Portfolio careers

A few weeks ago I attended a helpful workshop on the subject of how to manage a portfolio career, which I guess is what I now have.  Loosely speaking, I would define such a career as one where the individual engages in more than one type of activity to make their living; and where those activities are not necessarily intrinsically connected with each other.

The first part of that definition is not especially problematic – it’s perfectly possible to hold down a series of jobs, either working part-time or on a contract basis, and earn your living by combining those incomes.  It’s what freelance employees have been doing for decades.

The second part of the definition is perhaps superficially more problematic.  If your areas of work are not intrinsically connected, then how do you hold them together; and does it raise problems of credibility with your clients?  For example, if I work Monday-Wednesday as a professional childminder, and then on Thursday and Friday as an accountant, how do I make sense of it all, and what do my clients think?

I work as a photographer, London tour guide, and business consultant.  From my own experience, I can’t say that I have yet experienced any problems from the client perspective.  I don’t bang on to my clients about my varied business outlets, but neither do I hide them.  Frankly, I find that provided a client knows they are getting 100% when I am with them, they aren’t too bothered what I do the rest of the time.

But what about the other question – how do I make sense of it all?  I suppose for me there have been three key learning points to date:

  • in every career role I have, the unifying principle is to try to provide a new perspective – whether that’s with a creative photo, a pointer towards a hitherto unrecognised part of London, or a strategic question which the business has not thought about before.  It is this creativity – an ability and willingness to look at things from a new perspetive – which underpins everything that I do.
  • what I learn in one role, I bring to another.  My photography is a passion, and it is also a business.  What I learn from running my own business helps me to advise others; and sometimes, lessons I learn when advising other businesses feed back into my own.
  • I’m defined by who I am and how I do things, not by what I do.  I used to be a civil servant, so when people asked me what I did, I had a nice neat answer.  These days, that answer is a bit rougher at the edges, and to start with I found that a little awkward.  I’m not sure anyone else had a problem with it – it was just me!  One of the biggest learning points is to be comfortable with not having such a tidy answer to that question, and not worrying too much about trying to find one!

If anyone else has experience of working in this way, then please do share your own experiences in the comments section below.

About simongregor

Photographer, business thinker and tour guide.
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