Portfolio careers

How you can combine a range of marketable skills and interests into a portfolio career.

What is a portfolio career?

Carla Russell hanging a large painting on a wall

Creative people with a range of interests may find a portfolio career suits them

Not your nine-to-five job

Instead of working a single full-time job, a portfolio career is about working multiple jobs – dividing your time between several paid activities.

These activities are often, though not always, complementary. For example, someone who enjoys painting, writing, and graphic design may make a living through each of these interests combined. 

A portfolio career can take a variety of structures. For instance, you can be fully independent (freelance, self-employed) or have a combination of self-employment and part-time or temporary jobs. 

A portfolio career is definitely not about doing several less-than-attractive jobs to make ends meet.

Bea Lee-Smith talks about what it's like to use her range of skills and interests in her portfolio career (video – 2.25 mins).

Bea: I decided a portfolio career because I had been teaching full time for three years, and wonderful as that was in many ways, it was all-consuming.

I had a huge number of things in my portfolio. I think at most I was juggling about 12 different things. For a couple of years I ran a performing arts school for children called Limelights. That was in both Khandallah and Eastbourne. I was teaching singing privately, I was teaching drama at a school called Hutt Theatre School and First Gear [theatre school] in town. I also worked part time hosting at City Gallery and Museum of Wellington and Colonial Cottage Museum. I ushered at theatre, I was performing, writing, singing, acting, dancing. I think that was everything. I had lots of different things going on.

I guess the thing I enjoyed most would have been the autonomy that it gave me in my life, not feeling tied to one job. I had a fair amount of flexibility in terms of what I could say yes and no to. It enabled me to use my creative skills and yeah it just gave me a feel of being able to dabble in a variety of different ways of working and expand on a variety of different skill sets.

The challenges would definitely have been having to be incredibly organised, live by the diary. No two weeks were ever the same. You do have to be very proactive, not afraid to approach people and say "this is what I do", give people your business card, kind of start to make those connections.

But it can also be extremely rewarding – you meet a huge variety of people from different walks of life.

I did it for six and a half years and it has led me to a point that I’m really happy with in my life now. With my dancing and my teaching I suffered a number of injuries and that led me to doing Pilates and working at the studio here. I eventually trained to teach Xtend Barre and have discovered that that’s what I want to funnel all my energies into. But certainly, the skills that I gained during those portfolio years have led me to this point.

Who chooses a portfolio career?

You might choose a portfolio career because you:

  • want a variety of work and work places
  • want to plan your own time, hours of work, how you work and where you live
  • need to manage your work around your health needs or raising children 
  • want to support your main creative passion with other related work
  • have developed a number of skills and want to go into consulting
  • can't find a full-time job in your area of work. 

Portfolio careers are ideal for those who want to work in creative industries such as:

Does a portfolio working style suit me?

To have a successful portfolio career you need to be skilled in your particular field of work. You also need the right kind of transferable skills such as:

  • the ability to manage a varied workload
  • being responsible for your own work, time and energy
  • being well organised
  • being clear and assertive about what you can do and what you deserve to be paid
  • confidence to network, push for jobs and promote your work
  • the ability to recover from setbacks quickly.

What are the advantages of a portfolio career?

  • Freedom – to plan your work around your life, and explore several interests at once.
  • Realising your creative potential – the chance to explore your creative potential and achieve your goals.
  • Job security – several jobs safely protect you from redundancy, but you will need to think creatively and persevere to become self-sufficient.

What are the challenges of a portfolio career?

  • Keeping on top of everything – dealing with clashing deadlines and keeping skills up to date for more than one job can be stressful.
  • Dealing with uncertainty – dealing with fluctuations in income, and trying new things if something fails. 
  • Doing your own paperwork – working for different organisations on a freelance/contract basis means you need to pay your own taxes and other expenses.

How do I kickstart my portfolio career?

An artist paints a picture in her studio

Having some regular income can help you launch into new creative territory

  • Get advice from others doing portfolio work so you understand the pros and cons.
  • Do your research after you've thought about what you want to do, and find out if there’s a market for what you have to offer.
  • Consider moving to a four-day week if you are currently working full time. This will give you time to establish your portfolio career with the backup of a regular income. 
  • Foresee and handle any conflicts of interest – for instance, if you stay at your full-time job, but need more time for other interests, have a conversation with your employer about the best solution.


How do I make my portfolio career a success?

  • Keep one regular income stream – for example, a part-time job, or a long-term freelance contract. This can help to smooth things out as you pursue new ventures or ideas.
  • Get organised and create efficient systems – for example, filing and time-management systems, so you can be more productive.
  • Plan time for marketing yourself for the next contract, and keep an eye on growing trends you could tap into.
  • Evaluate your progress and review your situation often and make adjustments if needed.

Updated 19 Dec 2018