Despite her best efforts, Lauren Gouws (neÃ© Meikle) was a terrible employee. The commute from Pretoria to Joburg every day was depressing, she didn’t like the fact that whether her workload was high or low she earned the same salary, and she was realising that the inflexibility of an eight to five job didn’t suit her.
So, she did what many budding entrepreneurs have done. One evening, she got home and Googled ‘How to make money online’ â and discovered the world of the gig economy. “I couldn’t quit my job because I had bills to pay and needed an income, but I also knew I wanted to be my own boss,” says Lauren.
“You need to be careful, there are a lot of traps, scams and get-rich-quick schemes online. I just wanted to have control over my earning potential. I came across an article that listed ten gig economy websites. Basically, if you have a skill that you can offer digitally, you can sign up to these websites and offer that service â it’s MacDonald’s for services, you place your order and get it within a day or two.”
Lauren is a copywriter, but gig economy sites cater for web developers, consultants, coders, designers, writers and more. “Fiverr is the website I’ve found success on. Within a few hours work started coming in.”
Lauren began her Fiverr journey in September 2015 while she was still working full time. “I couldn’t quit immediately, it was too big a risk, so I spent my evenings on my Fiverr orders and worked during the day. For three months I was sleeping two to three hours a night. I needed to match my salary before I could quit â that was the deal I made with myself.”
Within three months Lauren had doubled her salary. Three months after that, she had quit her job, and was focused full-time on her Fiverr clients. She was 25 years old.
Today, her income is ten times what it was three years ago, she works from home, to her own schedule and has a level of flexibility that was impossible while she was a full-time employee.
“I work hard, from 7am to 7pm, but that’s my choice. I love that the more I put in, the more I get out. All I need is a laptop, so I can go anywhere and carry on doing what I do. Fiverr also has an out-of-office function, so I could choose to only work two or three weeks a month, if that’s what I wanted. The flexibility and freedom of the gig economy has changed my life.”
According to Lauren’s ‘world domination percentage’ on Fiverr, she has written copy and scripts for 57% of the countries in the world â mostly the US and India, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland. “I’ve been exposed to so many projects, countries and industries. It’s been an incredible experience.”
The rand dollar exchange doesn’t hurt either. For a writer based in South Africa but earning US dollars, Lauren’s income is far beyond anything she could have achieved as an employee. It has also changed other aspects of Lauren’s life.
The time she spent in traffic is now dedicated to income-producing hours, building her business and brand. The increased income meant Lauren could buy a house and travel the world with her husband, visiting new destinations every year, while still saving for her future.
Maximising opportunities in the gig economy
“When you sign up to a gig website, you create your profile and gigs. For example, my profile says, ‘Hi, I’m Lauren, I’m a copywriter â if you need a script you can place your order’. My gig is $5 per 25 words, and clients can order as many of the gig as they need.”
Of course, Lauren has raised the price of her gig since she started. “I looked at what other people charged to determine my price point at the beginning, and I also started at less than I would have liked to get noticed. As my gig got more popular and I literally couldn’t manage the workload, I increased my prices. I did this slowly and steadily. First it was $5 for 150 words, then as my jobs got unmanageable, I made it $5 for 100 words, then $5 for 50 words, and now it’s $5 for 25 words.
“The customers who really love you will stay with you and pay more and sometimes I give discounts if it’s a massive order. The trick is to have confidence in your quality. Clients who tell me I’m too expensive leave, but most come back, choosing quality over price.”
According to Lauren, there’s an overall understanding that gigs that are more expensive are higher quality. “The people who do a lot of gigs for a very cheap rate either aren’t experienced enough or they don’t know how the gig economy works and they want as much work as possible â but they’re rushing jobs and not giving them enough time and attention.
“By comparison, if you’re charging more you will put more effort into it â you have less orders, but they are more expensive. You can focus more energy on each task throughout the day and people trust that â they don’t really trust cheap gigs.”
Lauren’s turnaround time is five days, although an additional fee ensures express delivery. Lauren has built up the confidence to have tough conversations with clients, particularly around price, but she does caution that in the gig economy, the customer is king.
“You cannot mess with your public reviews,” she says. “They can’t be removed. If you’re rude or too stern with a client and you receive a one-star review, it’s there forever, so no matter how difficult a buyer is, you have to treat them like gold.”
Sites like Fiverr work on reputation â good reviews, delivering quality content on time and being active on the site improve your search results, which in turn boost your business.
“When you start out, it’s essential to get your reviews going. It’s more important to do as much work as possible to build your reputation than what you charge. You can start increasing your prices once you’ve built your reputation.”
Another key to success is that the secret lies in product differentiation. “I joined Fiverr at a good time when it was still being discovered by many people and companies. While it’s a little more challenging to master now, it’s certainly not impossible. You just have to think out-the-box.
“Think of something you can offer that is in high-demand, and set yourself apart. Why should people choose you instead of the person in the gig next to yours in search results? Flaunt your credentials: Passion. Skills. Tenacity. You can also add a gig ‘video,’ not just a picture, which can shoot you further up search results for more visibility and trust. Share your gigs everywhere online. Ultimately, success is in your hands.”