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: portfolio careers – video

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).

Read a transcript of this video

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.

Find out more

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Updated 16 Feb 2017