The Problem of Building Your Career Based on What's Required
Making Space for the Future

8 Career Skills for the Gig Economy


Approximately 34% of the workforce is engaged in freelance/contract work, a trend that shows no signs of stopping. According to Forbes within 5 years, we could be looking at numbers as high as 50%. 

Unfortunately, the career advice we often receive is based on more traditional ways of working and people are having to figure out for themselves how to manage their careers in a world based on projects and having to hustle to get your next piece of work. 

Having been self-employed myself for the past 15 years, I'm well aware of the different skill sets it takes to be successful in a freelance world. These are some of the skills I see as being necessary to navigate this new landscape. 

1. Building a career based on problems and challenges we are good at solving, rather than on job tasks and responsibilities. 

In a job, we become accustomed to thinking of ourselves in terms of our daily responsibilities. Advancement becomes a matter of expanding our scope of responsibility and changing the tasks we are working on.  But in a freelance world, we need to shift our thinking. We become more aware of our skills and how we can bring them to bear to solve particular problems or to enhance specific projects. We learn to become aware of where our strengths and assets can do the most good. 

2. Self-direction

In a job, we learn to be an employee. We have bosses who tell us where to focus and what to do and we put our efforts in that direction. When we shift to a freelance mindset, we have to direct ourselves. This means we have to learn to work without the guidance of a boss telling us what to do. We are setting the goals, we are creating the outcomes and we are bearing the responsibility for both success and failure. 

3. Creating and nurturing your own team.

When you work for a company, your team is decided for you. You may have the ability to hire and fire people, but always within the context of what your company desires. In a freelance economy, you have to create your own team. This means thinking much more deeply about who helps you be most successful? Who complements your skills and abilities? Who challenges you and brings you new ideas? And how do you continue to develop and deepen relationships while you are also doing the hustling?

4. Working "out loud." 

In a freelance world, people want to SEE what you can do, even more so than when you worked as an employee. You have to learn to document your work on a regular basis and to create a portfolio of accomplishments that you can share with potential customers.

You also need to document your progress so you can learn from what is and isn't working. "Working out loud" means paying attention to not only WHAT you do, but HOW you do it so you can build on success and learn from failure. 

Working "out loud" is also about working like a designer or an artist. They use sketchbooks to experiment, to write down ideas or questions, to reflect on and practice their craft. Freelancers need to work this way too. Often the seeds for your next opportunity lie in the scraps of thought and the stray ideas you keep in that notebook. 

Einstein solving

5. Asking good questions.

Einstein once said that given 60 minutes to solve a problem, he would spend the first 55 minutes defining the problem and then the last 5 on the solution. Most of us suck at asking questions, grabbing at the first or most obvious framing of the problem without going any further. Success in a freelance economy is often about learning to ask better questions--helping people to be sure they're working on the right problem before offering solutions. I would argue that this is a skill that we all need to learn, but in particular it's a critical freelance skill as it helps you uncover where you can provide the most value. 

6. Agile Learning

Agile learners remain open to new ways of thinking and are focused on continuous learning. Freelance success depends on your ability to continue to grow your skills and to be incorporating new ideas and new information into your work. 

7. Hustling

Unless we are employed in sales, most of us don't have to worry about bringing in new clients. But in the freelance economy, it's all about the hustle. How are you creating new opportunities for yourself? How can you generate leads and turn them into paying customers? In a regular job, your mind is on doing the work. As a freelancer you are always thinking about two things--doing the work AND getting the work. 

8. Self-promotion and branding.

Most of us hate having to sell ourselves. One of the reasons we hate looking for a new job is because it requires us to market ourselves in ways that can feel uncomfortable, if not downright painful. In the freelance economy, you're always have to market yourself--while avoiding that nasty feeling that you are engaged in self-promotion. It's all about creating your "personal brand" and being able to regularly articulate that brand value. 

These are a few of the new career skills I see us needing to be successful in the gig economy. What are your thoughts and reactions? 


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Re #8 I had an aha! moment when I realized I used to very naturally, effectively and comfortably promote the organizations I worked for. It was a no brainer. But one I became a solopreneur I shrank away from promoting my own business. It was too much like promoting me, which is something we get many cultural messages to not do! This freed me up to be a lot more ok with promoting my own work. It's not "self-promoting." It's promoting my business!

Exactly, Nancy! I still struggle with this at times, but find that it helps if I focus on seeing my business as separate from me. I'm also better at relationship-building than "branding," so I do a lot of "self-promotion" in person where it feels more natural. Online it can still feel too much like marketing. Always a work in progress! :-)

Don't forget about entrepreneurial skills; creating your own independent career is building a business and requires some degree of business management. Our education system is not recognizing the need to train people in these disciplines; some have suggested we should be starting in 3rd grade. We should at east be starting in high school. In the absence of that, you need to figure some stuff out on your own...

Excellent point, Marion and I strongly agree that we are doing little to prepare people for what is happening and the skills they will need.

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