Pros and cons of a portfolio career

As more people move away from traditional 9-to-5 jobs,  Simon North sets out the benefits and disadvantages of  juggling a variety of different roles at the same time.  

A portfolio career is simply a career where you are a doing a number of paid activities for a number of different customers at the same time, as opposed to just having one role in one organisation.

However this initially sounds to you, there are both pros and cons to weigh up before deciding whether to further explore such a career as a viable option for your future work.

 Pros

  • Control. You are in control of whom you work for, where you work, what your work is and when you work. This assumes that you can find good work options for yourself and the demand for your services.
  • Time. Time, as we know, is a precious commodity. When you work for other people, they can steal a lot of it and you do not have time for anything else in your life. If you are running a portfolio of jobs, you can choose where you put your time and you can find a balance between different elements of the portfolio.
  • Family. You can take more account of your family’s needs and fit your career around them.
  • Self-accountability. You do not have a boss—you have a variety of people you are responsible to, but you do not have one particular individual dominating your work life and that is an interesting feeling.
  • Freedom. We are not talking about obvious freedom, like the freedom to run around fields all day, but the freedom to think. Having your own independent view is so important, but it is not until people step out from traditional employment that they realize that this is so.
  • Choice of location. When you are working on lots of different things, you have multiple work locations including home. So if you like the idea of knowing that you will be somewhere different each day or week, a portfolio career will seem very attractive.
  • Rhythm. You establish your own routines and rhythms, instead of having to accept whatever is loaded onto to you by your boss or colleagues.
  • More time. Not only are you more in control of time, but you will actually have more time because you do not have to commute, or at least you do not have to commute daily.
  • More time for you. More time means more time for yourself as well as for your work. Whether it is walking your dog every day, soaking in a long, hot bath or going to bed early with a book, find a way to spend this extra time looking after yourself.

Cons

  • Lack of infrastructure. You do not have a permanent location and you do not have colleagues or any of the usual support functions. All of those things define organisational life and have therefore defined your work life up to now. You have to sort out how you are going to deal with it being taken away from you.
  • No ‘water cooler’ chats. As you do not have colleagues that you see every day, there is no one to gossip with about your weekend and where you are going on holiday. You do not have that same level of intimacy with whomever your portfolio career might bring you into contact with as you do on a team.
  • Accounting. You have to keep track of the different, varying amounts of money going into your account each month and you have to get used to initiating your invoices, totalling up your expenses and so on.
  • Potentially lower income. Your cash flow will be very different and you need to recognize that, when moving to the self-employed world, this is something you have to think through.
  • Expenses. The most obvious cost of setting yourself up as a business is IT. It’s information technology that enables us to do our work wherever we are while staying in contact with others, so it’s fundamental to us that we have the right computer and the right mobile technology. Most crucially of all, you need it to all work consistently. There are also hidden costs, such as insurances or the ink and paper for the printer. These are all things that you need to work your budget around.
  • Unclear boundaries. When you have full-time job and you go off to work each day, there is a structure to your day and usually a definite beginning and end to it. Now, suddenly, you do not have those boundaries and it can be very easy not knowing when to stop. This can lead to exhaustion. In the office, you realise that if it is getting dark and everybody else has left, it is time to go home. However, if your office is your home, you can just sit there for hours not even noticing the passing of time.
  • Poor quality of work. One hazard of working too long each day is that you are possibly not working as effectively. When you have a portfolio career, you have number of different responsibilities and several organisations relying on you, so you are not bound by time but instead by deadlines. It can be tempting to push yourself to get the work done instead of doing each project properly, with sufficient rest in between.
  • Lack of balance. It is important to get the balance of family and work right and working in the family home can actually make this trickier.
  • Scope creep and unfair workloads. As you are around and you are not bound to just a single employer, your clients may have extra expectations of you in terms of workload. They may assign a certain type of task to you even if it was not part of the contract.
  • Concern from others.  If your partner or spouse has been used to you having a steady income, they may have fears and frustrations surrounding your transition to more uncertain territory. Everything was very secure but now all of a sudden there is a little bit more strain on the relationship.

 About the author

Simon North is the Founder of Position Ignition, one of the UK’s leading career consultancy companies which created the Career Ignition Club, a leading-edge online careers support and learning platform. Follow him @PosIgnition