Do you have an interest in the gig economy? We asked Marianne Olsson, a gig economy expert, to share her insights on what is the gig economy, how to get involved, and who should participate in it. 

How did you get interested in the gig economy?

Well, I became a gig worker myself in 2001 during the financial crisis and had to reinvent myself and my service offering. I became a management consultant focusing on business development and marketing.

During that time I began a thought process relating to the driving forces taking on a lifestyle with freelance and assignment based consulting work. It resulted in a Master Thesis that I wrote as part of my MBA in 2005 identifying the key success factors for consultants and freelancers. A year later I wrote my first book targeting consultants. To date, I have written 12 management books and the majority are about working as a
freelancer or developing companies and organizations in the new economy with emphasis on gig work.

What are the biggest benefits of the gig economy? 

When utilized in the best possible way it creates opportunities for all the players in the whole ecosystem: gig workers, employers or purchasers, providers of services to both, and marketplaces that support them by generating the best possible match between assignments and gig workers. Matching and smart admin is key.

What are the biggest challenges of the gig economy?

It depends on who you ask. Gig workers need to communicate their skills and what they offer and in turn employers or purchasers need to be specific with their needs in order to achieve the perfect match in the market. In general, I think employers need to update their mindset on how to best organize their companies in terms of getting access to the right competence and amount of resources based on a fast-paced external environment. Traditional hiring and recruitment is the old way to go and is only keeping its hold on society due to obsolete ways of credit scoring. I.e. you need a steady job to get respect in terms of renting an apartment, signing up for a cell phone subscription or borrow money for a house mortgage or simply to buy a car. Necessities of daily work and lifestyle needs should be available to everyone. In the near future, all this will change to the benefit of the gig workers that are gaining the power of bargaining thanks to AI and digital development of the job market and its platforms and marketplaces. I call it financial inclusion.

Has the gig economy made a positive impact on the workforce? Why or why not? 

Yes, since gig work has become global especially in terms of remote work the job market is now international and as a gig worker, you can work ”in any country” you want to. The marketplaces are there to match gig assignments with various gig workers around the world. That is truly amazing and will benefit the workforce and reward those who deliver according to specs and their rating will be the proof of that regardless of where you work in the value chain – ranging from sharing economy work to remote freelancing.

Should someone expect a supplemental income and/or full sustainable income from participating in the gig economy? What are the major factors involved? 

Yes. Everyone can share resources or competence in the gig and sharing economy space. It can be a sideline or you core job. Through apps, you can find work or gigs, sell your clothes or gadgets, rent your car to others when you don’t use it yourself, and use your skills as a freelancer for editorial work for example. Find your app or marketplace that suits you and your needs and get started today. If you want to try it out alongside of your current job it is easy to get started on a small scale. I know of freelancing IT consultants that have shifted to carpentry and handyman work due to cover and some will stay in their newly found job industry and others might combine the two moving forward. Others buy and sell
old furniture and make a decent living of it.

gig economy in 2021

What has been the most interesting and innovative way you have seen the gig
economy being utilized?

Many startups and newly founded companies take the opportunity to ”gigify” their organizations from the beginning, meaning that they assign part-time specialists for different roles and tasks in a company and get access to specific competence matching their needs instead of hiring a generalist to manage various tasks. This is also positive for the gig workers themselves since they can spread risk and work several assignments
alongside of another as well as share knowledge between companies and people.

How has COVID impacted the gig economy in a positive way? 

The positive thing is the growth and that the gig workers have become customers and thus are more valued and are now offered new services like admin, insurance, and financial services to invoice for work without the need of starting up your own company. Focus is on speed and simplicity to manage your gigs.

How has COVID impacted the gig economy in a negative way? 

The negative impact is that COVID has pushed more people into an unknown space, initially with an insecurity as a consequence. It entails financial exclusion and a lack of job security short term.

But, I am an optimistic person at heart and I believe that the workforce and the employers will adjust to the new market conditions and people will find new jobs or gigs, maybe in new industries that they had not considered before. It might even improve their work-life balance. Nowadays with all the new platforms, it has never been easier to get started with new ventures and you do not even need to start your own company or worry about admin. The marketplaces and gig platforms will provide the infrastructure for you.

What are the three most important things someone should consider before joining the gig economy? 

I think all of us already are a part of it, in a sense. Employment is not as secure as it has been and more work is assignment based and relates to both qualified service (like freelance consulting) and work in the sharing economy that requires fewer qualifications or rather qualifications that most people have (like delivery, housekeeping, handyman work, etc). To get started you need to:

  1. Find your niche competence, skill, or resource for sharing.
  2. Identify your marketplaces (where you find work or sharing capabilities)
  3. Tell your network about it. Family and friends are a great starting point to get your ratings and referrals for delivered services or gigs.

What do you foresee as the future of the gig economy?

The gig economy is growing steadily and has developed even faster due to Covid. It has pushed gig work and especially remote work for the whole society globally. The gig worker themselves have become a new interesting customer and new services are being tailored to meet their needs as part of this new ecosystem. It entails admin, insurance and financial services that simplifies their daily life as gig workers in the gig and sharing economy.

What is the one thing you would want to say to someone that has never done a gig

Research your market and make sure to find your sales channels ranging from personal contacts to the gig platform or marketplace that matches your needs. Find your niche and communicate it to your network and market.

What constitutes a great gig?

It depends on who you are and what kind of gig work you do. Some take on gig work to learn new things like: tools, an industry, or a new task as part of a bigger project. The driving force can be a combination of potential earning, how the gig is performed (on site
or remote) or flexibility.

Can someone get a great gig immediately or does it take time to build
credibility first? 

The strength of a personal brand plays a big role in getting the best gigs. It does not matter how long you have been a gig worker. More importantly, is how you communicate your experience and expertise in your own niche. Building credibility within your expertise will
pay off in the long run so it is important to schedule a time for knowledge sharing in social media for remote workers for example. If you are in the sharing space you need to ensure you get good ratings for your work in the marketplaces.

What was your first gig?

The first assignment was business development for a consulting company and packaging of their services to increase sales in the Nordics as well as globally. It was part-time and lasted for 3 years and was a great fit to combine with other short term assignments. Looking back it was a really challenging time back in 2001 with the financial crisis, but I found a gap in the market where companies that offered services themselves were willing to assign work to freelance consultants that could benefit their growth and create value to their customers.

Want to Learn More About the Gig Economy?

Marianne has several publications worth considering. For example, Kindle global editions of Marianne Olsson’s two new books called Consulting in the Gig Economy: How to get great gigs, and Working in the Gig Economy: How to get great gigs, are both available now. There are also versions that specifically look at the Swedish job market: Consulting in the Gig Economy and How to get great gigs: About the Swedish Job Market, and Working in the Gig Economy & How to get great gigs: About the Swedish Job Market.