How to build and thrive in a portfolio career

Adding another string to your professional bow may be just what you need if youre feeling jaded and demotivated.

For sure, there are days when you feel stuck in a groundhog day. You may even be thinking about chucking it all in and pursuing a career that is completely unrelated to accountancy. But rather than do something drastic (opening a cat rescue centre, anyone? training to become a shepherd?), perhaps what you need is a bit more variety in your working life.

Portfolio careers becoming popular

More and more people are now embarking on a portfolio career, choosing to split their time and skills between two or more roles.

“So, someone might be working in a marketing role but then they will also take on another skill or career choice, say as a fitness or lifestyle coach,” says Viki Holton, Research Fellow at Hult International Business School and co-author of forthcoming book Career Agility: Strategies for Success. “Often, the second role is where this person’s real passion lies.” 

Portfolio careers are increasingly popular among accountants, too.

“Accountancy is actually a great base for a portfolio career – you’ve got strong business foundations and acumen,” says Emma Maslin, author of an award-winning personal finance blog The Money Whisperer.

She says: “Although I started the blog as a hobby, it’s developed into a great income stream and my personal finance expertise has brought me lots of other opportunities including speaking, social media campaigns and freelance writing for brands in the personal finance industry.”

Maslin also offers money coaching and will soon be launching online courses. She has recently co-authored a book (she says she’s got “the writing bug”) and, if all this isn’t enough, she also manages buy-to-let property, both her own and for others.

Benefits

In a portfolio career, you never have to do one thing for so long that it becomes a grind.

“Portfolio working, if you get it right, offers a high degree of satisfaction simply because you get to manage your time so that you spend more of it doing enjoyable work,” says John Lees, careers expert and author of How to Get a Job You Love.

Maslin loves the variety. “I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing day in, day out. On weeks when I’m not feeling hugely inspired about what to write on my blog, I work on other things.”

She adds: “Another huge benefit is that my work isn’t location dependent, I can write or coach from anywhere on my phone and laptop. This means I can spend a lot of time away with my family during the school holidays.” 

The need to balance her own career and family responsibilities is what’s prompted Annette Powell to start a nail & beauty business alongside running her practice, Zenza. 

“My 14-year-old daughter Laura has an acquired brain injury and also suffers from fatigue – these issues create barriers for her future career prospects. As her mum I know where she excels and also her limitations, and I want to give her the best opportunity when she leaves school.”

Laura and Powell’s other daughter Katelyn both have an interest in nails and make up, which is where the idea for the business (called Powellette) came from. “I was particularly interested in nails as it’s a repetitive task and repetition is very important to Laura, it enables the subject to enter her long-term memory.”

Powell hopes that her daughters will run the business together one day. “At the moment, I plan to work within this new business part time over the next 18 months, to grow the client base to be able to offer Laura an apprenticeship.”

She adds: “The time I take out of Zenza gives me the opportunity to reflect on and improve things in my main business, I get this clarity when I’m not in the thick of it.”

Juggling it all

Granted, keeping several balls in the air at the same time can also be a challenge.

“It can be hard to maintain a healthy work/life balance and your stress levels can rocket too,” says Holton. 

Although Maslin says she finds her work less stressful now than when she was working in Big 4 corporate finance. “Property management only requires input when tenants change over or there are maintenance issues, and the rest doesn’t have to fit into 9-5.” In fact, she can work when it suit her best.

It’s easier if your first or main venture is well-established, too. “I have a excellent team around me at Zenza so it can operate when I’m not there,” says Powell.

But isn’t she worried what her bookkeeping clients might think when they discover she’s gone into “nail & beauty”?

“They may be surprised by it, although many know of my personal situation and will appreciate why I’m doing it. In fact, I’ve launched the business to a number of my business contacts and they all thought it’s a well-planned and very forward-thinking thing to do.” 

Going portfolio

Do consider downsides before you go portfolio, says Lees. “Talk to people who are already doing it and learn from their mistakes.”

Have you got what it takes to make it work?

Holton says: “Think carefully about your values and drivers: what are you looking for from the second role? Do you have sufficient knowledge of any rules and regulations that will apply to you? Do you have the support of your partner and the rest of the family? Also, be realistic in terms of what you can manage.”

Do you need to skill up? “I intend to take appointments at Powellette, so I’ve completed my nail manicure and gel nail courses through the Beauty Guild, and I’m about to complete ‘acrylic nails’,” says Powell. “It’s challenging as this takes completely different skills to my day job.”

Start low-key, too. “Spend time building interest and customers, without high financial investment. That might come later once you know you can really make it work,” says Holt.

She also suggests trying a new avenue first through volunteering work. “Dip your toe in the water before you make more of a commitment.”  

Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

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