What is a portfolio career and could be right for you? Female vlogger in front of camera

What is a portfolio career, and could it be right for you?

23rd May 2024

Once upon a time, a career meant one job at a time, bagging that promotion, and climbing the corporate ladder. It’s certainly what a traditional career looks like but more recently another type of career has emerged and is becoming increasingly popular. It’s called a portfolio career and with it is a shift in attitude in how we work and why we work. But what is a portfolio career, and could it be right for you? Read on to explore that very question.

What is a portfolio career?

A portfolio career is a career that embraces having several job titles, often simultaneously, to generate multiple income sources. You might have a main full-time paid job but freelance on the side. You might mix a part-time job with a side hustle or run your own start-up / passion project in your spare time.

Examples vary depending on your skills and experience. You could have a variety of technical skills that fall into the creative sector such as a graphic designer who freelances as a videographer on the side, or a marketing executive who runs their own blogging channel.

You may be an expert in your field and your in-depth sector-relevant knowledge lends itself to mentoring, tutoring, talking at conferences or webinars, writing white papers and so forth. Examples include academics, mental health practitioners, researchers, thought leaders, CEOs.

You could have completely unrelated skills and still find a link that provides value to audiences and/or employers. The most obvious example are YouTubers who have knowledge in any number of subjects – psychology, health, DIY, crafts, gardening, finance, travel etc – and can shoot and edit a video, plus are not afraid of getting in front of the camera.

Differences between portfolio and traditional career

With a traditional career you generally only have one income stream, and because you can expect it to be a regular salary, there’s a sense of stability from that knowledge. With a portfolio career, your income derives from multiple sources, which means you are responsible for continuously generating business, along with the admin that goes with it such as negotiating prices, sending invoices, dealing with your own taxes.

Another difference is with a career portfolio there’s more sense self-management. You may be a freelancer or run your own business on the side or juggle a ‘main gig’ with a few passion projects, either way it means you have to have the impetus to get projects started and then manage the spinning project plates to keep them going. All this takes more ownership. With a traditional career, the energy is at the ‘start’ when you get recruited into a job with a job title / description the company has created, and then again when you decide to leave to get another job/promotion and the cycle begins again. With a career portfolio, you get to decide the job titles and job descriptions and you get to base it on your own unique set of skills, interests and experience.

Structurally, traditional careers are like ladders, linear, usually upward in trajectory. Whilst portfolio careers are like trees where the branches are the different jobs and skills. How far the branch grows is up to you.

What are the benefits of a portfolio career?

There are plenty of benefits to having a portfolio career:

  • You might lose one client but that means just losing part of your income stream. Losing a traditional job through redundancy or because that job role is becoming obsolete means losing your whole income in one swoop.
  • You gain different skills, including transferable and soft skills through working a variety of job roles: ditto work and life experience.
  • There’s the potential to work flexibly and remotely with a portfolio career. If you crack it, in the long-run, it can mean improved work-life balance; working to suit your life and your schedule rather than somebody else’s.
  • You can take charge of your own career progression and salary. You don’t have to wait for a promotion opportunity to come up or the annual appraisal to come round because it’s in your own hands.
  • Portfolio careers are rising in popularity with employers because they benefit from hiring talent for specific projects, adding more diversity to their workforce (even if it is on a temporary freelance basis).

Is a portfolio career right for me?

What type of person does a portfolio career suit? Here’s a checklist (by no means exhaustive!):

  • Do you have an interest in lots of different subjects, not just one?
  • Do you have any of these sought-after skills? Copywriting, marketing, graphic design, video filming / editing, SEO expert, social media management? You can use them to diversify your main job; for example, a yoga practitioner who runs classes, markets their own business, and films/edits their own yoga videos for their website/YouTube channel.
  • Do you find it difficult to decide on just one job to settle into? A portfolio career is a chance to try out many.
  • Do you find the idea of doing the same job all the time boring and look for variety?
  • Are you willing to upskill to get the expertise you need to diversify?

If you’re one of our distance learners, you’ll already have many of the skills and aptitude that lends you to a portfolio career – here’s how:

  • You’re already adept at jugging priorities having had experience of studying alongside your job and family commitments.
  • Through studying, you’ve learnt to take ownership of your own development and career progression, an attitude required for portfolio careerists.
  • You’ve had a taste of remote learning and realised how beneficial it can be and you’re ready for remote working.

How can I start a portfolio career?

There are lots of ways you can start your portfolio career and you may already be doing it. First thing is to recognise your skills and expertise; ask yourself how they might link or be applied together to start a new passion project / freelance offer, side hustle, start-up.

Many people are afraid to give up their main job. The worry is giving up a steady income or finding the time alongside a full-time job. That’s fine; keep the main gig and start small with other projects. You’ll be able to see if this way of working suits you and eventually you can wind down the ‘day job’ from 5 days to 4/3/2 and grow the other work, if that’s what you want.

Changing times

It’s fair to say that we have seen a shift in the workplace, particularly since the pandemic and the ‘Great Resignation’.  More than ever, we value work-life balance; we work to live, not live to work as the saying goes. Workforce demographics and attitudes are changing. In the future, we will likely be working for longer; gone are the days of retiring in your fifties or early sixties. We will have to ask ourselves are we happy to work the same way as we have always done, or will something need to change? And if we say yes, we want a change, then the portfolio career could very well be the solution.