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Many Americans are content with a stable job but employers are adapting their business practices amid stiff global competition. That means more companies are using freelancers to create a more efficient and flexible organization. Some experts observe that nearly half of the U.S. labor force could be gig workers by 2020.

The impact, however, won’t be evenly spread out. Experienced freelancers who possess in-demand skills will have more options, higher pay and other perks as companies compete for top talent.

Here’s how to succeed in the gig economy:

1. Freelancers need to take initiative.

Domain expertise will make you attractive to potential clients, that is if they know you exist. The freelance marketplace is crowded, therefore, the best freelancers cannot sit back and rely solely on their specialized skills.

They’ll need to reach out to organizations that are hiring their specific skill set. Unlike traditional employees, gig workers don’t have a boss who hands out daily or weekly assignments that lead to a steady paycheck.

That’s a key difference between a nine-to-five job and gig work. If you’re a freelancer, you aren’t just an individual contributor — you must also assume the role of entrepreneur and/or small business owner. If you have short-term projects, then you should spend between one-fourth to one-third of your time promoting your services so that:

  • You have several clients and have a diversified income stream.
  • You have future work in the pipeline.
  • You have the option of choosing high-paying gigs and declining lower-paying ones.

2. Networking is still important.

There’s no substitute for networking. Beware the growing number of “client lead” generators that promise to find you clients in exchange for a fee. It’s usually an ineffective shortcut.

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Leverage social networks instead. Popular ones have essentially morphed into social job boards. For example, LinkedIn works well for people who are savvy enough to find key decision makers. You can find job listings posted by agencies or Fortune 500 recruiters by typing the job title in LinkedIn’s search query.

Another method is to place keywords in your profile so that hiring managers who are querying these phrases will find you. And join LinkedIn professional groups and monitor the threads for available opportunities. LinkedIn differentiates itself by enabling candidates to directly contact recruiters and hiring managers.

Secondly, focus on your niche. If you’re an app developer or accountant, consider looking for gigs at specialized job platforms that cater to your profession. It can save you a ton of time, and it’ll be easier to filter your search for better-paying work.

According to CodementorX, software developers and programmers should build a strong candidate profile on developer communities such as Github, Stack Overflow or Codementor. Also, IT freelancers should create a portfolio of their work and publish testimonials to boost their credentials.

CodementorX is an example of a freelance platform that works with top software engineers and web developers who are seeking gig opportunities at global companies and promising ventures. “The freelance marketplace is moving towards finding the best talent who also possess specialized skills,” says CEO Weiting Liu. “Businesses want the assurance that their workers, whether employees or contractors, work efficiently and effectively, no matter where they are.”

3. Build an outstanding profile.

There are other social sites from which to showcase your skills and reach out to industry contacts. For example, consider joining a Facebook group in your industry or profession. Do you have a former classmate or neighbor who belong in your industry?

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Real-life networking is also beneficial. Consider attending conferences where you can give your business card. When it comes to inbound self-marketing, publish your best work on Facebook or LinkedIn so people who search your name know that you’re a promising candidate. Get referrals and testimonials on your page. These serve as social proof that you deliver high-quality work.

4. Be prepared for variable income.

Employees know when and how much they’ll get paid, and it’s almost always a fixed amount. Gig workers, on the other hand, must estimate how much they’ll get paid weeks in advance.

Some employers hire independent contractors in order to shift certain expenses to the worker, such as overhead and healthcare costs. You must be prepared to assume these expenses as well as plan for times when you might not have any projects (such as the holiday season).

There are additional responsibilities as a freelancer/business owner. The most obvious is doing your taxes and taking advantage of tax-deductible expenses such as rent, internet, phone and similar costs that are necessary to run your business.

In the next few years, millions of Americans will transition from employee to gig worker. Freelancers enjoy more freedom by working flexible hours at remote locations. It’ll help if you’re a domain expert and cast a wide net of professional contacts.

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