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Is a portfolio career a good idea during these times?

With so many people out of work and so few opportunities on offer, there has been a record number of new companies launched during the pandemic.

Diane Hall


Dog Balancing lemons on its paw

Whilst working for yourself brings a raft of benefits, there’s no denying that it’s a precarious place to be, as a young business, in a time when our economy is beginning to keel from the pressure of the global crisis.

A part-time, regular income from an employer, perhaps in a related field, would relieve some of the stress around income as you build your business. Money that can help you budget and meet your bills, whilst also giving you the chance to earn much more from the weekly working hours remaining…though this may not have been a scenario to aspire to before Covid reared its head, it may be a good way to weather the storm.

It’s not such a wild idea—those with a sensible head on their shoulders, who may be working full-time but who yearn to be their own boss, cut their hours and build their businesses slowly, only handing in their notice to their employer when they’re sure their new business can sustain their income. Then there are others coming at things from the other direction (like me), who, after being self-employed for a while and realising that there’s not the growth or sustainability to provide a full-time income, opt to take some of the stress away by returning to part-time work, whilst still holding on to all the best bits of their business.

Not every company is destined to rival Branson’s. There are plenty of hobby businesses bolstering the incomes of people across the land.

A portfolio career doesn’t have to involve self-employment, of course. Some people just choose to work for more than one employer for a variety of reasons: to explore greater creativity, for the flexibility of different hours, to take an exciting part-time/newly-created opportunity, to eradicate boredom, for greater earning power, etc., etc.

I have the attention level of a goldfish, yet I have a burning desire to always feel fulfilled by my work. This currently sees me with two jobs and a hobby business—and I’m on the lookout for a third employed role.

The upsides of my situation are worth the juggling. I’m rarely bored; I have a range of duties and no two days are the same. I am fulfilled in different ways from the three positions (which are quite different), and I often earn much more than what I budget for each month. I have a wider range of skills and greater experience than if I worked for one employer. I enjoy greater personal growth and I’m continually reinventing myself. If I have a bad day in any one of my positions (we’re all human, it happens!) it’s short-lived. I don’t worry too much about losing an income stream, as I still have the others to fall back on—a benefit that has proved an absolute godsend during the pandemic, with so much uncertainty in the air.

I’m lucky that my work commitments are wholly flexible, and that they’re the kind of roles I can leave at the door until the next time I’m present (admittedly, it would be much more difficult if I couldn’t compartmentalise my working life in this way). I have only had my portfolio career for the last couple of years, after vowing never to put all my eggs in one basket with one employer following an unwelcome experience. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to one specific opportunity or one business. I’ve become addicted to the variety.

Portfolio careers may be a good way to battle the pandemic and the years of austerity and economy-building that are undoubtedly beyond it. A number of businesses will be fragile as they try and get back to where they were before Covid, and they may be less likely to commit to (or be able to afford) a full-time employee. It was common knowledge that there were few ‘jobs for life’ before the virus took hold, and it has only succeeded in exacerbating this.

4 people in a row holding briefcases wearing business attire.

4 people in a row holding briefcases wearing business attire.

A portfolio, at the very least, gives you control over your career, for many of the reasons already mentioned. For some people, that will be enough amid a precarious economy and an over-populated job market. The contacts you’ll make, the experience you’ll gain and the ability to self-manage, self-discipline and self-motivate will make you a very attractive option to any employer. If you also run a small business, you will bring valuable insights related to marketing and customer habits to your working role.

Whether forced on you or a considered decision, there are some true benefits that come with having a portfolio career. Those graduating and leaving academia may have to balance earning an income with the chasing of experience related to the career of their dreams…the latter may be unpaid for quite a while, until various industries pick back up.

A good number of us will have to adapt to the world on the other side of the pandemic in ways we may not have envisaged. Having a portfolio career may be something worth looking at, when you consider all the positives.

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