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Why The Gig Economy Is Like A Bad Boyfriend

And what to do about it.

12/05/2016 4:21 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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You wouldn't let your good-for-nothing ex-boyfriend ruin all men, would you?

There are a few things that drive me into a blind rage: call centres that 'accidentally' hang up on you after an hour of waiting, motorists that won't let you merge in busy traffic, and people bagging the sharing economy because they don't like Uber.

It's like saying all men are horrible because your last boyfriend was selfish and good for nothing. It's unfair and inaccurate.

The term "sharing economy" is a warm and fuzzy phrase that many businesses have hid under, but really, when you examine businesses like Uber, Fiverr and Airtasker there is not really a lot of sharing going on. Therefore it's really better to use the term "Gig Economy" to describe platforms like Uber, Fiverr and Airtasker, and when you are talking about the gig economy.... yeah maybe it deserves it's bad rap.

Here are my reasons for why the gig economy is like a bad boyfriend and what to do about it.

It makes you think you'd better wear heels for dinner, but then takes you to McDonalds.

When I was in London doing my experiment on the sharing economy one of the first ways I thought of to make a quick buck was to join Task Rabbit. I had read these exciting ads on the train saying that people were looking for Taskers to witness their weddings, wait in line at clothing sales for them, or walk their dog.

This all sounded pretty good to me, but after spending over an hour filling in the application (which included a quiz, a million forms of identity verification and a huge list of skills) I was rejected because there weren't enough jobs. On further investigation, it turns out the majority of Task Rabbit tasks are cleaning or handyman work.

Looking at other gig economy platforms, it's the same. Yes, there are a few great tasks like taking photographs of someone's birthday or picking up a pie, but the vast majority are cleaning and handyman work.

It expects you to always be waiting by the phone.

Most of the jobs in the gig economy are not well paid, so if you want to make enough to actually sustain yourself you need to be pretty flexible with your time, and be ready to drop everything if you get a job. You are really at the whim of supply and demand.

Sure, Uber drivers can earn $50 an hour, but they can also earn $5 if there is no work. It's really only worth it when the odds are in your favour and, just like in The Hunger Games, this can change in an instant.

It will always go dutch, even though it earns way more.

I know technology is expensive to set up, and platforms have to pay for maintenance and marketing, but seriously, some of the commissions are ridiculous. Fiverr takes 20 percent of what you earn -- from $5!

It stands you up all the time.

On the other side, when I have hired someone to do a task in the gig economy I have been stood up -- a lot. Once in London I hired a cleaner who then didn't show up because I couldn't organize her parking. And to be honest, I can't blame her or any other gig economy worker -- it's just the opportunity cost. When you are paying a low fee for a service, any barrier to completion can be the straw that breaks the camel's back and just makes the job not worth doing.

But, just like with boyfriends, there are times where the gig economy can work.

It works when you see each other as equals

I know I am probably straying out of the classical definition of the gig economy, but time sharing platforms such as Time Banking can work really well. Time Banking allows people to swap an hour of their time for an hour of someone else's -- so you can swap copywriting for childcare, or an italian meal for an italian lesson or any other number of things.

These exchanges feel good, and even though one service might traditionally be valued higher than another, it never really seems to matter because the exchange is totally fair.

It works when you get to know each other before going on a date.

The only examples of the traditional gig economy that I have seen that really work are when there is a demand for a skill that has a higher price, requires a specialist skill, or is very personal. Things like hairdressing or beauty services, specialist consulting services, or babysitting, tutoring or care jobs.

These kinds of jobs require a good reputation, references, and good reviews in order for each party to be comfortable enough to commit. As a result, I have found that these jobs tend to have more interaction before the gig, giving each party time to suss each other out and leading to a bit more success.

If you are keen on getting involved in the gig economy here are my dating tips:

  • Don't set your price too low. Remember to calculate your time to get to the job, get home, and whatever supplies and resources you will need. If you undercharge you are just going to go into each job feeling exploited, and no one is going to have a good experience.
  • Look for specialist platforms rather than the big guys. In my experience, the work tends to be better paid as the people hiring know the industry a bit better and tend to have a clearer understanding of the work involved.
  • If you are looking for work because you are just starting out in the industry, make sure you also have your own website, so you can use the gig economy to get your first few clients but you can then graduate to getting work through your site and reputation.
  • Read all of the fine print. Then read it again. Check whether you are insured, what kind of commission the platform takes and what your tax obligations are.

So just like dating, you will have good experiences and bad experiences in the gig economy and while the bad ones may sting they make you smarter for next time. So good luck out there.

You can see more from Claire Marshall at Share Stories or on Facebook.

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