How moms can make it in the new gig economy

Photo: courtesy Colleen Keilers



“I am so sorry to do this, Colleen,” the text began. “But I am flying to California tonight to move in with my sister. I can no longer be your nanny.”

It was 9pm on a Sunday. My husband and I had been deliberating on the state of our careers. He had recently started a new job that would involve 50–60% travel. I had been working as a manager at a digital marketing agency, but shoehorning a full-time workload into four days a week. We had a three-year old, a two-year old and one more baby on the way. And our nanny, who wasn’t the right fit for us anyway, had dropped us flat. Our discussion ended, and we decided together that I would go in the next morning and quit my job.

I had grappled for years with how to keep my career progressing and meet the needs of my young children. I negotiated reduced hours or remote work into my employment arrangements to be at home for a few more naptimes and a few more mealtimes. I was always a strong producer, so my employers complied. As a former manager, I relate to their position. They were trying to be understanding, retain my value to their company, and avoid looking heartless. Perhaps it wasn’t the best scenario for them, but they wanted to reward my service to their company.

The problem was that even though I took major hits to salary, most teams booked my workload at full-time capacity and resented the fact that I spent less time in the office. My employers weren’t doing this to be unfair. They sought balance, too. They were trying to meet their goals to remain competitive. The result was I ended up working around the clock, even on my off days, and so my home life suffered. It was never enough. I was desperate for a new paradigm. 

With equal parts fear and fervor, I took a leap of faith into the on-demand economy. The sudden loss of any childcare gave me the push I needed to go into business for myself as a consultant, leveraging the tools of the digital economy to work remotely on a schedule that made sense for the needs of our growing family. I was fortunate that my husband was in a place to provide stability for us while I ramped up my operation.

For my first gig, I was heartened to communicate openly about the hourly work commitment. I was empowered when I wrote back with a weekly schedule that was based both on weekly status calls and preschool pick-ups. My employer was clear that this could be a short or long-term commitment because ultimately they might need someone full time. I took a breath of relief. All cards were on the table.

My new role in our gig economy hasn’t been without its challenges. I’m an independent contractor, but I still need help. Here are my five essentials for success in the on-demand world:

  1. Redefine your network. You will no longer have the training resources of a company at your disposal, the most important of which is fellow team members. Join online communities of freelancers and consultants for solidarity and support. Your on-demand colleagues are your biggest source of feedback, support and opportunities for new business.
  2. Keep learning. You are only as marketable as your skills. In today’s global and increasingly automated economy, skills are rapidly changing. Leverage online training and education services, such as Skillshare, Coursera and General Assembly, to keep your skill set competitive.
  3. Brand yourself online. Tools like KickResume help you create your resume, cover letters and a personal career website. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Leverage the work that’s already been done to launch your own personal brand.
  4. Leave the house. Even though you are “working from home,” you still need to leave the house. My children are all preschoolers and younger. If they see me, they need me to be in mom mode. There’s always a trusty local coffee house with free wifi, or even better, shared workspaces from vendors like Liquid Space.
  5. Plan for taxes. Leverage tax support for independent contractors from outfits such as Painless1099, an automated tax-savings service for independent contractors. Be sure to incorporate. Adding “Inc.” or “LLC” to your business protects your personal assets and creates tax advantages. Check out services such as the aptly named Incfile to file your paperwork.

Colleen Keilers is the Digital Marketing Manager at The Mom Project and mom to three boys: Gerald, age 4; Noah, age 3; and Maddock, age 9 months.

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Posted on May 15, 2017 at 1:20 PM