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07 Dec. 2017 | Comments (0)

The rise of the “gig economy” has prompted much soul-searching about the future of the economy. But portfolio careers aren’t only for stay-at-home parents looking to freelance a few hours a day while their kids are in school or grad students moonlighting as Uber drivers and Task Rabbits. Even senior executives who want to stay in their corporate jobs should strongly consider developing at least one side income stream, whether it’s consulting, speaking, coaching, or creating some other product or service. Here are five reasons it can make a dramatic difference for your career.

Hedge against uncertainty. We all remember Circuit City – and Blockbuster, and Borders, and Tower Records, and plenty more. Trends like robotics and AI have unpredictable consequence, and timelines, so it’s hard to predict when and if your industry will take a hit. Indeed, there are simply fewer jobs to go around these days. From 1948 to 2000, jobs grew 1.7 times faster than the population. But from 2000 to 2014, the population grew 2.4 times faster than jobs. The proportion of Americans in the workforce is now the lowest it has been in more than 40 years. Competition for jobs is now global, and positions are harder to find — so if something does disrupt your company or your industry, it’s good to have a backup plan.

Learn new skills. Lenny Achan, who started his career as a nurse, was ultimately promoted to head up communications at New York’s prestigious Mount Sinai Health System. How did he make this unusual career leap? Intrigued by technology and innovation, Achan took the initiative to develop two iPhone apps. When his boss found out, he was so impressed by Achan, he offered him a job running social media for the hospital. After performing well, Achan was named the Chief Communications Officer.  Entrepreneurial side ventures can be a powerful way to learn new skills and distinguish yourself from the competition.

Build your network. Successful professionals often have a robust network, but too frequently it consists of people like themselves, who work at the same company or in the same industry. But as I describe in “Start Networking with People Outside Your Industry,” sociologist Robert Putnam argues that a healthy network has both “bonding” and “bridging” capital — i.e., homogeneous and heterogeneous relationships. In farming, if you develop a monoculture — planting only corn, for instance – you put yourself at great risk, whether from an economic downturn (no one wants to buy corn anymore) or environmental blight (an unexpected disease hits).

Similarly, if you have a homogeneous network, you’re in a perilous situation if your industry gets disrupted, and now you only know out-of-work people from that industry. Plus, the range of your ideas becomes limited if you’re only exposed to one point of view over time. Developing an entrepreneurial side venture enables you to expand your network in interesting new ways, without giving up your core connections. That makes you both more resilient, and more valuable to others.

Enhance your brand. Some might worry that their company would look askance on entrepreneurial side ventures. But increasingly, that’s a dated view. Savvy senior leaders realize that entrepreneurial experimentation is often a “tell” to identify self-motivated, cutting-edge thinkers. And, as with Achan’s boss, they’re likely to see it as a positive indicator for leadership potential. Indeed, the Center for Talent Innovation’s research on sponsorship shows that one of the best ways to attract a coveted senior-level sponsor is to develop a strong personal brand. Being an entrepreneur is a sign of ambition and innovation — two traits that most leaders love to be associated with.

Grow your income. Not every entrepreneurial side venture works out, so this likely shouldn’t be your primary goal. But some entrepreneurial experiments really can take off. Pat Flynn — now a successful blogger and podcaster whom I profiled in Entrepreneurial You — was an employee at an architecture firm who was laid off during the Great Recession of 2008. Fortunately, just a month before, he’d started selling his first e-book (on how to pass a green building exam), and it was an immediate hit, bringing in more than $7900 that month. In a blog post he wrote the day he lost his job, he reflected, “I wouldn’t be as optimistic about the future after being laid off if it wasn’t for the residual income I earn from the internet today…Even if you don’t ever quit your job, having that second stream of income is definitely something nice to fall back on.”

Developing multiple income streams may not seem like a priority when you’re already bringing in a comfortable middle-class or upper-middle-class income. But as I discovered in 2001, when I was laid off from my newspaper job abruptly, with only a week’s severance pay, it’s good to have options. And even if you love your job and keep it forever, a small dose of entrepreneurship can teach you new skills and enrich your perspective, making you that much more indispensable at work.


This blog first appeared on Harvard Business Review on 11/29/2017.

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  • About the Author:Dorie Clark

    Dorie Clark

    Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. She is the author of the forthcoming What's Next?: The Art of Reinven…

    Full Bio | More from Dorie Clark


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