Freelancing During the Job Search (Part 1): How to Make the Most of the Gig Economy

by Sharon Elber

Freelancing Gig Economy

Many job seekers stand to benefit from identifying their special skills, interests, and talents and putting them to work in the growing “gig economy.” Almost any specific set of skills is now sought by employers for independent contract work. Common examples include:

  • Writing (creative, non-fiction, technical reports)
  • Editing (content development, detailed proofing, format and design)
  • Graphic design
  • Computer programming
  • Database management
  • Voice talent
  • Photography and image editing
  • Audio and video editing
  • Customer service
  • Administrative and personal assistants
  • Program management
  • Event planning

The list goes on (and on). If you have a special skill set, chances are you can generate some income in the gig economy. If you are considering trying out freelancing while unemployed, read on to learn more about the benefits and downsides. Plus, find out how to make the most of your freelancing so that it will contribute to, rather than detract from, your full time job search.

1) Benefits of Freelancing While Unemployed

There are a lot of benefits to taking advantage of the gig economy while you are in your job search. Here are just a few of the big ones:

  • Earn some extra money to supplement your budget while you are between jobs.
  • Freelance gigs are often more flexible in terms of your time than part time jobs. You won’t have to worry about fitting that next interview into your schedule!
  • Freelancing offers those relatively new to the job market an opportunity to gain valuable experience. In addition, those changing direction in their careers can get experience with responsibilities that were not a part of their previous work roles.
  • You can develop your skill sets in a new direction that will add to your qualifications for your next job, potentially leveraging you for a higher rung in the ladder than your previous position.
  • Freelancing while unemployed can fill a work gap on your resume as well as show future potential employers that you are motivated, driven, and interested in professional growth.
  • Many people start freelancing to fill their time during the job search only to find that they don’t need that next job because freelancing has become a pathway to a viable business in and of itself.

2) Downsides of Freelancing

It would not be fair to describe freelancing as a panacea for everyone in the job search. In fact, there are some real downsides to be aware of before you get started. Let’s take a look at those so you can have a clear vision of what to expect:

  • It takes time to build up a client base. Don’t expect to jump into the gig economy and match your previous earnings in a week. It just doesn’t work that way.
  • You may have to take jobs that do not pay well at first. It may not feel that it is even worth your time when you are just starting out. However, once you have established a bit of a reputation, and have some confidence in the lay of the land, you will eventually be able to charge more if you have valuable skills to offer.
  • If you are not good at managing your time, freelancing might not be a good fit for your work style.
  • Freelancing can suck up a lot of time and energy. Be sure you balance chasing freelance gigs with the rest of your goals during your job search.
  • You won’t receive benefits (such as health insurance) and you need to set aside money to pay your taxes because it won’t automatically come out of your paycheck.
  • Make sure that you clearly understand the expectations of the job before you agree to a contract. Taking on large, ambiguous jobs is a common mistake that new freelancers make. It can really cost you in terms of your time, sanity, and client reviews.
Most of these downsides can be mitigated if you know to expect them and plan accordingly.

Still, freelancing isn’t the right choice for everyone. Spend a little bit of time thinking through the skills you have and researching the types of work that might be a good fit for you in order to minimize the time you spend chasing gigs.

3) Freelancing While Collecting Unemployment

If you are currently registered to receive unemployment insurance payments while you search for your next job, chances are that you can supplement your income with freelance work while remaining eligible for your benefits.

Most states allow a certain amount of income or hours worked each week without impacting benefits. However, check with the unemployment office or website in your area before you make assumptions. Of course, you are legally required to report all income from work to the appropriate agency.

4) Where to Go to Find Freelance Gigs

i) Freelancing Websites

There are several reputable websites that are designed to connect freelancers with clients for a fee (usually a percentage of the cost of the project). The primary advantage of using such sites is that you have an instant audience of people that are looking for (and ready to pay) for the exact kinds of talents you have to offer. It saves a great deal of time searching for potential clients.

Most of these sites work on reputation, usually determined by client reviews. Be sure that you pay particular attention to keeping your clients happy since a few bad reviews early on can sink your chances of future work on the site.

By the same token, if you are new to a particular freelancing website, aim for the low hanging fruit (even if it is for less money than you will eventually charge) to get some quick and easy success (and great reviews) under your belt right from the start. This will help you get your momentum going strong!

The downside of freelance websites is that you will be competing directly with many people that have the same skill set as yourself, many of whom have more experience. Expect most of your proposals to get rejected (or ignored) at first. Don’t be discouraged. Keep plugging away and remember that at least to some extent, it’s a numbers game.

ii) Reach Out to Local Businesses and Organizations

If you think that your freelancing work might actually have long term viability on its own, or if it is directly related to your career goals, then it may be time to invest some time in creating promotional materials (such as emails, brochures, or a website) to start advertising your services to local businesses.

You might be surprised to learn that many businesses contract a fair bit of work to freelancers at surprisingly high rates. Companies save money in terms of employee training, overhead, unemployment insurance, and health insurance when they use independent contractors for some of their labor needs.

Pitching to local companies not only gets the word out that you are available for hire on freelancing jobs related to your special area of expertise, it also gets you on the radar of the local HR professionals that are likely to be the first to know about new job openings. By establishing relationships with local businesses for freelance work, you may be setting yourself up for that dream job opportunity down the road.

iii) Contact Previous Employers

If you left your last job on good terms, don’t miss a chance to offer your services as a freelancer. For example, you may have been laid off due to cutbacks, but an important part of your former job may still need doing. Your past employer already knows what a great worker you are, so you have a foot in the door over the competition.

Or, you may have developed new skills since leaving a previous position that might fill a critical niche for an employer from a few jobs ago. This strategy offers a second benefit. It is a chance to reconnect with an old professional contact and let them know you are available for work. It may turn out that they have the perfect full-time opening that might signal the end of your job search!

iv) Exercise Your Social Network

Finally, don’t miss out on bringing your freelance work into conversations with your online and in-person networks. It gives you a great way to turn the conversation to your skills, the fact that you are actively seeking work, and a chance to offer your services rather than asking for help. It is a real position of strength to keep your social networks well lubricated and active while you are engaged in your job search.

5) Is the Gig Economy for You?

If you have special skills and talents and a drive to put them to work, then freelancing might be an excellent choice for you while you are in between jobs. Remember to balance your freelance work with your job search goals. Freelancing won’t replace your old income overnight.

However, as covered in this article, there are ways to take advantage of freelancing opportunities while also working on your job search. The two are not mutually exclusive and can in fact reinforce one another. Now that is working smart!

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