What is a portfolio career?

What is a portfolio career?

Whether you’ve been a member of a senior management team, set up and run your own company or been a member of the C-Suite in an organisation, the skills you’ve gained over time can only be achieved with experience. 

Whether it’s having a birds-eye view of a company’s growth trajectory or a clear sense of the pressures business founders are under, your knowledge can make a huge difference to start-up and scale-up organisations looking for leadership advice, mentoring, coaching and guidance. However, many are unable to absorb the financial commitment of having a full member of staff. 

This is where portfolio careers can help you leverage your skills, create more flexibility in your work/life balance, take charge of your income, and find meaningful professional satisfaction, all whilst helping a young business to thrive. In this article, we look at the different types of portfolio career, the benefits of working this way, and how to get started.

Definition of a portfolio career

A lot of the time when people think of a portfolio career, they think about having lots of different jobs. They may or may not be related, and often it's in the context of a side hustle. 

At Connectd, our definition is a little more specific. Yes, it means having the capacity for multiple roles, but it's where people use the experience they've gained over the course of their careers, often in senior roles, to help start-up and scale-up businesses to grow by acting in a fractional or advisory capacity. 

Over time, that may evolve into a non-executive director or board advisory role as the company grows.

Types of portfolio careers

Typically, the types of portfolio career that people talk about include: 

  • Side hustler: This is where you have an additional job or project to your full time profession to supplement your regular income.
  • Freelancer: This is an independent contractor who typically earns on the basis of each job or task. Usually this is short-term or project based work. For example, a freelance journalist will get paid per article.
  • Multi-hyphenate: This is someone who has several different jobs, which may be within the same sector. For example, a multi-hyphenate performer might do singing, acting and dancing. 
  • Focused expert: A focused expert has specialised skills in a particular area and charges top rates for them. They work solely in that space but will apply those skills to different organisations or functions.  
  • Advisor: provides expertise and specialist knowledge in a particular area to support the board or founding team and support the company's growth journey
  • Non-executive director: A non-executive director works with a company's board of directors but is not a working member of the day-to-day organisation. They will help with things like policymaking, strategic business planning, and are often fundamental in acting as a sounding board for business leaders, almost in a mentoring capacity. 
  • Fractional executive: Fractional leaders might bring specific skills, like marketing, to a business (Fractional CMO), to help advise on the overarching strategy within that organisation. Their role can be short-term or part time, providing high level leadership value on a more affordable basis

At Connectd, we work in this leadership space to help people build the skills needed to secure roles such as non-executive directorships and fractional leadership functions. With these roles you’re an invested and committed member of the organisation who wants to be part of its success, but you’re not a full time employee. However, what’s crucial about working with young companies, is that you bring a variety of skills that can be applied across different industries. 

For example, you might have been a CMO in your full-time career, but you will have also learned how that role interconnects with other aspects of the organisation and bring a birdseye view to how that business can develop. You might, for example, have worked in pharmaceuticals, but your skills are transferable to a wide variety of industries because they’re rooted in experience and consequently add enormous value to an organisation.

The main advantages of a portfolio career

There are lots of benefits to working in this way, ranging from having more control over your own time, to enjoying greater variety, flexibility and both personal and professional rewards. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of a portfolio career in this way is that it allows you to curate your career and create a path that suits your goals as you head into a new and exciting stage of your working life, capitalising on everything you've learned, and adding significant value to those who are starting out.

Flexibility: You can choose how much work you take on and how you structure your time for a better work/life balance.

Remuneration: You have the autonomy to negotiate your own pay and the basis on which you’re paid, whether it’s for a certain number of hours a week or days a month.

Variety: It gives you the chance to work with a number of different companies and organisations, either at the same time or moving from one to another.  

Feel-good-factor: Giving back to the business community and helping more inexperienced business leaders can be hugely rewarding.

Learning on the job: It’s an opportunity to learn about new sectors and businesses, using your transferable skills at a strategic level.

The disadvantages of a portfolio career

It’s not so much that there are disadvantages to a portfolio career as aspects that simply might not suit you. So, it’s important to consider whether it’s the right path - that’s something that the team at Connectd can help you to understand.

Job security: Most people who have a portfolio career are self-employed, which means you don’t have the same types of protection as an employed member of the team. That said, you can counter this by having a risk spread with your portfolio of work - having a couple of ‘jobs’ at a time, so that all your income isn’t coming from one source. Arguably, that actually gives you more financial security - Forbes might describe it as a form of ‘career cushioning’.

Perks: Similarly to security, when you’re not an employee, you generally don’t get access to the kind of perks a full time member of staff might get, such as paid holiday. Then again, unlike an employee, because you’re in charge of your own schedule, you have more flexibility to go on holiday or choose how to spend your time and money.

Time commitment: While on paper you can commit to a certain amount of time with an organisation, as it grows and you (hopefully) become more invested in its success, you may find that more of your time is consumed. That’s not necessarily a problem in itself, it just means that you need to stay aware of how much time you’re committing and make sure that your remuneration is commensurate with how much you’re putting in. That’s something to consider when defining your fee structure at the start, leaving room for evolution.

How to earn more money with a portfolio career

The thing that most people we speak to are excited about when it comes to crafting a portfolio career is the opportunity to shape their own roles and define their own working parameters. This is at the heart of how to earn more money with a portfolio career because not just about the amount of money itself, but the amount of money in relation to the amount of time you want to work. This should be about maximising the value of all those skills you’ve learned over the course of your career to date. You’re not being paid by the hour, but for the knowledge and experience that you bring.

Key areas of focus to make sure you maximise your income with a portfolio career are:

  • Consider your fee structure carefully and remember you’re being paid for your expertise.
  • While you want to maximise your income, that might not mean charging a lot right away. Most start-ups and scale-ups don’t have large resources at the outset, but you do have the opportunity to grow your role and your income down the line. It’s better to get a foot in the door with some income than suggest fees that result in no one being able to afford you.
  • Creating a cumulative income by having multiple revenue sources, which also have the capacity to grow in themselves, means there’s no cap on your potential income - especially if your fee is structured based on experience rather than time.
  • Leave room for your fee to grow as the company you’re working with evolves, and hopefully, becomes a financial success.

How to create a portfolio career: professional tips

Setting out to create a portfolio career is an exciting time, but it can also be a steep learning curve, especially if you have spent much of your career to date within a particular organisation (perhaps one you founded), or in fully employed jobs (perhaps as a senior manager or member of the C-Suite). At Connectd, we help individuals navigate that path into their new career, and have found that the following are useful tips for starting out:

Remember it’s a journey: You might have been used to having all the answers in your previous role, but however much knowledge you have, this is still a new career path and it’s important to remember you’re on a learning curve. Approach this new career path with an open mind. The beauty of that is that even if you have no experience as a non-executive director, you can get it in a fractional role, building your capabilities and experience as you go.

A new mindset: With that journey in mind, it takes a different mindset to have a portfolio career. It’s part entrepreneur, part senior advisor, but as you’re working with young companies there’s also an element of ‘mucking in’. This is especially important if you’ve come from a big brand with a big reputation - if you’re used to walking into the room with that behind you, then it’s a new experience to walk in just as yourself. It’s no less valuable, but it is different, so give yourself time to get used to that.

Get networking: As with so many things, talking to people is a powerful thing to do. Get networking online and in person, and be prepared to listen. It’s amazing which doors will open when you communicate.

Start with a pro bono role: We always recommend starting with a pro bono role to get some initial experience, even if you’re the most experienced CEO. Some small companies might be able to promise equity, or it may turn into a paid role, but it’s a great way to get started and understand this new career landscape.

If you’re interested in building a portfolio career, the team at Connectd would be delighted to help. You can explore board advisory, fractional and non-executive positions and learn more about the opportunities a portfolio career has to offer here.

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