How do I start a portfolio career?

Have you got any tips for how to start a portfolio career, what the benefits might be and what things I should consider before embarking on this? I am keen to get greater flexibility and to branch out from my current role and do different things, but I want the security of a regular work rather than a freelance career.

Mature lady working at home on a laptop


You’re wise thinking about the pros and cons of portfolio working, and it’s good to think carefully about how this working style would match your personality.

If you enjoy independence, variety and freedom of action this could be a great fit. However, there are negative factors – having to market yourself and manage a pipeline of future work projects, for example. Another big downside for many people is reduced peer support and less opportunities for team working, and sometimes people miss having a long-term connection with an organisation.

The good news is that many of these problem areas can be anticipated and balanced. If income security is important, try to line up a couple of paid engagements before you begin, so you have your basic costs covered. Make connections now so that conversations which lead to longer-term projects begin soon. Focus on what makes you distinctive rather than pitching as a generalist.

The most important step is to talk to people already enjoying portfolio careers, especially those driven by security and the need for a predictable work flow. Building on what you learn, you can plan for the right blend of retained, contract and possibly also part-time salaried work – and plan to adjust the mix down the line as your needs change.

*John Lees is one of the UK’s best-known career strategists and author of 15 books on work and careers. How to Get a Job You Love (now in its eleventh edition) regularly tops the list of best-selling careers books by a British author and was twice selected as the WH Smith Business Book of the Month.


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