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Do you ever dream of a different life? Perhaps the 9am-5pm corporate world has run its course in your life? Or was it really 8am to 10pm, and you want more flexibility and variety in your work?

For me, the lure of the monthly salary and the ‘safety’ of a regular corporate job was too much to keep me from changing. That was until I was forced to change, and search for new horizons. Suddenly opportunities opened up and that haze of daily stress evaporated.

How to create what you really want for your life

If you are just considering making a similar move or you have already taken that bold step into the unknown, here’s 5 tips to help you get clarity and direction in a world of seemingly endless possibilities

1) Consciously decide on a Portfolio Career.

When setting up your own business, it is easy to fall onto the feast or famine of contracting – a 3 month gig here, and then a 6 month gig there. A portfolio career is more intentional. It is selecting 3-6 regular customers, whom you work part-time for. This means that at any one time you have a flow of work and income, and your need to get new clients is spread through the year. It also means you determine how many days a week is your maximum and work around that, instead of working full time for one client or another.

Think about how many days a week you want to work, how many clients you want. Start developing a profile of the type of person who’d employ you and seek them out. But it’s also okay to fund the initial months with contracting work as you build out your portfolio.

2) Decide on your brand and you as a product

This is often the hardest part of building your portfolio, and something I spent nearly a year shaping out. You have many skills from your Corporate world, and yet what was important in your old job, might be incidental in your new one. Conversely, what you just did by default, and everyone did, is the true skill people are after.

For me, in consulting, running workshops and helping people hone down to make clear decisions, was just part of the job, because you had to do that, to prevent cost overruns. Yet, this skill is vital with every client I work with now.

Therefore, think about what YOU do, and what people want. A good way of doing this is using the Strategyzer Value Proposition Canvas 

3) Invest in yourself

Isn’t it strange? In the corporate world you have annual reviews and ‘career counselling’ sessions, where you get scored and your pay rise and/or bonus depends on it. Yet, it’s all a game. The counselling often isn’t real advice, because your boss hasn’t been trained, and the scores can be arbitrary. When I was working for one tech company, they didn’t give us a bonus one year because our team didn’t make the numbers.

The next year, when we did, they said that our region, other countries, hadn’t made the numbers so no bones. At that point the bonus was fiction, and our perfomance scores were close to that, too. 

Yet, as your own boss, your income TOTALLY depends on your performance. So, this is where it’s worth spending money each month to grab a business coach – someone skilled in coaching you AND solely focussed on you meeting your goals. My business coach has helped me draw in many of my contracts, as I’ve explored how to do a pitch with him, or whether and how I should write proposals. I never got that in the corporate world.

Thus, setting money aside to invest in a coach is a worthwhile investment, and just as important as paying an accountant or insurance but more practical to your personal needs.

4) Invest in your network

One of the biggest a-ha moments I had in moving to the portfolio world was to realise how many of my contacts were in one industry, but they weren’t the buyers of my future services. Suddenly I needed to tap my existing network and spend time building up new contacts.

You only have a finite number of evenings/hours to spend in networking so consider what networks to join and how much time to invest in them. I have found that very few of my new clients have come from direct networking, but by choosing 2-3 regular monthly events I have built up better knowledge of my target clients and can bring a wider range of stories to my prospects.

The second space for network is Linkedin. Do consider the LinkedIn Sales Navigator to seek out potential prospects that are connected to your existing network.

My first portfolio client came from a coffee with a client whom I hadn’t seen for 3 years just asking her how to get into this type of business. It then clicked for her, that my skills were just what her client needed, and that set the next 6 months of work.

So, invest strategically in your network and make the most of the opportunities you choose. 

5) Manage your calendar / work-life balance

The challenge with a portfolio career is that there’s no ‘normal’ hours. It’s easy to spend too much time on the administration of your business, particularly in set up – doing business cards, web-sites, brochures, and not doing coffee. Another way you might procrastinate is by seeing all the things that need to be done at home, when you’re working from home. For one friend, she couldn’t stop saying no to requests for help from others in the middle of the week. Then suddenly, your business is stalled.
What I do is use my calendar to block out time by using different outlook calendar categories. I can then see how much ‘admin’, or ‘sales’ I am doing a week, and more importantly what hours are client/billable hours. There’s a real freedom of taking 2 hours out on a Thursday to cycle around Richmond Park, but it’s also easy to spend the whole of a Saturday working.

Monitoring your future calendar and checking that you are achieving a work-life balance in previous weeks prevents burn-out or working too much on stuff that doesn’t bring in the money.

What’s the first step? 

It can be daunting to start moving from a Corporate world to a Portfolio one. If you’re in a corporate position still, then the first step is to save income to give yourself a ‘buffer’ for a few months of no work, and seek out your first engagement ready to leave by a set date. Just putting your notice to leave in with no future job might be the spur to do something different. However, if you’ve already been made redundant then use the redundancy package as your pay and work 40 hours a week in developing your business.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.