PortfolioCast

PortfolioCast from The Portfolio Collective: Ep.1 with CEO Ben Legg

September 11, 2020 The Portfolio Collective Season 1 Episode 1
PortfolioCast
PortfolioCast from The Portfolio Collective: Ep.1 with CEO Ben Legg
Chapters
0:42
Why I started The Portfolio Collective
2:24
What is a portfolio career
2:27
What are the benefits?
14:10
Who would suit a portfolio career?
24:40
How has it changed my life?
PortfolioCast
PortfolioCast from The Portfolio Collective: Ep.1 with CEO Ben Legg
Sep 11, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
The Portfolio Collective

PortfolioCast Episode 1

We interview Ben Legg, CEO and co-founder of The Portfolio Collective on:

- What is a portfolio career?
- Why he started The Portfolio Collective
- The benefits of a portfolio career
- Who would suit a portfolio career
- How it has changed his life

Ben is a former COO of Google Europe, global technology CEO, McKinsey consultant and soldier. He now helps entrepreneurs to reinvent themselves and society.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

PortfolioCast Episode 1

We interview Ben Legg, CEO and co-founder of The Portfolio Collective on:

- What is a portfolio career?
- Why he started The Portfolio Collective
- The benefits of a portfolio career
- Who would suit a portfolio career
- How it has changed his life

Ben is a former COO of Google Europe, global technology CEO, McKinsey consultant and soldier. He now helps entrepreneurs to reinvent themselves and society.

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George Hill :

Welcome to the first episode of PortfolioCast. Today, we're speaking to Ben Legg founder and CEO of The Portfolio Collective, which aims to support both new and experienced portfolio workers. Ben started his portfolio career around a year ago, after 15 years of being a CEO at tech companies across the globe. He now has a portfolio career as a CEO, mentor, board member and career advisor. So without further ado, here's Ben. Hi, Ben.

Ben Legg :

Hey!

George Hill :

What gave you the idea to start The Portfolio Collective?

Ben Legg :

So it kind of crept up on me over a few months. So during lockdown, I was running a weekly workshop, offering career advice to friends and family. It's just kind of a Zoom. You know, anyone asked me career advice as a turn up on Wednesday and join in the conversation. And as the lockdown got more and more deepened, you know more and more people got put on furlough or laid off etc, I started asking myself, why am I helping people polish their CVS and apply for permanent jobs that either don't exist or have 1000 applicants for every job? The reality is there just are less permanent jobs in existence. And that's, yes, it's been exacerbated by Coronavirus, but the reality is this is a long term trend that's been forecast by the OECD and others. So in the end, I said, I want to be really helpful. I'm going to turn my weekly workshop into helping people find other types of work beyond a permanent job and start doing a tonne of research and meeting all sorts of cool people. And realising that actually, you can have an amazing career, a portfolio career by doing a combination of being paid per hour being paid by the day being paid on a deliverable, collaborating with startups... It goes on and on without going into any depth. And I thought that's kind of what I have, but everyone's path is different so I have a portfolio career, other people probably need to build a portfolio career. I want to help them do that. And I realised no one else was really doing it, I think the right way. So I said, right, I'm gonna try and build this thing.

George Hill :

Fantastic. But a lot of people they don't necessarily understand kind of what a portfolio career is in and kind of what it consists of. So could you maybe just give us a bit of background about that?

Ben Legg :

Sure. So portfolio career really is it's a career in which you do not have one boss or work for one company, but you have multiple sources of income. At the simplest level, that's it. Now, there are lots of subtleties to it. So some people might think, well, you know, that's called freelancing. I might argue that freelancing is more like getting paid per hour, you know, but you don't work for a company full time. A portfolio career is much broader than that. So we basically say what are all the ways to monetize your skills and say, you can, you can certainly charge by the hour you can charge by the day, but there are some people who work for free for startups in return for stock options. There are some people who write training courses. upload them online and get paid every time someone watches of course. There are some people who do board jobs or temporary jobs or advisory board jobs. There are others who teach people what they know, and get paid for it. So it's basically multiple sources of income and multiple ways of making money. That's where The Portfolio Collective is focusing is on people who want to have an amazing differentiated portfolio career.

George Hill :

So somebody who has a full time job, what do you think would be the main benefits that you would espouse for a portfolio career for somebody who's worked for the last 20 years within a permanent role?

Ben Legg :

A few things? First of all, on average portfolio career professionals earn significantly more than people in permanent roles. That's not a bad starting point. Significantly more often, two or three times as much per day or per week. The key is, how do you fill your time enough that you can continue to earn more? You get a lot more freedom. So typically, you can work from anywhere you're less tied to working with me one team or one office so you can work from home or work from abroad. You know, you can work for companies, internationally, etc. With a portfolio career, you work with multiple teams on multiple projects. So if you are easily bored or you know want to have a lot of diversity and intellectual stimulation, it can be really good. It's a way of ensuring your skills are cutting edge. I'd say, staying in one full time job is a very high risk strategy, you get laid off, you don't know if you're employable ever again, especially with permanent roles in decline. In a portfolio career, you have to stay cutting edge otherwise, you'll never win business. And so you know, you're employable, you know your skills, have a value, etc. For some people, they don't want to work long hours, want to work 20 hours a week, 30 hours a week for the portfolio career that's much easier. Even for those who are in permanent work, they might want a side hustle, you know, a start of a portfolio career because it's extra income. It's a safety net just in case they lose their jobs, etc. So, I think for almost anyone, unless they're in a full time job that takes 80 hours a week and they just have no spare time or they A family situation where they don't but anyone if they were they have a full time job, have a bit of spare time, or just want to optimise their life, I think for portfolio career is a really exciting thing to do.

George Hill :

It's something that a lot of people have tended to kind of gravitate towards without necessarily formalising it with a name. Is that the kind of thing that people have been talking about?

Ben Legg :

Yeah, there's definitely a lot of it when people say so what is the portfolio career? What's The Portfolio Collective? And I tell them. And they say, I think that's what I've got. So actually, there are way more people who do it than the record suggests. So I, for example, I think in the UK right now, officially, there's about 300,000 people with portfolio careers. My guess is is probably a million already, although there are probably a few million - 3, 4, 5 million - in five or 10 years time, so it's a rapidly growing way of working. The other interesting fact again, I'll just use UK stats because I know them better but of the 32 million people in the workforce in the UK, 16 million people have a side hustle. So 16 million people are saying my day job either doesn't pay me enough or isn't fulfilling enough, or I've got other interests and I think I can monetize them. So actually there's 16 million people who arguably are taking one step towards a portfolio career, and would find it much more straightforward to actually turn it into a full time career.

George Hill :

You've had a tonne of side hustles as long as you can remember, how did that influence you in terms of your path towards becoming a portfolio career professional?

Ben Legg :

Yeah, so some of it was just for fun. And I guess so for example, as a teenager, I used to buy and sell things. I've done all sorts of random stuff in holidays, like putting up scaffolding, making sandwiches, working in a pub. So it's a mixture of sort of side jobs, and then side hustles were kind of doing a little bit of trading or whatever it might be. Those I would argue with just mainly for money. But as I became more professional, I started doing things like making speeches at conferences, or working with investors to help them with due diligence, or doing a bit of consulting or joining boards. And I was doing that even when I had a full time job. I just had to restrict myself. To say 5, 6, 7 hours a week because I had a full time job. So I guess when I decided, and there's only a year ago, I said, "Oh, yeah, I think I'm gonna have a portfolio career and not have a day job" that I had to say "what can I do?" and actually, spinning up from my side hustle into 20 hours a week of paid work was quite easy. Getting from 20 to 40/50, etc. took a bit longer because then I had to say, right, I've got room I want to be selective. I want to do something that pays well, is interesting, working with great people and trying to be fussy while also realising you can't do nothing, because that's not productive. So but I think having a side hustle. If you have the luxury of time, you have a day job, but you want a portfolio career, I would absolutely say start a side hustle first. Ideally, the side hustle is the thing you're going to turn into career. It doesn't have to be, but it means that you probably set up a company you probably have a business bank account, you know how to pitch for work, you start testing a supply and demand, how much demand is there for your services? How much can you charge? It makes it much much easier to quit the day job and go all in on portfolio career if you've been getting ready for some time.

George Hill :

I think that it's a really positive thing to do even before you start a portfolio career just because it also gives you a bit of knowledge about what to expect. So, at the moment, obviously, economic conditions are constantly changing. So why do you think now is a time when portfolio careers are going to expand?

Ben Legg :

Sure. So let's start with some of the market data and these I'm sure they're changing all the time. But in the UK, when there's full employment, there's, there's something like 32 million people have jobs because they want to work. Right now. There's already something like 3 million unemployed about 9 million on furlough, and about 3 million self employed people being paid by the government to do nothing. So that's 15 million people. Now, depending on which economists you believe, it seems likely that only something that half the people on furlough will get their jobs back, maybe it's two thirds, but whichever way you look at it, there will be 5 plus million people. unemployed in the UK. And it might be 8. But you know, let's even just even 5, 6 million. If you look at the number of permanent roles posted right now, there's about 400,000. If you actually work out which the real jobs not duplicates of jobs, or jobs that have just been filled, or jobs that will never be filled, it's probably more like 200,000. So sticking to neat numbers, you've got something like 5 million people applying for 200,000 jobs, the maths doesn't work. So most people out of work will not get a permanent job in the near future. But then there's a much bigger trend going on, which is most companies want less permanent headcount. They don't need as much. The world is changing so fast, that you don't want to build big teams because all you're doing is building big teams and then shutting them down again, because the world changed. So companies want to be more nimble. If they want to project to test something new. They'd rather do it with freelancers or consultants or external experts, rather than with internal employees. There might be a couple of internal employees but there are a lot of freelancers. If you want an expert, you probably don't contemplate that expert full time. So you bring them in for a project or for a few hours or for a few days, you bet. You want to build a new marketing campaign, you probably outsource it, whether it's an agency or an individual. You're in a hurry to start a team, you start with contractors, maybe some of them become full time. So the there is a boom in companies outsourcing work on various forms of part time basis. In fact, in a interview thing from this article from this week, something like 25% of all companies are paying to increase the number of people that they hire in a kind of non traditional outsource way, that's much more positive than than the permanent jobs plans. So there's not much chance of any permanent job. There's a tonne of other interesting work. So what that means is a lot of people who used to have a permanent job, now they need a portfolio career and they need help. And what I want to do is help them make the transition get started, win their first piece of work, win the second and the third, and then over time build a sustainable portfolio career. So I just think the timing's perfect. And I kind of looked at the market and said, "is anyone doing this?" You would have thought there is someone and couldn't really find anyone. So there were plenty of jobs boards. Yeah, there's platforms like Upwork, where, you know, freelancers can bid for work, companies can post work. But we actually found 86 of those platforms. So for a freelance, freelancer or a portfolio career professional, just working out, what are the platforms or how to use them, is really, really complex. There are training courses out there, but most of them will train you leadership skills, presentation skills, maybe even how to create a start up, but not how to build a portfolio career. So we basically said, "Let's build a community of portfolio career professionals" and offer training, community networking, etc. to help people get started successfully, and then just continue to optimise their portfolio career basically, for as long as they want it.

George Hill :

Yeah, there are going to be a huge number of redundancies and the majority of those redundancies aren't necessarily going to be from jobs that are they're no longer needed. The reason is purely financial. So there's going to be so many companies with brain drain, they still need to perform the tasks that these people were doing. But there is no way that they can bring them in full time. Using portfolio workers and freelancers to be able to, to fill that kind of brain drain companies are having is going to be absolutely essential for the economy to recover. Because without them, companies aren't going to be able to function.

Ben Legg :

The other thing I would add is that companies don't need to optimise and say who's the best person we can get through the door in our town. You know, now that everyone's working from home, companies are saying, I can get really good people because the whole world is my talent pool. And so from that perspective, it's like, do I want to get a mediocre person from my own town because they live within a few miles of the office? Or do I want the best in the world and the best value in the world so the best combination of skills and money, and most companies would rather have the latter. And so there's also an element of with everyone working from home. It's much easier to pull in contracts or freelancers from somewhere else in the world.

George Hill :

Yeah, hundred percent, the number of roles now where location is just left blank, just shows how different things are, there's not really any need to search within a specific geographical perameter.

Ben Legg :

So I've got a one person consulting business because it's me. But I also have loads of work because I've normally got too much to do. And I probably outsource to between five and eight people per month, whatever it is, I'm doing. None of them live in London. They all live either elsewhere in the UK or somewhere else in the world. I've got definitely people in the US, Canada, India, Pakistan, Singapore, the UK, and the Netherlands, and probably more, but yeah, that's a pretty good list. It basically means I can just find the right person for the job and not worry about geography.

George Hill :

Yeah, I think especially during lockdown. More and more people have seen that you don't need an office to be productive. Maybe that's potentially another reason why we're likely to see an increase in portfolio work because people realise "Oh, wait, I can work at home."

Ben Legg :

Yeah, absolutely.

George Hill :

Yeah. In terms of the type of Do you think a portfolio career would be particularly appealing for or that would excell in a portfolio career? What kind of person do you think is drawn towards it?

Ben Legg :

Yeah, so it's good question because not everyone is the first thing is you need to be able to identify reasonably unique monetizable skills. Now, it doesn't mean you have to have them on day one, but you need to be able to develop them. So one of the key things I think that differentiates portfolio career professionals is they're not scared of much. If there's a project out there that they haven't done before, they'll work it out. Now, it's normally peripheral to their skills. So there's an element of fearlessness is "if my client has a problem, I'll help them solve it. I don't need to be taught how to think, I don't be taught how to do things. I don't particularly want to have to do things according to a certain company's process. I like problem solving. I like serving clients. I like trying new stuff." There's an element of fearlessness in there. There's an element of self-motivation. The reality of a portfolio career is it's not like with permanent job where you have a lot of work into landing the job, and you know, getting up and running quickly. And then to a certain extent, you can get into a into a rut, into a routine where you just do your job and you turn your brain off a bit, or you kind of slow down your your pulse a little bit. In a portfolio career, any client could bin you at any stage, any bit of work could roll off at some stage because the projects finished or the client ran out of money or the plan changed or whatever it might be. So you need to be constantly hustling to say, "How can I get more work from the existing clients? How can I win new clients? How can I develop my skills to be even more future proof or valuable?" So there's definitely an element of a real drive to grow yourself, grow your client list, etc. Now, obviously, with that comes networking, and not necessarily old school networking of hanging around in clubs, but you're getting active on LinkedIn, getting active in groups, trying to discuss them work out the future, staying in touch with former clients, that kind of thing. So definitely a bit of fearlessness, a lot of self motivation and self improvement, a decent amount of networking. And then just the usual thing that big companies would want to, which is just professionalism. When you apply for a job, you do a really thorough job with zero spending mistakes and awesome thoughts. When you deliver a piece of work, you do such an amazing job that you win follow on work at some stage. You can't afford to be sloppy at all as a freelancer because noone will hire you back, so they're probably I said that the fourth skill is something all organisations want. The first three or four is slightly more focused on portfolio career professionals.

George Hill :

Sure. Sounds like the kind of person who would be naturally entrepreneurial anyway?

Ben Legg :

Yeah, I mean, if you think about the portfolio career is effectually. You're a startup CEO, but it's a company of one.

George Hill :

Yeah. What do you think the potential is for the kind of portfolio careers to develop into new startups? And when we saw a huge boom in startups, kind of around between 2011 and 2016? Yeah. Do you think that a portfolio career is essentially just a precursor to a startup?

Ben Legg :

I think if you do the numbers it can't be for everyone. The round says there's going to be millions of portfolio career professionals in every developed economy. Not all of those can turn into startups. So we have millions of startups. But could it be the springboard for a lot of people to turn what starts off as a service or a product idea into a company? Absolutely. The other thing I'd say is, I've worked with a lot of startups for years, one of my portfolio jobs as well as mentoring startup CEOs, a lot of them have a portfolio career to fund their startup. So it's a way of making money with a certain skill set while you try and build a company on the side. And sometimes they're linked, and sometimes they're not. And also a lot of people, you know, choose a portfolio career because they don't want to manage a team anymore. They don't want to work, you know, 40/50/60 hours a week, they'd rather work 20 or 30, as well. So, so there are a lot of motivations for a portfolio career. And not all of them is "I want to change the world." Some of them is "I just want to be really, really good at something, make a few clients happy, Work From Home, spend a little time with family," whatever it might be as well. And there are those who want to change the world.

George Hill :

There's obviously Ways to start which will give yourself a solid foundation that will allow you to kind of grow quick and see, what advice would you give as a starting?

Ben Legg :

Yeah, so there's a few steps you really should go through before launching, if you just launch in, you might win work, and then you might let that define you. And it may or may not be the right work for you, it may or may not be the right rate and may or may not be the right client. So there's a risk that you get into a different type of rut from a permanent job, which is the wrong kind of portfolio work. So it is good if you have time to take a step back and say, Why don't I launch myself correctly? There's a few steps to doing that. So the first one is to really think through what are all the skills that I have or that I would love to learn? How valuable are they? How much in demand are they and what am I going to do to define my special skills, enhance my special skills, etc. Just really just saying, the best portfolio career professionals stand for something. They are great at something they differentiate themselves. What's that for me? Then it's getting the word out. And there's the obvious things like, do an amazing job on your LinkedIn profile to stand out, build a website, even if it's only a one page website that really explains what you do. Those two things alone, help say to people, I'm professional, you may or may not win tonnes of work from it. But when people are thinking of working with you and check you out, they'll check your LinkedIn and they'll check your website. So make sure they're awesome. Then it's a case of going out and trying to actually win work, Now, simplicity: there's two ways of winning work, there's actually thousands. One is to go through the platforms, go to Upwork and try and win some work. Go to Eton McCallum go and do some work go to TopTal as a there's 86 platforms that we found, which probably means that 150 it's a good way to get started is because there is real work there. So if you can win it, there's jobs now. They're also more competitive. So you need to really put a tonne of effort into your profile on those platforms, thoughtful sales pitches, etc. But if you do it, it's a fantastic way to get started. You can actually fill your whole calendar with work from platforms. So that's a good way to get started. What I found and again, I have met with and interviewed hundreds of portfolio career professionals is typically the very best work comes from network. Might be former colleagues, who are still at your old company want to bring you back. It may be people who work with one company they've moved on. It may be because you are helping out on an accelerator with startups and one of the startups says, Can we hire you? Could be because you're working with the charity met someone at the charity, you actually also has a company. You know, get out there, network in lots of different ways. There's so many ways to do it. And that tends to win you bigger pieces of work with less competition, because often say, Can you do this work? How much will you charge? They're not asking 100 other people to apply. So it tends to be better quality, better paying work. But that takes time that can take six months or 12 months to fill your whole calendar with that. So I'd say you probably want both, win work through the platforms while trying to win more work through your network. The other thing I would just say and it's less about starting out, but in your mind, don't think the way you make money a month one is the main way to make money in month 12. The reality is you need to keep iterating because whatever skills you have today will be commoditized. So you've got to constantly say, "How do I get better at this, to stay ahead of commoditization?"

George Hill :

And I think that one of the boundaries that's kind of traditionally existed is the element of "I'll get lonely if I'm not working in an office". But I mean, the reality is almost every single person across the UK is now working from home.

Ben Legg :

So generally, I agree with you. So in the world pre lockdown, a lot of portfolio professionals did say it's a bit lonely, and not because they're not because they're also they're working with lots of human beings as they're getting human traction. But the teams that are working with keep changing, there's element of you don't belong to a tribe. Whereas if you're in a company, you belong to a tribe, your tribe is your work colleagues. But the people who used to work in offices feel a bit lonely now, there's not as much camaraderie as there used to be. But the other thing with portfolio career professionals, the ones that had the most successful careers, are actually very good at staying in touch with clients, staying in touch with friends, they often do something in the community, often have great family lives, because you know they're working from home more etc. So they compensate for the lack of being in one team at one company with other ways to stay plugged into society.

George Hill :

Sure. What do you think the definition of a successful portfolio career is?

Ben Legg :

It's a funny one. The first thing I'll say is every single portfolio career is different. Yeah, everyone comes from a different place. Everyone wants different things in life. Everyone has different family situation. Everyone has different financial needs. Everyone has different skill set. So of the - I'll hazard a guess that I've chatted to 300 portfolio career professionals in the last three months and read a lot of articles that cover more - I haven't seen two careers that are the same yet. So there is a wide variety but if you try and hazard a guess what does success look like? Number one, you stand out meaning you either worked out unique way of serving clients, or unique way of monetizing your skills that you can kind of say I'm the best in the world at something. Now you may or may not be, but other people think you are. I mean, the reality is, you might be an amazing videographer, and people think you're the best. But there's other 50 people the same skill set, but people think this person is awesome. And you think, Hey, I'm pretty good at this. It's a mixture of the feedback you get from clients, or the quality of your work, the rates you can charge. So just being really good at something. The second is balancing the portfolio. So never having a month off unless you want a month off which some portfolio career professionals do take a month off in the summer or whatever, but constantly just keeping an eye on the portfolio and seeing how that projects rolling off then how am I going to fill the gap? This work is boring me, what do I do to replace it? This skill is getting commoditized, hHow do I either improve my skill or find a different skill? So there's just a constant sort of continuous improvement and fine tuning. One of the reasons it's called a portfolio career is you should treat it like a financial portfolio manager manages their investments, which is I need to invest more here less here. I need to keep an eye on trends here, etc. So, there's that. I'd also say, just as with most things in life, balancing your portfolio career with your life, so making sure you can fit in exercise, fit in family time, fit in, you know, travel, whatever it might be. Most of the best portfolio professionals also work for some kind of charity, and they offer their skills for free to a charity, or some other good cause, as a way of giving back as well. So trying to get that whole balance, you can really have an amazing life if you get it right. But you got to be constantly fine tuning.

George Hill :

It's such a kind of wide concept. I guess the definition of success is going to be entirely different for different people. How do you think that your life personally has changed since you began your portfolio?

Ben Legg :

Yeah, the first thing is more working from home for sure. Just a very practical one. I'm now in my garage. It might look fancy, but it's actually that's an Ikea wardrobe with a nice coat of paint. But this guy was used to be part gym, part parking space for prams and other junk, I had to tidy it up and use it. On the plus side. That meant I was mentally prepared for lockdown when it came because I knew I'd be spending a lot of time I'm in here. So that's one, I have built a spreadsheet that forecasts my cash in and cash out every month whenever you see that because I kind of knew my expenses and my income. So now it's like, okay, which jobs will pay when and when you know, what expenses do I have? So that's just a practical thing. Upu need to manage your money slightly more closely. I have way more intellectual stimulation. I'm not just think about one industry now and think about multiple industries. That's really cool. I've had to learn to be a better mentor. Now, that's partly the path I've chosen. But I've been basically a CEO for 15 years. And so I was kind of the boss and, you know, had to sort of mostly run things. Now I am my primary part of my forefront of career is mentoring other CEOs. So I'm not telling anyone what to do. I'm trying to help them solve problems and help them be better CEOs. And so it's kind of a I had to learn that skill set. So I read some books. There's a good book called The Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt, which it was excellent. So if you wanted to be a business coach or mentor, I recommend that. What else has changed in my life? I like it more. I mean, it's, it's just more stimulating, I feel way more in control of my own destiny, more time at home, which is not just working. So now and again, if I got a free bit of time, lunchtime, I can go for lunch with my wife, I can take my daughter to the park or things like that. So there's not a lot, I'm working hard, but probably more than I used to do. Less travel that's partly locked down. Partly, I think the portfolio career, you don't get invited as much to company off sites and what have you. And most of my clients at the moment are UK or Western Europe, whereas most of my previous jobs have been more global. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I probably used to travel too much. Now I miss it a bit. But I think a lot of people miss travel right now. So kind of a lot of changes. But apart from really lockdown, most of them are really positive.

George Hill :

Fantastic! Ben, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today.

Ben Legg :

A pleasure. Thank you.

George Hill :

Thanks.

Ben Legg :

No worries.

Why I started The Portfolio Collective
What is a portfolio career
What are the benefits?
Who would suit a portfolio career?
How has it changed my life?