February 6, 2012

Plus & Minuses of Portfolio Careers

Have you heard about "portfolio careers"? While the term has been around for a while now, the concept has really taken off during the latest economic downturn. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your perspective.

By way of definition, think of "portfolio" in terms of investments – a diversified portfolio means you spread your risk out. Likewise, a portfolio career is one in which you have "multiple streams of income" – another term that has been gaining popularity.

These days, multiple income streams might mean that you simply couldn’t tap into a main stream. If you’ve been trying to find a full-time job, for instance, you may have defaulted to multiple part-time jobs. Likewise, you may be doing side jobs for friends or exploring work at home jobs. The side jobs are usually easier to arrange and can include anything from babysitting to re-roofing someone’s garage. Sometimes the side jobs turn into something more and a business is born.

Even if you stumble into your portfolio career out of desperation, you’ll enjoy some of the bonus byproducts. First, you get a ton of flexibility. You usually end up working more hours overall but you’re more likely to be in control of those hours. Second, you’re less likely to be bored. Sure, one of your jobs could be repetitive and dull, but if it’s only a few hours a day and the afternoon gig is fun, you’ll be able to live with it.

Having a portfolio of work options can also be a good way to build a safety net. If one job goes sour, you’ll still have the others to fall back on. And you have that many more opportunities to expand to full-time hours when the economy improves.

While these advantages are important, there are also some drawbacks. To make this system work, whether you’re choosing it or just abiding it, you need to be disciplined and organized. If you’re doing some of the work on your own schedule, you can’t afford to slack off. You neighbor’s garage isn’t going to paint itself, after all. You also need to hustle a bit, in order to keep the work coming in.

For most people, portfolio careers will turn out to be an interim solution, but a few will find that they can never return to the one-job-all-day model of working. Which will it be for you?

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