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Portfolio Careers – A Different Way To Monetise Your Skills

Written by Ollie Burt 

If you find yourself always on the lookout for opportunities, have a constant itch for the side-hustle or just find a traditional career with a single function doesn’t fit – it might be time to consider a portfolio career.

In this article, I’m going to start by taking a look at my own portfolio career (feel free to skip that bit of self-indulgence) as well as explain what a portfolio career is and finally share my single piece of advice for starting one for yourself and becoming your own boss.

My path to a portfolio career

I’ve always had multiple business projects on the go – some have been very successful, others not so much. My two brothers are the same, it’s not something we set out for, it’s just what we were taught … diversify, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. A lesson learned by many a business owner who has faced the prospect of losing it all, and had the drive to go again. If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it is.

This has always been the norm to me and was reflected in my professional development. While my peers were specialising and setting down a predictable path post-grad, I was generalising more and more. At first, this was out of necessity – too many tasks and not enough resource. But later, it helped me branch out with my thinking on how to best use my skills and time for maximum impact.

Nova is probably the closest representation of what I do – help businesses succeed online. But you may know I also work in video streaming through Zidivo. In the past, I’ve simultaneously been involved in projects as varied as telco, hosting, industrial maintenance software and a website that sold hundreds of varieties of sack truck – I’d rather not talk about that one.

The point is, that while the skills I use for each of these roles is generally along the same lines – marketing – how I use them, in what configuration, changes depending on the project requirements. It’s not a typical single company, single-function position that most people expect. But honestly, I prefer it.

Turns out, I’m not alone.

In the UK, over 250,000 people define their work as a portfolio career and this number is only going to grow. But what defines a portfolio career, how do you know if you have one – and more importantly, how do you start one?

What is a portfolio career?

The idea behind a portfolio career is to leverage your skills – whatever they may be – in multiple ways that can earn you money. It could be that you have two sets of skills that are polar opposites, or, as I said above, they can be the same skills – just utilised in a different way. It could mean monetising a hobby or specialist skill, or it could simply mean rebranding yourself for a different audience.

Portfolio careers come in all shapes and sizes. I know a full-time graphic designer that produces Formula 1 prints in his spare time; I know a baker that sells bespoke cakes (locally), as well as letterbox brownies (nationally) under two distinct brands; and I know several people that work multiple part-time jobs in order to make time for passion projects.

I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way to define someone as having a portfolio career – it’s a mindset. Perhaps the main distinction is that it provides you with multiple sources of income rather than the single wage you’d get working for a single company.

The idea behind having a portfolio career is nothing new. Senior professionals and academics have always been working the angles and diversifying based on their skills and experience – whether through consultations, speaking engagements or more philanthropic endeavours.

What’s new, is that in the digital age, anyone – regardless of experience or status – can leverage their own unique set of skills for a successful portfolio career.

Many early portfolio careers often rely on the established gig economy, with freelancers offering their services to multiple companies on a short-term basis through platforms like 99designs, fiverr and Upwork. These freelancers can often refine and develop their various offerings over time into well-established personal brands.

The other route into a portfolio career is through side projects and this is the path for most of the startups and entrepreneurs I work with through Nova. It’s a familiar story… you have a full-time job, but it’s not as rewarding as it could be – what you really want is the freedom, flexibility and potential upward mobility that comes with running your own business. Enter the side-hustle.

Whether you’re looking to go “full-time” as a freelancer or want to build a side project that could one day replace your main job – the goal is the same: work with who you want, how you want, when you want doing what you love. It’s also possible for many to earn more this route than as a traditional employee – but it’ll take work.

How to start a portfolio career

Most new business owners I speak to through Nova have already taken the plunge and decided to move forward with their idea for a new revenue stream. They are usually fully committed to making it happen at this point and will have figured out a lot by themselves already, and it’s a great time to speak to them. It’s possibly the most enjoyable part of working with startups and small business owners, filling in the blanks and enabling them to move onto another level.

Typically, those that come my way already know what they want to do, how it will work commercially for them and how to fulfil it as a service. The hurdles I help overcome usually involve brand positioning and establishing an online presence. We go through the process of developing the right logo, website and digital marketing strategy to get the business up and running and bringing in paid work quickly and within budget.

We provide all these services via Nova. If you’re looking for help establishing your online presence, or just need some advice – get in touch for an informal chat.

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But what about those who don’t get that far…

Many people you speak to will have some lingering idea or a desire to start their own business, an itch that they’d love to scratch – but they don’t. And it’s not because the thought of being their own boss doesn’t appeal to them – they crave that same flexibility and freedom as everyone.

It’s because they don’t know where to start.

The biggest barrier to starting a portfolio career, to committing to doing something new professionally, is the unknowns. Too many unknowns and the prospect of starting your own business starts to look like too much of a risk. But it doesn’t have to be.

Taking that first step towards a portfolio career is probably the most daunting, but you don’t have to take it alone. I’m not going to take you through all the steps of identifying your monetisable skills or defining your new business – that’s a huge topic, one that I couldn’t possibly do justice to within a single blog post.

So here is my single piece of advice, if the idea of a portfolio career appeals to you and you’re stuck on where to start – get help. Speak to experts in your industry, ask for advice from people who have done it already – you’d be surprised how generous people can be with their time in this type of situation.

I’ve recently joined The Portfolio Collective – a great community of professionals looking to mentor, network and help each other succeed in their own portfolio careers. There are loads of free resources, workshops and live networking events that anyone can join. It really is a great place to start. And if this sounds like a plug, it is – once you join the community you can add me to your network here.

If you need help getting up and running with your new business idea, we can help. Get in touch for an informal chat and we’ll point you in the right direction – no sales pitch, no obligations.

Originally published 25th June 2021
Last edited 16th October 2023

Written by Ollie Burt

Ollie Burt is a full-stack marketer and Director at Nova. A specialist in helping small businesses and startups succeed online, he enjoys running (and beer). You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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