Nearly one in three American workers earn income through independent work and the “gig economy,” according to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute. This sector of the economy is largely associated with the likes of freelance writers, Uber drivers, and people doing odd jobs on platforms such as TaskRabbit. But recently, more people with advanced degrees—among them doctors, lawyers, consultants, and other professionals—are finding opportunities to gig their way to a new income stream.
Such professions often operate on the periphery of traditional companies, so it’s easier for them to operate independently—the legal department, for example, could be in-house, but it could also be outsourced. “These are also professions that have, over the last 20 or 30 years, gotten increasingly specialized, so these are actually natural candidates for gig economy platforms,” says Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
To determine if working independently is the best strategy for your career, research others' experiences as independent workers and then weigh the pros and cons of making this type of move. Doing so can assist you in a smoother transition to becoming an independent worker if that is what you choose to do.
Significant amount of earned revenue
Be your own boss
Significant sales and marketing overhead
Difficulty finding large clients
Having to answer to others
Working independently as a professional has always had some of the same pros and cons as does, say, running your own store. On the upside, you have flexible hours, answer largely to yourself, and get to keep a significant fraction of the value you create. On the downside, there can be significant overhead in sales and marketing, and it can be tougher to land large clients when you’re small—not something a doctor or lawyer wants to spend a lot of time worrying about.
But just as Lyft and TaskRabbit have minimized the overhead costs for freelance drivers and furniture assemblers, so too have professional-oriented apps and websites opened up gig opportunities for people with advanced degrees. Here are the places to look.
If You’re a Doctor or Nurse: Nomad Health
When it comes to supply and demand, there’s a shortage of doctors and nurses in the United States and a need for clinicians to pick up extra work. "The kicker is that the current process for getting freelance clinicians on board involves a network of brokers who typically charge healthcare facilities 40 percent of what they pay those freelancers. Nomad Health seeks to change that," says Alexi Nazem, its chief executive officer.
Nomad Health is an online marketplace that eliminates the middleman and connects healthcare facilities directly with medical professionals. The onboarding process, which includes a background check and credentials, takes place online and is speedier and cheaper than the paper systems brokers often use.
In general, freelance healthcare professionals make about $100 to $400 an hour, depending on specialty. Nomad Health currently has several thousand doctors as users and is working with over 400 healthcare facilities in 14 states. The site’s onboarding and verification process take only a minute or two online, then users can immediately apply for jobs.
If You’re an Attorney: UpCounsel
UpCounsel is an online marketplace for legal services geared toward entrepreneurs and startup businesses, but it also places attorneys to handle overflow or specialized work. In a month's time, there were about 2,000 job postings, and the company says that number is rising fast. About 20,000 lawyers are currently members, and they get access to document collaboration software, such as e-signature, and UpCounsel’s billing platform, which comes with a payment guarantee. The top 10 lawyers on the platform earned about $250,000 on average in 2016.
After you sign up and provide documentation proving you’re active and in good standing, approval time ranges from 24 hours to a couple of weeks.
If You’re a Therapist: Talkspace
Talkspace was founded in 2012 by a couple who saved their marriage through therapy and wanted to help others overcome barriers to marriage counseling—including cost, convenience, and stigma. To get started, clients pay for different subscription levels, then write as much as they want to a therapist using secure, HIPAA-compliant text messaging. Therapists respond twice a day. It’s also possible to leave video and audio clips, as well as schedule live video. The cheapest subscription option is $128 per month, which allows speaking with a therapist up to five days a week.
“As a therapist myself, it’s been really cool because I get a much more holistic view of someone’s life when I hear from them every day,” says Shannon McFarlin, director of the clinical experience at Talkspace. "The average number of clients per therapist is about 30, and therapists are paid roughly 50 percent of their clients’ subscription costs. Because not every client writes daily, the average therapist sends about 15 responses per day," says McFarlin. Close to 1,500 therapists now work with the company as independent contractors, and the onboarding process begins with a routine background and license check.
Then, there’s a four- to a six-week training program for translating face-to-face skills to an online format—you’ll get your first paying clients during this period. It’s followed by being part of an orientation group for 60 days with a community of other new therapists and senior members who can answer questions.
If You’re a Consultant: Catalant
If you’re a consultant of any kind, it’s likely you’ll be able to find a side gig “home” in Catalant, which markets itself as a community of independent consultants or boutique consulting firms. Over 40,000 experts in fields including business development, sales, corporate strategy, commercial operations, finance, and marketing are listed on the site. When it comes to making money, you can set your own rates.
"Consultants typically charge between $100 and $500 an hour depending on experience, and the website usually takes about 20 percent," says Andrea Black, director of supply at Catalant. As for the sign-up process, consultants fill out a profile, then let the website’s algorithm review it and match you with opportunities that match your expertise.
If You’re a Computer Programmer: Gigster
Gigster bills itself as a hub for the highest-quality software developers—particularly ones who have worked at tech giants or founded their own companies—and it’s known for specialized digital capabilities, such as machine learning programming and certain kinds of web architecture. Clients include IBM, Digit, Square, OpenTable, Mastercard, and eBay.
You apply through the site to “become a Gigster” and they evaluate the quality of your work to see if it is satisfactory. Full-time employees then match developers to projects and interface a lot with the client as the developer's representative. Programmers typically make anywhere from $500—for taking on a small project—to $500,000 in a year. Projects are billed on a fixed-price basis—the project manager sets payments—with incentives for high-quality work, not for a number of hours. The fee is taken from the companies that commission the work, while the budget comes from a Gigster project manager.
If You Do Almost Anything Else: Upwork
Upwork is a hub for all sorts of freelance professionals: Web developers, designers and creatives, writers, virtual assistants, customer service agents, sales and marketing experts, accountants, and consultants. If your advanced degree didn’t fit into the other side gigs, it’ll likely fit here. There are about 12 million registered freelancers on the site who earn a collective $1 billion annually. "Upwork takes 20 percent from each transaction you complete until you reach $500 per client," says Shoshana Deutschkron, vice president of communications. After you’ve reached a total transaction history of $500 with a client, the fee goes down to 10 percent, and after a total of $10,000, it’ll decrease to 5 percent. The website also handles billing and offers a payment guarantee. As for onboarding, once you create a profile, you’ll hear if you’re accepted within about a day and can then add a portfolio of work or take skills tests to prove your qualifications.