This is Why an Employee Mindset is Completely Ruining the Gig Economy

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For the first four years of my writing career, I was a freelancer.

I was not a good one.

When writing for clients, I never quite stopped thinking like an employee. I treated clients like bosses, worked around their needs and schedules and helped grow their businesses — instead of my own.

Now everyone I know is making money through the gig economy. And a lot of people are still thinking like employees.

Workers have pushed back on gig economy companies for not providing contractors the protections and perks employees would enjoy.

But you’re not an employee… You’re a contractor, and as such, you have the privilege and responsibility of total control over your career.

Gig Economy Companies Aren’t the Boss of You

When you sign up to use a gig economy app, you’re not applying for a job. You’re adding a money-making tool to your arsenal, so you can grow the life and career you want.

Take these examples:

  • Uber and Lyft connect you with people who need rides.
  • TaskRabbit connects you with people who need help with odd jobs.
  • Shipt connects you with people who need groceries.
  • UberEATS connects you with people who want food delivered.
  • Airbnb connects you with people who need a place to stay.
  • Fivver connects you with people who need… body-paint advertising? Website logos? (They get creative over there.)
  • Wag!, Rover and DogVacay connect you with dogs (and their people) who need to be walked and fed.

You set your schedule, you decide which jobs to accept and — in some cases — you set your rate.

You’re in charge, and that’s why you do it.

Gigs can be a great way to earn extra money on the side of a day job, to fill in the gaps of a creative career or to earn a living on your own terms.

Break Free of Your Employee Mindset

I don’t have an opinion on the larger question of whether people who participate in the gig economy should be classified as employees, or on the issue that the gig economy attracts more minorities than other industries.

Both are big topics that are sure to fill headlines and airwaves for years to come.

What I can offer — from my lessons learned as a failed freelancer — are tips to help you make the most of your experience as a gig-worker with the options available.

The first step is letting go of your employee mindset.

In exchange for the freedom of setting your own schedule and expectations, independent contractors take on responsibilities employees don’t have to think about. You pay your own taxes, manage your hourly rates, and find your own training and educational opportunities.

If you feel like the sharing economy isn’t everything you dreamed it would be, maybe you need to shake off your dependence on a company and learn to be what you are: an independent contractor.

Try these tips to shed your employee mindset and take control of your career:

1. Pay Attention to Your Career Development

Gig economy companies create incentives for workers who do a little extra — like referral bonuses, or Uber’s surge pricing. But their main goal is usually to add business for the company.

When you work for a (good) employer, they’ll be invested in your career development. When you work for yourself, that’s on you.

Improve your situation by learning new skills and recognizing valuable opportunities.

For example, here’s everything I learned from working as a barista — the day job that kept me afloat while I floundered as a freelancer.

Also, these skills can help you earn more money in any career.

2. Get Yourself Out of a Rut

Some people get stuck in a job because they can’t see other options. They might be unwilling to give up the regular salary, health insurance or even free snacks they get as an employee.

Sharing economy gigs don’t offer you any of those perks — so why stick with something that’s not working?

If you get bored of shuttling groceries, walking dogs or painting advertisements on your body, try something else.

The beauty of the gig economy is you get to piece together your living in whatever way works for you.

Want to put fewer miles on your car? Cut your ride-share hours, and take up calligraphy. Tired of pitching editors to sell your writing? Take a break, and make money as a virtual assistant.

You’re already making money on your own terms, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box when you need a change.

3. Don’t Ignore Your Taxes

When an employer isn’t doing it for you, it’s easy to forget to earmark a portion of your pay for Uncle Sam. It’s also tempting to, you know, “forget” to earmark a portion of your pay…

Whether it’s with evasive intent or plain neglect, not paying your taxes is going to cause big problems — typically in the form of a fat check you’ll be writing to the IRS in a couple of years.

Know what the IRS expects from you when you work for yourself. (And remember: You do work for yourself!)

Keep track of the payments you receive through gig apps and the invoices you send to freelance clients. Remember to track expenses and keep receipts, too — do it year-round, not just when tax season is looming!

Here’s what the IRS will let you deduct from your taxable income in April.

Here’s a full guide to doing your taxes as an independent contractor.

4. Plan for Retirement — Now

Traditional jobs often make retirement planning easy with an employer-sponsored plan.

If you’re working in the gig economy, you might think you don’t have to worry about retirement — or think you can wait until you find a steady job to start thinking about it.

The worst thing you can do for your retirement fund is wait.

Setting aside money now will give it more time to grow, which is smart even if you only have a little to spare

Whether you’re gigging between jobs or plan to live that sharing economy life for years to come, check out these five retirement options for independent contractors.

If you decide to jump into traditional employment in the future, you can always take advantage of an employer-sponsored plan and let this one continue to grow without your help.

It probably won’t make you rich, but an easy way to start saving for retirement now is with apps like Acorns and Stash, which connect to your bank account and use small amounts of money you’ll barely notice to invest in portions of stocks. Both give you a few bucks just for signing up.

Set it and forget it.

5. Pay Attention to Trends

The new gig economy is subject to a feast or famine cycle — just like freelancing and gig work have been since before your phone made it seem easy.

Depending on where you live, some types of work will boom in certain seasons.

Freelance photography spikes during summer and fall wedding seasons, for example; and ride-share demand surges during football games in sports towns.

Gig work itself is inevitably tied to social and technological trends, too.

Pay attention to relevant tech news that could affect demand — new apps crowding the market, self-driving cars hitting the roads or bots that perform customer service.

Don’t just watch the news for what you’re doing now.

Also keep an eye out for growing opportunity in other areas. Where is the greatest need for contractors? If you catch the wave early, you could have time to develop your skills and get your pick of clients.

Be Your Own Boss — for Real This Time

Once you realize you’re in control, the gig economy can be a killer way to earn a living without being tied to a company or even a single industry.

Next time you find yourself upset that a company doesn’t offer its contractors employee-style perks, remember these tips, and don’t forget: You’re not an employee. You’re your own boss.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post,, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).