The Hard Truth of Freelancing and the Gig Economy

Freelancing is difficult, time-consuming and costly
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

As a freelancer, I am often looking for work. Someone offered me a job that would have paid me $5 an hour. Of course, it was framed as something like: edit these 15 pages for $25. I asked my Facebook friends and family if I should take the job, and every response I got was affirmative. One of the sentiments expressed was that $5 was better than nothing. However, that’s not true, and there are good reasons why no one should take that job.

Supply and Demand

If no one takes the job, the person who wants the work done will have to pay more for the work. When people are willing to take a job for $5 or less, it lowers the rate for everyone. People start expecting to be able to get work done for that amount and complain when someone charges more. In this case, the supply of people willing to take $5 for a job exceeds demand — there’s a whole website dedicated to getting the work done for this price range. Why pay someone more if you can get it done for less.

The person charging $5 is hoping to get more, higher-priced work out of the deal. However, they are undermining their own cause. Sooner or later the math will catch up with them, and they’ll realize they can’t make a living for $5 a gig. That’s when a new person will step in to do that job.

No Benefits

Freelancers are responsible for their own expenses of today and for their healthcare, retirement, and vacation time. A gig economy with freelancers as the base, in spite of its promises of future riches, doesn’t allow for those. Few freelancers are able to command the amount of money that it takes to successfully cover living expenses, insurance, and retirement, and they are so busy trying to do so that they don’t take vacations, which are key to greater creativity and productivity.

Time Lost

Every hour someone spends working for $5 is another hour that person isn’t able to look for a higher paying job. The Internet workplace is just like the real-life workplace. Unless you are spectacularly well-known, no one is looking for you. Jobs don’t just fall in your lap. You have to maintain websites and resumes. You have to cultivate relationships. Finding jobs that pay enough to live on and plan for the future is almost impossible when the economy is built on finding the cheapest way to get stuff done. People can’t edit in bulk. They can’t write in bulk for blogs, they can’t create handmade items in bulk, and they can’t create art in bulk. The best they can do is give the hours of their lives to the work and hope they make enough to cover expenses.

Work Ethic and Customer Service

Be proud of how hard you’re working
Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

We are all taught that we need to work hard and do our best at every job we take. However, doing your best often requires more time, and when you don’t have a supervisor regulating your schedule, you’re likely going to spend hours more on a $5 job than you should. You want to do high quality work and make the customer happy, but it comes at the expense of your family, social life, and free time.

One of the hardest words to say in the English language for most people is “No.” We want people to be pleased with our work, and we want to be able to accommodate them. So, when someone asks you to do a rush job or they request a fourth, fifth, tenth redo of the work you’ve done for them for a set price, your first reaction is “Yes, I can do it,” even if the request is unfair or extreme. Most of these freelance jobs are paid for by the job and not the hour, so they can keep calling you back to do the job “right” or better with no further cost to themselves. Even if you have a written agreement that spells out the contract for redoing the work, you still want to provide great customer service and avoid a bad review on your freelancing website.

The Space Where You Work

Overhead is a very real expense. For many workplaces, it’s the second largest expense after employee costs. For some, it’s the largest expense. Freelancers are responsible for their office space, Internet, electricity, desk, chair, coffee, roof, paper clips, pens, printer ink, and everything else that’s required to do the work. These are all things that a company would provide to its employees.

I Want My Freedom

Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t wait to be an adult because then you could do what you wanted. Quality work to be done for $5 doesn’t allow that to happen. Being a freelancer won’t give you that freedom. Instead, you’ll have a job that requires 24/7 work with very little return on your investment unless you’re one of the lucky ones who breaks through or is able to pivot to something more lucrative — like training other freelancers through infomercials.

--

--

Earned a Master’s in Creativity and Innovation from Malta U., author of “Disneyland Is Creativity” and other books, other works available at www.penguinate.com.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Shad Engkilterra

Earned a Master’s in Creativity and Innovation from Malta U., author of “Disneyland Is Creativity” and other books, other works available at www.penguinate.com.