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Building a Portfolio Career

Do you want to develop a portfolio career after your career break? Are you not quite sure whether you’d be suited to it?  Our guest blogger, Ally Maughan of People Puzzles can help.

‘Portfolio career’ is a phrase that is gaining traction and popularity, but it’s meaning is often still a little murky. Defined as having several part-time jobs at once, rather than one full time role, it has the potential to be very flexible, varied and immensely satisfying. So why aren’t more people doing it?

At People Puzzles we have built our business on hiring HR Directors who have left a busy, often national or international corporate role, who want to work in a different way, whether that is to facilitate more time with the family, a better work-life balance, or is the start of a journey into retirement. We help our team to develop portfolios of clients, typically working with between six and 10 different companies, working with each between three and six days per month.

That means we spend a lot of time thinking about who is best suited to a portfolio career, how can we help people succeed, what are the challenges, and how do we find brilliant people who can quickly adapt to a different life.

Start with the why.

We always start with why someone wants to build a portfolio career. It certainly is not the easy option: imagine trying to find five jobs at the same time instead of just one! Recruiters don’t typically work in this market, your CV is usually designed for a corporate role, and you are often offering services to people who don’t have a budget, don’t know they need what you have to offer, or have never heard of someone working in a portfolio way.

That is why the why is so important. You have to be absolutely committed to this way of working. To knowing you value flexibility, usually over income in the short term, and sometimes in the short term. You often don’t get a benefits package, paid holiday or sick leave. What you can get is lucrative work, full flexibility, more availability in school holidays, and such a variety of work that no two days are the same.

Here are five top things we think you will need to be successful:

1.     Aptitude
Not every personality type or behavioural approach is suited to portfolio working. There is a lot of juggling, switching attention between your different roles and responsibilities, which are usually in different locations meaning every day is in a different place. How do you react when there is a problem at one of your clients? Can you quickly prioritise, act and problem solve? How do you manage working for three or more different bosses without going quietly mad?

Portfolio working can often work best when you have expert skills to offer, you can keep the roles you have long term, and you can quickly build and maintain relationships in each role. Seriously consider if this describes you and the way you approach work, otherwise a permanent full or part time job may well suit you better.

2.     Energy & enthusiasm
Building a portfolio is a time consuming business. If finding one job normally takes a couple of months at a senior level, finding three, or even up to 10 can take a year. You will need to be overflowing with energy, enthusiasm and optimism to build your portfolio. This will also help you land opportunities as, in our experience, people buy a smiling, positive person over a glass half empty kind of person.

3.     Your proposition
What is it that you are really selling? Who will buy it? How much will you charge? Having left a career as an employee, moving into selling your services in a different way can take some careful thought, development and testing (there is a reason there are so many Focus Groups on The Apprentice!). As People Puzzles has grown, we have had the luxury of spending a bit of money on senior marketing people. They have helped us to develop what we sell, who buys it, why they buy it, what problems we really solve, and why clients would buy from us not from someone else. Think about what makes you different, what value you deliver and what problems you solve. Buyers typically want problems to be solved rather than pie in the sky dreams to be fulfilled. Take a day out and really hammer this out if you are going it alone.

4.     Routes to market
Any good marketing strategy covers how your buyers will find you. If you are starting a portfolio career the easiest and cheapest way to get started will be to go and join someone else’s business that is already offering this. Of course you will have to share in the fees, but this is often very cost effective when you consider the costs of a website, blogs, networking, setting up a sales function etc.

If you are committed to trying it on your own, think about what partnerships you will need, how you will meet your clients, what events to attend, and whether digital marketing is going to deliver you good opportunities. If you have a lump sum, you can always buy a franchise, but remember you will still need to do most of the sales work yourself.

5.     A network
Without a doubt, being established as an expert in a network is of crucial importance to quickly growing a portfolio. And that network needs to be relevant to the services you are offering right now. If you are well known in corporate circles, can you sell back in to that market? We estimate it takes 1-2 years to build a network in the SME market, so build that into your plans for getting busy.

It may seem a daunting challenge, but for those that persevere, portfolio working can be an extremely rewarding and flexible career choice. When it doesn’t work, our advice is to go and find something else that you enjoy and that is easier to maintain. However, if you really understand what you are selling, and have the contacts to maintain a steady stream of opportunities, it can be a way of working that you maintain over decades.

Ally Maughan, Founder and CEO of People Puzzles, provider of portfolio HR Directors. People Puzzles is part of The Liberti Group, a global provider of high calibre part-time professionals with opportunities for portfolio FDs, Marketing Directors, IT Directors, Financial Controllers and Finance Managers.