How to establish a Portfolio Career

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“Going portfolio means exchanging full-time employment for independence. The portfolio is a collection of different bits and pieces of work for different clients. The word “job” now means a client.”  The Portfolio Career, popularised by Charles Handy in his book “The Empty Raincoat”, 1994

First, the gloomy news.  The idea of working for the same employer year after year is dead.  Whether we may like to think of ourselves as indispensable, no one is and all employers are constantly reviewing which staff are core and which are, well, surplus to requirements.   This means that those of you that are employed are either working excessively hard because your skills are in short supply or working excessively hard to prove your worth.

So why not break the cycle?

Is the sword of Damocles hanging over your full-time role?

So why not develop a career that allows you to do work on your own terms, do things that you are good at and, perish the thought, do things you enjoy?

Perhaps you should frame things differently so that rather than living the life of a mercenary, swapping time purely for money, you obtain reward through being in control, being happy, being effective and being appreciated by the people you do good work for.

This is the future of work and for many people this year it will transform their lives from one of survival from week-end to week-end to one of fulfillment, continual development and growing confidence.

Why is it the age of the Portfolio Career?

​ Swapping your old life-style for one where you might exist in a variety of guises (my work roles vary significantly – consultant, mentor, associate, volunteer, Director, non-exec, board member, project manager, blogger, entrepreneur, social enterprise partner, business network leader, business ambassador…) is easier than you think and particularly in 2016.

This is because:

  • Breadth of opportunities.  Many employers have decided to cap their core staff costs and accept that to complete specific tasks they will need to hire temporary skills at higher day rates.  These roles are not easily anticipated therefore they become available at short notice.
  • Hedging risks.  By having multiple persona, you are less dependent on any one source of income, freeing you up to be more creative and able to take risks that you would never have considered in your “employed state”.  If you know you have some income from one role to cover your core costs, why not start a small business, volunteer or collaborate in another?
  • Technological developments.  With a good laptop and mobile phone, it is easy to market your services, access work opportunities, collaborate with others and bill for your time.
  • Collaboration mindset.  Just look on Linkedin and you will realise that your network is full of skilled people with multiple personalities.  This is so common now that it is highly acceptable to ask for people’s time to explore new opportunities.  You just need to ask.
  • Hour glass economy.  Technology has contributed to the evaporation of full-time middle management and administrative roles, however those people who have specific skills are becoming prized, commanding higher reward and being globally sought after.  Many a consultant spends a month or so away from home, knowing that this will financially support the rest of the year’s activities.
  • Social-environmental conscience. There are no shortage of important issues to address and whether it’s reversing climate change, tackling poverty, or just helping your local community, when you have a portfolio career, your only limitation to getting involved is your time.  Volunteering is often the first step to getting paid work and when it’s your passion, your reward comes from contributing.​

Is a portfolio career right for everyone?

You could argue that there is so little stability in conventional employment that everyone should consider it.  However, if you have a role where you happy and appreciated, don’t change! If you are developing your career and learning skills that will benefit you in the future then being part of a large organisation can provide invaluable support.  In both these scenarios be aware that you are one new boss away from your world changing for the worse, so have a back-up plan!

On the other hand, if you feel that you can not move because you are trapped by earning a decent salary then think again – you can succeed in a portfolio world, but only if you change your mindset.1968211

A portfolio career can feel like spinning plates. However the freedom of making your own choices can also be immensely empowering.

So how do you start?

So how easy is it to get going?  The following five point plan is the best way to get going in your new lifestyle – it worked for me and I’ve used it to help many others:

  1. Develop a plan.  Take a day or so to write a plan to describe how your portfolio career will work.  Make sure it covers:
  • What you’d like to achieve
  • Your key skills – look back at your career and think hard at what you did best
  • Your financial requirements – what do you really need?
  • Who your target customers will be – be specific!
  • Your brand and marketing approach
  • Your key products and services (and equally what you won’t do)
  • Your next steps
  1. Take responsibility. The plan is a piece of paper, it will only get implemented if you share it with others.  Number 1 on this list should be your close family although ask for their support not reasons why you shouldn’t go ahead.  Identify those areas that you need to research more and find people who can help you.
  1. Develop a brand.  You now have to think about how you want to be perceived by the outside world.  Be compelling, be passionate and be clear.  Start preparing the marketing activities that will help you tell your story.  Consider everything from business cards, your look, your social media and the networks you will need to develop.
  1. Assemble the Building Blocks. Get a decent laptop and mobile, assign a bank account, and find the tools that will help you keep track of the business. Find helpful mentors and experienced professionals to support you. Most importantly, start developing a list of potential contacts – be rigorous about updating it.
  1. Set your targets.  Be clear on what you need to do, especially in the first six months.  During this time it is probable that you will be spending the bulk of your time finding paid work but by being rigorous in achieving the necessary inputs this work will come. For instance, set yourself targets for meeting and connecting with new people, attending networks and being active on social media.