I’ve tried being an Independent Consultant and now I want to be a Portfolio Executive

You can sign up to our LinkedIn newsletter here

Many of the people who come to me who want to become a Portfolio Executive, were in a full-time salaried position, but have stepped out to become an Independent Consultant. They may have been able to work with a previous employer to do some consulting work. They know that they have deep expertise in a particular field, and they think that being an Independent Consultant will suit them well.

The ‘But’

But quite quickly they will find that going beyond the circle of their immediate relationships to find consulting work is difficult. They start to run out of opportunities. They become increasingly stuck and find it harder and harder to win their next assignment. Often, by the time they come to me, they have had a significant quiet period, or they have had just a small number of projects at high intensity and now they have nothing at all to look forward to. For them, becoming a Portfolio Executive, looks like an attractive alternative.

Three important challenges

I agree it is a very attractive alternative but I would have to say that there are three challenges that you need to consider carefully before you commit fully to becoming a Portfolio Executive after the experience of struggling as an Independent Consultant.

1 – Mindset Change

The first thing is the mindset change. Are you prepared to move from a mindset where you are looking for a problem and then fixing it, to a mindset where you are going to be continually developing the capability of an organisation for an extended period of time?

In other words, are you happy to move from project work, a project mindset, a fix it mindset, to a service, management and capability development mindset? For some people that is just too big a stretch. Particularly actually if you were a professional consultant in the past.

2 – Lead Time

The second thing is, there is a lead time in building your work as a Portfolio Executive. You need to spend time in defining your proposition, find the right clients and building a pipeline of potential clients. You need to make sure that you find the sweet spot in the market for your particular professional skill and the specific knowledge and experience that you can bring. These things don’t happen overnight. You need to be prepared to give yourself perhaps three to six months before you are able to build up a sufficient portfolio of clients to provide a basic income. Are you prepared to make the investment of time before you start getting the cash that you need?

3 – Cash flow

The third thing is you may be approaching a stage where you have almost run out of money. You have a short-term cash problem. If the Independent Consulting role is not working for you then actually one of the strong indicators that it’s not working for you is that you haven’t got that much money in the bank account. That’s the point at which people want to look at alternatives. I would say to you if you need work immediately and you believe that the Portfolio Executive workstyle is the better long term answer for you, then, in the short-term, see if you can find some other consulting organisations with established brands which you can work for on a non-excusive basis, part-time basis as an associate in order to fill the coffers. There are lots of smaller consultancies out there with perhaps five to twenty professionals who are, from time to time, looking for associates to help them out and you may well be able to get some work with those organisations. This will give you the breathing space to start to do some of the groundwork for your Portfolio Executive workstyle and then you can plan a transition over time where you do less of the consulting work and more of the portfolio executive work.

Consultant to Portfolio Executive – can it work?

So, do good consultants make good Portfolio Executives? Absolutely they can do, but they do need to be prepared to take that managerial approach. They do need to be prepared to move from a mindset where any engagement with a client is 12 weeks to 12 months, to a mindset where they are no longer sprinting to achieve a short goal, but they are building a relationship as a marathon.

It is not too late if you are struggling as an Independent Consultant to become a Portfolio Executive, but bear in mind these three challenges:

Change your mindset; allow lead time; bridge the gap.


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.