Service member is painting.

Freelancing in the Gig Economy: An Overview for the Military Community

For military spouses and service members, the growing gig economy provides an opportunity to earn extra income. Gig work also offers flexibility and independence that you may not find in some traditional or part-time jobs. And whether you walk dogs or drive for a ride-sharing service, your alternate business may move with you when you PCS.

As with any employment, there are pros and cons to working in the gig economy. Also, the military has specific rules for service members working off duty and for spouses operating a business on a military installation. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether a gig economy job can work for you. 

What gig work is – freelancer, temp jobs and contract jobs

Gig work is a job or money-making venture that is not your typical long-term, paid position. It’s temporary work, a short-term contract or a freelance job that brings in additional money or is an outlet for a passion. You could start a business such as catering, offer services or goods through an online sales platform, or sell old items on an auction website.

As a freelancer, you are your own boss. You set your own hours, decide what kind of assignments you want to take, collect your own fees and pay your own taxes. If you freelance for a company, your role is independent contractor, not employee.

Gig work has many advantages for service members and spouses. Many people find a creative outlet in gig jobs. You can make good money, and you have more flexibility, working the days and hours that suit your schedule. You have greater independence, and when you PCS to a new place, a gig economy job is more transferable.

On the downside, gig work usually offers no benefits, such as sick leave, paid time off or worker’s compensation. You don’t have the guarantee of a steady income since you earn only when you work. Plus you risk losing any money you invest in your business if it doesn’t pan out. Also, you must pay estimated federal, state and Social Security taxes four times per year. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of a gig job when considering whether it makes sense for you.

Department of Defense rules for side work

Active-duty service members who want to work gig jobs must follow rules established by the Department of Defense. You may want to see if your service branch has its own rules governing gig work. There are also requirements for spouses who want to operate a business while living on an installation.

Service members:

  • Start by consulting the Outside Activities section of the Ethics Counselor’s Deskbook. This gives you the DOD’s basic rules for off-duty employment.
  • Get permission from your command. Start with your supervisor. You will also need your commander’s approval, and you may need your local legal office or ethics office to sign off. They will evaluate your request to make sure your side job does not:
    • Interfere with your military duties, since the military could potentially call you to work at any time.
    • Impact your safety or the safety of those in the military community. For example, you shouldn’t do a job that makes you miss out on sleep.
    • Violate the military’s ethical standards. For example, you can’t work for another federal agency while you are on active duty.

Military spouses:

Spouses who want to operate a business while living on an installation must meet certain requirements:

  • Register your business with the installation housing office and receive a permit to operate. 
  • Get state and local business licenses if required in your location. If you plan to offer in-home child care, you may need to become a certified family child care provider. 
  • Register with your state as a business entity, such as sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or LLC, if required. 
  • Learn about the policies on advertising your home business on your installation. You may not use the military postal system for commercial purposes.
  • Follow the Status of Forces Agreement rules between the U.S. and your host country if you are OCONUS. Some countries place strict limitations on the type of business you may operate.

Resources to help you get organized