The gig economy is great. You can hail a cheap cab home with Uber, get McDonald’s delivered with Postmates, beer with Drizly, sit back and watch someone from Task Rabbit assemble your Amazon delivered furniture while your hair is cut with Priv. The positive of the gig economy is that everything can be outsourced, however, therein lies the negative, everything can be outsourced.

If you’re on Solidsmack, chances are you’re a 3D modeler, designer, engineer or something in-between. And, if you’ve been working or looking for a job in the last 10 years, it’s painfully obvious, you can be outsourced. By outsourced, I don’t mean overseas, I just mean, if there’s more than one person who will do a job, one will do it for less money.

How do you survive in the gig economy? Avoid these five mistakes.

1. Don’t Apply by Brute Force

Just because you can apply to 100 projects a day doesn’t mean you should. Perhaps eventually you’ll land something, but it’s not likely any good. I tried to apply to tons of stuff and undercut my rates; I ended up getting paid little money to do a lot of work for a difficult client. If someone is looking for the lowest price, do they really want someone who puts pride in their work? Will they treat their contractors well? Will they even be trusted to pay? Unlikely on all accounts.

Worst of all, you will get burned out. It may not be the first day you do it, or the first week you do it, or even the first month, but it will happen. Take it from someone who has burned out several times, all of the projects you have applied this week mean nothing if you’re too exhausted to apply to any projects for the other three weeks of the month.

2. Don’t Stay Online

For online projects, you are competing with everyone. Very few people will win projects based on low prices, very few people will win projects because they are the best in the world and it is very difficult to distinguish yourself in cyberspace. Unless you are part of the less than 1% of the population who are openly sought out by headhunters, you’re more likely to get lost in the rat race.

On the other hand, if you network in person, it doesn’t matter if you’re the world’s best product designer, world’s worst, or somewhere in between. You’re in front of clients, you are there and that’s what counts. Comedian Ron White is not the world’s best comedian, nor is he a standout in terms of his content or approach. But, Ron White is there and has constantly been there, and as a result has been able to take advantage of many opportunities.

Lastly, networking can help you online as your offline friends can send your information as a bonefide to your skills. Websites are great, but you have to break out of the web to see all of the opportunities.

3. Don’t Be Basic

I can buy 10 pounds of coffee for $45 (0.14 cents/oz), or I can buy a large coffee for $4.50 ($15/oz) from a coffee shop. The difference is that one is a commodity and one is a specialty. If you’re a product designer, you’re a commodity.  If you’re a designer of consumer athletic accessories for women, you’re a specialty. In the course of your 3D modeling and designing studies, you probably found something you enjoyed working on. Maybe it’s sporting goods, shoes, cell phones, cars or food storage. Whatever it may be, it’s your specialty.

Work towards projects with your passion. If you don’t have a lot of experience in the field you would like to be, make your own conceptual projects, look online for tips from established figures that are doing what you want to do, and don’t shy away from reaching out to those figures via email. If you are especially ambitious, reach out to projects and offer to charge a low price for the opportunity to build your reputation within a niche.

4. Don’t Toss Your Life Raft

Whether feast or famine, bills still come. Rent, car payments, and mortgages are due regardless if you have a five-figure month or a two-figure month. You need security.

The best-case scenario is that you work at your day job until you are so overwhelmed with your side gig that your “nuisance” of a side gig becomes your main gig and your day job becomes the “nuisance”. However, let’s be real, this takes a long time. The bigger your monthly “nut” (expenses) the longer it will theoretically take. When I lived with my parents after college, I had a tiny monthly nut. Now, with a mortgage, the money I need to bring in per month is substantially higher.

My uncle is an entrepreneur and has a wife with a stable job that provides him financial security, healthcare and a safety net should his business fail.  Yes, you don’t need healthcare every day of your life, but when you need it, you need it and the alternative is bone-chilling.

5. Don’t Stop Learning

You can always become better, faster, more concise. Once again, beware of burning out, but learn everything you can. Are you a student? Many universities have free subscriptions to tons of magazines and newspapers you can read online.

Newspapers I recommend that have free articles you can read in a daily email include:

Likewise, there are some great learning resources also with daily emails:

Your local library has tons of technical books and, yep, a photocopier. Get to work! The sky is the limit. If you have more coin, community college classes are an inexpensive way to learn new skills. The way you learn doesn’t matter, as long as you learn.

In summary, the gig economy is tough, but avoiding these five mistakes will give you the best chance of making it.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, so my last bit of advice is to be patent.

What are you waiting for?!


Jacob Eberhart is the Vice-President of Operations for Pretty Knotty LLC and an Industrial Designer with Avanti Design and Development. He enjoys writing about manufacturing, restoring, product development and materials. He is currently looking to find a new school to train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, teaching his dog new tricks and attempting DIY projects. Contact him at