When people come to me and they are exploring whether a portfolio workstyle is right for them, I tend to feel that people fit squarely into one of two camps.
Experience v. Accredited Qualifications
There are the people who come to me and their qualification for being a portfolio executive is their CV of working for high quality branded corporates. It may be DHL or a top 4 professional services firm, or a bulge bracket investment bank, or a world recognised consumer brand or something else that has great reputation in the marketplace in their particular sector. They qualify themselves through the brand that they have worked for in their working life so far.
The second set of people that I come across are those who see their qualifications as the letters that come after their name. So, they may have taken a Masters in their specialised subject, and possibly an MBA. Maybe they are a member of the Chartered Institute of X, or a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Y and are part of this professional association and that professional association. They qualify themselves with formal accredited qualifications that are relevant for their professional disciplines.
No more qualifications
I understand the strengths and the weaknesses of both of those approaches to managing your career. But the thing that I say to people again and again is that, whatever qualifications that you have already got, I don’t believe that this is the time in your life when you should be seeking to get more qualifications. As a Portfolio Executive bringing your knowledge, experience and skills to smaller businesses, they are going to be much more interested in the way that you show up, the relationships that you build and the value that you bring month in month out, than your qualifications. In fact, when I encourage people to go out and actively look for new clients, I recommend that they demonstrate that they are an expert on the problem that clients may face, rather than try to demonstrate their capability to deliver a solution.
New Skills for Influence – Executive Coaching
In that context your previous CV or your qualifications become less and less relevant, particularly over time. However, there are often some additional skills that you can usefully build, not necessarily by becoming qualified but by building them so that you can apply them in this new world. I would categorise them as focussed on your ability to influence. I would strongly recommend that you get access to training that would support you with influencing skills. The most powerful way to build your influencing skills is learning how to be a coach. It’s worth going on some kind of course so that you can understand what coaching is, the critical elements of it and the differences between coaching mentoring and training. You should then intentionally practice these tools and techniques in the relationships that you have with your clients.
New Skills for Influence – Networking
The second influencing skills that I think is important is for you to learn how to effectively network. You may have done this in the past within your own organisation, but I think maintaining the right network does require specific skills and you need to access and develop those skills. The best way is to join a networking club of some sort, even if that club may not bring you the network that you want. BNI, for example, is unlikely to bring you relevant clients but it will give your exemplary training in networking and plenty of encouragement to practice.
New Skills for Influence – Story Telling
The third things that I think is a powerful influencer skill is the ability to tell stories. As professionals, we focus on the facts. We rely on our understanding of information and our ability to analyse and re-present that information in a compelling way to stakeholders. As a Portfolio Executive the ability to tell stories creates a completely different engagement with clients or prospective clients. It is amazing how people connect with stories. They find their own meaning through stories. The process of discovery by the listener is more powerful just offering an answer.
Being better equipped to be a Portfolio Executive
Whether you have three or four accredited degrees from higher education institutes, whether you are a member of four or five professional institutions, whether you are relying on the fact that your CV shows all of your engagement with blue chip brands to date: I would say those will only give you temporary benefit. The key is that you develop these new skills of influencing by understanding what it means to tell stories, to build contacts through networking and use a coaching style with your clients. This will strengthen the power of influence so you can retain and build your clients month in month out.
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.