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Do you know what the Gig Economy is? Have you ever heard this phrase before? Is it any different than Freelance?  I first heard this word earlier this year when I was telling a friend about my decision to become an independent consultant.  As a Social Media Manager, she has her finger on the pulse of what’s going on in business.  She told me that what I was doing is part of the Gig Economy.  Uber and AirBnB are always the two most often mentioned due to their successful popularity but what is it really especially seeing that it’s grown to be an almost $800 Billion  industry with no end in sight?

Many articles treat these two words, Gigging and Freelancing, as basically the same, but I have discovered that is not necessarily the case.  A Fox Business article by Dr. Woody Woodward from 2012 uses the two in the same beginning sentence and then goes on to describes it as “essentially freelance or independent work. Independent contractors, often referred to as “1099” contractors, work for themselves and offer services to individual clients and corporations. Essentially, it’s about creating and marketing the business of “You” to both individuals and companies looking for contractors. As result of the recession and tight budgets, companies started moving towards a more contingent workforce to save on salary and benefits costs, thus creating opportunities for freelancing or “gigging”.

Although freelancing and gigging may have been originally considered as basically the same thing, this appears to be more of a corporate usage of these terms, yet in the interim a difference has arisen as this continues to evolve outside of corporate activities. That difference appears to involve the definition of the word “gig” which has traditionally been associated with musicians.

In a January 2016 NPR article written by Geoff Nunberg he states the word Gig “goes back more than a century as musicians’ slang for a date or engagement. Nobody’s sure where it originally came from, though there are lots of imaginative theories out there. But the word didn’t have any particular glamour until the 1950s, when the hipsters and the Beats adapted it to mean any job you took to keep body and soul together while your real life was elsewhere.  The earliest example of that usage of the word that I’ve found is from a 1952 piece by Jack Kerouac, talking about his gig as a part-time brakeman for the Southern Pacific railroad in San Jose. For the hipsters, calling a job a gig was a way of saying it didn’t define you. A gig was a commitment you felt free to walk away from as soon as you had $50 in your pocket.”

Geoff goes on to say that gig was a natural for the hippies who succeeded the hipsters, who made the avoidance of regular work a condition of tribal membership. But the word’s more subversive overtones receded along with the counterculture. In recent decades, “gig” has become just a hip term for any temporary job or stint, with the implication you’re not particularly invested in it. I think of the barista or bookstore clerk who responds to my questions with a look that says, “Hey, man, it’s a gig. I don’t really DO this?”

A September 2016 PR Newswire article by Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) states this definition: “The gig economy includes any contingent work such as independent contracting, consulting, freelancing, seasonal work and other temporary work.”  This definition includes freelancing along with various other types of work but then goes on to state, “While the term gig has more recently emerged to describe freelance work facilitated by an internet platform or app, SIA considers the term as more broadly describing any work explicitly short term in nature.” Interestingly four years after the Dr. Woody article, “freelance” is still being applied to “gigging” as if they are the same yet upon further review I do not believe this to be the case indicating a “confusion of terminologies”.

Gigging is also referred to as the “On Demand” or “1099” Economy along with a barrage of other buzz words yet this idea that if it doesn’t work out you can always move on to another is where it appears to be differentiating itself from the traditional concept of “Gigging” being more freewheeling and varied and “Freelancing” being those people having traditionally focused on specific skill sets such as writing, coding, etc. If freelancing doesn’t work out, then you’re out of options where with gigging you would just find another service to participate in.

For example, as a Gigger there are various types of driving, various types of property rentals, various types of delivery services, various types of cleaning services, various types of moving services, various types of pet services, or various types of tasks to name only a few.  You have the freedom of choosing one or any combination of them depending on your needs.  In essence, the sky is the limit so all you have to do is assess your skills and passions and then find and/or create a market for them.  The following two links list a number of current possibilities for both Gigging and Freelancing indicating there is a difference between them:

Here’s how the Top 100 On Demand Job breaks out:

  • Rides – 11
  • Property – 31
  • Delivery – 13
  • Unskilled – 7
  • Freelance – 38

Unfortunately one of the caveats of these lists is that they are not always what they appear to be.  For example one of the Delivery ones, Roadie, is currently only available in the Southeastern US.  I’m personally interested in Freelance and discovered the same kind of issues in the 71 Freelance sites so make sure you thoroughly check out any that might interest you (stay tuned as I will be vetting many of these in the near future).  These 100 On Demand Jobs do appear to support my conclusion that Gigging is more diverse and variable where Freelancing is based more on specific skill sets.  Yet the Freelance On Demand section of this link contains some sites that don’t quite fit this On Demand gigging ideology such as crafts sites like Etsy and teaching sites like Udemy and Lynda because their concept of “On Demand” is not the same.  You may create crafts or courses responding to an identified or even requested demand but are not “on demand” such as the ones I previously mentioned where in essence you launch an app to immediately request your specific service expecting it to be responded to relatively immediately.  Freelancing is by its nature “on demand” as it traditionally is responding to needs being met at any given moment yet isn’t traditionally as instantaneous plus unlike Gigging where you can walk away from it for any period of time, Freelancing requires more consistent marketing of your skills seeking that next “gig”.

Employment in the United States is based on two tax designations, W2 and 1099, the latter being traditionally referred to as “Independent Contractor” and this is where gigging derives its origins.  Its derivation from freelancing appears to then be based on the type of work.  Therefore the Gig Economy is the same as the 1099 Economy which then takes all of these into consideration regardless of the methodologies of how these gigs are acquired.  As a result, the initial question of if “Gigging” and “Freelancing” are the same, the answer is that they are not, yet both of them are a part of this Gig/1099/On Demand Economy.  It’s only when you dive deeper into it are you able to truly discern their differences resulting in some inaccurate uses of them when discussing the Gig Economy in general.  Establishing these differences is imperative for those seeking “independent” employment in order to know where to focus their efforts else they can easily get lost in the sea of too many choices before settling on the ones that work for their specific needs and skills.

Whenever the job numbers are released there’s always the caveat that they don’t include those who have quit looking for jobs or those working Part Time.  That has always perplexed me because most everyone needs income of some sort in order to survive.  It’s now appearing that they are moving to this growing economic sector as the growth of the 1099 Economy from Gigging to Freelancing has been additionally driven by the necessity of filling the income gap from the loss of jobs due to economic downturns to Millennials seeking employment outside of the current traditions which also may be driven by their difficulties in finding jobs post-graduation and even Baby Boomers just tired of the demands of the W2 lifestyle.   Currently this is a force to be reckoned with as evidenced by its current growth and ensuing projections over the next 5- 10 years.  I see these derivations of terminologies as part of its “growing pains” as more and more people become involved in more and more creative ways to create or fill a need for an immensely wide variety of current and potential services which in turn will create a growing necessity to more properly define its terminologies.

Resources quoted and referred:

  1. ‘Gigging’ in the New Economy: Is it for You?
  2. Goodbye Jobs, Hello ‘Gigs’: How One Word Sums Up A New Economic Reality
  3. Total Spending on US Gig Work Close to $800 Billion

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