The professional ‘gig’ economy: don’t call us mercenaries.

There’s no escaping the freelancers that populate the business world. The professional firms have referred to them as the ‘mercenaries’ of the ‘gig’ economy, raising a disparaging comparison with the economy of Deliveroo, Uber and TaskRabbit gigs. (1)

There has been a lot of reporting on the professional ‘gig’ economy and its prospected huge growth. BBC News / Business quotes PwC’s forecasts that ’the market for gig economy platforms will be worth almost $63bn globally by 2020. In 2014, this global market was valued at $10bn’. (2)

By referring to these freelancers as ‘mercenaries’, firms ignore that, thanks to the current propitious confluence of global technology and social platforms and the indomitable human entrepreneurial spirit, the ‘mercenaries’ are using their business skills to group together to make propositions attractive even to clients doing big transformations.

Hardly mercenaries..

In the words of Guillermo Acilu, technology mind behind Front M, an innovative start-up, ‘the gig economy lets me control my own destiny. It makes me feel free’.

Martin Vazquez, creative director at Remulous, says that ‘through experience and foresight as an employee in the creative industry, I wanted to boldly go it alone and approach clients that interested me directly. The satisfaction of doing what you love, on your terms, is too tantalising to pass up’.

Thalia Romo, a change consultant building a retail franchise, says that ‘this allows me to have time for friends and family, to enjoy the place where I decide to live, near the beach, and to transfer to my team the knowledge and experience I have acquired’.

Idealism and a wish to make an impact. But never mind the idealism: these are people with serious business skills trying to make their skills go further. And they are hardly the words and values of ‘mercenaries’.

What does it take to succeed?

For me, it's always been about keeping yourself relevant to the market and the future. As I re-pivot my career towards advisory roles to harness life-long lessons learnt, here are my current top ‘gigs’:

  • Coordinating tactics with a head-hunter to pitch contracts to clients unencumbered by bureaucracy and heavy costs.
  • Negotiating a role on the advisory board of a start-up.
  • Collaborating with digital creatives and technologists on my own digital transformation.

The clincher is to be able to collaborate in a distributed and multi-layered environment. In the corporate world, one is surrounded by structures, processes and big budgets. In the professional ‘gig’ economy, alongside a ‘wheeling-and-dealing’ DNA to make resources go further, one needs discipline and to deploy the ‘art of the possible’.

What next

The reality of the professional ‘gig’ economy is likely to be affected by the same insecurities of the real Deliveroo, Uber and TaskRabbit ‘gigs’, its fate tightly anchored to business volatility.

However, as the economy shifts and changes through uncertainties, digital transformation and geo-politics, freelancers are the disruptors and innovators that are best adapt to survive. The mercenaries are here to stay. And please don’t call us mercenaries.



(1)  ‘When McKinsey met Uber: The gig economy comes to consulting’. The Financial Times writing in October 2016.

(2) ‘Is the 'gig economy' turning us all into freelancers?’, Technology of Business reporter Suzanne Bearne writing in May 2016.