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The rise of the gig economy

There’s a lot of talk about ‘the gig economy’ these days, often in a negative context. But what is the gig economy and what are the benefits to business owners?

The gig economy is all about short-term contracts and freelance work. Workers in the gig economy don’t have paid holiday or sick pay, but they have flexibility to work as and when suits them. While for some people it is seen as exploitation, for many workers it is a dream come true. And it has many benefits for businesses too.

In the UK there are around 5,000,000 people getting paid for a ‘gig’ or service, rather than a regular salary. It is a rapidly growing area. In 2005, 12.5% of UK workers were self-employed, now that figure stands at 15%, according to ONS. It is predicted by Intuit that 40% of American workers will be gig workers by 2020, with the gig economy in the UK also expected to continue to grow.

Ikea has recently taken advantage of the trend – not just employing freelancers and people on short-term contracts, but snapping up gig economy odd-jobs company TaskRabbit. TaskRabbit is a perfect fit for the company, an app connecting customers with home maintenance people who can handle decorating, cleaning and assembling flat-pack furniture. John Lewis has launched a similar service in a handful of UK cities.

The rise in the gig economy has been driven largely by digitization Now an employer looking for someone to run a project doesn’t just have to consider people living locally. They could live literally anywhere in the world and complete the work to a high standard without ever going near a company’s office.

Another driver of the gig economy is work-life balance. Working in the gig economy gives flexibility. Although it is seen as a negative by many, it is something that a lot of people choose to do. Freelancing means people can work their hours around other responsibilities, including family, studies and even other jobs. Workers have control over when they work and how much work they do.

The gig economy includes freelancers working in all areas of work, it is not just about low-paid workers. These people might be project managers with the exact skills that you need, but that you couldn’t afford to employ permanently. In fact, according to RSA, 28% of people working in the UK gig economy are professionals offering services such as accounting and legal advice, with 26% in the field of creative and IT work, including writing and graphic design. Just 11% work as a driver and 9% in delivery services.

Freelancers with specialised or in-demand skills and experience could be just what you need to give your company a boost – whether it’s for two days a week or full-time for three months to get a project off the ground. And when the project is up and running, they’re happy to move onto the next job and you know you won’t need to worry about meeting their salary or costs in the future.

Marketing is one area which could really benefit from workers in the gig economy. Freelancers in areas such as content management, marketing and social media marketing have quite specialised skills. They tend to be creative, efficient and innovative. Having more work dealt with off-site means a leaner, more efficient staff on-site and less costly office space. And if you find a worker who is good at the job, you can go back to them and use their skills again and again as new projects come along.

The benefits of the gig economy to businesses are clear. Employers can get the best people for the job at the right price, whether it’s regularly for a few hours a week, for the duration of a short-term project or to fit in with seasonal highs and lows.

The gig economy and freelancing are here to stay. There is a big pool of talented people out there and a lot of benefits to businesses of using freelancers. Freelancers are specialists who can get a job done, to a deadline and at the right price. With more and more skilled workers on the market, using them on an ongoing basis rather than as a stopgap can make a real difference to your bottom line.