Portfolio working describes someone who has two or more strands to their career. A recent survey by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) indicates that there are more than 300, 000 people as of 2019 working in this way. I am guessing that the actual number will be much higher than that because in my experience many people don’t even realise that they are operating in this portfolio, or multi-hyphenate way.  For example, Sue whom I met recently works two days a week doing the accounts for a small IT firm, another day a week gives swimming lessons and in between times delivers talks and workshops on budget management. Without realising it, she is a “slashie” which is another term that has been coined to describe portfolio workers, as in “accounts manager / swimming teacher / public speaker.”

A portfolio career can combine paid and unpaid work as well as part-time studying, so if you have a day job and are also a trustee or Non-Executive Director for an organisation or charity then you too are a portfolio worker.

Why might this be an interesting transformation for you?

Portfolio working has a number of advantages which include the following areas:

Spreads the risk: In the uncertain employment world that we live in nowadays, having a number of irons in the fire, so to speak, spreads the risk. If one area of your portfolio isn’t in demand as much, then you have at least one if not more strands to balance things out. This is the same principle that you apply to a spread financial portfolio in a variety of stocks and shares rather than just focusing and relying on one area.

Creates variety: having a number of different activities in your life simultaneously enables you to tap into different skills and interests which a single role may not be able to fulfil. It is rare that one job is completely perfect and therefore this way of working enables you to tap into the breadth of your skills. Historically most people tended towards having one main skill set that they used throughout their career, for example by being a solicitor or accountant or Human resources specialist. Careers were “T” shaped with one main skill set holding everything up. Portfolio working can be imagined as the “π” pi sign with at least two often very different skill sets supporting the career. We could even expand that to a three-legged tripod or six-legged spider, depending on how many different career strands you are tapping into. A recent client of mine, Roseline, loves the variety of her portfolio made up of two totally different strands; one as a qualified Zumba teacher and the other as a marketing consultant. It potentially lets you tap into very different identities. You might find it energising to have very different audiences or markets for your skills or you might be pleasantly surprised that there is overlap between the two. Roseline found that a number of people coming to her Zumba class for instance ran their own businesses and she has been able to build on the existing relationship and provide marketing consultancy advice to them.

Offers flexibility and life-style integration: portfolio working potentially gives you more control of your working life as you decide how to piece together different career strands. I’ve worked with many clients with young families who have chosen this route to be able to accommodate school hours. One of them, Sarah, has a part-time customer service role as well as making and selling beautiful jewellery via artisan markets at the weekends, or via evening parties as well as online. James is an IT contractor, and personal training coach who works an academic year and takes six weeks off during the summer to spend with his children. Other clients have used this portfolio route to work around the needs of elderly parents, as well as their own health issues.

Offers personal growth: having two or more career strands enables you to expand your skill set. Years ago, when I bought a greetings card franchise business alongside my career coaching work, whilst I juggled a young family, I had absolutely no experience of direct sales and marketing. The franchise which has since become Flamingo Paperie (used to be Phoenix Trading Cards for those who love their cards and stationery see https://www.flamingopaperie.co.uk/web/corp/ if you are interested) provided a structure for me to quickly gain these skills. It also put me in contact with other more experienced sellers whom I could learn from. It was so energising and confidence building to find I could do something totally different to my original career strand. A recent client found the same when she became a part-time self-employed consultant for TempleSpa’s “Spa to Go” concept sold via home parties. Check it out at https://www.templespa.com/discover-templespa-in-home

What are the downsides of portfolio working?

Juggling priorities: if you are wearing a number of different work hats, so to speak, it can require quite a lot of energy and organisation skills to balance their different requirements. It can sometimes feel as if you’re “jack of all trades” and master of none. As a portfolio worker myself, in any one day, I can be put on three different work hats. For example, I might be facilitating career related webinars for one consultancy in the morning, then coaching expat partners for another, followed by some e-book writing for my own consultancy in the evening.

Earnings are not so clear cut: you don’t need to automatically assume that when you have a portfolio career that you earn less than you would working full time for one organisation. However, your income now that it is coming from a number of different streams is less clearly defined and you might potentially need to be regularly sourcing new work. It is important to consider how you can monetise doing things that you love and that interest you. For example, if you enjoy writing and dream of making money out of blogging then do listen to the Problogger podcasts series (https://problogger.com/podcast/). Alternatively, could you create something like an online training course or e-book that requires an upfront effort on your part but then brings money in on an ongoing basis with little further input? I did this a few years ago when I wrote an e-book about Assessment Centres via a Danish business publisher Bookboon, and each quarter I get a nice dollop of royalties into my bank account. Check out https://bookboon.com/en/assessment-centres-ebook if you have an area of expertise that you could offer to write about.

The first step on the question of finances is to identify roughly how much money you need to make per month and then consider how you charge for whatever you are doing. Rather than charging by the hour for business consulting, you could propose a package of sessions to a prospective client for example.

Lack of routine: If you prefer to focus on one thing in depth then portfolio working may not be for you. You need to enjoy and thrive on multi-tasking. You need to be motivated to be able to take the initiative and drive your various career strands forward without a manager looking over your shoulder and guiding you forward. You can of course seek out a career coach or business advisor to provide that ongoing mentoring and external sounding board.

Isolation: depending on what you are doing in your portfolio, it’s likely that you won’t be embedded amongst the same team five days a week. If you enjoy the social and supportive aspect of that type of environment, you need to consider how you will meet that need in your portfolio career. The “Jelly Network” in the UK (https://www.uk-jelly.org.uk/what-is-jelly/) is a very extensive and cost free structure for portfolio and small business workers to tap into. There is bound to be a meeting hub near you where you could interact with other portfolio workers.

How to explore portfolio working further?

Identify the skills, traits or knowledge that you possess which you would be interested in incorporating into your portfolio. What do you love doing either from your working life to date or in your hobbies? What could you monetise? For example, John loves mountain walking so has recently trained as a guide and also a Duke of Edinburgh assessor. Could you teach something that others would find valuable? Could you offer a service, such as coaching or public speaking? Could you make a physical product?

  1. Seek feedback from others to identify if there is a demand for what you have on offer and start to build your marketing position
  2. Talk to others who are already portfolio workers for their advice and insights. Reach out to IPSE for practical advice on taxation and other issues (https://www.ipse.co.uk/)
  3. If you are currently working and want to develop a second strand to your career, start doing this a project outside of work hours, in the evening or at the weekends or by taking holiday to do so. You could take a coaching qualification and be offering coaching alongside your day job or delivery university courses or some type of training. Ensure there is no conflict of interest with whatever you do in your day job. Always aim to try things out in a no / low risk way
  4. If you are looking for work at present and are drawn to the idea of having a portfolio of offerings, then get started. Find varied things you can do for individuals or organisations either paid or unpaid. Incorporate volunteering (check out do-it.org) as a way of demonstrating a variety of skill sets


Hopefully this article has given you some understanding of what portfolio working is all about. If you would like advice on building a portfolio career do get in touch with me at sally@swcareercoaching.com