31 August 2021

What’s it really like to be a portfolio marketing director?

Clare Methven
Written by Clare Methven

Clare Methven is the Co-Founder of The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. She has over 25 years’ experience working in PR and marketing agencies focussed on construction, financial services and travel companies.

What is a portfolio career?

At the risk of sounding obvious, a portfolio career is what it says on the tin - a career led by your portfolio.

As opposed to the rigid corporate roles that you’re perhaps used to by now, a portfolio career allows you greater flexibility, autonomy, and balance over your working life. It means working multiple part-time jobs at once instead of one full-time job, meaning greater day-to-day variety.

Despite all the benefits, it’s important to point out that becoming a portfolio marketing director requires you to choose a new blend of clients or roles. Building a portfolio of businesses takes time and effort, so it’s not ideal for the short term or for marketers filling gaps between full-time roles.

All this can be intimidating to some and exciting to others– either way The Marketing Centre is here to help. Our part-time marketing directors tend to work with two to three companies at any one period, giving two to eight days to each per month.

Learn more about becoming a part-time marketing director with The Marketing Centre.

One of our marketing directors described the work as ​​”the most challenging, and most rewarding thing I've ever done.” For another, building a portfolio has allowed them the best work of their career.

“The Marketing Centre allows me to do what I love best - making a difference with multiple businesses, without most of the frustrations associated with standard corporate life.”

To find out exactly what a portfolio career is like, we spoke to three marketing directors who work through The Marketing Centre.

What’s it actually like to be a portfolio marketing director?

Building teams and taking on challenges

David Fenton has over 32 years of marketing experience and has worked for some of the UK’s biggest construction and DIY firms, including Black & Decker and Jewson. David joined The Marketing Centre in March 2021 and currently works with four different businesses.

“Over my career, I’ve really enjoyed building teams and taking on challenges,” David says, “and the portfolio career is very much about that.” As someone who relishes witnessing the tangible improvements he can make to a business, being a portfolio marketing director perfectly suits David’s working style.

Rewarding variety in working life

Lindsay Ball has over 30 years of experience in strategic marketing roles, running teams in retail, customer services, healthcare and e-commerce for leading brands such as Greggs, Mitchell & Butler, Healthcare at Home, through to smaller SME's. She joined The Marketing Centre mid 2019 and has grown and retained three clients to 2021.

For Lindsay, working as a portfolio marketing director has given a rewarding variety to her working life: “I’ve enjoyed the stretch and breadth of client challenges, contexts, markets, however building growth strategies and brands pre, during and post pandemic, has been really rewarding ... and fun.”

Building gratifying personal relationships

Hannah Poulton made the leap to a portfolio career last year with over 20 years of experience in corporate finance marketing roles. Joining The Marketing Centre officially in December 2020, she currently works with three businesses and is about to start with a fourth.

After becoming disillusioned with the corporate Monday-Friday, Hannah re-awoke her love for marketing after transitioning to a portfolio career. Building relationships with different people is gratifying, and as Hannah puts it, “being part of four different teams is four times as good as being part of one.”

Lindsay concurs with Hannah, "...we are more than just Marketing Advisories. Our relationship with the CEO/MD and integration with all aspects of the business means strong relationships and productive conversations can happen within 3 months of being in a business. The equivalent could take up to 12 months in a large infrastructure."

Why is a portfolio career so beneficial for marketing directors?

A collaborative approach

One of the key advantages of portfolio careers is the opportunity to build and grow different teams. This variety has allowed David to “learn new businesses and new markets, and be able to bring some of the experience that I’ve developed, and apply that to help them.” It’s satisfying to work with different businesses who present different challenges.

David goes on to mention the great marketing community at The Marketing Centre, and the collaborative effort that it brings. He is able to “find out new ideas or new perspectives, and hopefully contribute back when people need help from me.”

A portfolio career has also enabled David to pursue charity work, fundraisers, and other personal projects with greater ease.

A wealth of variety and opportunity

Like David, Lindsay enjoys the variety that a portfolio career brings. Her breadth of experience and clients over 15 years previously as a professional Interim has been a great asset and popular with clients. Additionally, Lindsay also appreciates The Marketing Centre community.

“Consultancy can be very lonely and having 100 colleagues to bounce-off ideas, share contacts, fine-tune best practice is invaluable and allows us to build and deliver strategies for clients at pace"

Escaping the 9-5

Hannah moved to a portfolio career as a way to pursue other projects outside of her work as a marketing director. After working with a career change coach and the new normal brought by COVID-19, Hannah was able to use her 20 years of experience to take on more of the projects she was passionate about.

“There were a variety of things that I had in mind that I was interested in doing, and all of which worked as part of a portfolio and wouldn't have worked alongside a full-time career.”

By joining The Marketing Centre community, Hannah was able to leverage her experience and do more of the marketing she really enjoyed.

Many of our marketing directors also join us at the beginning of their route to retirement, or as a way to move on from a more corporate role to something with more flexibility – though equally challenging and rewarding. This flexibility is also helpful for parents.

What do you need for a career as a portfolio marketing director?

Building a portfolio of marketing clients is much easier if you have an existing network of contacts to tap into. Many of our marketing directors also have expert skills in one area of marketing or experience in a particular industry.

Working in this way requires more soft skills than you might expect – self-confidence matched with humility and open-mindedness, for example. Of course it’s important to be able to juggle and prioritise work.

A multi-faceted approach

One of the major challenges when switching to a portfolio career is being flexible and being able to switch track at short notice.

Portfolio marketers need to develop marketing strategies, create presentations, and populate CRM tools all in the same week. The commitment to being hands-on and being able to persevere is key to developing that portfolio career.

Managing time and acting as a strategic guide

Portfolio marketing is all about being able to maintain a position as a strategic guide and mentor. Lindsay works with an unusually high proportion of B2C businesses for The Marketing Centre, which has led to her running multiple-million marketing budgets and numerous TV ads and football sponsorship. "The Marketing Centre should never be deemed as 'low key' or secondary responsibilities. I've done some of my best work with largest budgets with these ambitious businesses". 

Her advice for anyone looking to transition into a portfolio career is to think about how you utilise your skill set and how you manage your time to offer maximum value.

“This means that they get the best value from you, but also the best value from their marketing budget.”

Build, nurture, and retain professional relationships

A willingness to collaborate is key to succeeding with a portfolio career, Hannah explains. Our marketing directors regularly share expertise via a collaboration tool. Connecting with like-minded colleagues with expertise in different areas of marketing helps them all provide better guidance to their clients and creates a sense of community.

Overall, any marketing director looking to move into a portfolio career and join The Marketing Centre community must be comfortable working in various roles because every day is destined to be different.

If you want to find out more about what it’s like to embark upon a portfolio career, learn more about becoming a part-time marketing director with The Marketing Centre.

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