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Being a social media influencer is no longer a side gig, but a career path for many Australians

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Five years ago, Ally Sheehan was at a birthday celebration when a friend’s father began quizzing her about the thousands of people who followed her on social media.

“I remember his dad said to me, ‘This is so crazy, you should try to monetise it’,” Ms Sheehan says.

It was the first time she ever thought about making money using social media. Not long after, brands and organisations began to approach her to ask if she’d promote them.

Half a decade later, the 26-year-old Melburnian spends a lot of her time and earns most of her income from online content creation.

She’s now got more than 53,000 followers on her Instagram account and 10,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, where she posts content primarily about her vegan diet and travel.

Her Instagram is filled with eye-capturing images of Ms Sheehan in different, aesthetic locations, sometimes featuring products she’s been paid to promote.

She winces a little at being called an influencer but says it’s correct.

“But ultimately, I want to be a good influence. I want to be like an older sister or a good friend.”

How the industry has changed from a side gig to a career

The concept of influencer marketing pre-dates the internet — celebrity endorsements or targeted giveaways are offline examples — but today the term is predominantly associated with social media users promoting ideas, products or organisations to their audience for a fee or goods.

The emergence and rise of social media as a key source of information has positioned influencers as a major form of marketing today.

In the time she’s been involved, Ms Sheehan has seen the industry mature and its participants diversify.

She says the responsibilities of influencers and expectations from their audience and clients have grown and become more sophisticated.

Marketers aren’t just looking for the superstar influencers with millions of views, but online creators with smaller, specific audiences and expertise, like herself.

The Australian influencer industry is becoming professionalised in three main areas: increasing revenue; the development of skills, institutions and structures; and the mainstreaming of influencer culture, says Crystal Abidin, a digital anthropologist at Curtin University.

In 2019, a PwC report estimated that spending in the industry would reach $240 million in Australia that year. More people are joining the industry, with work for micro- and nano-influencers creating new opportunities for more and diverse types of people taking part.

“It used to be something that would be piecemeal income or a side gig,” Dr Abidin says.

“Since 2015, people have been able to make an entirely comfortable livelihood in this industry.”

Anyone can be an influencer but it takes skill to succeed

A teenage girl looks at a bikini model on Instagram on her phone.
You need more than great selfie skills to succeed.(ABC News: Elise Pianegonda)

The influencer career path is increasingly an accepted, even normal option for people.

The biggest in the business, such as Australian lifestyle influencer Shani Grimmond, are household names. Even celebrities who came to fame in traditional forms of media like film or television like Will Smith are acting like influencers online.

Skills and practices once associated with influencers — like how to position a camera for selfie or video call — are now just part of regular job readiness in the digital age.

“Five years ago, if I was teaching a class, I would ask them whether they wanted to be an influencer and they would say, ‘No’,” Dr Ablin says. “But now, if I ask a class if they think about what will show up when a prospective employer searches them and sees their social media, I tell them you’re doing influencer practices.”

In saying that, you need to have a plethora of skills to be successful, Ms Sheehan says.

And she’s had to learn them all on the job.

“It feels like a 100 jobs in one sometimes. You’re coordinating with brands, you’re negotiating, reviewing contracts,” she says.

“Photography, styling, editing (if you’re doing scripted content you’re writing), directing, all of these elements yourself.”

How influencers work with marketers

Professionalisation of the industry includes influencers regularly working with teams or outsourcing aspects of content creation, Dr Abidin says.

Guyala, a Birri Gubba and Wonnarua woman, model and actor, works as an influencer on Instagram.

Photographs of her posing for the camera in clothing or with items she’s paid to post on her account are interspersed with personal and sometimes political images.

An influencer, Guyala, poses for the camera in activewear.
As part of the professionalisation of the industry, organisations like agencies are providing services to influencers like Guyala.(Supplied: @guyala_lala)

She works with a management agency that acts as a conduit to the brands and organisations that Guyala promotes.

“Before I signed, people would just [direct message] me and send me things,” she says. “Now, it’s more professional. They’ll send it to the agency, and my agent will send through a brief. I go there and pick it up, I take the photos, make sure everything matches up with the briefs and send it back to my agent.”

On the other side of the equation, marketers are also codifying expectations and standards as they spend millions on influencers.

Last month, the Australian Influencer Marketing Council (AIMCO) published its first set of guidelines for the industry.

This document contains “best practice” for everything from advertising disclosure requirements, to intellectual property rights and metrics for the success of influencers.

Head of AIMCO, Josanne Ryan, says the code was developed in consultation with more than 50 Australian marketing agencies, and that future revisions will include input from influencers as well.

As part of building trust with their audiences, influencers are expected to be transparent about their relationships through clearly labelling what is sponsorship and what is not.

Failing to disclose relationships may be a breach of Australian Consumer Law, although no influencer has ever been pursued for a breach, according to a spokesperson from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Ms Ryan says marketers are also more conscious of brand risk from influencer marketing. This comes as some influencers face criticism for promoting misinformation and conspiracy theories.

Perceptions of being an influencer don’t match reality

While the idea of being an influencer has been mainstreamed, creators say that, ironically, the public’s perception of the influencer doesn’t match the reality for the vast majority of them.

Like many other creative industries, the lifestyles of the top influencers who receive the most attention from mainstream media aren’t representative of the many others in the field.

Ms Sheehan reflects on the difficult aspects of what she does: undefined work-life boundaries, insecure work, unclear career path and a constantly evolving industry.

She says the independent nature of the role isn’t all bad — “it gives you freedom” — and that she’s struck up friendships with other influencers and creators, often sharing information or brainstorming what to do.

Guyala thinks some people may underestimate how much work goes into being a professional influencer.

Even after she’s created an image for a brand, the path to publishing can feel exhaustive, she says.

“I’ll send it to the agency, who will send it to the client, who will tell me which images they want. They’ll usually check over it three times before I post, checking the caption, the edit, the image and the product placement. It usually takes a week to actually post it, there are just so many steps,” she says.

Guyala still encounters people who assume that being an influencer is something you do if you’re rich, rather than something you do as a livelihood.

“A lot of people think it’s a luxury life. Even being called an influencer, you’re put into this category, you’re labelled as someone who has a lot of money and has a good life and a big house and doesn’t have that much stuff to do,” Guyala says.

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Prince William news: George Michael turned down gig at Duke’s royal party – ‘The shame!’ | Royal | News

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The Wham! singer spoke to CNN and Piers Morgan in 2011 abbot the royal rejection. William, 8 at the time, and Mr Michael had a close connection due to the singer’s friendship with Princess Diana. Mr Michael died on December 25 2016, after he recorded a song for William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding.

Speaking to Mr Morgan, the Careless Whisper’s singer revealed he was at a party with Diana and Elton John in 1990.

Mr Michael said he was asked to sing at the Buckingham Palace party by a young William.

He said to Mr Morgan: William came up to us and said, ‘Would you sing a song and Uncle Elton play the piano?’ but I can’t bear singing in front of small crowds.

“I can’t believe I said no to the future king of England but I really was too embarrassed to sing in front of strangers.”

READ MORE: Kate Middleton and Prince William leave fans in tears with heartbreaking new video

Mr Michael said it was a “very awful thing to have to do” to the young Prince.

But the singer excused his behaviour and said the only two people he knew at the party were Diana and Mr John.

After the “excruciating” rejection, Mr Michael claimed William was very polite.

Also in 2011, Mr Michael took to Twitter and said he was “such a nice kid”, but added: “his little Xmas smile disappeared, but the only people I knew in the room were Diana and Elton!

“So I bloody said no to the future king of my country…oh the shame.”

In another 2011 interview with the Huffington Post, Mr Michael dished out more on his friendship with Diana.

Speaking fondly of the late Princess, he said: “I was invited to the Palace many, many times before I actually met with her because I was so afraid of the publicity if we did become friends.

“And when we did meet, I think we clicked in way that was a little bit intangible, and it probably had probably more to do with our upbringing than anything else.

“She was very like a lot of women that have been attracted to me in my life because they see something non-threatening.”

Recently a new mural was unveiled of Mr Michael near his London home to remember the Last Christmas singer.

William however has been in the news lately for revealing a “profound” moment which inspired his mental health work.

In an open letter to London’s Air Ambulance Charity, William spoke about his time with the East Anglian Air Ambulance Service, and said: “One of the first call outs I made was to a young man who had committed suicide; it was an incredibly tough day and had a profound effect on all of us.”

Later the Prince said: “Mental health matters just as much as our physical health, yet too often it is ignored, misunderstood and neglected.

“It is one of the biggest public health issues of today, impacting all aspects of society.

“It is simply wrong that 330,000 people in Britain lose their jobs each year due to mental health, or that one in 10 children has a diagnosable condition.”



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“I Accept Pay Less Than My Worth Just To Get A Job.” How The Gig Economy Screwed Over Millennials

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BuzzFeed News; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Over the course of the Great Recession, over 8.8 million jobs were eliminated in the United States alone. Americans lost jobs in construction, at colleges, at nonprofits, at law firms, and at big-box stores going out of business. They lost jobs in recreation, at newspapers, at public radio stations, at car factories and startups, in finance, in advertising, and in publishing. In the past, recessions have busted the job market, but then recovery has rebuilt it: The jobs disappeared as companies tightened their belts, then reappeared as they felt confident expanding.

That’s not what happened this time — which is one of the main reasons why millennials, many of whom were struggling to find their first job, any job, during this era, have had such a negative experience of work. To be clear, it’s not that jobs weren’t created. In fact, strong job creation numbers were flouted every day — first by Obama, then by Trump. It’s just that they weren’t the same sort of jobs as before. A “job” can be a temp position given to a freelancer, a seasonal gig, even a part-time job. According to one study, nearly all of the jobs “added” to the economy between 2005 and 2015 were “contingent” or “alternative” in some way.

But for those desperate for work, especially millennials graduating into the post-recession market, these jobs nonetheless provided a much-needed paycheck, however meager — and the freelance and gig economy exploded. The willingness of workers to settle for these job conditions helped foster an even deeper fissuring of the workplace: first, by normalizing the low standards of the freelance economy; second, by “redefining” what it meant to be “employed.”

The general logic behind freelancing goes something like this: You have a marketable skill, maybe in graphic design, photography, writing, digital editing, or web design. Various companies are in need of that skill. In the past, medium- and large-size companies would’ve hired full-time employees with that skill. But in the fissured workplace, those same companies are reticent to hire any more full-time employees than absolutely necessary. So they hire multiple freelancers to do the work of a full-time staffer, which gives the company high-quality work, without the added responsibility to shoulder freelancers’ health benefits or ensure fair working conditions.

From the outside, freelancing seems like a dream: You work when you want to work; you’re ostensibly in control of your own destiny. But if you’re a freelancer, you’re familiar with the dark side of these “benefits.” The “freedom to set your own hours” also means the “freedom to pay for your own healthcare.” The passage of the Affordable Care Act has made it easier to purchase an individual plan off the marketplace. But before that — and given the concerted attempt to undercut the ACA — obtaining affordable healthcare as a freelancer has become increasingly untenable.

In California, one person told me that the cheapest insurance they could find — for one person, with very little coverage and a high deductible — goes for $330 a month. I talked to a dog walker in Seattle who pays $675 — without dental coverage. Another person reported that their bargain basement plan in Minnesota costs $250 a month. In Dallas, $378 a month for a catastrophic plan with a $10,000 deductible. And that’s if there’s just one of you: A freelance writer told me she’d had breast cancer, and her husband, a freelance photographer and photo editor, is an insulin- dependent Type 2 diabetic. They live in suburban New York, and currently pay $1,484 a month for coverage. Many freelancers told me their deductibles were so high that they avoided going to the doctor if at all possible, which frequently ended with even higher bills when they were finally forced to seek care — and, because they were freelancers, there was no such thing as paid time off to recover.

Many freelancers told me their deductibles were so high that they avoided going to the doctor if at all possible.

Freelancing also means no employer-facilitated 401k, no employee match, and no subsidized or concerted means, other than the portion of your freelance checks that go to Social Security every month, to save for retirement. It often means hiring an accountant to deal with labyrinthian tax structures, and getting paid a flat fee for the end product or service, regardless of how many hours you put into it. It means complete independence, which in the current capitalist marketplace is another way of saying it means complete insecurity.

“I get no general or consistent feedback on my skills,” Alex, who works as a freelance designer and illustrator, told me. “I accept pay less than my worth just to get a job. There’s consistent price undercutting. And there’s the anxiety over the lack of control over my own life.” “Clients,” after all, owe you nothing. When the supply of freelancers with a given skill or service is greater than the demand, wages cannot be negotiated. You adjust your rate to whatever a client is willing to pay.

Take the example of journalism: Every writer used to dream about the freedom of the freelance lifestyle. Pitch only the stories you want to write; write only for the publications you want to write for. And back when magazine publishing was healthy, you could make bank: two dollars a word (on the moderate side of things) for a 5,000-word feature meant $10,000 for a few months’ work.

But when the journalism market bottomed out with the Great Recession, everything reset. Laid-off journalists flooded the market, desperate for freelance gigs. The amount of competition drove down rates, which was about what most outlets could afford to pay. And then there were people like me: non-journalists who’d honed their voice online, on LiveJournal and WordPress, for free. In 2010, I started reading the Hairpin, a website that had sprung from the ashes of the recession.

The business model, like a lot of business models at that time, was contingent on publishing anything good by anyone who was willing to write for free. I began writing pieces, rooted in my academic research, on the history of celebrity gossip and classic Hollywood scandal. Like a typical millennial, I was chuffed that they’d even publish them. I wanted an audience for my passion far more than I wanted to be paid. This model made it possible for hundreds of people to break into writing. You can trace the careers of many prominent contemporary writers back to the Hairpin, its sister site, the Awl, its cousin site, the Toast. Same for dozens of sports writers, blogging for free on sites like the Bleacher Report. We “made it” because writing wasn’t our main gig, which allowed us to write for nothing or, as the sites gained traction and the recession faded, we wrote for what my grandmother would’ve called “pin money”: extra, surplus, gravy.

But because we were all writing as a side gig — which is why we could afford to do it for free — we also helped to drive rates way, way down. Why pay a freelance writer their established rate, the rate that would help keep them paying rent, when you could pay a graduate student in art history zero dollars for their insight?

That’s the sort of desperation that actual companies — far more than esoteric little websites — took advantage of. And no one took more advantage of it than the newly ascendant gig employers: Uber, Handy, DoorDash, and dozens of others. When we look back on the period following the Great Recession, it will be remembered not as a time of great innovation, but of great exploitation, when tech companies reached “unicorn” status (valued over $1 billion) on the backs of employees they refused to even deign to label, let alone respect, as such.


The dynamics and overarching philosophy of Silicon Valley create the perfect conditions for fissured workplaces. Silicon Valley thinks the “old” way of work is broken. It loves overwork. Its ideology of “disruption” — to “move fast and break things,” as Mark Zuckerberg famously put it — is contingent on a willingness to destroy any semblance of a stable workplace. In the startup world, the ultimate goal is “going public”: creating a high enough stock valuation, and, afterward, unmitigated growth, no matter the human cost. That’s how these companies pay back the venture capital firms that invested in them — and that’s how they make their founders, boards, and early employees very rich.

Talking about how Silicon Valley and shifting concepts of work means talking about Uber. You might be as sick of talking about Uber as I am, but its impact is widespread and undeniable. “Under our noses, the company has ushered in a wave of changes touching most aspects of society, be it family life or childcare arrangements, worker conditions or management practices, commuting patterns or urban planning, or racial equality campaigns and labor rights initiatives,” Alex Rosenblat argues in Uberland. It “confuses categories such as innovation and lawlessness, work and consumption, algorithms and managers, neutrality and control, sharing and employment.” The number of Americans who’ve actually driven for Uber is proportionally small. But the changes it set in motion are slowly infiltrating the rest of the economy and our everyday lives — especially those who, in any capacity, rely on the gig economy.

Like so many other startup companies of the post-recession era, Uber was founded on the premise of disruption: taking an old industry, oftentimes one that was a bit clunky, and analog, but that paid its workers a living wage, and using digital technologies to change it into something sleeker, easier, and cheaper that would funnel money to the disrupting company. Uber, along with Lyft, Juno, and a handful of other ride-hailing companies, disrupted what has traditionally been known as the “livery” business: picking people up and taking them places. Their popularity launched an entire cottage industry of services reconceptualizing quotidian tasks: Rover disrupted pet care. Airbnb disrupted lodging. Handy disrupted handymen. Postmates and Seamless and DoorDash disrupted takeout. And while these apps have made vacationing and ordering in and getting from one place to another easier for consumers, they also created a massive swath of bad jobs — bad jobs that workers, still desperate from the fallout of the recession, were (at least temporarily) thrilled to take.

The number of Americans who’ve actually driven for Uber is proportionally small. But the changes it set in motion are slowly infiltrating the rest of the economy and our everyday lives — especially those who, in any capacity, rely on the gig economy.

For a short period of time, companies like Uber were viewed as economic saviors. They sold themselves as a means of using and distributing resources — cars, drivers, cleaners, bedrooms — with far more efficiency than the old systems, all while creating the jobs that the clawing middle class were desperate to land. The secret of these jobs, though, were that they weren’t even technically jobs, and certainly not the sort of jobs that could mend the broken class ladder. Instead, these jobs have created what the tech columnist Farhad Manjoo calls “a permanent digital underclass,” both in the United States and around the world, “who will toil permanently without decent protections.”

That’s because, at least at Uber, the tens of thousands of people who drove for the company weren’t even considered employees. In external messaging, Uber’s posture toward these men and women remained steady: The drivers were, in fact, a sort of customer. The app merely connected one set of customers, in need of rides, with another set of customers, willing to provide it. As Sarah Kessler, author of Gigged, points out, “Uber merely took a trend among corporations — employing as few people as possible — and adapted it for the smartphone era.”

After all, actually hiring employees, even if you’re just paying minimum wage, is “expensive” — and requires the company to take on all sorts of responsibilities. When you’re a startup burning through millions in venture capital, the goal is growth, always growth, and responsibility is an impediment to growth. Uber solved the problem by calling their employees “customers” and by officially designating them as “independent contractors.”

“Independence” meant those who drove for Uber could make their own schedule, had no real boss, and worked for themselves. But it also meant these pseudo-employees had no right to unionize, and Uber had no responsibility to train them or provide benefits. Gig economies lured workers with a promise of that independence — with work that could actually bend to fit our lives, our children’s schedules, our other responsibilities. This work was framed as particularly suitable for supposedly self-centered, picky, self-righteous millennials; as the gig economy grew in visibility, Forbes declared, “The 9 to 5 job may soon be a relic of the past, if millennials have their way.”

But that’s not how it worked out. Not for Handy cleaners, or TaskRabbits, or laborers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, who bid to complete menial online tasks (clicking on every photo with a picture of a bird, for example, in order to assist with AI recognition) for pennies. Not for Door Dashers, who until a massive online backlash was using tips to cover their independent contractors’ base pay — meaning that if a Dasher was guaranteed $6.85 per delivery and received a $3 tip, they still received just $6.85; users were essentially tipping DoorDash itself. And despite Uber’s past (and thoroughly debunked) claims that an Uber driver could make $90,000 a year, the majority of people driving or cleaning or renting their spare bedroom or clicking relentlessly on a mouse in the gig economy are doing it as a second or third job — a shitty job to supplement a different shitty job. The gig economy isn’t replacing the traditional economy. It’s propping it up in a way that convinces people it’s not broken.

Your ability to work is never as “free” as the word freelance suggests.

Freelance and gigging don’t make drudgery or anxiety disappear. Instead, they exacerbate them. Any time that you do take off is tinged with regret or anxiousness that you could be working. That hour at a birthday party could be thirty dollars from Uber. That hour on a run could be spent pitching to new clients. That hour reading a book could be used to seek out another writing assignment. In today’s economy, going freelance means internalizing the fact that you could and should always be working more. Nick, who does freelance stats analysis through Upwork, described the internalized pressure to be “working eternally and at all times”; Jane, a freelance writer, explains that “there is such a sense in freelancing that you are never doing enough — that you should be doing more, making more, hustling more — and that every failure you have (real or perceived) is entirely your fault. In an office job, you’re still getting paid for those five minutes it takes to make a cup of tea; when you’re freelancing, every minute you’re not working, you’re losing money.”

In practice, freelancing often means developing the mindset that “everything bad is good, everything good is bad” — a mantra I threw around with my friends during grad school to describe the perverse alchemy of overwork, in which drudgery feels “great,” and actually pleasurable activities become indelibly lined with guilt. As Kessler reports in Gigged, Uber directly exploits this mindset: When a driver attempts to close the app and refuse future calls, it responds with a variation on “Are you sure you want to go offline? Demand is very high in your area. Make more money. Don’t stop now!”

Your ability to work is never as “free” as the word freelance suggests. If your car has to be repaired, you’re sick for a long period of time, or you simply don’t want to drive, Uber makes it difficult to start working again. You’re repeatedly subjected to the whimsy of drunk passengers who give a single star for fun. And as Guy Standing points out, “The person who works for himself works for a tyrant — you are only as good as your last job and your performance. You are constantly being evaluated and graded. Having to worry so much about where the next bit of bread is coming from means people losing control over their lives.” Or, as one Uber driver told Rosenblat, “you don’t have a boss over your head — you have a phone over your head.”

Freelancing is exhausting and anxiety-building enough. But that’s compounded by the widespread refusal to see what you do as work. Just as the work of teachers or mothers is devalued (or unvalued), jobs within the sharing economy aren’t figured as jobs at all — they’re attempts to monetize your hobby, to have fun conversations while driving around the city, to invite people into your home. Even calling these jobs “gigs,” with all the inherent connotation of brevity and enjoyability, elides their status as labor. It’s not the gig economy after all; it’s the always-frantically-seeking-the-nextgig economy.


“We’ve idealized the idea of portable work, promoting the notion of people roaming about with a portfolio of skills they can sell at a price they set themselves,” Standing argues. “Some are able to do that, of course. But to think that we can build a society on this platform, with no protections, is fanciful.”

Many of Uber’s employees continue to fight for the right to bargain with their employer. Freelancers in media from all over the United States have created their own iteration of union, in which they collectively set rates and, when media employees are laid off from an organization or strike, refuse to “scab” into their former roles. More and more freelancers, gig economy laborers, and temps are realizing that flexibility is meaningless without stability to accompany it.

But the only way to call for these types of action is to have leverage: to have options, but also to be acknowledged as an employee. This means an overhauling of our current system, an action that may need governmental intervention. If lawmakers force companies like Uber to stop misclassifying its employees as independent contractors, it would reinforce the social contract between companies and laborers — the idea that companies are responsible for the livelihoods of those who labor for them, and that the profits gleaned through this labor should trickle down, in some form, to them. That might seem incredibly radical, but if you look back just sixty years, it was also an incredibly American way of conceiving of profits.

It’s a solution that’s especially difficult to implement when the head of the company is saying there’s no problem in the first place: “I think a lot of the question about whether this is employee versus independent contractor misses a little bit of the point,” Tony Xu, CEO of DoorDash, told ReCode Decode. “I mean, if you think about what is the root problem, the root problem is, how do we maximize all this flexibility, which Dashers love, and provide a security blanket for those who need it?”

One very obvious way: Hire them as employees. Masking exploitation in the rhetoric of freelancing and independent contractors’ “flexibility” avoids talking about why that flexibility is coveted: because the supposedly “thriving economy” is built on millions of people being treated as robots. “What worries me most is that this is just the beginning,” Manjoo wrote in the aftermath of the DoorDash tipping backlash. “The software-driven policies of exploitation and servility will metastasize across the economic value chain. Taking DoorDash workers’ tips today will pave the way for taking advantage of everyone else tomorrow.”

Manjoo’s right. But the people it’s most poised to take advantage of in the immediate future are those who have no other options — and those, like millennials and Gen Z, who don’t realize there’s any other way. Which underlines the current conundrum: Shitty work conditions produce burnout, but burnout — and the resultant inability, either through lack of energy or lack of resources, to resist exploitation — helps keep work shitty. Significant legislation to updates labor laws to respond to current workplace realities can and will help. But so will solidarity: an old fashioned word that simply means consensus, amongst a wide variety of people of like mind, that resistance is possible.●


Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Excerpted from Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Copyright © 2020 by Anne Helen Petersen. Used by permission.

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Why contracting, micro-jobbing and gig work is on the rise

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The need for companies to be more agile in the way they operate is on the increase, and so is the upward trend of job-seekers contracting, micro-jobbing and gig working. Here’s why.


Unemployment levels globally, and particularly in South Africa, have soared as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for organisational agility and plasticity has accelerated as rapidly. A global shift toward remote and online working has accelerated in 2020 as new ways of working have quickly been adopted by workers and companies alike.
As companies have realised that productivity levels increase and not decrease with a remote workforce and, that almost anyone can work remotely, the need for purely office-based, locally sourced staffing diminishes. The world is now an open field for recruiting talent.

Take the RecruitMyMom database of nearly 100,000 women across South Africa. These women have this in common:

  • they all have current and high-level skills to offer
  • they want to work with companies that respect work-life integration
  • they all know that whether working in an office or at home, they will get the work done

The demand for contracting, micro-jobbing and gig work has exploded amongst working mothers in the past years, offering many the ability to stay current with digital trends whilst giving them the benefit of the flexibility they seek in their day-to-day lives. The variety of jobs in different industries enables them to bring the most diverse and up-to-date thinking to any hiring company.

Contracting, micro-jobbing and gig work are cost-effective, low-risk solutions to any company seeking excellent skills.

Independent contracting allows companies to hire top-calibre consultants, with experience from the likes of EY, Bain, Deloitte and others for a fraction of a corporate fee. Marketing skills can be hired knowing the contractor has the right skills and will deliver. Compliance and finance managers get hired on an hourly basis, and HR consultants get called upon on an as-need basis. For busy entrepreneurs having a pool of reliable trained virtual assistants to do the work they shouldn’t, makes good business sense.

The gig economy that gets its name from the term ‘gig’, typically used by musicians but refers to a piece of work, has enabled thousands to remain employed. Gig work involves taking on a variety of jobs for shorter periods, and gig workers are generally independent contractors and online platform workers or on-call workers who provide services to a company or its clients, depending on demand.

Micro-jobbing falls within the gig economy and is often small tasks that one does for money. Work may include remote or in-person jobs, such as translation, writing blogs, virtual assistant, social media custodians, appointment setters, website design and more.

The advantage to any company of the growth in the contracting, gig and micro-jobbing space is the ability to tap into an ever-growing pool of local or global skills at affordable rates. Skills that may or may not form part of the core function of the business, many choosing to outsource non-core skills to accessible consultants.

For job-seekers, the advantage is the ability to work on cutting-edge global projects, offering competitively priced skills, whilst working from sunny South Africa or any other remote part of the world. Or it is working with forward-thinking South African companies that embrace flexible work policies, enabling them to attract top talent in a resource-scarce market.

The reality is that contracting, gig working and micro-jobbing is growing because the demand exists from both companies and job-seekers alike. There are considerable advantages on both sides, with online reach making it possible to transact.

About the author:

Phillipa Geard is the founder and CEO of multi-business award-winning online recruitment company RecruitMyMom.co.za and recently launched RecruitAGraduate.co.za. RecruitMyMom was launched in 2012 in response to a need to assist highly-skilled women to remain in the workplace and continue with their careers by offering them skilled flexible, remote and part-time jobs. Her professional and entirely virtual workforce assist thousands of companies to find top calibre female and graduate talent. Geard is passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of women and youth by innovative recruiting solutions.

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