How Experienced Professionals Can Leverage the Gig Economy To Gain Full-Time Employment

Over 40% of the potential current workforce is between the age of 50 and 67 and it will remain this way for the next 10 years. The tragedy of this situation is that Corporate America can’t engage that many senior level professionals on a full-time basis in the leadership roles they were accustomed to playing in a profitable manner. While these more experienced professionals are often more knowledgeable and more effective, they have also been highly paid and are still focused on managing the upward trajectory of their career. Additionally, these same individuals are highly talented and experienced having the capacity to provide significant value to Corporate America but are left “sitting on the bench” for long periods of time. 

Traditional advice for finding new jobs doesn’t work as well for most in this demographical group as it did when they were 40. As a result, we are at historically low unemployment levels yet the labor capacity in the 50-67 demographic is very high and untapped. So many in this demographic appear to be employed, working in their own business, still employed by their previous company, or have entered early employment. However, given the opportunity, most would prefer to be working on a full time basis.

At the same time this is happening, the overall Gig economy is exploding and experienced professionals see this as a new and alternative opportunity for their career. Forecasts have suggested at current trends over 40% of US workers will be Gig worker in the near term. However, for most professionals that have lived in a corporate life for many years find it difficult to sustain similar income going solely after Gigs.  Free-lance consultants are limited by only have 2000 hours a year and their ability to maintain billing for all of those hours is almost impossible. Even if they are 50% billable at $150 / hr. for the year they would make $150,000 a year typically much less than they made in their previous job.

So, how can experienced professionals leverage what’s happening in the Gig Economy as part of their job search? As professionals begin their job search they often ask whether they should look for a job OR enter the “Gig Economy” as a free lance consultant. The reality is that this is not an either / or proposition.  The reality is that for 50+ experienced professionals, entering the “Gig Economy”, if done effectively, is a more efficient and effective way to gain full time employment. This article outlines why this approach is more effective, what the specific barriers exist that must be overcome for this demographic to re-connect with corporations, and specific approaches for effectively leveraging the “Gig Economy” into a full time role.

The Simple Math

The numbers and probabilities demonstrate clearly why entering the “Gig Economy” is more efficient in gaining a full-time job. In a traditional job search there can be 100+ applicants for a single job and the search usually lasts for over 4 months. For a traditional Gig opportunity 2 or 3 professionals are considered and placement usually happens within 3 weeks.  As a result, the probability of landing a any particular job when a thorough search is conducted is less than 5% and requires the professional to be a perfect fit, while the probability of landing a Gig is at least 40% for a strong professional.  Secondly, the chances of a Gig to convert to a full time role is about 40%. The simple math shows that the chances of realizing a full time role for every Gig opportunity is 4 or 5 times higher than realizing a full time role for every job opportunity. Additionally, when you take into account the general biases against hiring highly experienced professional with less “run-way” and perceived higher cost, the efficiency gap widens further.

*Based on M&A Executive Search and Consulting Data 2017-2019.

This means that generating 7 gig opportunities in organizations that are a fit for a professional’s skills will with 100% certainty generate a full-time job. This dramatic difference in efficiency and timing to a new job is not universally understood by experienced professionals who often conducting a job search for the first time in 10-20 years.  However, after sometimes a year of 2 years of trial and error many of these same professionals stumble into this path through many trials and tribulations. These experienced professionals find this pat only as a last resort and typically after a long failed job search.

So, how can experienced professionals make this more efficient Gig to full time role approach a more deliberate strategy? 

There are 4 key steps in effectively exploiting this more efficient strategy for landing a full-time role:

  1. Building An Understanding Of Biases and Barriers Of Competing In Gig Economy (To Get Gig Work)
  2. Developing An Effective Gig Business Development Strategy (To Get Gig Work)
  3. Building Value Proposition / Trust With Clients (While On Gigs)
  4. Reinforcing Awareness Of Cost Saving To Moving You to Full-Time Role (While On Gigs)

“Most organizations, unless challenges or offered an alternative, will look to make a full time hire instead of bringing in an interim or project resource.”

Building An Understanding of Biases and Barriers Of Competing In Gig Economy

Professionals entering the Gig economy often make critical mistakes because they are biased by their past career, lack an understanding of corporate biases and real needs. These blind-spots lead to ineffective Gig business development strategies and keep professionals from the critical first step of landing a gig. There are barriers and biases from a corporate perspective that must be understood and dealt with and barriers and biases from the professional themselves that must be overcome.

The following are Corporate Barriers / Biases and implications for Gig Business development:

  • Legacy Staffing Models:  Although corporations are starting to embrace the value and possibilities of the gig economy, many organizations still think in terms of legacy staffing models.  Most organizations, unless challenges or offered an alternative, will look to make a full time hire instead of bringing in an interim or project resource.  Secondly, the hiring of talent is typically bifurcated in organization where full-time hires are made by HR and consulting and potential Gigs are hired by functional leaders and business unit heads. To create a Gig opportunity it typically involves a discussion with a business leader and requires suggesting the possibility of adding value on a less than hiring basis and explaining what that would look like in the form of a statement of work.
  • Corporate Perceptions Of Experienced Professionals In Transition:  There are 4 almost universal corporate perceptions that will derail gig development if not addressed as part of the strategy.
  1. Experienced professional are really expensive
  2. Experienced professionals that have been in leadership roles are incapable of rolling up their sleeves and doing real work.
  3. The best experienced professionals don’t go into transition and are in full time roles
  4. “Consultants” give us a report and don’t really provide much value

It’s critical to position yourself as a “hands-on” practitioner that does real work on an affordable basis and this is a career choice you have made. This requires in most cases de-emphasizing leadership experiences.

  • Individual Personal Risk: Hiring manager that are not secure in their jobs are uncomfortable hiring a professional who has more knowledge and experience than them.  It’s important to understand when this situation exists and take tactics to reduce the perceived risk of the hiring manager.
  • Corporate Inability to Evaluate General Problem Solving / Leadership Skills: Most organization are ineffective at evaluating generalist skills and general problem solving.  When hiring for Gigs they are looking for someone who has done the exact task, in their industry or function.   They are looking for an expert is this regard.   As a result, targeting industries and functions where professionals have not had experience and selling general problem solving or consulting skills is less effective than emphasizing specific industry, functional, and process experience in line with the client’s needs.

Similar barriers and biases exist for individuals as they leave their corporate job and initially attempt to move into the Gig economy:

  • Unproductive To Sell Yourself:  It’s very difficult and unproductive to “sell” yourself.  Professionals are just not credible to sell themselves and buyers tend to prefer relying on trusted third parties. It is much stronger to have someone else tell the client they are good than the professional telling them themselves. Additionally, most professionals entering into the gig economy are not highly skilled in sales and marketing and tend to be ineffective. Finally, the cost of business development selling 1 person’s skills and experiences is incredibly high.   This all points to the fact that leveraging intermediaries is critical to an effective Gig development strategy. While leveraging relationships can lead to gig opportunities, most professionals lack sufficient relationships with buyers that happen to have immediate needs for their exact expertise.
  • Selling Knowledge Is Difficult:  In the Gig economy professionals are really selling their knowledge and experience. In the sales process, the client will want professionals to share that knowledge to demonstrate they have it. However, once they give away knowledge, they become less valuable. The key to selling knowledge is to give it away gradually and artfully over time.
  • Don’t Have Understanding of What Companies Will Buy: Most professionals entering the gig economy develop an “offering” of what they can do for companies. In most cases, this “offering” is based on what the professional wants to do and not what companies are “buying”.  Additionally, the professional often think that the most valuable thing they have done in their career is the thing they have done last because that is what they got paid the most for doing.  However, it’s typically something that professionals have done earlier in their career that is most valuable in the Gig economy. Often, the gigs that professionals end up doing are nothing like what they set out to find.  It’s important in developing a Gig development strategy to first understand what companies are buying and then, within that context, where you can add value.

Inability to Position Experience to Client Needs: Many professionals have had great careers and throughout their career they have been focused on managing the upward trajectory of their career.  Often when entering the Gig economy their egos get in the way and they are unwilling to position the right experiences in the right way to sell themselves for typical company needs.  Many professionals just can’t help themselves positioning themselves around their former positions which are typically leadership positions even when the Gig does not involve leadership. The resume is a problem because it emphasizes things chronologically, limits the detail and specifics of the professional’s true expertise, over-emphasizes titles, and is designed to put the individual into a similar role. It’s critical that a different profile is used to introduce professionals for Gig work that emphasizes accomplishments and expertise.

Developing An Effective Gig Business Development Strategy

There are 5 key steps to building an effective Gig business development strategy that address these key barriers and biases.

  1. Learn What Companies Are Buying – Many experienced professionals entering the gig economy focus too much on defining what service and value proposition they will offer to the marketplace.  In many cases what the professional wants to do or has done is just not saleable in the marketplace.  When I personally launched my Gig business, I did what most experienced professionals do, I launched it around what I was most successfully doing during my career.  During my career I hand conceived and launched service businesses that grew from $0 to $5MM+ within the context of larger companies. I positioned this experience and ability as a service offering to companies thinking, who doesn’t need that?  A few weeks later, I was networking with one of my business school colleagues who had been operating his own Gig consulting business for a few years.  He took one look at my service offering and bluntly stated, “This looks great and I’m sure you could help companies in that way but, I don’t see anyone buying that”. Of course, he was right and as a generated several Gigs in the following weeks, they were a set of things that I could never have foreseen that companies would want me to do.
    There are certain activities that companies prefer to have their current leaders do like innovation or building a sales strategy.  While in many cases the professional entering the Gig economy has a lot to offer and could help companies significantly in the area they choose, it doesn’t matter if companies are “not buying that offering”.  Spending some time up front to build an understanding of what companies are buying from external resources is critical. 
  2. Create “Gig” Relevant Value Proposition – If professionals have done the work to understand “what companies are buying” it becomes easy to understand what your value proposition should be that will lead to gig opportunities. Beyond just learning what companies are buying is necessary but not sufficient for professionals. They also need to accept what the marketplace is telling them when their most relevant value proposition is the work that their subordinates did for them in their previous role. It’s important to understand that most opportunities in the Gig economy are not about general leadership but, instead around leadership and problem solving for a particular initiative.  Right or wrong, most companies believe they don’t need leadership help but need to fill gaps in knowledge and experience when facing a new issue or opportunity.  The key is to build a multi-faceted value proposition architecture that you can credibly support with different sets of accomplishments.  Most experienced professionals could position themselves as experts in several areas and they need to build the profile architecture and related talk tracks to support shifting to the various value propositions. The key then becomes understanding what the prospect clients needs before the professional presents themselves fully. Then it simply is about presenting yourself in a way that meets the clients needs. The following is an example profile that our company uses to position experienced professional for gig work. The key elements are emphasizing your value proposition, emphasizing accomplishments that are relevant to the client, and decoupling these accomplishments from when you achieved them and the specific role you played for the company when you achieved them. This enables professionals to present themselves outside of roles, titles, and in a way that emphasizes what the client is looking for in the Gig.
  3. Build “Front-Man” Distribution – Once professionals have established a viable value proposition, the next step is to overcome the challenges of selling as a single free lance professional and build a distribution network. There are hundreds of intermediary organizations like M&A Executive Search & Consulting that can potentially place professionals into Gig work.  Additionally, any service organization where your value proposition is complementary to their offering represents a potential partner who can make you a “virtual employee” on their bench.  For example, if the professional has strong healthcare process knowledge and experience, they could approach I/T organizations that do work with Healthcare organization as a subject matter expert to operate as a business analyst or product owner within their process. Each partner organizations will potentially produce 1 or 2 opportunities a year.   Given a 40% close rate for a good professional, they will need to have relationships with about 3 organizations to produce 1 Gig a year.  The right strategy is to develop 10-20 distribution partners and 4+ gigs a year.  Additionally, these intermediaries will serve as the professional’s “front-men” and the knowledge of what the client needs prior to their introduction will enable the professional to increase their likelihood of success.
  4. Develop Solution Selling Skills or Leverage Intermediaries to Help – In many cases, when professionals are in a dialogue with a potential buyer of a Gig, the buyer has a challenge or opportunity but, no real pre-conceived idea of how to improve the likelihood of success of the initiative.  If fact, the potential buyer often has no idea that they have a need for a Gig.  The key is to create a Gig opportunity through the dialogue with the potential buyer. Many of the professionals entering the Gig economy are not skilled at solution selling and spend too much time talking about themselves and their pre-conceived ideas of how they could help.   The key is to first, engage the potential buyer around their issues and opportunities and drive to areas where, through the dialogue, they come to the conclusion that they lack the necessary knowledge / expertise to solve the problem or exploit the opportunity. This dialogue leads to the obvious question, “would it be helpful to have a professional who has ‘been there and done that’ work with your organization for a period of time.”  Of course, if the professional takes this tact independently, they risk spending time getting to the buyer and then having the potential buyer tell them they need something outside of the professional’s expertise.   This is why using intermediaries is critical and more efficient from a business development perspective.
  5. Lower Your “Threatening” Level – It is often the case that the experienced professional entering the Gig economy will have more experience than the buyer of their services. During the sales process in an effort to demonstrate their ability to help the buy, the experienced professional will arrogantly oversell their credentials. They will emphasize their titles and roles as a means of demonstrating their credibility.  Additionally, if the professional lets people in the company aware that they are interested in a full-time role beyond the Gig it makes matters worse.  This can be intimidating and make an insecure buyer uncomfortable and lead to lost opportunities.  During the sales process it’s important that the professional positions themselves as a Gig consultant at this point in their life.  They focus their credentials on specific “hands-on” accomplishments around projects and initiatives. They should de-emphasize their leadership skills and their positions and previous roles.

Building Value Proposition / Trust With Clients

Landing a Gig is only the first step in turning a Gig into a full-time position. It’s critical that the professional provides exceptional value in the client’s eyes over the first 8 weeks of the work. This requires first that there is agreement between the professional and the client around the following:

  • Situation – What is the current situation including the issues and opportunities and what the client wants to achieve in the short-term and the long-term
  • Objective – What is the specific objective for the professional and what is the expected timeline for completing that objective.
  • Process – What is the expectation for what the professional will do and how they will operate
  • Deliverables – What the professional will deliver by the end of the time

This is basically a proposal and if the Gig was sold without a proposal, the first step in the Gig should be to create a proposal or workplan that addresses these things. Many Gigs are sold as interim deals with no real scope of work which can seem appropriate. However, if the professional wants to turn the Gig into a full-time role instead of just plugging a hole, it’s often going to come down to something beyond just being an interim manager. Additionally, working without a plan or proposal can lead to the professional trying to demonstrate value but doing it in a way that is outside of the expectations of the client. This is typically a recipe for a short gig.

At the end of the day, providing value is about agreeing what needs to be done, doing it better than anyone has done it for their organization, consistent communication with the client and making course corrections as necessary, and communicating the value you provided. In most cases, if professionals are focused on value, Gigs are highly successful as the professional often has skills and experience that is lacking in the company.

Reinforcing Awareness Of Cost Savings To Moving You to Full-Time Role

Once the professional has demonstrated their value proposition, there are 2 final steps to turn the Gig into a full-time role. First, the professional must expand the scope of their engagement with the company. This can be done by continuously communicating next step around whatever initiative they started on. If the initial project was around developing a new approach for strategic sourcing, the next step could be around execution or it could be about focusing on another area of supply chain that needs attention. The key is that the professional use every communication opportunity with the client to clearly frame how they can continue to add value.

Secondly, it needs to become apparent that by hiring the professional on a full time W2 basis, the client will save money because the billable rate is always higher than the effective billable rate if the professional is hired on a W2 basis. Clients typically come to this realization naturally as they are paying the invoices, but as the professional develops deeper relationships within the client they can also suggest this as a desire and an option.

Summary

Over the past few years, experienced professionals have been forced into the gig economy and many have stumbled into the effective process that I’ve presented in the article by trial and error. This approach has worked for thousands of professionals in search of value-added employment and well-being. The professionals who embrace this strategy from the beginning of their job search instead of as a fall back will have an edge in the job market. Additionally, these professionals will find that focusing on leveraging their knowledge and experience to help organizations instead of focusing solely on pursuing a lateral or higher position will find that they will open new doors of opportunity for themselves that they could never have visualized at the start of their search.

The change is from focusing on position to focusing on value added gigs and changing how professionals express their value proposition. The result is a more efficient way to happiness and a well-paying role that fully leverages their knowledge and experience.

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