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How to Build a Thriving Business in the Gig Economy

How to Build a Thriving Business in the Gig Economy

The rapid technological changes in the economy bring tremendous uncertainty to the job market. Job security no longer exists. The good news is that with risks come great opportunities. Who would’ve thought 25 years ago that someone would have the title of Social Media Strategist? Today, that’s my job.

I was a reluctant entrepreneur, even though I had just completed my MBA. I thought I would have a full-time job in marketing and climb the corporate ladder to an executive position - until I started getting requests from colleagues to teach them how to use social media. I realized there was a need in the market for this skill: showing others how to use social media to enhance their careers and position themselves as thought leaders in their space.

One consulting gig led to another, thanks to a lot of networking done primarily on social media. Four years and a lot of hard work later, I have a thriving business with established accounts, high-profile speaking gigs, and a team of four working with me. Here’s how you, too, can turn your side gig into a thriving business that pays the bills and keeps you fulfilled.

[Related: Why You Should Put Your Fears Aside and Act on Your Own Business Ideas]

Find your niche.

Do something that no one is else is doing. Pick a niche and focus on it. In my case, I decided to focus on social media consulting for academics and executives. I came to this decision after my first client was an academic, and I realized there was a business opportunity in guiding academics through the ins and outs of social media strategy.

As management thinker Whitney Johnson advises in her book, Disrupt Yourself, play where no one else is playing. When you do that, you take on market risk, which is less precarious than competitive risk, wherein you offer a product or service in a market with already-existing competitors. Venturing into a market with barely any players helped me stand out as a specialist in the field. As Johnson writes:

For real staying power, it's important to specialize in such a way that there is no one else doing the job.

Hire and manage the right people.

When I first started hiring people, I was looking for skill sets, but quickly realized that what I needed to look for was reliability. I could easily train those with no experience, but I could not teach them to be reliable. There’s no shortage of people looking for side gigs - from remote workers to recent graduates to consultants. Take your time picking the right team for you.

When looking for two social media coordinators to help me manage a large account, I gave applicants a short test by asking them to write an Instagram caption for a client’s event within a specific deadline. Those who submitted the caption past the deadline were weeded out right away. Applicants whose content had no language errors made it to the next round, while those who researched the client’s hashtags stood out.

If you’re managing a remote team, communicate with your team members on a daily basis, provide plenty of feedback, and balance negative feedback with the positive. Even more importantly, help your team meet their personal goals. When I hired an intern years ago, part of the draw to work with me was to help her set up a blog on Huffington Post. By the time she finished her internship with me, she was up and running as a Huffington Post blogger.

[Related: Career Wisdom for the Class of 2018 that Works for Seasoned Professionals]

Set up a network of mentors.

When you’re an entrepreneur, having a mentor can make all the difference in choosing a business deal or expanding into a certain market segment. Create a network of mentors, each for a different purpose. Former bosses and professors make great mentors, but peer mentors are just as critical.

I find peer mentors helpful because the relationship is reciprocated. Establish a two-way avenue, whereby you give each other advice. From making business decisions to editing my thought leadership articles, I frequently go to my peer mentors for a second opinion.

Be ready to re-tool your skill set.

The most important skill in the new economy is one’s ability to continually build new knowledge and skills to stay relevant and employable, whether you’re a consultant or full-time professional. Adapt to a mindset of risk-taking and continuous learning as new tools and opportunities emerge in your field. Constantly network in your industry, keep your finger on the pulse, and always be willing to learn new skills - sometimes from younger people.

[Related: What Does it Take to Become a Successful Female Entrepreneur?]


Lina Duque, MBA, is a social media strategist and principal of Lina Duque Consulting, a boutique social media agency focused on supporting academics and executives. She’s a frequent speaker at universities and international forums on digital presence and personal branding. 

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.