Episode: 421 |
Ben Legg:
The Portfolio Career:


Ben Legg

The Portfolio Career

Show Notes

Ben Legg helps entrepreneurs reinvent themselves and society for the better. His career has included relieving the siege of Sarajevo in 1995, McKinsey strategy consultant, turning around Coca-Cola India and the COO of Google Europe. In this episode, he discusses his latest venture The Portfolio Collective.

You can learn more at https://portfolio-collective.com

Key points include:

  • 01:00: Who can become a portfolio professional
  • 04:48: How the Portfolio Creative developed
  • 10:03: The benefits of joining the Portfolio Collective
  • 20:32: Branding diverse skill sets and services cohesively
  • 22:25: Entry requirements 

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:03
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman and I’m here today with Ben legg who is the founder of the portfolio collective. Ben, welcome to the show. Great to be so been. You talk about portfolio careers on your site bringing together people with portfolio crews, what is a portfolio career?

Ben Legg 00:27
So at its very essence, a portfolio career is just that you don’t have just one source of income, you have multiple sources of income. And there are lots of types. But yeah, at the one extreme, maybe the starters may have a day job with a paying side hustle through to you know, people who really don’t have a day job, don’t want a day job, and monetize their knowledge and skills in multiple ways.

Will Bachman 00:49
Okay, so say a little bit more like what would some of those ways be? So give us maybe the mid to long list of the different types of sources

Ben Legg 01:00
can you see? Okay, so let’s start with the types of both folio professionals so that we kind of see them in four buckets. So there is that kind of side hustle, which basically means supplementing your day job. The second is like freelancer, where, in essence, your outsourced labor, typically for big companies in which you kind of do professional work, there’s a brief you, you respond to the brief you do the work, it could be, it could be design could be whatever companies need. The third type of portfolio professional is what we call multi high finance. There’s other names for those too. But people who say, I’m very happy with my life doing two or three unrelated things, I realized it’s not coherent, but that’s how I want to live my life. And then the fourth type of portfolio profession is what we call focused experts, in which you try and be the best at something you really like, the most knowledgeable person on city planning, you can be there, you can be a drone lawyer, you could be an expert on educational technology investing, there’s you pick your theme, and say I want to be the best at it. Now, clearly, all four of those types of portfolio professional can monetize in many ways the people monetize with the most diversity of those focus experts. Because you know, what can you do, you can sit on boards, which might bring in a retainer of some sort of like a monthly retainer and potentially shares. You can invest, invest either your time or your money in return, which obviously could pay back over time, you can do consulting, you’re you’re an expert at something. So you can do consulting, you could collaborate with universities potentially get to pay to teach at universities, you can become a publisher, you have a book, a video, or podcasts and make money through through those. You can own intellectual property and license that out. So it’s a very long list as you become more and more of an expert is that way to make money.

Will Bachman 02:53
Okay, so I guess under that, you know, creator, creator category, there’s like creating a course, or creating a some kind of intellectual property, digital product of some type, whether it’s a download or a playbook or even an Excel spreadsheet, or, or

Ben Legg 03:16
=-Absolutely, yeah, or one of our members. Example, the Excel spreadsheet. One of our members is a Brit, who lives in Singapore. And he’s done a lot of like advertising technology and lighting technology sales roles in the past, he’s now a portfolio professional. And he has built the best database of people who buy advertising and marketing technology in Asia. And he goes to European and American tech companies, and says you don’t have much of a sales office in Asia, you know, join me to make some introductions, and he gets paid on a mixture of retainer and commission. So effectively, to your point, he is monetizing a spreadsheet of people who buy the right type of technology. And he’s obviously it’s all the extra knowledge to like, you know, how to sell it in, et cetera. But um, yeah, it’s monetizing a spreadsheet.

Will Bachman 04:00
Yeah. monetizing a spreadsheet. I just did a newsletter this weekend saw an example of someone who put together a spreadsheet like just created a spreadsheet template, right. And it was something like how to track some kind of event planning some kind of a track some kind of event. And it was just a template. But he put it as a lead magnet on his website. And, you know, ended up getting leads that generated million dollars of business from this just saw that it wasn’t selling the spreadsheet, but it was like a really impressive, really effective lead magnet. So that’s a helpful overview. We can get probably into some more examples of people that you’ve met. Tell us a little bit about the idea behind the portfolio. Collective, you’re building this community. I’d love to hear about it.

Ben Legg 04:48
Yeah, so I started my portfolio career in earnest about two years ago, so I’ve always had side hustles since I was a teenager, and they evolved and two years ago, I quit my last day job. And thought, and I had lots of stuff on the side and my stuff on the side then was a little bit of angel investing, some mentoring of startups, CEOs, the old speech, the old bitter consulting, but I had to limit myself to five or six hours a week because I had a day job. And I just thought, I like that stuff more than my day job. I’m going to, I’m going to split it up into a career. So I started whenever when I finished with the day job, I thought, right, okay, I’ll start finding more startups to work with. So that really at the heart of my portfolio career is helping founders build great companies, I am a builder, I am actually a civil engineer once upon a time, and I love building companies, communities, products, etc. So that was what I was doing. And then in early lockdown, last year, loads of friends and family started coming to me saying, you know, can I get some career advice? And I started talking to them one to one randomly, and you know, waffling a bit, but in essence, they were all asking the same question, which is, I’m done with corporate life, your career, that’s kind of cool. What’s it called? And what, what is my version of your career look like, and I didn’t even have a name for it, I later rise. It’s called a portfolio career, but I didn’t have a name. And that started off with four or five calls a week. And then, for my own personal efficiency, I thought, let’s make it a workshop where we can all learn from each other, rather than me trying to have all the answers because I didn’t have them. And then the workshop got bigger. And then I did some research and wrote some slides and, and in essence, along the way, discovered that by 2030, half of all professionals would be portfolio professionals, meaning they wouldn’t have a day job, they would have multiple sources of income. I thought, Wow, that’s a massive shift in the way people work. And it’s complicated. And people need help. And the only thing people need is community. So we, I interviewed loads of portfolio professionals successful and successful, new, old, and found that beyond, obviously, lots of reasons why people don’t want freedom, etc. But and then you can say, what are the worries, number one worry is just stable income, because you don’t have a day job. Number two is loneliness. Because in a company, you have a boss, you have a team, you have an HR department and finance department, and yet someone feeds you. Yeah, there’s some way to take your dumb questions. As a qualified professional, you don’t have that. So I thought, okay, you know, what we’re going to do is we’re going to the mission of the portfolio collective, is to help professionals launch and sustain successful portfolio careers. And we’ll do it as a community. So, you know, we don’t expect anyone to have all the answers, the world’s too complicated, it’s changing too fast. Let’s all go on a journey together. You know, so yes, from the center, we can write training courses, we can write articles, but endorsements development training course, go ahead. No one else wants to write an article. Go ahead. But basically, you know, we’re all going to learn together and sort of keep reinventing ourselves together.

Will Bachman 07:56
Tell me a little bit about the community. So I actually joined. And I took a look at the website. It’s beautiful. Nicely done. My co founders are designers. Yeah, you can see, did you build that thing from the ground up? Or did you have some kind of some sort of, you know, community kind of just sort of software that you guys modified or something, it’s really it’s kind of from the ground up, but

Ben Legg 08:23
it’s based on WordPress, and with WordPress, there are lots of plugins. So it’s not like we’ve written everything, every piece of code from scratch. But in essence, we couldn’t find the right software to license we weren’t obsessed with it has to be built ourselves. We just said, okay, we within this community, we want to have some amazing content and a great library. We want to have training courses. We want to have, you know, a digital community. We want people to be able to build profiles and explain who they are and what they do. We want recruiters to find our members easily. And we couldn’t find software that did all of that. So we said, well, if we go on WordPress, we can either build it ourselves or build plugins. And in terms of the design, our Fiona, my co founder is originally a designer, she’s now CEO, and we’ve got a couple of great designers in the team too. So we probably over invested in it heavily invested in design. But yeah, I’m glad that you like it. It does

Will Bachman 09:17
show so listeners, just push pause right now. And what’s the URL again, Ben,

Ben Legg 09:23
it’s portfolio hyphen, collective.com.

Will Bachman 09:27
Alright, so go to portfolio hyphen, collective calm, just pause, go and sign up, you know, anyone listening that is a portfolio professional, which most of the listeners here are, because it’s just so beautiful. Like, I mean, it’s just I love that you can see other members, their profiles, you can see upcoming events, and you guys got a ton of events coming up. And I think there’s some classes and so forth that you can take and workshops. So really nicely done. So tell me, like what’s the full range of activities and things that you’re doing. Now. If If someone’s a member of the portfolio collective, what do they What do they get?

Ben Legg 10:03
Yeah, so there’s, there’s stuff that we organize, there’s so much stuff going on that we don’t even know about. That’s the point of the community. But in terms of what we do as a central team, we try and turn out a couple of articles a week. So whenever we hear a question, you know, two or three times from our members is like, okay, there’s a question. We don’t know the answer. Let’s do some research. Let’s write, let’s write an article. We’ve done some podcasts to just interviews with people who have portfolio careers, we’ve got plans for more. So there’s an element of just there’s a steady stream of content. So if someone wants to see that you can go to the insights section of the website or sign up for the newsletter and dig around with that. Then there’s events as you say, there’s a lot, there’s four or five events a week run from the center. And it’s anything from like a deep dive into certain subjects, you know, like problems that people have. Tomorrow, we have community networking, we do fireside chats on different subjects. There’s how’d you get the most out of the site session every week. So sort of different things like that. We have training courses, the main one is called the catapult course, that helps you basically launch or grow a portfolio career really thoroughly going through the core eight modules of what it takes to launch a portfolio career. We’ve got master classes right now to one but there’s plenty more that one is on that live is on personal branding. And coming soon, there’s also jobs so we get lots of recruiters, headhunters, often well funded startups come to the site looking for portfolio professionals. And it is kind of it’s not perfect, yet not everyone’s completed their profile, the site search is a little not as good as it should be. But basically, that’s going to get a serious Polish as well. So there’s a lot of stuff going on. And a really cool thing that I’m quite excited about probably next year, just in terms of engineering time, is we get a lot of requests from our members to effectively build virtual companies. So what do I mean by that? So the way we look at the future is most people will be a one person company, because that’s just the way the world’s going. But work gets done by teams, and not individuals. And so what does that mean is there we see a future in which portfolio professionals for each piece of work want to pull together some collaborators form a virtual company agree on who owns what agree on day rates, success fees, bonuses, yeah, have a website, have policies have insurance, whatever, pitch for work, if they win it, they’ve got a company, they do the work, they divide the spoils. If they don’t they dissolve it and go and pitch for something else. And that I think would be a massive enabler to this whole sort of revolution going on in the world of work.

Will Bachman 12:33
I hadn’t heard that idea before. Isn’t it cool? Yeah. At least I’m excited. Yeah, no, I haven’t heard it before. Certainly, you know, I often encourage often see people, independent consultants getting together to work on a project. Normally, the way I see it structured is one person who probably had the original client relationship will play the prime the prime contractor role, right, and just bring in other people as subcontractors. But that’s an interesting idea to form just like a virtual, you know, sort of one off company. Yeah. That, I guess you’d have to kind of think through how does the tax work? And how’s the air? Exactly,

Ben Legg 13:15
yeah, yeah. Yeah. So it’s not a solved problem. And we don’t know the answers. But we get enough requests for it, we know that it’s a thing. And so yeah, once we have a few more engineers, we’ll, we’ll get started.

Will Bachman 13:28
So I’d say there’s a lot of overlap, but it’s a slightly different thing, this concept of the portfolio professional versus the world that I normally swim in independent consultants, right? Yeah. were independent consultants. Often, it may have more than one client at a time, it might be serving one or two or three at a time. And they’re serving different clients sequentially. But it’s basically just, you know, you’re doing similar activities. It sounds like a portfolio professional, it’s, you would be doing actually distinct different types of things like you might be, you know, a graphic designer, but then you’re also like, you know, doing that for hourly work, but then maybe you’re creating digital products or creating a course. So it’s like different types of income streams. Tell us a little bit, what are the types of questions that you see from portfolio professionals? I’m just getting across any topic, but I’m curious what sort of questions you’re seeing.

Ben Legg 14:31
If so many, so so you’re right, in the world of, let’s say, independent professionals is, is I think, a subset of portfolio professionals. Because in essence, they, they’re aligned. And the dream is to monetize your knowledge and skills in multiple ways and ideally, monetize sometimes when you’re asleep, not just when you’re working. So that’s kind of the dream and that’s what we try and set up in terms of questions. They’re really pragmatic sometimes like what’s the best bank account for portfolio professional, I’m building a website, what’s the best platform? I need to get my website on page one of Google? That’s a lot more complicated. But how do I do that? How do I publish my LinkedIn profile? How do I win work? A really big one is how much should I charge? And how should I charge? Not just how much massive question and we could talk about that for hours? A big theme is how do I land a non executive director job? A lot of people see that as the pinnacle of a portfolio career. What I would say is, it’s you shouldn’t obsess over it, because very few people make a whole career out of it. But it’s quite cool to land one here and there. Yeah, so what else? Other questions? I, I guess, little branding? in general? How do I tell my story

Will Bachman 15:39
is a big one, I would think that a big question, which, you know, once you go beyond doing one thing, so, you know, doing let’s say, I’m a management consultant, or, you know, I do strategy consulting, I can imagine one question, and I’ve actually received this is how to manage, let’s say, a LinkedIn profile and other types of online personas. If you truly have a portfolio, and you’re like, well, I’m an investor and a consultant, right? Or I’m an investor and a consultant. And I like and I like have this course. Because LinkedIn sort of wants you to tell like, sort of one click one story. Yeah. And so people are like, should I have two LinkedIn profiles? Or how do I make it clear and not confusing to people? So and the same would hold true for any other online persona is like, so how do you counsel people around that piece around? And even like, sometimes, I have one email for this business and one email for that business? Yeah. How do you? How do you, you know, coach people on the show and let,

Ben Legg 16:49
yeah, right. So so the dreams that say most portfolio professionals do have more than one skill, that’s one knowledge set. So so it’s not unusual to have more the dream scenarios, you can stitch them together into one story. So for example, my own I keep part of my portfolio while I’m building the portfolio collective. And I do some investing, some mentoring, some consulting. So there are different streams. But in essence, my story is I help founders build great companies. Now, you can do that by investing, or by mentoring, or consulting. So there is still a theme there. And that helps with a coherent story. So if you can find that coherent story, that’s the best way, because then everything makes sense. It stitches together in ways that doesn’t look flaky or disorganized. If you can’t do that, what we typically advise going to LinkedIn is, pick the one that you’re going to do, you’re going to make the most money from what are those Biz Dev, what’s the thing that will open a door. So for example, we’ve got a member who is definitely a multi hyphenate and has multiple strings, turbo. She is a career counselor, Oxford University, she is a startup lawyer, and she is a circus entertainer that it’s hard to stitch those three together into one story other than she’s Lauren, she’s cool. So if you think about that, the day job she doesn’t need heavily on her LinkedIn, because it’s a day job, she’s got it, and she’s not going to get fired, because she’s good counselor, the circus entertainer probably won’t make as much money, but it’s a great way to get fit and make a bit of money on the side. But the startup lawyer is the one that you know, she will push on on LinkedIn, because that’s where she will win clients and and stand up. So that’s kind of like the lead theme. And the other stuff is in there. And depending on how you look at people, when I look at people who have an interesting sideline, I think they’re probably a cool person to know. I, you know, one of our own team at portfolio collective, she was a professional kind of Sally’s. She’s primarily a writer, she also runs gin workshops. When I saw that on her LinkedIn, I thought she’s probably a cool person to know, in general, it’s kind of quirky. So I think it’s there’s nothing wrong with the odd, odd, interesting side thing. But you’re absolutely right. You don’t want to look flaky like yeah, I can do this, and this and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, because then you assume that you’re be great at everything. Yeah. Where most clients want an A grade person at the thing they’re paying for.

Will Bachman 19:11
Yeah, my, my concern when I see that if it just causes confusion, if they if someone hasn’t articulated on LinkedIn, like if someone in my world is an independent consultant, and they’re looking for for a project, but then you go on LinkedIn, and it’s it’s not like maybe they’re maybe they’ve listed some full time job, and it’s not clear if they’re still in it. Yeah, um, they’re on a few boards, and they have some nonprofit stuff. And it just your concern are they’re going to give, are they going to have the mental bandwidth to work on this? Yes. Yeah. Or maybe they have a startup on the side? Yeah, it just causes confusion. So I think to your point, you need to tell if you can tell a coherent story and explain how these fit together. Then then that helps. Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. Do you mind my asking what is the I mean, it’s such high production value, you have so many events going on. And it’s like, and I listeners can’t see this. But we’re on zoom right now. And Ben is in his new house. And behind him, he has like he, the whole wall got painted with the portfolio collective logo, and it looks like amazing. So you have this amazing high production value, what’s the, the fee, the fee to join wasn’t that much. And you know, it was free to join, and there was like a fee for the course. But that can’t sustain. What’s the business model behind what you’re doing?

Ben Legg 20:32
Sure. So we’re only four months old. So it’s kind of kind of crazy. But But how do we plan for that? So the first amount is, we just want to make sure that we understand portfolio professionals, we know how to help them, we can build a community, and people like hanging around and using it as their home base. I think we’re on a good track, there’s always room for improvement. In terms of how we will monetize overtime, we think there’s a few places. Number one is jobs, meaning we charged the people coming to look for talent in our site, as opposed to charging the people in our site. We know there’s there’s money there. You know, at the end of the day, if a company were to hire a fancy headhunter, to find a part time C level executive, they probably be charged north of 20 or 30 grand in a project three months, we have them in our community. And as we improve certain other things, we can help people find them a lot quicker than that. So that’s the main the biggest revenue stream, we think the second biggest will be memberships. So right now there isn’t a membership program, it just is a bit tricky to design. But in essence, instead of saying we’ll charge you for training, and we’ll charge you for this, and this and this, say pay a monthly fee, and you’ll get your kind of lifetime time learning from the community, you know, all you can eat courses of whatever type you like, animal throw, and whatever else makes sense to our members. So we think discounts on all the useful software. So many of our members spend 100 203 $100 a month on software, if we can get our members discounts, that would be a reason to be a member, and potentially some more VOD vendors, video members only or whatever it might be. So they’d be the two main ways of monetizing. And both are coming in the next few months. But yeah, we definitely said build it first and then worry about how to monetize rather than obsess over money from day one.

Will Bachman 22:13
What is your thinking around? controlling who gets admitted to your community? And so that, you know, is there sort of entry requirements?

Ben Legg 22:25
Yeah, it’s kind of an interesting one. We’ve had this debate and we said, should we be elitist? Should we not be should people have over 10 years experience or not? And because we wanted to be open? We certainly are, this is half of the world half of professionals. So there’s definitely professionals, it’s kind of a white collar platform that say, but so many people need one we do we really want to be elitist. But we also said, you know, at the end day, people come to us for talent, if they know that we’ve got amazing talent. So what we kind of done is had no entry requirements, but expanded through our networks, which happened for a lot of amazing people. You know, if you look at our community, the number one index University is Oxford. Number two is Harvard. Number three is Cambridge. So it’s kind of from a caliber, it’s pretty nice. But that doesn’t mean we need to start having entry bars. Because the way we look at it, if we think about the future of work as collaboration of teams, you know, a team in which every single person has to come from an Ivy League University may not have the right skills, because you might want that logo designer, you might want the writer, you might want the person who dropped out of university to build a startup. And so the diversity is good. And so in essence, we’re saying anyone can join, um, clearly, to pass a course you need to have a certain level of dedication and professionalism, but anyone can join, anyone can pay and open and attend events. And the standards kick in as people start taking courses, getting badges or whatever it is we do to San Jose is a badge of quality there, because there is the there is the other side, and we then they were all about the portfolio professional, and we want to help everyone have a better career. But when people come to us looking for talent, you know, people don’t want to hire flaky people. So you know, how do we filter out flaky as it were, and that could be a mixture of reviews, qualifications, etc. So that’s stuff that we’re working out as we go. We were also worried that some people come in and be like really salesy or just annoying. We’ve had like two or three in 10 months and the community to kind of blanks them. So you kind of got to be nice to just to get anything done, though. So we were really worried. So do we need policies and policing and control? We haven’t done it yet. We’re very alert to it. But the community is kind of self policing, which is nice. That’s great.

Will Bachman 24:44
What are some of your key tips that you would like every portfolio professional to hear on how to be successful, you know, doing a portfolio

Ben Legg 24:57
and there’s so many the number one is Really take that step back and say, Who are you and what you want to get out of your career. It’s amazing how many people don’t matter people who either think I’ve got no unique skills, absolutely nonsense, everyone’s got them, you just need to mine for them. Or I’ll just do what I did in my day job may not be a good idea, you’re changing career for a reason. And what you did in your day job may not be sustainable. So really take that step back and look inside yourself and say, What am I really good at? What do I love doing? What will people pay me for? What kind of work life balance do I want? How do I stitch it together into something coherent, that makes sense. So that’s, I think, really, at the core, if you get that, right, so many other things click into place, and it’s a process, you can’t do it in a day, it’s hard to do it in a month. And even if you get it right in a month, you might need to keep polishing that and tweaking it over life, because you change the world changes, etc. So I think that’s number one, really focus on on your personal story and your plan. And then that return, you can turn that into your personal brand, turn it into your messaging, etc. So that’s number one. Number two is I would just say, never be satisfied. If you stand still, you get commoditized. And that’s always been the case in life. But I think the world the pace of change is picking up. And if you say, well, I’ve got this set of skills, no charge this rate, at some stage, there’ll be too many people charging, selling that set of skills at that rate. And then competition brings the price down, or automation eliminates it. So constantly iterating as you go. And number three really is you don’t need to be on your own. I think too many people as portfolio professionals think, you know, this is all about me, and I’m a one person army and I just need to make it all work. There is a community out there and everyone wants help, and everyone is prepared to offer help. People are so nice. If you ask them nicely. And we see it in like, there’s so much barter going on is like you know, you do my website, I’ll do your taxes, or whatever it is so, so much cool stuff. And just so it can actually be sort of sociable as well, as, you know, giving, there’s lots of reasons I could go into for product raises, I want flexibility, better work life balance, you get out of the corporate, you know, world, etc. But you know, it doesn’t need to be lonely. You know, I

Will Bachman 27:05
can’t agree with that more. Some people think, oh, and you mentioned this concern yourself, oh, I don’t, you know, might be lonely being an independent professional, or, you know, portfolio professional, your term. But what I found is that, when at least when I was at McKinsey, my world was sort of bounded by interacting with the clients that I was serving. And McKinsey, right. And that was kind of it. Because there’s so much people to kind of connect with within the firm, that you know, any sort of expertise you ever seeking, you’re expected to go find someone in the firm who had that, yeah. But, you know, it would never almost walking across the street to connect with someone and you know, just talk to peers, whereas as an independent professional, the sort of, it’s like, the membrane is now open. And, you know, kind of anyone in the world might be a client or a collaborator, or expert or someone you could refer stuff to. So it actually really opens the world up in a way to, you know, just a much greater variety of possible collaborations.

Ben Legg 28:15
Absolutely. It’s interesting. So what I hadn’t thought of it this way, one of our investors said to me, you know, you’re building the future of professional services. I said, What do you mean by that? He said, Well, every professional services firm, is trying to have more experts in their network, because they finally realize they don’t have a monopoly on expertise. They want less people on the permanent payroll, because, you know, keeping a lot of people employed all the time is hard. But they would still want to have the badge of quality that the brand that goes with with that particular business model, said, you know, my money as it literally is money as an investor, is that you or someone like you will crack this before the professional service firms do so. Yeah, that whole kind of expand your network and look at look at the whole world for experts rather than within a firm’s walls is a massive part of the future.

Will Bachman 29:02
Yeah, no, I certainly agree with that. That’s a pretty fundamental belief of ours as well. So then, for folks that wanted to want to learn more recently, these articles, look at some of these courses. Connect with folks. Let’s give the let’s give the link one more time. So where should people go?

Ben Legg 29:21
It’s portfolio hyphen, collective.com. And if you want somewhere nice to start, I did that same workshop every Wednesday, that I’ve been doing since the start of lockdown in March 2020 is called the portfolio career workshop. And it’s a good starting point.

Will Bachman 29:34
Fantastic. So check that out. And we’ll include that link in the show notes. Ben, thanks so much for being on the show today. A pleasure. Thank you.

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