The gig economy is now a major source of income for many workers: 22 percent of Americans have offered their services up in the gig economy, and 42 percent have used at least one gig-economy service. And while the gig economy is an attractive alternative to traditional work for many Americans, it is not by any means a bed of roses. As the U.S. Government Accountability Office has pointed out, income and benefits levels for contingent workers tend to lag behind those of the traditional workforce.

If you want to prosper in the gig economy, then, you’ll need a strategy to boost your earnings –and maintain that higher level of income over a long period of time. And you’ll need to fend for yourself, because there aren’t many laws protecting gig workers in place.

To help you get the most out of the gig economy, I offer these four tips:

1. Specialize

If you’re a jack-of-all-trades, you’ll probably land more gigs – but will you land more money? Probably not, because the general work you can do as a jack-of-all-trades is often lower-skilled – and, therefore, lower-paying – than more specialized work would be. There’s also the fact that you’ll have a lot more competition as a generalist worker, and this abundance of competition will drive down wages for everyone in the field.

If, on the other hand, you specialize in a hard-to-fill niche that requires some advanced skills, you’ll have less competition for gigs and command a higher price per gig.

2. Upsell

“Upselling” is when you sell additional services to an existing client. Upselling is a great way to increase your income for a couple of reasons. First, you’ll already have a willing client to whom you can make your pitch, which saves you time, money, and marketing efforts and increases your profits per job. Second, upselling will make your sales cycle shorter: The less time you have to spend engaging new clients, the more time you can spend working and bringing in revenue.

In order to successfully upsell, you’ll first need to do two things. You must establish a great track record with your clients, because they’re not going to go for the upsell if they aren’t already convinced of your work’s quality. You’ll also need to favor bigger clients, as they are more likely to have the kinds of budgets that will accommodate your upselling.

3. Find Your Unique Selling Point

BootsMost of the time in the gig economy, you’ll be competing with several other freelancers for a particular job. Therefore, it is in your best interest to develop a unique selling point (USP) that sets you apart from the competition. A USP will make you seem more desirable,  which will enable you to command higher fees and win more work.

Your USP can pretty much be anything, as long as it’s valuable to your clients. Are you multilingual? That could be your USP. Do you offer the shortest turnaround time in your field? That’s a USP! Give out free consultations? Another USP!

Just pick something value-adding that few (if any) of your competitors offer, and you have yourself an income-boosting USP.

4. Increase Your Rates

When you’re a freelancer, there are no unions, HR departments, or sympathetic managers to fight in your corner. If you want a raise, you’ll need to get it yourself.

Know your worth by checking the marketplace. Are you underselling yourself? If you are, you may need to negotiate a fee increase. If you don’t want to rock the boat with a steady client, consider applying your new rate to new clients. If you can’t secure new clients at your new rate, maybe your fee increase is not reasonable.

If you can build a bank of new clients at higher rates, you can be sure you are underselling yourself to existing, lower-rate clients. If the lower-paying clients refuse to accept your new rates – even with the overwhelming market evidence – you can replace them with new, higher-paying clients.

With more and more workers moving into the exciting, but largely unprotected and unregulated gig economy, freelancers must develop their own smart practices to maximize their earnings.

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