We have Charles Handy to thank for popularizing the idea of the portfolio career.

It was a concept Handy first adopted in his own life. He explains, “I created what I call ‘a portfolio life’, setting aside 100 days a year for making money, 100 days for writing, 50 days for what I consider good works, and 100 days for spending time with my wife.

“I mark these days out in my diary. When people phone and ask me to do something, I can then say, ‘I’m terribly sorry, that’s my day  with my wife’.

“It is a freeing way of life. A 100 days a year for me is enough for making money, there is no point in making more; and I find I do as much work in 100 days as I used to in a year.”

Of course, you know that I’m a big advocate of this approach. The single lifetime career is over. Thank goodness.

Your portfolio is as unique as your fingerprint. No two are ever exactly alike. Here are some things to keep in mind.

° Give new ideas a fighting chance.  Few of us know what our best ideas will ultimately be. A smart entrepreneur starts quickly, abandons slowly.

I like Phil Laut’s suggestion that you make a commitment to stick with each new project until it has earned at least $100. (There’s that magic number again.) Then evaluate whether or not to continue.

° Assemble different sizes. In my Making a Living Without a Job seminars I talk about the Mall Model.  Anyone who’s visited a large shopping mall knows that the popular building format has been one that includes a large anchor store on each corner with smaller shops of varying sizes in between.

Your portfolio can mirror that notion with several major income sources and a variety of smaller ones. Not only does this approach expand your skills, it also is a proven way to eliminate boredom.

Bonus idea: create your own Mall Model Vision Map and hang it in your world headquarters. Keep filling up the spaces between your anchor clients with as many smaller incomes sources as you can handle.

° Keep challenging your imagination. Alice Barry introduced me to a fun website that had my mind racing as I thought of new possibilities.  In fact, I’ve come to think of it as a gym for your entrepreneurial spirit.

If you haven’t participated, I urge you to check out, http://www.fiverr.com a site that bills itself as  the place for people to share things they’re willing to do for $5. Pay Fiverr a visit and challenge yourself to create a $5 offer. Warning: this is also the perfect place to do a bit of impulse shopping.

° Trap ideas as they arrive. “I’ll never forget that idea is the Devil’s whisper,” warned Richard Bach. I suspect you’ve heard the whisper, as have I.

One of the easiest ways to avoid losing a good idea is to have a physical place to store them as they come. It could be a box that holds articles and lists of interesting possibilities or a computer file.

Building an inventory of options not only makes financial sense, it also gives you a place to search on the mornings you get up and aren’t sure how you want to spend your day.

° Play the Ubiquity Game. While some folks are busy ranting about social media as a big waste of time, others are quietly tweeting and friending their way to bigger and better businesses.

I’ll say it again: we all like to do business with people we know and like. If people don’t know you, they can’t like you.

Show up. Participate. Connect. Get busy building relationships with kindred spirits near and far.

Challenge yourself to find new and different ways to get the word out about who you are and what you have to offer.

° Pay attention to yearly cycles. Some of your profit centers will operate all year long, but others will have a season when they’re most robust. Figuring out those cycles makes planning your time more effective.

For example, I discovered that adult ed classes did really well in southern cities in July and August, but slowed to a crawl in places like Minnesota where summertime was devoted to outdoor activities. Once I saw the pattern, I scheduled my seminars to take advantage of those cycles.

° Take inventory regularly.  Review your offerings and eliminate those you’ve out-grown or become bored with to create space for new ideas.

After all, running a portfolio business is about creating something that reflects who you are now—not who you were then. And remember this bit of advice from Charles Handy:  “If somebody asks what you do, and you can reply in one sentence, you’re a failure. You should need half an hour.”

2 Responses to “7 Ways to Build a Stronger Portfolio”

  1. Rasheed Hooda

    Excellent article, Barbara. Thank you, so much for sharing.

    I love this idea of Portfolio Career. It has more appeal to me than the Multiple Profit Centers. I am speaking to the Houston Chapter of Society of Technical Communicators next month and I was thinking of a clever way to present MPC’s to them. I hope you don’t mind me stealing this notion.

    Half my speech is based on the ideas I learned from you and the other half is the sorties about how I used them. (Not exactly, but you get the gist) Oh, and I’ll be mentioning your book throughout, so I can sell more copies from the back of the room for some extra cash to go home with in addition to the Speaking Fees. 🙂


  2. Jennifer Flint

    Great article! I hadn’t heard of Portfolio Careers before, but it sounds like an interesting idea. And I agree that social networking is important, even if you’re not a particularly social person! The Internet affords us so many opportunities for connection that we otherwise wouldn’t have. Why waste them?

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