Set Up a Portfolio Career

by Waller Jamison

A portfolio career takes planning and it has to be developed over time. So here are some steps to get you started. Get a notebook and give yourself an hour or two one wet weekend to begin planning your new career.

Spend some time writing down all the activities, skills and experience that you want to be part of your working life, then look at ways in which these might form part of a portfolio. For example, you might want to use some skills related to your present job, teach a hobby at evening class or run workshops in personal development.

Next, do some research to find out how you might develop each idea. Could you set up a small business or take some courses which would enable you to work in a new field?


Trying to establish yourself in several fields can feel overwhelming. So start with one idea. Let's say you've been working as a book-keeper for various employers for a number of years, but are about to be made redundant . You enjoy the work, but you make jewelry as a hobby and would like to spend more time on that. You also write short stories and would love to get something published.

The first step is to do some research to check that all of your ideas are marketable. No matter how hard you work or how good your end product, it will be very difficult to earn a living if there isn't a demand for what you are selling.

 In this example, it makes sense to start with book-keeping. It's something you know about and have been doing for a living. Let's assume that you have some savings and a redundancy payment which will keep you afloat for a few months.

You could advertise locally for clients, targeting small businesses and sole traders who can't afford to take someone on full-time, but need help for half a day or a day a week. You know what is required of you and so, once you've found your first client, it is mainly a case of getting used to doing this work on a freelance basis.

You'll need to check on local regulations regarding self-employment and make sure you have all the equipment you need.

If you are nervous about spending all your savings, you could get occasional temporary jobs to tide you over and then use evenings for freelance work. Eventually, you have enough clients to pay the bills and then you can think about how to move forward with the jewelry business.

You could consider setting up a market stall, building a website or searching online to find other ways to distribute your work. It'll take a while to sort out the best way forward and then some time to become established.

Once you've reached the point where both businesses are running smoothly and bringing in a regular income, you can think about taking a writing course, submitting work to publishers or entering competitions.

Of course, there will be lots of variables involved and plenty of ups and downs along the way. One idea may take off unexpectedly and you may decide to focus primarily in that area, cutting back in the others.

But if you do your research and focus on one area at a time, you will set up several streams of income and since in this example, you are self-employed, you are in control of what you do and when you do it. And you'll have much more job satisfaction than when you worked full-time as you now have so much more variety.

And with the death of the "job for life," having several ways of earning a living will be extremely beneficial. If one source of income dries up, you have two or three others to fall back on. These can then be expanded or, since you are used to being flexible, you could view this as an opportunity to start something new again.