What Is the ‘Gig Economy,’ and How Does It Work?

How to navigate the gig economy, from freelancer copywriter (and artist) Dan Michael.

Do you enough JavaScript to hack a button, but not enough to create a fully fledged app? Run a website but can’t design a logo in a fit?

Welcome to the club.

But I have good news for you: you don’t have to be good at everything these days.

Back in 2008, I wanted to prove a point to myself and decided to get my Masters Degree via correspondence. I’ve always been a digital nerd to some extent, but I am self-taught and when they said ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ they were talking about me.

I needed to see if I had what it took to focus and study hard enough that I could become a ‘Master’ of something.

I did, I got my Masters in Digital Media, but guess what I found out? Even though I passed my degree in flying colours, more importantly – I found out that I wasn’t good at it.

I was a terrible designer.

I was crushed, but I never gave up. I learnt to diversify and also that I should return to my roots in communications, and via that journey I found the world of freelancing, and it was a perfect fit for me.

Enter the Gig Economy

No doubt you have heard this word bandied about lately. The Gig Economy. What does that even mean?

I’ve been freelancing for a couple of years now, but with the blossoming of the freelance market and millions of people worldwide flocking to the world of working-for-oneself-from-home, (some on the side, some full time) we have created this new job market of sorts.

They call it the ‘gig economy’.

Unlike the knuckle-dragging monotony of ‘working for the man’ or living the ‘9-5’ dream that I was so accustomed to, the gig economy is defined as “a market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs”, which ironically returned me to the jack-of-all-trades dichotomy.

One thing I am good at is working to my niche, and as a freelancer I found very early on that it really pays to target with a laser like focus on your niche.

Image credit: author

You need to hone in on your special thing, the thing you’re good at. For me, it’s a blend of the written word combined with a smattering of marketing, plus knowing how to fine tune technical copywriting and finding the unique value proposition of an item.

Based on my idea of copywriting for designers and developers, I was accepted as a freelance provider on Envato Studio, and just like that I was up and running in 2015.

I started out doing anything and everything, from writing copy for websites, technical writing, blurbs for web banners, and billboard copy for restaurants in Abu Dhabi.

It was interesting, fun and creative, but I needed to focus in on my niche, and I also needed help.

Remember that terrible designer part of me I mentioned? Well, I had a hideous profile image that looked like I had used Word 95 and some Clip-art to put it together, and it was me at my best. Oh, the shame.

It never really hit home what it meant for me as a freelancer until I pushed through a mental block and found myself on the hunt for other freelancers to work for me!

Of course, I needed to hire my own freelancer to work for me on my freelance business, right?

To cut a long story short I relied on my network of talented designers, aka clients, and struck up a sweet deal with a very clever cookie who smashed it out of the park with my current header design – tailored to suit just me.

I had discovered that indeed I need not do everything myself when it came to digital and design. Of course, there are literally thousands of talented people working freelance to their own niche in the world right now.

I needed stuff that I couldn’t do myself as a freelancer, so I had to hire my own freelancer. It was a light bulb moment.

I also wanted to diversify and try to create a passive income out of my creative endeavours, and I wanted to think outside of the square. That was how I found Etsy, even though I had used it before, I had never thought that I could possibly become a seller.

But as I mentioned previously is that what I am good at is working to my niche. And I knew my niche almost as instantly as I thought about the option of becoming a seller. Motorcycles.

Image: Dan’s Daily Bikers Store.

I’ve been a keen motorcyclist since I was a young boy growing up in rural South Australia, and I’ve been a keen scribbler of sorts for just as long too. So drawing motorcycles seemed the perfect fit.

Before long my Etsy store was born alongside my Envato Studio services. I had really joined the gig economy. Small pieces all combining to fit together and create the dream for me. An income while working from home – yes!

So my point to all of this is that in today’s so called gig economy, when you need ‘stuff’ you don’t have to be the jack of all trades, because no matter what the task you can think of there is someone out there doing exactly what I am doing, taking on side jobs from home. Some do it as a hobby, some do it to supplement an income, for others it is a third or even fourth income stream with a view to being able to leave the shackles of the 9-5 altogether.

In today’s so-called gig economy, when you need ‘stuff,’ you don’t have to be the jack of all trades.

But when I talk to people about using freelancers I hear the same thing over and over; “I have had a really terrible experience and gotten really poor results”.

Which got me to thinking how to tackle hiring a freelancer in the gig economy. You just have to ask the right questions.

Writing a great brief

I started talking more to people and asked for examples of how they approached hiring freelancers and again, I was struck by one thing and only one thing: really bad briefs.

A designer, developer, Uber driver, or Fiverr developer can only do as good a job as you ask of them. Imagine getting in a rideshare car and just saying ‘take me home’.

Where is home? How do they get you there? What shortcuts do you already know?

I’ll explain it really simply; you gotsta write a KILLER brief if you want KILLER WORK.

You have to be really specific and use the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

A nicer way of thinking about it is to pretend you are trying to brief your Grandma, who mysteriously happens to be a gun with Photoshop 🙂

Here is a kind of ‘thought process’ template I use when I’m going to hire a freelancer for myself that I think you will find useful.

1. Description:

Write your eleven second elevator speech. This means really thinking about the job you need done and being able to articulate clearly and quickly what you need done in one or two sentences.

2. Outline:

Now is to the time to flesh that out a bit, go into the detail of what you are looking for, but still keep it simple enough so they can start to think about the scope of the work you want completed.


It sounds like repeating yourself but trust me this works, really be specific here.

“I have X number of Y and I require Z”.

Spell it out. What do you need exactly?

It’s important here, leave no stone unturned. I needed cushion covers sewn for me, so I explained I was looking for overlocked sleeves and how they would fasten, the dimensions of the material I had, the dimensions of the covers that I wanted, and what kind of printed material they were going to be sewing. Cover the minutiae.

3. Outcome:

Very specifically state your expected outcome here.

4. Summarise:

Summarise in two succinct sentences exactly what you expect as the outcome of your agreement.

5. Budget:

Setting the budget is important. You need to know exactly how much you feel is a reasonable amount to pay for the service you require. And always make sure you are aware of the currency you are working in.

Many providers operate in USD, so if you are in Australia or Bangladesh this is going to affect your conversion rate into your local currency.

So, What You Can Get Done?

What can you dream up? Seriously, if it exists then someone is out there waiting to do it for you. I have had monotonous data transfer completed for me when it was clearly going to take me too much time to do it myself, and my time is monetised.

I had cushion covers made on Air Tasker. I have had a logo designed, WordPress tweaked fixed and updated on Envato Studio, I have used Snappr for a professional product shoot and I have hailed an Uber when my motorbike broke down. These are all examples of people using, hiring and providing services via the ‘Gig Economy’.

Then, flip that coin and start to think about how you could join in and what services could you provide.

Dan Michael

About the Author Dan Michael

Dan is a freelancer on Envato Studio. You can follow him on Twitter @danmikhael or check out his website