We’re in touch economic times, and as a result, people are putting together more and more part-time businesses and jobs to make up for a full income from one job.  My friend, Steve Lubetkin, calls this the Gig Economy.  It seems like everyone is piecing together projects to make a sound economic whole- even physicians take consulting on the side nowadays, using their expertise and providing a little extra income to help send the kids to college.

This is true for me as well.  I have my own consulting business, helping local businesses learn and use digital and social media, and I have my book to promote.  I sit on committees for our school district, teach Podcasting once as week at the Middle School, and moderate a group on Edutopia on personalized learning.  I help organize Podcamps.  I wear lots of hats, with a focus on digital and social media, and education. I do hope some of these volunteer positions will generate clients, but my first focus is making a difference in my community.  I can do this, because my spouse has the “full time gig” which means my income is our “extras” money, going towards long term goals and acting as gap-filler in our personal household economy.

The problem with having multiple gigs, paid or unpaid, is giving each one the attention it deserves, where focus on one or two core things would be better.  While my big picture focus is clear, the day to day “What needs my attention now” can get a bit cloudy, and it takes a lot of effort to remain focused on articulated goals.  I think this is a problem for almost everyone participating in the Gig Economy- how much of your attention and passion are you using for each of these part-time things?  Is any one “good enough” to become a full time, single focus venture?  Do you want one focus? What happens if any one of these gigs dries up, or requires additional focus- how does your juggling act change?

It seems promising- Should I leave a job for the Gig Economy?

I often hear friends talk about the glamorous world of public speaking.  How can they make money by sharing what they know with others?  One woman was thinking about leaving a successful law practice, because she had a speaking gig that paid her a few thousand dollars.  She started to think that if she could do a couple of these a month, she’s have it made, and be able to spend more time at home with her kids as well.

Potential Hiccups in a Great Goal

The potential problem with this idea is the following:

In order to make this business plan work, she would have to make sure (Minimum) she booked paying speaking gigs equal to the money she needed for her family every month.  Who is going to pay her that much, month in and month out?

-While she may be well-known locally, how many times could she give the same speech or even a new one, to these same folks, for the same money every month? Or every year?

– This would mean expanding her market to reach folks she didn’t know as well, and who didin’t know her.  This means spending time networking and connecting to others, to build her reputation.  It also means setting up a business entity, website and more, which are going to require an initial investment of capital.

-She wasn’t a famed law professor, or have any other “product” like books, or coaching, or other “stuff” to push to help generate additional income and up-sell people attending her presentations.  This means she was currently limited to whatever each organization was willing to pay her, and many organizations also have tight budgets.  This makes setting up a stream of guaranteed income producing gigs, month in and month out for the foreseeable future might not be as easy as this first gig made it seem.

-If she had to expand her reach, she would need to travel out of the area.  Paying or receiving compensation for the travel might lower the speaking fee she received as well.

-Additional travel and preparation for these gigs might actually take time away from her family, not give her more time.

-She would have to generate additional income to pay for things like health insurance, professional license fees and other things currently covered by her employer.

This doesn’t mean becoming a public speaker is impossible, or ill-advised.  It just comes with its ups and downs as much as any other business.  Starting out, the speaking can generate a nice side bonus-income, but until gigs get so numerous and/or lucrative that they start either effecting the main job or generate enough income every month to justify making that choice, the speaking business is really more of a nice bonus side business, not a full-time venture, no matter how terrific it seemed at first.

The Side Gig Economy

There are plenty of folks with side gigs- and there always have been.  This includes everything from selling Avon, Mary Kay, Tupperware or any other “representative” and Sell to Your Friends in Your Spare Time kind of things.  I know many teachers, parents, and other folks who sell this stuff on the side, to generate side income. Many of these programs sell things you and your friends might like, but you can only tap that resource every so often before you become a social pariah.  I have sought some of them out when I want something from Pampered Chef, for example, but I will NEVER go to another Partylight candle party, no matter how much I love you- and the number of these candles at the local Good Will would seem to indicate I am not alone in this feeling.

This sort of side gig is meant to be a side gig and uses the leverage of your social relationships the same way the social web does, in order to spur purchases.  But think what you would have to do and the number of strangers you would need to meet and sell to in order to generate a full time income from this.  These organizations are fairly benign multi-level marketing programs, where a few people at the top get very rich, but most people make at best a modest income.

Multilevel marketing plans are all about generating income for folks further up the scale, and trying to get you to develop more people downstream from you, to help you move up the ranks.  It is a game where you have to pressure people to join as representatives, and each person is then told their success or failure is determined not by the product itself, but how hard you are willing to work to pressure more people to join and sell this way.  It works well for a few folks, but often produces no more than side-gig money and an excuse to get friends together for everyone else.

Multilevel marketing is now entering the digital space with a vengeance, and I’ll be writing more about that shortly.

What do you think about the new gig economy?  What are its benefits and burdens?  s this the way all jobs are going- where everyone is a hired gun and a consultant?  What are the overall social benefits and burdens of this?  Let’s talk about this more.