Gig economy a career boost for military spouses

NORFOLK, Va. — A report sponsored by Wells Fargo and conducted online this spring by The Harris Poll shows that military service members, their spouses and partners depend on the gig economy to supplement their household income.

The survey commissioned by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling — a nonprofit dedicated to improving people’s financial well-being — indicates that while military life presents a challenge to many, when it comes to landing and maintaining private sector employment, the gig economy has helped to make a difference.

A military spouse shares details of her career journeys and how side gigs have a huge impact on her work.

Nikki James Zellner worked a side hustle before she opened her own business earlier this year.

For Zellner, the creation of her virtual LLC, Where Content Connects, was a long time coming.

“I had worked almost a 16- to 18-year career in corporate media,” said Zellner, whose background is in advertising, marketing and editorial development. “I had a very well-established, lucrative career prior to having children. We have kind of built this life around the fact that I have a professional identity that I want to continue to nurture.”

As Zellner worked her side gig, she realized the business she wanted to develop. Her boutique content consultancy helps women, entrepreneurs and small teams organically tell their stories and connect with the right people.

Zellner credits The Milspo Project, a nonprofit that empowers and educates military spouses, entrepreneurs and leaders, with helping her move from her corporate job to her side gig to business ownership.

“That’s really when my eyes were opened that military spouses need something that’s theirs outside of being a mom and a spouse,” Zellner said. “The biggest struggles I hear from colleagues in the space is the constant relocation.”

Although Zellner, her military spouse and their two young children haven’t moved from the Hampton Roads, Va., area to date, she said there’s always that sense of wondering what the future will hold.

Many military families relocate every two to three years, and spouses are left with uncertainty.

“You don’t know if you’re going to be relocated to a state that’ll have viable employment for you,” Zellner said. “You don’t know if you’re going to have to change your licensing or go through the licensing process just to stay in a place for a year.”

She said remote work is a hot topic among military spouses because it enables them to start a job and then take it with them.

“I think the whole planet, at this point, is moving toward remote work as a viable option,” she said. “I think there’s certainly a huge set that’s still related to how do I find a 9-to-5 job as a military spouse or as a veteran, but there is a real niche out there for people who want to take the skills they have, start as a freelancer or on a side gig and turn that into an actual business.”

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