PortfolioCast

PortfolioCast from The Portfolio Collective: Ep.4 with Urban Planning and Transport Expert Steve Chambers

October 16, 2020 The Portfolio Collective Season 1 Episode 4
PortfolioCast
PortfolioCast from The Portfolio Collective: Ep.4 with Urban Planning and Transport Expert Steve Chambers
Chapters
0:57
Sell yourself as an expert
3:51
Save time for self promotion
8:31
Invest in yourself
19:17
Find your own way in
25:21
Success in new opportunities
PortfolioCast
PortfolioCast from The Portfolio Collective: Ep.4 with Urban Planning and Transport Expert Steve Chambers
Oct 16, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
The Portfolio Collective

Episode 4

We interview Steve Chambers, Urban Planning and Transport expert on the importance of:

  • selling yourself as an expert
  • saving time for self promotion
  • investing in yourself
  • finding your own way in, and 
  • creating success in new opportunities.

Steve is an advocate for charities of all sizes involved in the built environment and sustainable transport sectors. Whilst leading policy and campaigning roles, his portfolio career also includes being a lecturer and media spokesperson.




Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Episode 4

We interview Steve Chambers, Urban Planning and Transport expert on the importance of:

  • selling yourself as an expert
  • saving time for self promotion
  • investing in yourself
  • finding your own way in, and 
  • creating success in new opportunities.

Steve is an advocate for charities of all sizes involved in the built environment and sustainable transport sectors. Whilst leading policy and campaigning roles, his portfolio career also includes being a lecturer and media spokesperson.




Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Welcome to the fourth episode of Portfolio Cast. Today we're speaking with Steve Chambers. He is an advocate of charities of all sizes involved in the built environment and sustainable transport sectors. Whilst leading policy and campaigning roles, he has also been a subject matter expert, which has led to a portfolio career that includes being a lecturer and a media spokesperson. Welcome, Steve.

Steve Chambers:

Hello,

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Hi. So in my introduction, I've just given a flavour of what you do, and have done, in your working career. And the roles have been many and varied. I'd like to jump in with a question on how you have made your choices, what has driven your portfolio career along this path?

Steve Chambers:

Okay, there's a couple of different things to kind of balance in a portfolio career. For me personally, although there's been a lot of different kinds of roles, doing different things, being a campaigner, being an advisor, being a lecturer, I've stuck to two niche areas really: built environment, urban planning, and sustainable transport. And I've sold myself as an expert in those areas, I haven't spread that part to thin. Where I've been super flexible is with what the doing actually is. And that's where I've actually found myself coming into roles that at the beginning, I didn't anticipate something I knew I wanted to I wanted to become a lecturer I wanted to do that. I didn't know I wanted to be a campaigner at the beginning that that kind of evolved that presented itself. But all, and this is a crucial thing, I think, based on that subject knowledge that I held myself to.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah, and that specialism and we see it again, again. And we actually advise on that, during our Catapult course, for example, is find your specialism. Because there are a lot of people in the world, there are a lot of people probably in your market unless you are specifically very niche. But finding that specialism is going to be your strength, right?

Steve Chambers:

I have, as my career's moved on, I've identified areas that I thought were useful for me to get into because of where I wanted to go and I have broadened out. But it was a very gradual evolution, it wasn't just spreading myself too thin in terms of those things. And kind of the reason I think I've had the reason of sticking to that niche area is partly it's easier to explain yourself and promote yourself that way. But what I think is more important in choices, and more, something you don't really see, if you look at someone's CV.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah.

Steve Chambers:

You don't see two things, you don't see the rate and you don't see the reliability of that work. And actually, a lot of the choices that I've made have been about the one thing I think is very important for a portfolio career is to have a bread and butter job, something that's reliable, it's maybe one or two days a week that work's could probably gonna be there for quite a while, it's maybe at a lower rate, but that's going to pay the bills. And it might not be the thing that you're most into, don't do things you don't want to do, but it might not be the thing you're most into. And then you can use your other days for things that are higher rate, because they're less secure. They may be the more passion projects for you. So you don't see that when you look at a career of a portfolio career person, but those decisions are actually as important as where is this taking me? What am I going to be doing?

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah, that balance between stability and passion is something that we really have to strive for. Right? Because often it's your passion driving us. Also you have that fear with stability, right? You go out to lots of different roles and you say yes, a lot, especially in the beginning, but that can lead you down a path, which is harder to maintain, perhaps.

Steve Chambers:

Yeah, I mean, well, the trouble is saying yes, a lot and filling your time with work is that may prevent you and this is something I've learned, prevent you from having time to promote yourself to look for new work. The way I do it now, because I've actually had two stints and a portfolio career - I did it once, I went back into full time for about two years and came back out again - what I do differently now is I only programme four days of work. The fifth day is self promotion, it is looking for new business. You think about it, you're your sales person, you're selling yourself, you need to maintain this level of work. And if I'm really honest, what I did before - I didn't programme five days of work, I just took work and did it. And I realised now that was a mistake. Very fortunate that I enjoy what I do, but that can also be a curse because you can be ending up working seven days a week. By having that day that is not working for clients, it's working for yourself - making sure you have a good website - it gives you the opportunity to do... for me personally, I will do media appearances, not for client but just presenting myself as an expert that will generate interest. Blogging just for me not for clients that have sparked interest as well. And just recording things that I'm doing and presenting that to the world. I use Twitter a lot. But I started moving some of that sort of personal update stuff away from Twitter and onto my own website. Because social media, the way things surface, I started spending time to actually update my own website, to keep a record of that, to keep a record of achievements, of things I've been writing here and there. I don't know how common it is, for people today's but for me personally, it really works to have one day a week where I am promoting myself, and I'm needing to then get what I need for my income for the other four days. And that's no bad thing. I think,

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

I don't think that's a bad thing at all. I think that's really great advice. Definitely something that I found quite difficult, I always go back over trying to find that balance, is that life admin, and also that promotion stuff is so key, but often gets pushed down to the bottom of the pile, it's almost too late. But you've then you've got a rush, then you've got to push yourself.

Steve Chambers:

It's infrastructure as well. It's boring things like you know, having a really good email system, having your cloud storage sorted. Yeah, these are the sorts of things you do on that day, spending time to make sure you have the right equipment that you need. All of this kind of stuff is an investment in yourself. And it takes time, I don't want to be doing it in the gaps of time I have between other things and not making good choices. And going back to what are you selecting for the work that you're going to do? If you're doing that without time to really think about it, then you're probably not going to make the greatest choices. And if you're fully programmed with work, and maybe you made choices where the rate isn't so high, and you're unable to take on new work and you think, "Oh, well, I'm happy with what I've got, I don't let this client down." If you're creating that cushion of time, that you have that much more flexibility you can go for and get better work.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Absolutely. We've spoken about passion. And obviously being an advocate for charities is a real passion of yours. And I know from experience of giving to charities where it may be seen as unreciprocated. However, I often get so much more from it than others expect. What's the greatest reward for you from this kind of work?

Steve Chambers:

The work I'm doing is advocating for policy change, trying to get government to do things differently. The big rewards are few and far between that you do see that you make change. So two years ago, I produced a report highlighting the lack of funding for bus services outside of London, great bit of timing, getting in front of the right people. My report was cited at Prime Minister's question time by the leader of the opposition, incredible to see that recognition. And then later down the line, idt was a success, we secured funding good so that bus services could be maintained and improve. And I enjoy the whole process of that the whole process of producing research, getting coverage, do a lot of media work, getting our story out there. And then ultimately, because that's the destination, is to make change, make change in the world. And to see that is incredibly rewarding to me.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

As you say, you often do a lot of media work. And as an expert in your field, you're called upon for this and whether that's whether you're speaking or whether you're on TV or whether you're lecturing, what advice would you give to someone who is looking to create more of a presence from speaking as part of their portfolio career?

Steve Chambers:

Okay, I knew I wanted to become a lecturer, media spokesperson, as an opportunity came up. But for the being a lecturer, I know what to do it. I didn't know, however, that I had all the skills I needed for it. So I invested in myself is what I'm saying. I put myself on a PGCE course for two years, which is a teacher training course. You can actually be a lecturer with no training whatsoever. But I wanted to be the best I could be at doing that. And there was an element of pragmatism, the government were paying money at the time for you to do this course it was it made a lot of sense. This was coming out of the 2008 financial crisis. So that was when my portfolio career began. was one piece of advice on getting a crisis is a perfectly good time to start a portfolio career.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah, absolutely.

Steve Chambers:

And it was an opportunity that came up. I knew I wanted to do it. I knew I wanted to come in and do this role, and I didn't want to be rubbish at it. I wanted to be as best I could be. And for me the way to do that was to invest in myself. And I'm always learning in one way or another but that's what I did at the time. I taught sociology in sixth form college or further education college in West London in Ealing, and I got my PGCE and I felt super confident then going into university. I'd had some offers to do teaching work at that point by actually turned them down. I need to have this investment in myself. I want to do it right, I don't want to do this and not you know not be so great at it. In my head teaching with something I thought I was going to do very much towards the end of my career.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Okay,

Steve Chambers:

I'm thinking very much like a year has six months, whatever. But I'm also think down the line, we're going to work into what is normally retirement. And we need to be mindful of that, there's lots of reasons for that not all financial. If we're going to be active for all this period of time, we might want to actually, you know, do something. So I thought this would be something I would do, then I had, but obviously, I wanted to get all the tools under my belt, I wanted to have a have a stab at it, opportunities came up again, I started teaching, and I loved it. And I loved it because I was doing really well at it. And I felt very confident about doing it. My kind of advice there for that is invest in yourself. Same for the media stuff. As soon as it became apparent that I would be called on to do that. I did media training. It's affordable, I think for an individual to invest in themselves. I think that is absolutely 100% worth doing. It was just a one day course. But it taught me everything that I needed to know about that already had a little bit of experience. And that kind of helped. So yeah, my answer to that is, is invest in yourself. Yeah. And you will find that those two roles, a lecturer and media spokesman or anything like that will just be so much easier, easy on yourself.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

So moving on from lecturing, would you recommend anybody doing something like media training, to advance themselves or to, as you say, invest in themselves, to take themselves to the next level, I guess, I think if there's a real chance that you're going to be doing media inquiries, or if you already started to do them, I think that's the perfect time to do it. So when I did it, I only just started doing it, it became apparent I would be doing more. And that training, it lasted a day, I was able to connect with experiences that I'd already had. So I'd say that's the moment to do it. But my thing with training to teach and also with the media is this was something that I didn't feel super confident about it. So that for me was the time that I knew I needed to do training, some people just can go off and kind of do this, and be super confident, happy with it, that's fine, they have an innate thing for it. But these experiences for me anyway, tend towards being nerve wracking, potentially kind of experiences. If you've got all your tools sorted, that's going to make things a hell of a lot easier and remove a lot of that pressure. So if you're someone who does get nervous, or in those kind of situations, do yourself a favour and do that king of training set. And I'm sure that's true for many other high pressure, things like that. make life easier on yourself. Yeah, yeah, I think often, we make that assumption that we should know and should as terrible as we know, but we should know how to do it. First time off the bat. Whereas as you say, like taking that time to actually invest in yourself is so key. I'd like to go back a bit and talk about how you started your career because you started your career in marketing, not yet with specialism of town planning and sustainable transport. How did you get from there to here? So I kind of went as far as I think I was gonna go in marketing, basically. And I knew I wanted to do something different. I wasn't quite sure when I wanted to do looking back. Now I know the structure of nine to five wasn't right for me. But at the time, I was more focused on the idea that I was in the wrong profession. So I went back to university, I went back to university at 29, I did an undergraduate degree. I learned through the undergraduate degree, which was social policy, that I was interested in urban issues, things about the built environment and transport. I did a dissertation specialising on that areas within the social policy degree. And that meant I could go on to do a master's degree in urban planning. So I used the master's degree as a fine tuning tool, graduated from that out of into the financial crisis. That meant that a lot of options were less viable, full time employment was less viable. Because I been going down that kind of specialism route. Already at that point, you can see the fine tuning of my interests and my subject area. I was blogging, I was blogging then. I was going to events, I was talking, invited to speak at events because I was identified, even at that stage as a researcher as having a subject specialism. And so I was self promoting then invited to speak at things and then opportunities came up, but they were part time, they were advisors, they were consultancy. So effectively, I started my consultancy around 2010. And then as I said before, I knew I wanted to get somewhere and I wanted to I wanted to be doing teaching. I wanted to be a university lecturer. And that's how I spent some of my time, in education. I think I was using the portfolio career as a means to support educating myself. Yeah.

Steve Chambers:

And then coming out of the PGCE and kind of moving forward why I found is the work that I've been doing. So I was a consultant advisor. I saw a campaigning job advertised in my specialism area, very niche in my specialism in particular transport. And I never thought of myself as campaigner. But I read it and was like, well, that's what I do. This are myskills, you know, the communications, I already have that for my marketing career. So even that career that I abandoned has had value. And I refer to it when it's useful. And subject knowledge in particular, because this is this world, I'm talking about policy change, well, to change policy needs to know policy. And I applied for it. And it was a two day a week job, I got it, and then I became a campaigner, then the teaching opportunities came up, and I was doing more. And so that was maybe a three way split, lecturer, campaigner, consultant advisor, which is pretty much what I am now. And that's, that's how I got there.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah, that's fantastic to hear. And what I love about talking about people's journeys, is the fact that a portfolio career never really is fixed. It can be what you need it to be at whatever time for example, you know, supporting you through your education, but that's part of your portfolio career, and then later, being able to get three way split. And we've talked a bit about it, obviously, balancing your week, by having the opportunity and taking that time to reinvest in yourself. But how do you find balance and prioritise between your roles between your responsibilities, whilst also creating that work/life balance?

Steve Chambers:

Yeah, that can be difficult because clients often like your availability every day for them, rather than setting aside "this is Monday, I'm going to work for you and what I'm not gonna check emails for a week?"

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah.

Steve Chambers:

They kind of bleed into each other. But that is something that's really kind of valued. I think technology is the answer. I use multiple email addresses, individual email addresses for clients. So stuff is sorted that way, and different cloud storage, ensuring that they don't bleed into each other is what I'm saying.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah,

Steve Chambers:

I really keep them kind of separate. I'm not quite sure how I juggler. I feel like just leaving enough time and not having too much work really helps. Because if I was answering this question before, like the previous time, I was, I was working like this. It was chaos if I'm really honest. I did work, deadlines were due, I was going from one thing to another, I was doing incredibly long days. I was earning less as well. That's the thing, I really cannot stress that enough. If you make better choices, you will you will earn more. So you know, working like that, having too much work is just not a good recipe. Finding it very difficult to take holidays as well, because of that kind of, you know, organising like that. Now I'm much more disciplined. I'm not especially setting aside days of individual clients. I do work, I will work for multiple clients across the time. Some things have to happen at a particular time - lecturing, obviously, you know, you're in the room at that time. Interestingly, in the COVID era, I'm travelling less. And that helps, I feel like I have more time. So when I was like going between clients and going to lecturing, wherever a lot of time was spent travelling, not from you know, meals grabbed, while travelling feels like the theme of how my life was, and there's less of that now. I'm travelling a bit more for work, which is lovely, but it's not. It's not racing between meetings. So that's helped. I mean, honestly, I think the answer I'm saying is don't give yourself too much to do. Be organised. I use very basic, a Trello style, sort of task management. I think that works works for me. But yeah, I really do think that the number one thing is just don't overload yourself.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's really great advice. And especially for people who are facing making that jump towards a portfolio career. Is there any advice that you would give, for somebody trying to make the decision of, should I stay my nine to five, or should I actually make this jump? I mean there's a lot of people at the moment who are facing redundancy, or are on furlough and not sure what's coming up or even just not happy in what they're doing? And I've realised after being stuck in it, and not having, feeling not feeling like they have a way out? What would that advice be?

Steve Chambers:

Well, I've kind of got recent experience of that. As I said, I went back to full time work for two years, I had two experiences where I thought "Actually, this isn't the right thing for me, I'm gonna go back to a portfolio career." And it's really hard to set one up from scratch or while you're in that employment full time. If you can, and I've seen people do this. And this might be a good way if you can negotiate going down to four days for a while and use the fifth day, almost like I do to start up, get your first client and do something else. Whatever. That's one way of doing it. But honestly, starting a portfolio career is like someone who says they're gonna go on around the world trip, and the hardest thing for them is to just buy the ticket. Buy yourself the ticket. And there's a lot of anxiety about, you know, earnings and all that kind of stuff. I mean, not everyone's gonna be able to do this, I know. But if you can try and find a way to get your finances sorted, so you could live with reduced income for six months. And maybe not up to the level where you really want to be for a year, but six months of like, you know, really reduced income, then maybe another six months of not quite where you want to be. Allowing for that. That will actually help you. Because you'll remove the anxiety and you won't make bad decisions, so you'll end up earning more anyway, because you will make better choices, you won't pick up work, and then not be able to do the better thing because you've, you've picked up something else. But really, if you can get that six months organised, if you're already in that employment, maybe you need to put some money aside, I know everyone can't do that. I know it's incredibly privileged thing to be able to do that. But if you can, it will remove that anxiety, and you'll just enjoy it more. It's not fun doing it with anxious feel awkward, because but because you look terrible.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

You absolutely do. Absolutely.

Steve Chambers:

And also one bit of advice I had recently which which is good for everyone in a portfolio career, but especially at the start. If you are not embarrassed, asking for your rate then it's set too low. And you know, it's a marketing, right, it's a starting point for conversation. If you're not embarrassed, embarrassed asking for this amount of money, then you set it too low. You really don't sell you, I mean, let's be honest, at the beginning of a portfolio career, you might make choices that are not the same as later on, you want to get some work, you want to be in the world you need to be in. Going back to that idea of things that are more stable, but maybe not so well paid. Also look at what is this organisation like, who's in it, what's their network, networking is one of those powerful things in a portfolio career. You might choose a gig that gives you access to people, who, you know, projects that might have an extended kind of governance that has, you know, influential people in a particular area. That's good to be part of, you know, so you might make some decisions, again, for a lower rate that are around, not just stability, but like, you know, where could I go on to next from this role? So I really, really advise and very careful choices around that juggle these different - you need to eat! But also, you know, kind of where, where am I going to go? Where could this bring me on to next?

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, how do you have a side hustle can work in so many different ways. And if you can, like reduce your hours down to four days a week, and then have that day to explore? That's a brilliant option. That's great advice. I found doing work in the evenings and the weekends to start my side hustles and start my portfolio career that way, worked for me.

Steve Chambers:

Yeah.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

You do work long hours and long days. And it's not sustainable. And that's a great place to start. But don't do it forever, because you get very tired. I guess that's that's a piece of advice that I would give myself if I was to restart my career at any point. But is there anything that you would do differently if you had a chance to restart anywhere along your career path really?

Steve Chambers:

Yes. So the one thing as I say that I have done differently is having that day kind of self promotion for new business, I think, or a period of time programming and having that kind of in there. Again, the second time I did go back, I was I was more chill about finding work. I guess I know, because I've done it before, and it only you know, it will work out then. And you know what, I thought it would take much longer to get back where I was before. It took six months.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah,

Steve Chambers:

It took six months to get back and earning more than I was before, better quality gigs, more respected and in a lot of these, really valued for my contribution. It took me six months.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah,

Steve Chambers:

I thought I gave myself a year. In my head I was thinking this could take a year, you got to you know, prepare for that. It didn't. So yeah, try and be chill. You know, you've got to be you will make bad choices if you're kind of anxious. So that's that's one thing I definitely did differently. Being hotter on the self promotion, I was saying no more. Some people might find that a problem. But sometimes you do have to say no, or, you know, working out a way that something is going to work for you. And if it's not, then it's not the right sort of opportunity.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah, that mean that's really important. If you're not saying no then are you saying how does this actually work for me? So often, we just say yes, and then realise it's not the right thing later down the line, don't we? Finally, and this is a question that I go back to again, again, but it is something that a lot of people look to and everybody's looking for the, for the answer on how to succeed. Naturally, that looks different for all of us. How do you define success? where you are in your career now? And does that look any different to how it did in the past?

Steve Chambers:

How do I define success? I'm thinking a lot about where I'm going next now. So one thing I've gotten into recently is I've started exploring directorships of like organisations and I looked for things that I wanted to kind of expand into, that were useful for me, or I could bring something there. So success for me now is kind of what new opportunities are being yielded by my work. Yeah, I get bored quickly. So that's something I've learned about myself. That's why I'm in a portfolio career. And I've actually learned that I need to start very early thinking about the next thing because heaven help me if I get to to a position where I am - okay, I'm really bored now - because that's disastrous. So having that kind of thing, a bit earlier, thinking about that... I'm very lucky, opportunities do come to me, I'm actually a quite...where I talk about self promotion, that's marketing - I'm actually quite lazy salesman, I'm not great about going out there. I like when opportunities come to me. I should do more in that area. But you know, we are where we are. But for me, it is about looking at the opportunities that I have coming in and are - and are they where I want to be? Is it going to be interesting for me? Is it can be fairly remunerated? That to me is success, because I'm enjoying the steps on the way and I want to be doing things in future that are enjoyable, that success for me, I think really, keeping it going in that way.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Yeah, that's, that's really good advice. And this whole conversation, thank you so much for your time, because there's been so many snippets of brilliant advice that I think it's going to help so many people who are already in a portfolio career but looking to maybe restart one or get into one now. So yeah, thank you so much for your time. I think we're gonna wrap up there. But I wish you every success with all your next ventures.

Steve Chambers:

Thank you.

Lexi Radcliffe-Hart:

Thanks very much.

Sell yourself as an expert
Save time for self promotion
Invest in yourself
Find your own way in
Success in new opportunities