Transitioning from Professional Services to Portfolio Career

Thought Leadership Articles

Published 05 June 2020

What’s your “what’s next”?

As the Coronavirus pandemic hit Australian shores in March, the business headlines screamed “Australia’s legal, accounting and financial firms brace for coronavirus jobs fallout” (The Guardian 31 March). The article went on to say, “While accountants, business advisers and lawyers have initially been busy helping clients with layoffs, shutdowns and emergency capital raising, the economic contraction is expected to hit these sectors hard in coming weeks.”

While the true impact on professional services firms is yet to be realised – having gone over the past few months from contemplating industry catastrophe, to becoming the ‘superheroes’ of the pandemic, to now facing perhaps one (or more!) of the busiest end-of-financial-year peaks ever experienced – what has become clear is the enormous impact on individual professionals as they consider what the future may hold for themselves personally and professionally.

Reactive vs Proactive Professional Planning

Long before COVID19 became part of our lexicon, I enjoyed a number of conversations with senior accountants and professional services providers around the big question of “What’s Next” for them on their professional journey.

Some were approaching that ‘magical’ age and stepping away from the firm, others were questioning how they would spend their time well across a number of varied pursuits, and whether they were delivering their true value out into the market. The term “portfolio career” peppered these conversations.

Everyone seemed to want it, they just weren’t exactly sure of the ‘How’ to make it happen. Or worse, they were waiting for something to happen to them to kick-start their exploration and planning.

And then along came a virus.

What is a Portfolio Career?

One way of looking at a portfolio career is creating multiple income streams. And that makes sense because money is important. But there is more to portfolio career than just income.

In my conversations with professionals who have successful portfolio careers the primary driver (and benefit) is choice.

The ability to choose how you invest your time.  Choosing who you work with. Choosing where you deliver your value and the type of work you do.

For many professionals, a portfolio career will include a combination of advisory roles, non-executive board directorships (ranging from not-for-profit organisations to listed company boards), consulting or project-based work, and retaining/building a small number of key clients for whom they continue to deliver professional services.

Non-executive/company directorships come with their own accountabilities, liabilities, duties and restrictions as we know – often professional legal and accounting practitioners are sought after for these roles because of their business acumen, financial nous and client/sector legal or compliance expertise.

Too often, these professionals are limited in the practical value that they can deliver in these directorships, and appropriately so – Corporations Act legislation and ASX listing rules outline very clearly the limits of a director’s involvement with a business, and strict penalties are in place to defend and support those rules.

What if this portfolio included the chance to get ‘back on the tools’ and continue to deliver services of real hands-on value to business clients, where the guidance and advice (developed over many years) of experienced professionals can be directed towards solving business problems and supporting critical decision-making in that business? This is where accessing professional development and networks to support strategic advisory board roles within your portfolio of work is a powerful area to explore.

Some firms offer their outgoing partners support in growing their external network, in preparation for their “What’s Next”. Others retain them on a consultant basis for a period of time after they step down as a partner in the firm. Still others might support access to professional development programs in the director, governance or advisory space to equip them with currency of knowledge.

There is no “cookie cutter” approach to a portfolio career and nor should there be. Your portfolio or work should be fit for purpose for your situation, experience, and value proposition. Often a portfolio will shift and change over time as you allocate different “percentages” of your time to various aspects of your portfolio.

Gaining Clarity on What’s Next

A great journey starts with exploration and purposeful planning. In the same way that one would advise a client, evidence and critical evaluation should not go out the window when considering “What’s Next” for you. Being well-informed on all pathways available to you is key to taking the right steps.

One of the dangers of transition is that we often compare ourselves to other people. We see or hear about their successes, without considering the groundwork they have done to make success happen. When you are doing something for the first time there is also the “learning curve”. How do you know where to invest your time and effort?

Gaining clarity on what’s next starts with exploring your options, where and how you want to deliver your value and developing a focused plan to activate your personal strategy. Having an informed approach, that is disciplined and supported, can help you achieve a portfolio of work that is right for you.

If any of the predictions for the future of professional services do come true, there will be many people in the market seeking out new opportunities.

I had the opportunity recently to discuss this with Sandy Deans, an experienced HR Director and mentor, and her words resonated with me. “Use this time of uncertainty as an opportunity to do work on yourself, for yourself.

Looking for independent support and advice on managing your professional transition?  Contact us for a confidential discussion.