As we approach the mid-point in our working lives, many of us take time to reflect. It can be a poignant moment, often raising the question of how to make work more enjoyable.
We already know the world of work is dramatically changing, naturally raising the question how we will work in the future.
Official data tells us we’re living longer and because pension funds are not delivering the returns we’d hoped for, we’re realising we’ll also need to work for longer. The gradual increases in statutory pension age reflect this.
Emerging scientific research also indicates that the more cognitive function we can maintain in older age, the more likely we are to protect ourselves against dementia and other cognitive decline. This undoubtedly fuels a desire to remain mentally active for longer.
As technology assumes more of the routine tasks within our workplaces, job functions will become increasingly fragmented. This fragmentation will, we believe, lead to increased part-time work and self-employment, as businesses simply won’t need the volumes of full-time staff. Younger cohorts are already showing themselves to be more open to self-employment, preferring more autonomy over their careers. We’ve written about this previously.
By midlife, however, most of us have accumulated a set of skills and experiences that can be leveraged. As we strive to create more purpose in the second half of our working lives, we recognise that our expertise is valuable.
As we explore the various options available, more and more of us are alighting upon the portfolio career as a viable career choice.
So, what is the portfolio career? Known also as ’going plural’, the portfolio approach is about providing services, usually consultative or advisory, to a variety of businesses concurrently, rather than working for one client at a time. The primary benefit for the client is access to a niche set of expertise for less cost than a full-time alternative. For the portfolio practitioner, risk is spread; it’s highly unlikely that all client work will cease simultaneously. Portfolio professionals also talk enthusiastically of the satisfaction derived from working flexibly across a variety of clients.
One such portfolio careerist is John Shinnick, who today blends coach-mentoring-advisory work with non-executive directorships and charitable work. John left a successful career as a partner for a leading professional services firm five years ago, but felt it was too soon to stop completely. He wanted to ’remain purposeful’ but also achieve work-life balance. Fast-forward and today John leads a deeply fulfilled work-life, supporting a number of ambitious senior executives and business owners. He blends this with a passion for photography and volunteer work for the Mines Advisory Group. John says:
"I’m nearly five years out of a long-term professional services career and now live a portfolio life. I love it. I can accept roles, I can reject roles. I can work in spaces where I feel very comfortable, I can push myself to go out into areas that are relatively new for me."
When asked what he loves best about this lifestyle, he says, "The freedom. The freedom to say yes and no, to choose things that I am excited about doing and the ability to scale it to my time commitment - currently, I’m involved around 50% of my time."
The portfolio career as a deliberate career choice is on the up. One thriving company that helps C-Suite executives embrace this lifestyle is the UK-headquartered Liberti Group, parent company for a number of brands that provide part-time directors across the finance, marketing, sales, HR, IT and legal sectors. In their words, they provide these professionals "to SMEs who either don’t want, don’t need or can’t afford a full-time in-house executive." Their executives are quick to extol the benefits of the enhanced work-life balance they enjoy, the stimulation of working concurrently across several businesses, and the sense of freedom and control that this way of working affords.
While a portfolio career can be deeply satisfying, it’s not all plain-sailing, of course. Client relationships are crucial and strong interpersonal skills are key. Be prepared for an extended runway too; it takes time to build the trust that underpins a successful client portfolio, and even with the team support of an organisation like Liberti Group, it can still take some months to find clients that are a good fit.
John Shinnick says that both self-belief and self-awareness are crucial. As a portfolio executive, you are ’Brand You’ and it’s vital to identify, and remember, the value that you bring and to market this in all business activity. This is a necessary adjustment that needs to be made in order to survive and thrive in the world of self-employment. Alternatively, you may not be comfortable working as a solopreneur, preferring a team-based approach such as that offered by the Liberti Group. Liberti Group executives favour the collaborative approach and being part of something bigger.
One final consideration. The portfolio lifestyle requires solid self-discipline. Balancing multiple client commitments is a juggle and being able to organise oneself effectively is key. This said, the myriad benefits of this approach provide huge satisfaction, and our sense is that going plural is going to become a far more commonplace way of working as the workplace continues to disrupt and fragment.