Many names for this type of work! A portfolio career is also known as working in ‘the gig economy’, too.
For many people in the creative industry, having a ‘portfolio career’ is the way they make their career viable for them. A person with a portfolio career works multiple jobs, through contracts, part-time work, ad hoc work and freelance work.
For example: you might want to be a musician, you love playing the guitar. Playing full-time might be the thing you can focus on - and good for you! That’s brilliant.
However, a lot of musicians also teach their instrument. They might play in a band. They might be a recording artist. They might compose music. They might run workshops too. They might also work in the local supermarket, or work on a bar. (Not in 2020, of course…) They could be working on an arts-based project too with their local education organisation, slightly unrelated to being a musician, but still related to being creative. All of this work is completely valid and fine - you are no less of a musician because you happen to work elsewhere Tuesday-Thursday!
Having a portfolio career means that rather than specialising in one industry, you specialise in a skillset that can be transferable to many industries.
Here is a brilliant excerpt from BBC Bitesize about the potential of a portfolio career:
"In a post–Corona world, having a portfolio career will help us be more resilient because you have multiple sources of income rather than focusing on one in particular, which means if there are changes in one industry you are working in, that's okay, because you have several other jobs or opportunities lined up in another one." There are also lifestyle benefits to working in a portfolio career, "You sometimes get to do a more traditional job, but also use your more creative side of your brain alongside it, for example, I mentor somebody who is a doctor four days a week, but on Friday they work as a jewellery designer and sell their jewellery online.”
This also relates to a relatively new phenomenon happening throughout the job sphere - a
I like this a lot better than the old name of a “slashie” (which seems a violent description tbh); someone like me, who is a teacher/facilitator/performer/content writer. Now, a hyphenated version looks more appealing, and less like only one of my options can work at once. Teacher-facilitator-performer-content writer. This one feels like I have more value in all four.
This is someone who sees themselves as a less of a full-stack creative (for example a musician that practices 12 hours a day, plays in their band/orchestra/dedicates the entirety of their time to being a pro at their specialist element of design) and more of a person who has a range of skills they want to focus on, invest time in, and hopefully make money from.
What is your hyphen?
A short story: I went to uni to study Music and Drama. It was in my second year that I thought about becoming a teacher - so I applied to do a PGCE at the University of Huddersfield. That was a tough year. So I taught Music and Drama in secondary schools for four years… then a number of things happened. Firstly, I had to hand my notice in really early in my last school, as the British School in Spain I was working at had different regulations. So I actually didn’t have a job to go to. I was leaving teaching because it wasn’t really for me anymore - I felt like there was more out there. I wanted to study again, too! But the same day I handed my notice in, an earlier contact got in touch with me to say they had some part time work with me, teaching saxophone in Doncaster. Result! The biggest difference was, it was self-employed.
Wow. A whole new world.
It’s not the blog to talk about being self employed, but it is enough to say that the part-time work wasn’t enough. I auditioned for a drama education company and was so grateful my teaching experience had paved the way to lead to that kind of career, and I also got in touch with friends which lead to me helping out at a dance school Saturdays… which three years later, I now direct and own. I took up tutoring my instruments. I wrote some content for the University on studying drama. I continually applied for jobs (and have done since I left teaching), because that really is the nature of contract work or ad hoc work. I play in a band, and sometimes dep in other bands. Now, I consider myself less of an ex-teacher (which I used to say, disparagingly, about myself) but a freelance performing arts facilitator. I tutor-teach-write-perform. It’s hard work, but it allows me a lot of freedom, more choice, and more chance to embrace new opportunities when I want them. But enough about me!
What does the multi-hyphenate look like?
The hyphen could be a new career or a ‘side hustle’; maybe you are studying for hair and makeup, but actually LOVE creating bespoke pottery. Maybe you’re a budding actor, but also love cooking.
The move away from a ‘career for life’ comes along with this new way of being - moving away from specificity (although the world still needs, no, CRAVES people who are specialists, like neurosurgeons!) and embracing the multi-faceted career angle.
It should go without saying, however, that you are allowed to dabble. You can be a writer, and enjoy gardening, without needing to be a writer-gardener. It’s up to you. But if you have skills you love developing, and want to monetise or use those skills to forge your own career path, then go for it.
Here are some top tips:
1. Time, time, time.
It’s the biggest one. Time management is absolutely vital. Don’t be put off by this, if you feel like your time management is less than ideal; you can practice this.
Block out your days in a diary - a physical one, or Google Calendar/iCal, with when you’re dedicating time to things. If you’re teaching/tutoring, give yourself time to adequately plan the lesson. If you’re writing though, blocking out time to ‘write’ might feel like a big pressure if you don’t feel inspired. Just block out the time for a way that works for you, including giving yourself a lunch break, sleep time and food prep!
Check your emails at specific times, maybe three times a day. - so many of us fall into the trap of feeling like you need to reply to emails as soon as you get them because they get pushed through our phone.
Another one with huge amounts of blogs already written about, but so crucial. I had to learn to budget when I went from employed to self-employed, and I save more now I’m self-employed! Months may be different; for example, I tend to get paid more in September for school work and July for the dance shows, but December can be a light month. Working out what you have, your outgoings and remembering the year overall can really help you to feel money savvy.
3. Be prepared for highs and lows.
I’m four years into self-employment, and have an undergrad degree, PGCE and a Masters degree. I have been rejected over twenty times in the last year (since Feb 2020). Being qualified up to the eyeballs is one thing, but it really doesn’t matter when there is a surplus of people and a deficit of jobs (the sad truth of the industry). The word is thrown around, but it takes a huge amount of resilience to bounce back and just keep applying for these jobs. Be prepared to take some brilliant work on, some not so good work, not getting the contract/job you wanted, and pushing forward with applications. Bringing us onto:
4. Developing resilience.
Another buzzword, but this one is how people make it through a saturated industry. Resilience comes from not taking it personally - I can't stress this enough. Unless you turned up at your job interview wearing greasy sweatpants, last night’s tea spilled all over it, getting the company name wrong and sneezing in the boss’s face, you not getting the job is not your fault. If you can ask for feedback, do it. If any of those pieces of feedback are actionable, like you were missing a skillset that can be easily attainable (for example you had never heard of UX, you looked it up and took a free course on web design, now you understand it), pursue that skill.
The multi-hyphenate, or the portfolio artist, may feel like a scary journey to set out on. But, in the words of bestselling author, Ryan Holiday:
“We learn. We refresh. We explore. We make analogies. We get some rest. And we are all the better for it. That is the fate of multi-hyphenates. They’re not freaks or a dilettantes or scatterbrains. They’re pros.”
Freelance = self-employed or hired to work on particular assignments.
Ad hoc = When necessary or needed.