This is a weekly newsletter for indie consultants who are in the gig economy for the deep fun of it. I took the name, The Art of Gig, from a rather idiotic absurdist short story I wrote about the consulting life a few years ago, which had my regular readers groaning and laughing in equal parts. The phrase itself, as you might guess, is a joke reference to Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

If you’re thinking of subscribing, you probably want to know who I am, and what you should, and should not, expect from this newsletter.

Who I Am

My name is Venkatesh Rao, and chances are you’re probably here because you already know who I am, in which case scroll on. If you don’t know who I am, check out my personal page, and sample some of my business-related writing first.

What this is

This newsletter is for people who want to solve for interestingness, learning, variety, and adventure through gig work, particularly independent consulting work. You might want to subscribe if you…

  • …revel in the humor, messiness, dystopian silliness, and occasional moments of sheer wonder and delight that is life in the business world.

  • …bring something of an unapologetically auteur, snowflake sensibility to gig work.

  • …approach consulting work as an activity somewhere between alchemy and murder-mystery solving.

  • …like to own the fact that what we do is a kind of magical thinking that is barely this side of astrology.

  • …don’t apologize for using Myers-Briggs.

  • …are unreasonably delighted with yourself for coming up with a clever 2x2 or buzzphrase

  • …are looking to find your soul through work in the gig economy.

If you are such a person, once a week, I will send you a bit of consulting soul food.

It might be a 2x2. It might be a nugget of practical advice or philosophical reflection. It might be a review of a business book or academic paper. It might be a response to a question from a reader. It might even be a short story or cartoon.

Frankly, I want to have some fun with this thing, and I want you to have fun too. Just because we’ve all foolishly decided to get on a somewhat financially precarious roller-coaster with sketchy health insurance and perhaps more moments of financial panic than you’d like, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with what you’re doing.

Unlike in my other writing (on ribbonfarm, breaking smart, and elsewhere), I’ll be trying (but not too hard) to keep things short, sweet, actionable, and easily digestible.

My goal is NOT to teach you “systems”, give you “homework,” or guide you systematically through an indie consultant learning curve. My goal is to share the most intriguing outtakes from my own evolving thinking and learning on all things business and consulting, with a focus on the challenges faced by indie consultants in particular.

Some of it will be solid, and rest on years of experience. Other bits will be wild speculation based on an n=1 observation.

So if you want to build a life around intellectual stimulation, working with the most interesting and fascinating clients you can find, and help them fumble, stumble, and grope their way through fascinating challenges. This newsletter might be for you.

What this is not

I’ve been doing the independent consulting thing for 8 years now, and if there’s one thing I know for sure it is this: you’re not going to learn how to get rich from me.

  • If you’re in the game (or entering it) to get rich by creating and packaging glossy, polished, step-by-step systems that generate a firehose of passive income and keep you in fancy suits and cars for the rest of your life, this newsletter is NOT for you.

  • If you want to train up an army of associates who deliver the products of your thinking at scale across the entire business world while you seek your next Profound Business Insight at a meditation retreat, this newsletter is NOT for you.

  • If your idea of a pinnacle of success is a TED talk, an HBR article, or being profiled in Fortune (in fact, if you think in terms of arrival at “pinnacles” at all rather than playing the basic game well week after week), this newsletter is NOT for you.

These are good things to learn, but you’re not going to learn them from me because I have no clue how to do those things and am frankly not sure they’re worth learning.

I make decent money, about the same on average as in the paycheck life I left behind in 2011, but am by no means raking it in.

I am not living the 4-hour-work-week dream, but neither am I living out of hotels and navigating a calendar bursting with 100 billable hours a week. I have my scroungy months where I scramble to patch gaps in cash flow, and my flush months when a couple of big checks hit my bank account and I can think beyond the next quarter.

I have a manageable roster of long and short term clients whom I like (and who like me), from individuals and startups to executives at Fortune 100 companies, but am by no means one of those big-halo star thought leaders painting the conference circuit red.

All but one of my gigs have been the result of inbound demand, but I am by no means beating back hordes of prospective clients hungry for my wisdom and yelling “shut up and take my money!”

In short, I am not a particularly exceptional member of the indie consulting gig economy. I am the sort of median survivor of the game that you’re most likely to end up as, or already are.

So you won’t learn how to be exceptional from me, but I hope to help you find the romance in the ordinary world of business, and catch occasional glimpses of the sublime, as we explore the art of gig together.