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The Gig Economy


gig e-con-o-my

noun •  “A labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.”

Most businesses don’t think that they fit this description.  However, as markets become more unpredictable, many different companies are faced with working this way.

Balancing your labor variable just makes sense.

In the decorated apparel industry, the gig economy working class surrounds us.  You know them too.  Let’s take a peek:

Any occupation in which workers may be hired for on-demand jobs has the loaded potential for gig employment.  To tell you the truth, I think that this type of employment is steadily growing.  Recently the McKinsey Global Institute posted that in the US and Europe there are 162 million workers that have some sort of gig economy job.  That’s 20%-30% of the entire workforce.  Quite the chunk.

You see it now in business insider-site headlines about drivers that want to work for Uber or Lyft.  That’s a gig economy job.

Where nothing existed like this five years ago, now you have an entire wave of workers willing to essentially become independent taxi cab drivers.  Why didn’t they want to drive for the taxi companies before?  Simple.  All the power rested with the taxi company and not the driver.

Recently I used Uber to get to the airport from a client’s office.  I asked the driver, Anthony, his thoughts on the work.  He said, “It’s great.  I’m my own boss.  I work when I want.  Make the money I need for the day.  When I’ve had enough I just quit, take a nap, and then get back to what I really want to do which is create music.”

The secret to this section of the gig economy is that the control resides in the worker.  He/she has 100% control of what they do, when they do it and who they do it for.  For them, this fits their lifestyle choice for the work.

Someone posted on an industry Facebook group I belong to that they wanted to be a freelance t-shirt printer and just travel the world.  Six months or so in one city and then off to somewhere else to learn what life is like there.

What an awesomely brave idea.

Successful gig workers like the control they have over their lives.  Want to go for a run at 10:00 in the morning?  Just do it.  The day becomes more about the work, and less about when you are actually doing the work.  It’s not necessarily confined to a 9 to 5 job schedule.

Let’s not forget the fact that many decorated apparel shops started off as a gig economy side job operating out of a basement or a garage, before they ever blossomed into  a mainstream “real” businesses.  You gotta start somewhere.

The biggest problem for most gig workers is the uncertainty of what’s around the corner.  Getting a steady stream of work is extremely difficult.  Most gig economy workers spend just as much time tracking down their next opportunity as they do working the ones in front of them.  Sometimes more.

This means that quite often that it’s hard to turn the gig into a full time career.  It’s a struggle.  And if you aren’t working?  Zero pay.  Sorry, no soup for you.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom.  As independent contractor or freelance business opportunities become more mainstream, it may be easier to find new opportunities.  Usually this starts with a few successful finished contracts, and then as referrals come in, more business can swing your way.

For Gig Economy Workers, “Hey, I’m a Freelancer!”:

Here are some tips if you are considering doing something interesting with your career:

Welcome to the Dark Side

Of course there is a rougher and darker side to this coin too.  Many people are pushed into this type of work due to circumstances out of their control.

In many areas, jobs aren’t as prevalent or easy to come by as in others.  This may mean that some people take what they can get, even if it’s not a good long term fit for them career wise.  People have bills to pay, so they work to be responsible.  Do you have folks like this in your shop?

I don’t think anyone ever sets out to be a t-shirt printer or an embroiderer.  However, a lot of great people have made wonderful careers out of “just helping out one day”.

Maybe they just migrated into this industry by the back door.  Believe it or not, my original plan was to be an architect.  I started a t-shirt company to pay for the tuition, books and supplies.  A few decades later and I’m still learning new things every day.  Which is probably the most fantastic thing about the decorated apparel industry.  It is a never ending journey.

I don’t know if that’s public knowledge though.

Shop Challenge

Here’s a challenge for you.  Do you have someone on your staff now that just seems to be marking time until something better comes along?  You know what I’m talking about.

What do they do for you?

What if you developed a career path and training program for your shop?  A to Z, soup to nuts, everything someone needs to know.  Chances are if you showed them that the entry level job is just a starting point to a bigger and brighter future.   They might just apply themselves and begin to grow roots with your company if you showed a little more interest in their development.  Paint the picture of what they could do and what it might mean for them.

Your absolute best worker five years from now could be this person that seems incredibly lost today.

Not all people are in the gig economy by choice.  Your entry level workforce doesn’t have to keep holding onto the revolving door handle either.  Can you help them earn their stripes on your team and scale their skill set?  I bet you can.

Have that conversation.


“It is better to travel well than to arrive.”  – Buddha

“The noblest search is the search for excellence.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill


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