Total Business Magazine

Should You Quit Your Corporate Job and ‘Go Portfolio’?

The gig economy has been a hot talking point for businesses, governments and unions. Whilst it has unfairly garnered some negative headlines, it’s become apparent that there is a struggle to understand the impact this style of working can have in the longer term.

Here Pat Lynes, a business transformation expert, author of The Interim Revolution and Founder and CEO of Sullivan & Stanley, talks Total Business through the key steps towards a portfolio career.

With the gig economy swelling from 12% of the labour force in 2001 to 15.1% in 2017,1  it is showing no sign of slowing down. Evidently, those involved in the gig economy are generally younger, with over half (56%) aged 18 to 34 years old.2 However, as the gig economy should be open to everyone, why aren’t more board level senior leaders from a broader age range working in this way? Instead of running away from this flexible style of working, we should be embracing it to ensure that it works for us, rather than against us.

The world has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Then, most people picked a profession and stayed within one organisation for their working life. We’re now living in a new world where there are more options. There’s more choice to change companies, careers, retirement age and the added flexibility to work part-time in a way that puts our lifestyles first. With these changes, it also opens up options for more people to embrace the gig economy. This step – although not to be taken lightly – needs to be taken confidently. For those senior leaders within an industry, a positive stepping stone into this world is through portfolio work.

A portfolio worker is a highly skilled senior executive who works on a number of simultaneous projects for different organisations, rather than just one strand to their career. This style of work can either run alongside permanent and part-time work or operate solely independently. Providers of portfolio work understand that people aren’t one-dimensional and fit into a neat box –  they have different skills, experiences and interests. Although it can be quite a leap to go from the safety net of a punchy annual salary, with guaranteed holiday and the security blanket of employee benefits, once they take the jump, the majority never look back.

Portfolio work can offer a number of benefits – including working across a variety of areas or specialising in a few, to achieving a better work-life balance, or simply not having to deal with the corporate office politics. More importantly, portfolio work helps people create their career by design, as they want it. This freedom creates more emotional and physical energy, resulting in higher levels of creativity which in turn offer more valuable insights and solutions. The expression “knowledge is power” couldn’t be truer for this line of work and only when people go portfolio, do they realise the full power of their own personal knowledge.

If this has got your mind racing on whether you should take the plunge and ‘go portfolio’, here are the five most important steps you’ll need to take:

1. Prepare for portfolio

Set yourself an 18-month plan and stick to it. Going portfolio isn’t an easy feat, so you will need to invest the time, money and planning to make sure you’re stable enough to make this move effectively. By all means, jump straight in, but give yourself the best chance by being prepared as possible.

2. Have the right mindset

As with all jobs, there can be highs and lows. Even with the ability to mix between employment and self-employment you’ve still decided to take this step alone, meaning the quieter times will be more mentally testing. Be ready for this and you will gradually build up your resilience which will, in turn, boost your confidence and increase your quality and frequency of portfolio work.

3. Brand yourself

Before taking the leap, you will need to ask yourself two important questions:

    1. What is it you love doing?
    2. What do you want to specialise in?

These answers will shape the kind of portfolio worker you will be. Additionally, it will allow you to work in an area that will give you the drive to find work and become a master in your specialism.

4. Network like a pro

A key mistake by all workers including portfolio is not spending enough time networking. In the portfolio landscape, you’re only as good as your network. So make sure you start early. Put yourself out there, organise weekly networking meetings, write a blog or share videos – let people know who you are and that you mean business.

5. Get advice

Now you have this vast network of contacts, it’s worth putting them to use. Get advice from people already doing portfolio work, find out more from their personal journeys and fully understand the pros and cons. In the long run, you can pay this forward and offer your advice and expertise to someone newly starting on their portfolio journey. The flexibility of going portfolio also opens up time to coach, mentor and give back to the community by charity work – the opportunities to offer your knowledge and advice is endless!

At present we are at the beginning of an ‘Interim Revolution’ a fork in the road for every business. I’m so passionate about this new wave of change I’ve written a book about it and launched a successful business transformation consultancy with corporate gig work at its heart. We parachute SWAT teams of the very best interim business thinkers into companies to create change from within.

For the business world to capitalise on this movement effectively and stay at the frontline of the revolution they need access to the best talent. Become a profound knowledge in your portfolio field and you will be an invaluable asset to employers.

So what is stopping you from packing up your corporate job and going portfolio?

Case study

Malcolm Lambell, is a Portfolio Chief Information Officer (CIO), Board Advisor on Technology Transformation and Digital and Cybercrime, CIO mentor and bestselling author. After a long career in senior IT Executive roles and over eight years of experience in the interim world leading major transformation programmes for the likes of Vertex Financial Services and Bupa, he decided to go portfolio.

Speaking with Malcolm, it took a year of planning to successfully move into the portfolio landscape. It was the challenge and diversity of the work, which drew Malcolm to make the move. The many benefits this style of work offers Malcolm include a positive work/life balance, allowing him to spend half a day week with his Grandson, a more effective way of working, meaning he can be efficient and productive across all outputs and an entrepreneurial edge, without the constraints of being permanent. Personally, he doesn’t see any downsides to portfolio work, other than it offers less money. However, it is a worthwhile price to pay for this rewarding style of work. But this doesn’t mean portfolio work is easy, it takes a certain mindset, good planning, creativity and confidence in knowledge and skills to successfully achieve.


1 Office of National Statistics ‘Trends in self-employment in the UK’ report 

2 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy ‘The Characteristics of the those in the gig economy’ report

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