If you've ever taken an Uber or hired someone to mow your lawn, you've already participated in the gig economy. Ordered a pizza for delivery? Also gig economy. If you sometimes help a friend or family member with their taxes--outside of your normal day job at a tax and accounting practice, and not for free--you've participated too.
The gig economy is all around us, and as it continues becoming easier for buyers to connect with sellers in this way, the way we do business will keep shifting significantly.
What is the gig economy?
Before we tackle this term, it's important to note that the gig economy is not an all-encompassing explanation for why things are changing. Many experts in this field actually refer to topics such as these under the umbrella of "The Future of Work."
According to Deloitte, "the future of work is being shaped by two powerful forces: The growing adoption of artificial intelligence in the workplace, and the expansion of the workforce to include both on- and off-balance-sheet talent." Put another way, these forces of change are affecting three major dimensions of work: "the work itself, who does the work, and where work is done."
So, not only is work changing at its core, but there is now endless flexibility in terms of who can or should be doing the work and where it can or should be done.
Estimates from August 2018 showed that more than one-third (36 percent) of workers in the US are participating in the gig economy (in some form). This works out to approximately 57 million people--and that number is expected to rise exponentially over the next decade.
The gig economy--or "a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs"--is one huge illustration of the changing demands of workers and companies alike.
Some workers seek more flexibility, additional side income, better work-life balance, more autonomy, or location independence.
Meanwhile, companies may be looking to cut costs, increase agility, test new ideas, shift toward remote operations, or bring in a temporary expert.
There are countless reasons, on both sides, why the gig economy can be a great way to embrace "The Future of Work," even for fields like accounting and tax that have historically been seen as more "traditional."
Is it right for me?
The great thing about the gig economy is that, due to technological advancements and the prevalence of online marketplaces, it's accessible to pretty much anyone. Including accountants and tax pros.
Let's say you have an accounting degree but don't have a desire to be a full-time accounting professional at a CPA firm. Maybe it's because you want to be your own boss, hate having a commute, or need more flexibility so you can pick your kids up from school every day.
Or, perhaps you're an established accounting pro with years of experience. You've stayed with your firm because it can be expensive and complicated to start your own practice. However, now you're realizing that it's possible to set up shop anywhere and unconventional options like using a coworking space (e.g. WeWork) or operating a virtual practice could also be viable.
Working from anywhere doesn't have to be limited to your nearest WeWork, either. Maybe you're seeking full location independence, whether it means moving permanently to another country or even traveling consistently while continuing your work.
Whatever the reason, if any of these ideas resonate with you, it may be worth exploring your options in the gig economy--and luckily for all of us, it's never been easier.
How does it work?
When you get ready to jump in the deep end of gig work, you will probably have a ton of questions. How will I find clients? How can I build trust and ensure the engagements are lasting? How do I communicate and work with remote clients who I won't ever meet in person?
All of these are valid challenges to consider, and their answers will depend on factors like your client niche, level of experience, and whether you're going part- or full-time with your gigs.
Here are a few ideas and tools that can help facilitate your gig-based client engagements.
Odds are, you're probably already utilizing some sort of online meeting software, no matter what your current employment situation is. From Skype to Microsoft Teams to Zoom (or even just a conference call), there's no shortage of options for hosting meetings where any party can join from anywhere.
Depending on your specific needs, you may want to consider an option with additional features like screen sharing, flexible recording, or document sharing.
You may feel anxious about asking clients to meet online, but it's likely that they are using these software options for other parts of their life or work anyway. Make this transition and you can save everyone valuable time (and start increasing your ability to be completely location-independent).
This is one of our favorite innovations for the tax and accounting industry. By nature of the profession, many forms and legal documents will need to be signed by both you and your clients.
But why should that mean you have to waste time, money, and paper signing all of them in person or sending via fax.
Utilizing secure E-Sign technology (like the one built into our portal at CountingWorks PRO) allows both you and your clients to easily sign and submit documents from any location, on any device with an internet connection.
It's a simple transition to make, but one that will have a huge effect on your ability to operate a successful gig business. Bonus: Your clients will love you for simplifying their lives, too.
As a tax and accounting professional, you are entrusted with intimate details of your clients' finances and private data. The use of a third-party background screening helps shed more light on your trustworthiness--and proves that you are who you say you are.
Services like TaxBuzz and CountingWorks often include this as an option when setting up an online profile. The background screening badge helps provide assurance to your online prospects and referrals, thereby boosting client confidence and increasing the number of incoming leads for your practice.
Security and Communication
This comes back to the point of building trust with your clients. As a gig accountant, you probably don't have the backing of an established firm to prove your trustworthiness. Without this automatic legitimacy, you have to showcase how seriously you take the security of your clients and their information.
This is even more important if your gig work is going to be even partially remote. Are all of your client communications secure? Are they sending you sensitive information via email or text? Are you leaving them vulnerable to identity theft and other issues?
The best way to protect your clients' information is through a secure platform. At CountingWorks PRO, we set all of our pros up on our secure portal that covers all aspects of client management, from the very beginning of prospecting all the way through the client lifecycle.
With high-profile cyberattacks (like accounting software firm Wolters Kluwer on May 7th) happening seemingly every day, it's more important than ever to safeguard your clients' confidential information in every way possible.
Every gig worker's worst nightmare: you do the work and you do it well, yet the payment either comes late, comes only after endless reminders to the client, or doesn't come at all.
While this is definitely a real concern and something to actively try to avoid, it doesn't have to be your norm.
Make sure you have clearly written contracts with explicit terms regarding payment schedules. Use your handy E-Sign technology to have those documents signed by every client before you start working.
Hold up your end of the bargain and meet your deadlines. Send invoices on the day you say you will. Send due date reminders if necessary.
Be very clear about expectations and make sure you approach the engagement professionally, even if you're completing work for a friend or family member.
There is a large public conversation occurring right now regarding the rights of gig workers and whether or not current regulations match the realities of the US workforce. We won't get into that discussion now, but just remember: if you provide labor, you deserve to be paid for that labor. Be assertive and go get what you've earned.
So, you're all set up with everything you'll need to properly manage your client engagements as a gig worker. But how do you find clients that are willing to pay for your services?
Great question! Rather than overcomplicating what your strategy should be, let's keep it simple:
You need a great online presence.
Makes sense, right? If you're joining the gig workforce, that's already the epitome of embracing technology and "The Future of Work," so the way you attract new clients should follow that trend as well.
Clients who are willing to work with (and actively seeking) gig accountants are clearly technologically savvy themselves, so meet them where they are. Have a professional, SEO-dominating website. Prove your expertise through relevant content on your blog. Join the public discourse on social media. Showcase your glowing reputation by building up reviews on sites like Google My Business, CountingWorks (a marketplace optimized for virtual and gig-based practices), and TaxBuzz.
Embrace the Innovation & Disprove the Skepticism
There's no doubt that the gig economy poses a major threat to the traditional model of work in the accounting and tax industry. Even beyond the typical employer/employee setups, think of situations such as account temps where a middleman usually takes a big cut. The 3rd party is no longer necessary for either side, and firms can go straight to the source if they desire temporary labor.
Gig workers and gig platforms are shaking up virtually every industry in the global economy, so it's important to recognize your role in the movement. If you choose to pursue gig work, you can consider yourself to be on the forefront of workforce innovation--and part of this role will inevitably involve demonstrating your legitimacy.
Embrace the unknown, dive into this new form of accounting and tax work, and enjoy the benefits you were seeking that had been previously unavailable through traditional career paths. If you have any questions regarding the gig economy or how to set yourself up for success as a gig accountant, contact us today at 1-800-442-2477 x3 or set up some time to speak with one of our digital marketing experts. To list your accounting or tax practice on each of our marketplace sites, visit www.CountingWorks.com and www.TaxBuzz.com.