do better with the newsroom-style deadlines.

When You Are Sick 

This one took me a while to catch on to when I began as a solopreneur.

On the one hand, if you are the kind of sick where your co-workers in a traditional office would run you out of the office for fear of being infected, being a solopreneur is AWESOME because you can work from home without getting anyone else sick.

BUT a week of the flu or a medical procedure, even if it is relatively minor, can put a hit on your earnings.

If you don’t work, you don’t get paid.

…or Want to Take Time Off

When you are in the happy position of planning a fun trip, you either need to double up your work in advance so you can a) keep your pay rate the same since you are about to miss a week’s worth of hours; or b) accept that you are about to miss a week’s worth of pay.

When my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I informed one of my on-demand jobs (the one that is rigidly scheduled) that at some point I would have to take a few days to set up funeral arrangements and “herd family members.”

Of course they understood, and of course we needed to have our priorities straight as a family and celebrate his life/handle logistics.

But it’s hard not to worry about lost hours and the fact that there’s almost always someone ready and prepared to take your place.

(SIDE NOTE: Life is funny. I worried so much about time away from that job and the need to ask for relief on short notice.

Despite several false alarm notices in which I told my coordinator, “I feel like it could be any day now,” he passed away early in the morning on a Sunday (i.e., no work missed) and his funeral was at 2:30 on a weekday.

I didn’t miss a single hour. Maybe there’s a different lesson there around worries that never materialize!)

Solopreneurs Don’t Have Contingencies

I told a friend recently that I live in fear of breaking my hand. I do.

There is little about either of my contractor jobs that I could do without the ability to type.

For one of them, I could do some voice activated dictation, but the other one definitely demands my hands.

I read recently about a woman who couldn’t use her eyes for three months (THREE MONTHS) because she scratched her cornea in a freak accident.

It had to be patched, and because the patched eye still tried to track when she used her other eye, she was in excruciating pain every time she tried to read.

As a Solopreneur You Have to Do Some Math

Ask any solopreneur what it felt like to stare at their computer screen at tax time, realizing they didn’t pay enough estimated income taxes (or any at all) how it felt, and you’ll hear a sad story.

Get your bookkeeping ducks in a row early on; it will prevent pain in the future.

But on the other hand, There’s the flexibility

Being a solopreneur gives you the distinct advantage of going to the grocery store in the middle of the day, when it is not crowded at all and no one is hangry and dragging along their hangry kids after work.

You can also pick up and leave for any destination you want (pretty much) without having to get leave forms signed off on triplicate.

I have been able to do quite a few blogger events because I was able to say, “Yes, I can be there Wednesday through Friday” (or whatever).

I can take naps in the middle of the day (yay!).

Your Place in the Bigger Picture of the Workforce Economy

When businesses have to make fiscal and organizational decisions, solopreneurs are more dispensable.

Less has been invested monetarily, the contracting is less constrictive.

On-demand is better when there is demand than when there isn’t.

It is important to be prepared for variable hours.

And variable paychecks work both ways—more money when things are busy, less when things are slow.

As you can see, there are pros, there are cons, and there is more preparation needed than you may anticipate.

All that said ….

…..I still would have leapt.

About Paula Kiger

Paula Kiger believes her Twitter bio says it best: Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. She is a communications professional who provides writing, editing and social media services through Big Green Pen. She was the community manager for the Lead Change Group for two years. Paula has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Human Systems from Florida State University. She is an active advocate for many causes, including access to immunizations for children worldwide.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective, Paula! Your fantasy vision cracked me up! People tend to idealize the solopreneur route, without considering the real life implications. You have to be OK with uncertainty.

    • paulakiger

      “You have to be okay with uncertainty” sums up the point of the post succinctly! It’s not my strong point, but I’m learning and there ARE rewards.

  • Fine! FINE!

    • paulakiger

      You have to admit “literally” applies here! In thinking about things I didn’t include (but kind of implied) is ……. when I look back at “two weeks of paid leave” and “paid sick leave,” those are definitely components of non-gig-industry life that provide some peace of mind. But as Hanna mentioned above, there are rewards for being willing to accept uncertainty.

      • I almost edited it out and then I thought, “Nah…it’ll drive Laura nuts.” So I left it.

        • LOL!

          • Exactly, basically the joy of being referred to in a post outweighs the angst of literally

        • paulakiger

          Thanks for indulging me. I knew Laura wouldn’t *mind* being referred to in a blog post.

  • Marie Mack

    All your points are SO valid. I hope that when someone is considering becoming a solopreneurs, their research brings them to this article. It gives a true picture. Thank you for taking the time to share your insight.

    • paulakiger

      You bet. It will be interesting to see if laws and regulations are modified to accommodate contingent workers better.

  • Dotti Gallagher

    Great points, Paula! As someone who started a solopreneurship about a year ago, your comments mirror and reflect my experience nearly to a tee. Except the part about breaking my hand; I hadn’t considered that one. A big frustration is friends and family members who often start conversations (usually asking for something) with, “Now that you’re not working….”. It makes me want to scream! And reinforces the need for discipline and focus, every day. Thanks for sharing!

    • OMG! Or the, “Since you’re at home all day, can you…” NO, I CANNOT!

      • paulakiger

        My son apparently asked my husband recently “when’s mom going to get a real job?” SIGH.

    • paulakiger

      Sorry to be the Debbie Downer with the broken hand example! I had to be honest. And ….. I didn’t go into it in this blog post but yes ……… the people who don’t understand it as work. I think that ties into the discipline aspect — I have had to be very assertive about the fact that I am, indeed, working when I am at the laptop. It was compounded by my father-in-law living with us — of course in his day and age you dressed up in a suit and went to an office. He never could fully compute the idea that you can actually be working while at a laptop in yoga pants.

      • Just because you are at home, with a cat in your lap, and not wearing shoes doesn’t mean you’re not working! 🙂

        Great post, Paula. I agree that too often people romanticize working for themselves without grokking the adulting that comes along with it in the forms of taxes, accounting, and keeping yourself motivated.

        • paulakiger

          Right! (And I have to say the cat aspect is really an argument for having pets in offices in general. That part is awesome (usually)).

  • I cannot believe it’s been three years since you quit your job. It feels like it was just a few months ago. That’s INSANE.

    When I first went out on my own, I used to stress big time about taking time off. Turns out, not really an issue (as you’ve illustrated). Those first few years went so well, that I always waited for the other shoe to drop. I kept telling myself I could go back to a big agency if it didn’t work out.

    Then the other shoe DID drop with the Great Recession and we made it through…and that’s when I realized there is no way on earth I’d ever work for someone again.

    • paulakiger

      I feel the same way about the passage of time. Turns out you came out of that whole “shoe dropping” pretty darn well. Thanks for reminding us it can be done.

  • Great article, Paula!

    It is scary to go out there all by yourself. But it’s also a great opportunity to challenge yourself and to stretch your limits.

    Richard Branson said a few years back that in the future there won’t be employees, only people who work for themselves. With AI infiltrating more and more in our lives, his prediction seems more and more doable.

    • paulakiger

      Yes, it does.

  • Michelle

    I love this. Some great tips here!

    • paulakiger

      Thank you!

  • horsey head

    Read this, drafters of new health care bills. This article shows how it’s ridiculous and unfair to demand that those of us signing up for health care through the Affordable Care Act say exactly how much money we will make in the next year. It’s impossible to predict, yet we get penalized if you guess incorrectly. Ridiculous. To fine someone for guessing the future incorrectly – to penalize them for making less money than they hoped????

    • paulakiger

      Oh boy. SO much to say on this. SO. MUCH. I know this doesn’t exactly get to your point, but —- the only reason I finally had the “space” to leave my job is because my husband, who had been laid off for several years, GOT a job with good benefits. I don’t take for granted the luxury that gives me to pursue my path, at least for the time being. I honestly don’t know how many contingent/on demand workers do this. A tough nut to crack for sure.

  • I’ve worked for myself for years, and boy — are these ever true! Love that you offer such pragmatic advice! And by the way, your FIL is a lucky man… maybe he’s receiving what he’s been given, but that fact didn’t go by unnoticed for me. Thanks!

    • paulakiger

      Thanks, Margaret. I really believe the pragmatic advice is essential — not to quell the excitement and fun part of being a solopreneur — but to make it a successful venture. And I guess I would say on my father-in-law’s experience ……we did our best ….. it was imperfect but done with love. I think I’ll be processing the lessons forever.

  • paulakiger

    REALLY IMPORTANT addition I should have included in this piece originally. It is sort of inferred in the “get your bookkeeping ducks in a row” part but ……… research whether or not you need an LLC and don’t let cost freak you out. I did it through our Secretary of State’s website very affordably and cost effectively (though I’m still figuring out lots of bits and pieces related to it!).