Why your business needs a portfolio career strategy

To shed light on it, we spoke to Charlie Rogers, an expert in the field and a founder associate of The Portfolio Collective (TPC), a community of over 10,000 portfolio careerists.

Why your business needs a portfolio career strategy

In today’s rapidly evolving workplace, the traditional notion of a linear career path is being disrupted by the emergence of so-called portfolio careers. 

It means that rather than the traditional model of taking one job or one career at a time, workers create multiple income streams and manage several projects simultaneously. 

Often perceived as yet another Gen Z workplace trend, in fact it is gaining traction across various age groups and industries. To shed light on it, we spoke to Charlie Rogers, an expert in the field and a founder associate of The Portfolio Collective (TPC), a community of over 10,000 portfolio careerists.

“For some, their route into a portfolio career is created by circumstances outside of their control, where a recent lay-off or desire to save for a mortgage exposes the financial reality that the income stability and earning potential of a full-time career is not sufficient to meet the spiralling costs of living,” he explains. 

“Others seek more control over their career and life, where they can choose how and when they work, thereby focusing on projects that align most to their purpose and goals.”

Research conducted by TPC with 352 respondents delves deeper into the motivations behind it. 

According to Rogers, portfolio careers appeal to individuals from all walks of life for a variety of reasons. 

“For example, the new mum working two part-time jobs, the burnt-out exec advising several start-ups, and the ambitious grad side-hustling around a 9 to 5 are all taking on portfolio work. The first is likely aiming for flexibility around their childcare needs, the second is likely looking to do engaging work, and the third is likely building extra income streams for financial independence.”

While Rogers’ own portfolio career, which includes being an endurance athlete may seem unique, he emphasises that there is no “typical” example. 

TPC has, however, identified four main categories that occur frequently:

  1. The Side Hustler: someone who generates income from a side project alongside their main job.
  2. The Freelancer: someone who is self-employed and works for multiple clients on a project or contract basis.
  3. The Multi-hyphenate: someone who mixes a range of diverse projects or jobs at the same time.
  4. The Focused Expert: someone with a highly specialised expertise that they monetise in multiple ways and charge top rates for.

He also highlights two other subcategories: “The Triple Portfolio Model & The Academic-Practitioner,” as well as modern-day examples like the “Creator-Athlete-Entrepreneur” (think KSI, Logan Paul, etc.), who leverage social media at the heart of their careers.

So, what should employers do to incorporate portfolio careers into their talent retention strategies, and how does it align with business goals like innovation, growth, and profitability? 

“Internally, employers should expect their team to have income streams beyond their 9-5, supporting them to succeed in them where possible. An employee today is a fan, referrer, or client tomorrow,” he says. 

“Externally, businesses should consider how they can offer flexible hybrid working environments that support work taking place outside of a traditional 9-5, Monday through Friday work-week. Not only does this attract top talent where this is a requirement, but it also enables employers to engage individuals in part-time, fractional work where they can try working with an individual before adding them to payroll. Which can bring more ideas from a wider number of individuals, unlocking perspectives from workers who would otherwise not be engaged in the company.”

It is part of a post-pandemic sea-change in attitudes toward what work looks like when the 9 to 5 seems outmoded and greater flexibility enables people a bigger say in where and when work needs to take place.

And although there is growing demand from many employers for a return to office, Rogers still envisions a very different looking landscape for the workplace in the long term.

“For highly skilled knowledge workers who can differentiate themselves, they will be independent solopreneurs who form projects, together with the support of AI, to deliver on the needs of a small core team at organisations who oversee the key business functions. 

“They will be self-employed, participating in a portfolio of projects at once, dictating how, when, and where they work.”

He contrasts this with low-skilled roles, however, which he believes will continue to be outsourced, automated, or handed over to artificial intelligence. 

“On the whole, the workforce will become increasingly digital-first, enabling the cross-border working of digital nomad-ding, incentivising the knowledge workers to move to low-cost economies while continuing to earn city-adjusted rates for their work.”

When it comes to the potential impact of a large-scale return to office-based working, Rogers is candid. 

“For all portfolio career types, the saving in commute time is a great opportunity to take on more work or focus on building healthy habits at home. Though as previously mentioned, I expect fewer individuals to be under an employment contract and instead working with clients on a self-employed basis, meaning there is less scope for companies to mandate a policy of work for all.”

So, given the rate and manner of change taking place, it’s no surprise that many organisations are finding it difficult to incorporate such significant changes. Which means there is still plenty of resistance to such new thinking.

“In the SME world, increasingly opportunities for fractional work are becoming available. However, these less than five days a week roles are often aimed at senior executives or mid-level product and project managers, while most junior talent is expected to work 40 hours a week on an employed basis. Although, the 40% of Gen Z who already earn via more than one source of income are challenging this norm. They are creating YouTube accounts, working on weekends, and building their own start-up in their 5-9.”

Rogers recognises that the speed of change and the myriad different workplace trends cropping up weekly have left some employers reeling in terms of how they adapt. 

“It’s been a hectic last few years since the pandemic, and things are only starting to speed up. We live in an exponential age of change, where technology is growing non-linearly. Some are bringing the latest trends of flexible hybrid AI-supported work as the default for their organisations and have seen measured leaps in their performance. While others are feeling overwhelmed with how to adapt, wanting everything to go back to the seemingly simpler times of the past.”

His advice for business owners struggling to adapt? 

“Remain open to experimenting where possible – trialing that new AI tool, 4.5 day working week, or flexible office space. As much as the LinkedIn gurus would have you believe, there is no right answer. Only the approach that works best for you and your business, which through trial and error can become a competitive advantage for you. Reframe the overwhelm into opportunity and realise the potential that this new world of work offers.”

What is really needed to help employers adapt to this brave new world is a change in mindset and attitude. Employees that have opted for a portfolio approach have already made that shift, so smart employers will follow suit.

“Rather than trying to ‘own’ their employees, they should see the work done as one part of the individual’s wider career and life. In doing so, they can unlock their team’s knowledge from their side-hustles or clients and become a great place to work where individuals plan how their main role can remain part of their wider portfolio career.”

On the flip side, Rogers offers advice for employees juggling different roles and staying effective in each of them. 

“For those who undertake portfolio work, either on an employed or self-employed basis, the juggling act between boundary setting and responding to client/business needs is central. They should offer clear days of work for their organisation, showing when they can be expected to be online and accessible. But, they should also remain flexible on their usually non-working days, being available to respond to emergencies or move around their hours where needed. However, this must become a two-way give and take relationship, where the employer/client offers the same flexibility back to them.”

As the way we make a living continues to evolve, insights and perspectives offered by experts like Charlie Rogers will be vital in helping both employers and employees navigate the new world of work, so that it works for everyone.

Ronnie Dungan
Ronnie Dungan

Share via
Copy link