A critical decision a professional needs to make while working independently is regarding the portfolio of assignments to take on. According to an Elance report, 62 percent of freelancers work on between 2 and 6 projects at any given time, and a similar percentage considered this freedom of choice as a very important aspect of freelancing. Closer home, another survey also found that two-thirds of Indian professionals who are choosing to work independently would like to work on multiple assignments at any one point.
The choice of this portfolio therefore becomes critical, and I would like to propose that we need to view it with as much seriousness as we do our investment portfolio. A few thoughts on how to build one’s portfolio, and assess it regularly are provided below.
Think about your risk profile and (investment) objective. As one starts to look at the clients and projects to take on as an independent professional or freelancer, a critical decision criterion is the stage of life you are at and therefore what you are expecting from the work. For a professional with over 30 years of experience, the objective may be to leverage past knowledge and relationships to make a meaningful contribution to a young venture with less concern about the return. For others, the portfolio of assignments is likely to be the primary income with a need to support ones current lifestyle and also build for the future. Whatever your objective, it needs to be clearly articulated.
Good mix of liquidity and longer term assets. Leveraging recent experiences and knowledge (e.g., specific frameworks and tools, industry knowledge) can be a great way to generate a baseload of quick assignments. However, do balance this with what will be relevant to your industry and/or function in the future, and ensure that you are thinking about what you will bring to the table 5 years from now. This might mean taking up a few less remunerative, but good learning assignments that will help deliver returns in the future. It could also mean investing in learning or doing your own research on topics that you think will be relevant a few years out.
Balance the safe and the risky. I would also urge us all not to forget the elements of challenge, excitement and fun. After all that’s a major reason why many professionals opt to work independently. So, make sure you are regularly doing some assignments just for the charge you get from them, passion for the subject, or the potential for really high impact. A great mix could be taking on some work you enjoy with longstanding clients with whom there is comfort, with a couple of assignments a year thrown in that are more risky! An interesting theme we are seeing here is professionals who are doing a defined baseload of work, while exploring entrepreneurial ideas in parallel.
Regularly re-balance! Finally, what our financial advisers tell us is also true for our portfolio of work. We must regularly take stock and take decisions on what to retain vs. trade out based on how the portfolio of work is delivering against the principles outlined above. And just like for investments it would be good to get an external view every once in a while – a sounding board who can help bring a different perspective and new ideas can be invaluable!
Being proactive, knowing yourself, and having clear goals can help you maximise the return from your career, just as with your financial portfolio. But just as with investments, past performance does not guarantee future returns. So stay on your feet, take control, and have fun!
The author is Founder & CEO of Flexing It, an online marketplace for short-term, flexible professional skills (www.flexingit.com)