Not to get ahead of myself, but back in 2018, someone very important asked the question posed by the title of this article - just a little indirectly.
That person was Harvey Finklestein himself - the current president of Shopify.
In a 2018 feature written for Forbes Magazine, Harvey addressed the massive shift gig work symbolized across the developed world.
He opens by addressing how the 2008 financial crisis forced several people to reinvent their idea of a professional career - turning from employees to freelancing frontiersmen - and how ten years of this revolution has signaled true change.
This wasn’t the buzzword-style change that sees itself trend on Twitter and then dies down in a matter of weeks. In Harvey’s own words, the gig economy represented a change that was ‘on par with the advent of the assembly line or even the weekend.
Heavy stuff. But before we understand what the man meant, and what it means about his own platform Shopify, we need to better understand what the gig economy is.
What Is The Gig Economy?
You’ve probably heard of the term ‘gig’ first used in context to live music - where 1920s jazz musicians referred to their one-off performances at a venue using the word.
Through the ages, the term has now grown to encompass any kind of one-off job, characterized by short-term, temporary, or independent contractors instead of full-time workers beholden to a single employer.
While the idea of independent workers has existed for centuries, the ‘Gig Economy’ refers to the widespread formalization, optimization, and integration of these small-term jobs into a multi-billion dollar mega-industry, facilitated by websites such as Fiverr and apps such as DoorDash, Instacart, and Uber.
While the kinds of jobs available in the gig economy are widespread, they all have one thing in common - every single gig worker, regardless of industry, completes a predetermined set of small tasks. This could range from writing a comedy skit to delivering handmade sweets - and is generally billable by the worker on a project-to-project or time-bound basis.
Evolution Of The Gig Economy
The biggest challenge faced by gig workers early on was a simple lack of outside support - to be successful, you had to be very skilled and very well networked, as there weren’t a lot of platforms to use when looking for work.
It’s generally said that financial disasters usually precede financial revolutions, and the same is true for gig workers.
Post-2008, as we mentioned earlier, thousands of previously salaried professionals found themselves laid-off. With over 20 million jobs disappearing overnight, the situation seemed grim for many, including both skilled and unskilled workers.
With time to burn and bills to pay, several of them began to advertise their skills - not to firm recruiters with paper-thin hiring budgets, but directly towards businesses and other individuals with jobs to do. The metrics began to portray a clear trend as the US economy stumbled into the mid-2010s - small businesses with no paid employees or nonemployer firms as they are called, grew by 69 percent between 2010 and 2014, especially in ride-sharing. Payroll employment on the other hand grew by just 17 percent in the same period.
The transport industry numbers don’t exist for no reason, however. Behind the scenes, you’ll also notice that these were the years where the world’s most famous gig economy job - driving - took the front seat. 2009 marked the birth of Uber while Lyft joined the party a bit later in 2012 - and the rest is history.
Today, gig workers find themselves in a similar space. The pandemic has led to mass layoffs, and several individuals are now turning away from increasingly unsteady fixed employment systems in favor of what seems to be the future of the working sector.
With something of a ripple effect predicted to take place in the gig economy, there’s never been such a bright spotlight on gig work before - but let’s not be too quick to make assumptions.
Uber: A Closer Look
Founded in 2009, Uber is the world’s most popular ridesharing app and is often credited with revolutionizing the way modern cities commute and travel. With over 15 million cumulative rides per day, the company has now become synonymous with the idea of ridesharing.
Uber runs on a simple model - one that has been successfully replicated in cities across the globe. As a driver:
You clock in as available for work.
You accept rides at your discretion.
You pick up and drop off a passenger.
Rinse and repeat, until you’re done for the day.
Before registering as a driver, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind. Here are the things you’ll need to get started:
You must be over the minimum age to drive in your city.
You must have at least one year of licensed driving experience in the U.S. or three years if you are under the age of 23.
You’ll require a valid U.S. driving license.
You’ll need an eligible 4-door vehicle.
You’ll need proof of residency for the U.S.
You’ll also need to have your vehicle registered and insured.
Along with these, Uber does a background check on your social security number, taking any criminal or driving offenses into account. If you don’t own an eligible vehicle, Uber offers rentals starting at $150 per week.
DoorDash: A Closer Look
Founded in 2013, Doordash is a Californian startup that focuses on delivering food from local restaurants directly to its customers. Similar to other companies such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Postmates, DoorDash has become a major player in all fifty states.
Like Uber, DoorDash’s work pattern is pretty straightforward. As a ‘Dasher’, your work hours will generally look like this:
Open up the DoorDash app, and choose ‘Dash Now’ to start accepting orders or schedule a later check-in time.
The app presents you with order details, including the route and guaranteed pay you can expect.
Once you choose an order, follow the instructions onscreen and navigate towards your destination after picking up the package.
Complete your order and wait for a new one.
DoorDash delivery workers require slightly fewer things to get started when compared to Uber drivers. To register, you’ll need:
To be above the age of 18.
A vehicle to handle deliveries. Depending on the locality, DoorDash will allow you to use motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, or even walk.
You’ll require a valid U.S. driving license.
You will also need insurance coverage for your vehicle, and in some areas, for yourself too.
As standard procedure, DoorDash will conduct a background check to ensure a clean criminal/driving record.
How Much Does Uber & DoorDash Pay?
Both gig platforms come with their payment models, with Uber having a slightly more complex one.
In the case of Uber, the company takes a 25% cut from all ride revenue. Fares are calculated on a scale that varies from time to place, although generally drivers are incentivized to pick longer routes for better-earning efficiency.
Uber drivers can also take advantage of ‘surge’ pricing. This feature highlights certain areas in red on a driver’s map - zones where Uber has high passenger demand but lower driver supply. Drivers are incentivized to make the most of this as it adds a multiplier on the passenger rates, boosting per-hour income.
The magic number? Uber drivers earn an average of $21.90 per hour, adjusted for bonuses and special offers over time. This number varies substantially from city to city, however - so take a look here for more detailed figures. The data from Uber seems to add up on Indeed.com - with drivers reporting an average of $32,952 per annum, which roughly matches the per hour statistics calculated for a 30-hour workweek.
DoorDash is a bit more straightforward. The company’s website states that each delivery pays out between $2 to $10, and official figures place US average hourly earnings at about $18.50. For a 30-hour workweek, this means approximately $28,880 per annum. Remember that these figures are reported averages, and while cities such as NYC see higher hourly rates, not every location may exceed this average.
Opinions on the wage are, unsurprisingly, varied. While some feel that the companies dig too deep into their cut of the revenue, others appreciate perks like complete freedom over a work schedule and credit both companies for helping them stay afloat, pursue passions on the side of their gig work and even get through college.
Both platforms encourage customers to tip, the full proceedings of which go directly to the gig workers.
Gig Work Tips for Uber & DoorDash
While gig jobs give you a good deal of freedom when it comes to choosing your work (or picking your poison, for your inner skeptic) - the fact remains that with great freedom comes great responsibility… or something like that.
What we mean is that in a gig job, you will forgo having direct management above your head - which sounds good, but it also means that setting your goals and maintaining your performance as a worker will be your responsibility.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to make the most of these opportunities:
● Be Location Savvy: Know your city well. Some areas have fewer restaurants - this means slimmer pickings when it comes to food delivery gigs. Drivers will also have to understand traffic flow and other metrics in their operating area - it is always more efficient to reach your destination quickly and find a new customer than it is to remain stuck in traffic with the same ride.
● Manage Your Time: Gig economy jobs allow you to set your hours - and this can be turned to your advantage in more ways than one. Figuring out rush hour timings and surge timings can make massive differences in your income as a driver, and some have even found creative ways to make the most of their work time. Some drivers, for instance, use night hours to find customers from airport arrivals. Without the rush hour taxi lines and with usually longer ride distances, there’s good money to be made.
● Keep Track Of Expenses: Over time, your gig work will accrue expenses such as fuel costs, vehicle maintenance, and other miscellaneous things. Figure out where your earnings go and how to manage this efficiently… and also determine expenses that result in better earnings. For example, as an Uber driver, investing in a daily newspaper and good quality air freshener can lead to high passenger ratings and better margins overall.
● Learn From Others’ Mistakes: In the last decade or so, a massive wealth of information on optimizing gig work has erupted - most of it created by gig workers themselves. Some delivery drivers have learned over time that using a cheap crate or box in their vehicle eliminates spillage - and keeping a small stash of cleaning supplies will prove to be a lifesaver for future mishaps.
● Read The Customer: Gig work is, by its very nature, going to bring you into contact with dozens of people every week. This means that you’ll have to develop some level of people skills - doubly so if you’re planning on working as a driver. Try to understand the level of interaction a customer would prefer to engage in - and don’t be afraid to (politely) use earphones if you are disinterested in a conversation.
● Keep Your Well-Being First: A common issue many gig economy workers face is the implicit pressure to keep chasing that next gig. Many suggest scheduling breaks to relax and even socialize during your workday - this will not only keep you stress-free but also improve your general performance at work.
What Is Shopify?
Now that we’ve got a basic handle on two of the most prominent gig jobs in America, let’s shine the spotlight on Shopify.
Shopify was founded back in 2006 and is a subscription-based platform that allows users to create, develop and manage online stores. It allows business owners to sell across varying channels, from websites to social media and even brick-and-mortar stores.
Shopify’s success over the last decade and a half can be attributed to its ease of use. The platform combines pretty much everything that you’d need to start selling a product online, such as digital storefront designs, inventory management tools, shipping tools, and payment gateways.
Unlike most gig work, Shopify is a creative and business endeavor that requires a few things sorted out right from the onset:
● A Business Idea: You don’t need to be the next startup dream machine, but your business will need to cater to some kind of want or need in your marketplace. The best place for inspiration here is yourself - so play around with ideas or industries that you know well and can identify a specific need within.
● A Brand Name: You will have to give your business a name - while this doesn’t need to be set in stone, Shopify will lock in your chosen name as part of your online store URL. Once that’s done, you can go domain shopping - just check if your business name is already booked before going through. If you need a little help coming up with a name, Shopify offers a free Business Name Generator.
● Branding: This means logos, colors, graphics - all the visual elements that make your brand stand out and best showcase its individuality.
● Products: This one is obviously of key importance, and will largely determine how easy your store will be to set up. If you’re planning to use your guitar skills to offer online tutelage and eBooks to customers, then expect this to have a lower overall cost, as your product/service is mostly digital. If you’re looking to sell handmade soaps or any physical goods, things quickly get more complicated.
What Makes A Successful Shopify Store?
Generally speaking, most successful businesses can, after a lot of hemming and hawing, attribute their success to the simple fact that they add value to their customers’ lives.
This basic tenet is the cornerstone of some of the most successful businesses in the world today and is scalable right from megacorporations like Amazon down to your favorite local sandwich shop.
The biggest success stories on Shopify all focus on this core idea, and their founders generally find something that they’re passionate about before channeling it into a business plan.
A Brief Case Study: Send A Friend
Send A Friend is a simple (and simply adorable) Shopify store that focuses on various kinds of quality stuffed animal toys - each with a bit of personality and flavor behind them.
Founder Tyler Macke wasn’t in the business specifically because of a fondness for cute plushies - or the $5 million sales the company clocked in 2020. Tyler’s initial motivation was to create a business that was able to give back to his community - 10% of the company’s sales go directly into funding childrens’ hospitals across the United States.
Tyler’s background as a teenager was in graphic design. After helping out local businesses, YouTubers, and other creators with his skills, it seemed like a natural idea to begin with branding for his new business idea - one that’s obvious in the minimalistic, friendly design you’ll find on his products and website.
The text you’ll find on all their boxes reads ‘Someone loves you.’ Isn’t that heartwarming - and also a piece of copywriting genius?
As Tyler’s business began to grow, his team saw great potential in the form of the social media platform TikTok. In his own words, “Part of my process is just that I'm 21 years old and I constantly use TikTok anyways. I natively know what the trends are on TikTok, what kind of videos are working well, or what kind of videos are going viral.” Today, the channel drives content created by Send A Friend as well as delighted customers - reaching thousands of people daily.
The core idea to follow from Tyler is that success on Shopify is directly correlated to how much you’re able to utilize existing skills and build a strong, cohesive brand language that speaks to your audience.
Some of the main points to understand about Shopify success are:
● Creating a Mobile Experience: About 10% of the total time spent by Americans on their mobile phones is within shopping platforms. Shopify makes it easier to create mobile-friendly stores for your business - so take advantage of this.
● Retaining Previous Customers: Retaining customers in a competitive digital marketplace isn’t easy - but a few steps can ensure that your business continues to grow with time. Invest in newsletters, emailer lists, loyalty programs, and check out discount codes - all of these will help build loyalty and ensure that people keep coming back.
● Managing Product Reviews: How often have you found yourself scrolling through pages of reviews when making a new purchase? Human beings are sensitive to the opinions of others - especially when forking over their hard-earned cash. Prompt your customers to leave reviews of your products, consistently read them, and directly address negative reviews.
● Invest In A Social Media Presence: Avoiding social media is akin to career suicide, especially when it comes to establishing a new brand on the market. While you do not have to go all-out in the beginning, ensure that you make a social media account for most major social networks, and keep a simple yet regular weekly schedule for content. If you already have an active personal social media account, you’ve already done half the learning.
● Use SEO and PPC to Boost Business: Two terms you’d have hard bandied about when it comes to building online businesses are Search Engine Optimization and Pay-Per-Click ads. You will want to educate yourself on and use at least SEO to help guide potential customers in the right direction - your Shopify store.
For more information about successful Shopify stores, check out: "The 5 Most Successful Dropshipping Stores on the Internet - And What They Have in Common."
Gig Economy Jobs Vs. Shopify Stores
To make things easier, we’re dividing this comparison into several smaller sub-categories, so that we can compare which part-time moneymaker works best for you.
As we mentioned above, Uber and DoorDash have fairly clear potential earnings that you can expect for a given period. While these can differ considerably depending on your location, you have a rough ballpark of what the hours you put in can get you.
A Shopify store, on the other hand, has no guarantee when it comes to earnings from an online business. You will have to put in several weeks of effort before your platform begins to take off - and even after that, you will have no concrete expectation on how much you’ll be earning.
On the bright side, what you can do is proper market research for the product you want to sell. If you reach out to business owners in a similar zone or pick up a well-researched case study, you can understand the overall profit margins on a business idea, which can give you some direction. For brand owners that understand this, and the various points we’ve explained earlier - the sky's the limit.
Ease of Entry
Earning a drivers’ license in the United States is fairly straightforward - the main issue when it comes to taking on gig delivery work is if you’ve got a vehicle on hand. If you aren't already a vehicle owner, the initial investment may seem like a tough barrier to climb over, and forking over weekly cash for rentals makes a significant dent in your earnings.
This isn’t a dealbreaker, however.
The U.S. is one of the world’s best markets for used car buyers, and if you’ve got a reliable steal on your hands, becoming a gig driver could be easier than you think.
For those looking to make a mark in Shopify, the main barrier to entry is almost non-existent - all you need is an internet connection, a business idea, and the subscription fees. It costs a relatively low $29 per month to start, and Shopify even offers a 14-day free trial.
Skill Sets Required
A gig economy job, unless in the realm of specific freelancers, tends to be straightforward, honest work that requires little more than basic communication skills, time, and a bit of legwork. You will need to have a driving license for the two examples we’ve highlighted - but if 230 million other Americans can get one, it shouldn’t be too hard?
As you might expect, things get a bit foggy with Shopify. While anyone can, theoretically, get a business started on the platform, the success of that business heavily depends on the skills you bring to the table, both for the product you want to create or sell, and the actual management of your online business.
Graphic design skills will greatly help in the design and branding of both your product and the website, while basic business skills will keep you confident and headstrong in how to manage your time and money. The beauty of Shopify is that almost any skill you already possess can trace itself towards a business idea - so make sure to give yourself an honest assessment and understand that some groundwork might be required.
One aspect of gig work and online business-building that few ‘online authorities’ take seriously is the amount of stress that these pursuits can add to your life. While every human being has differing thresholds and limits to their stress levels, it’s important to be conscious and aware of how much a job is wearing you down over time - regardless of what
kind it is.
If you spend a half-hour scouring through various worker reviews for gig economy jobs, it will be rare to find a common consensus - some praise Uber and DoorDash to high heaven, while others leave scathing remarks criticizing both platforms and their customers for taking advantage of drivers and delivery workers.
The truth is, there’s a bit of weight to both sides of this argument. If you are free of financial responsibilities such as debt and family expenses, flexible hours can help people achieve goals beyond what regular employment generally allows - such as financing a college degree. The downside is that you are ultimately accepting work from a parent company - Uber has put profits before driver benefits (at least in the U.S.). You may also have to handle the occasional rude passenger, although most people are friendly and polite enough - many gig workers attest to the value customers bring to their lives.
Shopify, on the other hand, involves a whole different breed of stress - with early business owners facing constant worries centered around future profitability rather than immediate day-to-day responsibilities.
This ultimately depends a great deal on your stress-dealing capabilities - but if you keep learning, stay confident in your product, and put in the hours, you’ll trade the stress of wondering if your business will turn a profit for the stress of how to keep scaling your business model - not a bad trade if you ask me.
In summary, both options work as promising career options, especially for side-hustlers and students. The benefit of making your hours allows for lifestyle options that most people could only dream of in the 20th century.
If you’re looking at focusing on a single avenue of work, however, it depends. Gig economy work is reliable and easy to access - so if you’re looking to get yourself through a tough year or need an income source between jobs or degrees, we’d recommend that you find gig work and learn the tools of the trade as best you can. Just remember to be savvy with your time and money investments.
If, however, you’re a bit more business inclined and have the savings to keep yourself buffered, making your dream business idea a reality through Shopify is more accessible than it has ever been before. You can even coexist in both spaces as a business owner - use gig platforms such as Fiverr to fill in the gaps for your business if you are inexperienced at branding.
Either way, you look at it, you’re looking at the future - that’s for sure.