Shaun Lowthorpe Content Connective on work with portfolio career types

Is work with a portfolio career oriented candidate worth the hassle?

Portfolio careers are like one of those things which sound fantastic, yet ever so slightly mythical – like ‘Four Hour Work Weeks’, ‘Side Hustle’ projects or ‘Lifestyle Entrepreneurs’.

But mythical or not, it is a quest I am seeking to follow. Yet I can’t help wondering whether working with portfolio career types is an attractive option for clients and prospects?

The world of work is supposedly moving that way – or so we are told, and I’m struck by how for many younger workers it is a necessary fact of life.

But just how willing are traditional employers to embrace those seeking to build a portfolio career?

Does work with a  portfolio career oriented candidate outweigh the cons?

While a portfolio career may seem like a great option for the professional or freelancer pursuing it, I can see that there might be downsides to working with someone with a portfolio career mindset. You may feel that you are investing in a person, and yet their commitment is not solely to you and your business whereas you would expect their exclusive loyalty to you.

Or may be it just gets too fiddly having someone who may not wish to be with you full-time. On the flipside may be you have built your business that way, and like the flexibility of having someone with defined skillsets, who may not present an indefinite and expensive addition to your payroll.

I can see both sides.

But increasingly the upsides of working with a portfolio career person may outweigh the bad – not least as you don’t have their on costs to think about – unless you employ them, that is.

And they bring with them specialist skills which you may have a short-term need for on a bespoke project or growth phase. Crucially you can stand them down, or redeploy them as and when you need to – so done the right way, it should be a win-win.

1989 and the rise of portfolio workers

The phrase ‘Portfolio career’ has a Norfolk origin. It was coined by the management theorist Charles Handy, who has a home near Diss, in his book ‘The Age of Unreason’.
First published in 1989, the book peers into the future of work, business organisations and even relationships. Tellingly, it predicts the rise of the portfolio worker who may well mix fee-paying work with part-time work, ‘free’ work (ie voluntary roles) and ‘study’ work (continuous learning), as well as ‘home’ work (by which he means looking after house and home, kids, or even elderly parents).

Crucially he regards all of them as work (which my wife was very pleased to hear).

I interviewed him once and have been so influenced by his ideas that for the last three years I’ve been trying to put them into practice.

The Age of Unreason

Reading the book again recently, it has also encouraged me to change tack as I develop my own portfolio career.
Moving into year four of working for myself, my goals have alternated between building a business in what many might regard as the conventional route – ie to create jobs directly, have a premises, an exit etc – to something less tangible.

Recently, I’ve been concentrating on freelance project work, targeting businesses and organisations who didn’t want to commit to long-term contracts or agency fees and bringing in freelance contractors to help me out when there’s a lot to be done. It’s working so far.

I’ve also been working with London-based businesses, who regard me as price competitive compared to what they’d pay in the capital.
But there is one thing I haven’t until now added to the mix – working directly for someone else part-time, or on limited/interim contracts.

Adding to the mix of work with a portfolio career approach

This has partly because up until now I’ve been focusing on being my own boss. But there are some circumstances now where I’m keen to create an opportunity in order to balance the portfolio (so to speak). These would include working for:

1. A not-for-profit or charitable organisation
2. An educational organisation
3. An organisation which is ‘putting something’ back and trying to improve people’s lives

Making a difference

What I’ve come to realise is that for the 16 years I was working as a journalist there was something else driving me on which was as, if not more important than the money (don’t laugh if you know anything about journalists’ pay) and that was the sense of public service and doing something which could make a difference.

For all the commercial acumen I’ve developed over the years, it was that which really got me out of bed in the morning. And without sounding too pious, I’m looking for roles where I can put something back.

What I don’t know is how willing businesses and organisations are to work with a portfolio career type – ie someone like me with an approach like that?
I’m now hoping to find out.

What happens now?

If your business needs to build extra capacity to hit your growth targets and you lack the resources to do it internally – then call Shaun NOW on 07708 855 486 or email