Portfolio Executive: what about using an intermediary

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Can you have your cake and eat it? Can you be a Portfolio Executive but be able to minimise the transition to this new workstyle? Can you get someone else to do all the things that you do not feel you are very good at doing? Can you have another organisation that takes you on and makes it as easy as possible for you to have a Portfolio Executive workstyle?

And the short answer is, ‘Yes’.  And the long answer is ‘No’.

The Short Answer is ‘Yes’

So, let me give you the short answer first, the ‘Yes’.  There are a number of organisations, some more mature than others, that appear to offer you a very attractive route to a Portfolio Executive workstyle. They tend to specialise in a particular segment, whether it is finance, marketing, IT or sales and their promise to you is

“we will go out and get you the work and all you have got to do is turn up and do it”.

That is an extremely attractive promise, and, to a significant extent, if you are the right fit for them and you are prepared to work hard you will get that benefit.  But beware, because some of these organisations are less mature than others.   

Who do these intermediaries serve?

Some of these organisations have not really worked out what the correct relationship is with their part-time executives versus their clients versus their own needs.  There is one particular organisation that I am aware of where the experience of the people who have signed up as part-time executives has been that the founder and leader is using it more as a platform for his own career development and less as a way to serve them.  The organisation never delivers the leads and introductions expected.  The portfolio executives are having to generate the leads and close the sales themselves.  If they don’t actively contribute and participate in the core team then they find others are offered work first.  The intermediary is still looking for 25%-30% cut.  Worse still lack of quality leads is leading to rate discounting further reducing the income available.  If the client is charged £800 per day and you only get £600 per day even after all the sales and marketing work you do, then the effective day rate can become can reduce you to a ‘busy fool’.

The risk of becoming a part-time interim

The other challenge is that many of these organisations do not have the clarity of vision to look for clients who want a long-term part-time executive.  They want to keep their roster of associates earning and busy.  They need the 25% – 30% of your fees to fund the growth of their organisation.  This can drive them to selling you into shorter term assignments.   You want to build a portfolio of relationships where you are working two or three days a month, for four to eight clients and expect to develop a multi-year relationship with each.   But, instead, you end up with two or three clients doing project work at the rate of five or six days a month each with projects running from six to eighteen months.  Now you are so busy that you are completely dependent upon the intermediary to bring you more work.  They understand this and look to keep you engaged by providing community, opportunities for you to get together with peers explore problems, help each other out and take part in business development.  This eats deeply into your free time and reduces your chargeable time.  All serving to increase your dependence upon that organisation.

You are not stepping out and building your own brand, not building your own reputation in the marketplace, no longer doing the things that you really want. Your reputation is always linked with the intermediary.

The long answer is ‘No’.

I have spoken to many of the people leading these organisations and they are very intentional about finding people who have bought into the portfolio lifestyle and are prepared to sacrifice lower fees for the lifestyle.  Often, they require that you exclusively work through them.  I am convinced that that is against your best interests both in the short term and the long term.   If you stay accept a low fee rate, then you won’t continually build your value in the marketplace.   Over time, your rates will get further compromised as you are perceived as an undifferentiated resource by the intermediary and the wider market.  Some intermediaries are so confident of their position, they are now demanding a 40% cut!

Taking responsibility

If you go down this route, you are no longer taking complete responsibility for your future. If you want to shift your focus or direction, build new skills, or venture into new areas, you cannot expect your intermediary to support you. Let’s just imagine you are an experienced marketing executive and one of these providers has taken you into businesses and you have had a relationship with them for two or three years.  Now you realise that what you want to do is move from helping business to implement social media based marketing to be a strategic advisor focused on helping people develop their brand and product strategy. Making the shift may be problematic.  You have to step up from working for business of one scale to businesses of a much greater scale.  Your current intermediary may not have the relationship and the contacts to sell you into those larger organisations. They have found a niche and they are going to continue to sell you into that niche.

Counting the cost of compromise

However, for some people working through an intermediary is the right answer.  Just recognise the costs.  Accept the amount of freedom and control that you are going to give up.   Calculate the potential fees that you are sacrificing.  Set aside funds so that you can afford to step away from the intermediary and can cover the lost fees and lost time.


If you are going to step out on your own, I would suggest that you want to step out on your own completely.  If you find that you can’t make this work, or that it isn’t right for you, then using an intermediary can be your plan B.   When you step out on your own, make sure you get the support you need.  For the price you should charge for a single fee earning day, you can get skilled, profile support at www.portfolioexecutive.biz .


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.