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Portfolio careers: could the latest career trend work for you?

More workers are turning their back on a single career and combining several, often diverse, roles and revenue streams to make a living. If you’re thinking of diversifying, read on to discover the benefits and challenges of having a portfolio career and whether it’s right for you.

portfolioWhy the change?

Companies have been forced to become lean and competitive in order to survive the economic downturn of recent years. The result is that many no longer employ people in-house but hire expertise as and when it’s needed. In addition, advances in technology mean that people can work remotely, with projects divided up and given to different specialists around the world.

While workers may have been forced to diversify and earn money from several sources after being made redundant, many people report that this new way of working is far more lucrative and fulfilling.

If you think a portfolio career sounds like a risky choice, think again.

‘With a portfolio career, you have several employers, clients and sources of income at any one time. Rarely will all of these income streams fold at the very same time,’ explains career coach Ruth Winden of Careers Enhanced (

‘This makes a portfolio career an unexpectedly solid and attractive alternative to mainstream employment, where even the safest jobs can be terminated in one fell swoop due to reasons outside of your control, such as restructuring, economic downturns or technological innovations.’

Benefits and challenges

Combining two or more identities, for example working as a secretary/dog groomer/fitness instructor or freelance travel writer/photographer/teacher, allows you to integrate and fully express multiple passions, talents, and interests, which a single career can’t usually accommodate.

‘The big advantage of a portfolio career is that you can build a combination of income generating activities that suit your lifestyle, family commitments and personality,’ says Ruth.

The challenge comes in managing your time and knowing how to promote yourself – and your many skills and talents – to the world, according to David Shindler, performance coach and author of Learning To Leap. (

‘Social networking allows you to spread the word about new ventures, and create an online presence, but you need to manage how you come across,’ warns David. ‘Avoid sounding vague and fragmented, and be assertive about your adaptability and breadth.’

If you have complementary talents, for example, cake decorator/teacher/food photographer, presenting one single persona allows you to cross-market between business streams.

Is it right for you?

While a portfolio career offers many benefits, it takes a particular kind of person to make it work.

‘This suits people who like variety, independence and flexibility in their working life. You need to be resilient, organised and positive – and able to keep different plates spinning and enjoy the challenge of managing yourself,’ says David.

If that sounds like you, a portfolio career could be a worthwhile alternative to being a full-time employee, says Ruth, who believes this way of working is demanding, fulfilling and liberating.

‘Demanding because you are only ever as good as your last gig, and you have to continuously learn, grow and develop to stay competitive in the pool of portfolio workers.

‘Fulfilling, because you get to choose what portfolio you build, who you work for and how you add value with your unique skills and talents. Liberating, because you decide how much you work, when you work – and if you are extremely good at what you do – at what rate.’

Making it work

There are many different approaches to making a portfolio career work.

‘Some portfolio workers need a reliable income and stability, and hence opt for a combination of more secure longer-term engagements – such as several part-time or associate roles, Non-Executive Directorships (NED) or longer-term projects.

‘Others, who are in different life circumstances, might choose a portfolio of activities all on a contract or associate basis, or a mix of contract and part-time employment,’ explains Ruth.

In all cases, it makes sense to focus on developing at least one steady income stream to ensure you can pay the bills before branching out. Full-time freelancers are advised to have a year’s worth of salary in savings, and it’s wise to have money to fall back, especially while you’re building up a client base.

Not for everyone

Of course, a portfolio career doesn’t suit everyone. Whatever portfolio arrangement you prefer, you need to show flexibility and adaptability, warns Ruth.

‘If juggling diaries, responsibilities, tasks, paymasters, networks, prospecting and pitching, managing and paying for your professional development and complying with legislation and tax affairs sounds like a lot to do, that’s because it is.

‘If the idea of being a self-starter doesn’t appeal, then a portfolio career is not for you.

‘Yet the vast majority of portfolio workers I have coached wouldn’t want it any other way.’

Image copyright: Roobcio ,

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