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Simon Strong’s portfolio career #3

Market Opportunities

This is the third in a series of 6 blog posts by Simon Strong about his portfolio career. Reading how people have created their own portfolio career can be useful to inspire you to create one yourself.

The rest of this blog is in Simon’s own words.

How did your portfolio career come about?

It certainly wasn’t intentional. In part it came about because I find it hard to say no. In part because I’m always having daft ideas (my outdoor cinema for the football world cup was an unmitigated disaster!). And partly because I started to give myself permission to do things if I thought they were interesting.

How has your portfolio career changed over time?

It started with a business focus underpinned by the arts. I left advertising and got involved in using improvisational comedy as a tool to facilitate creativity, professional development, culture change, and branding workshops. I discovered there was this world of amazing people who did extraordinary business work: horse whisperers who did leadership development, a poker player who taught risk assessment and decision making, a Tai Chi master who taught negotiation skills etc.

For a short time I drifted away from a business focus to a more arts based interest with a business underpinning, partly due to the impact of the recession when the budgets dried up and companies found it difficult to justify working with someone like me!

I have now come back towards the business world and seem to be finding a way to combine my interests in really productive ways. I feel creatively potent and productive at the moment.

When people ask you ‘what do you do?’ – what do you reply?


My mum is really happy about the coffee shop – it means that she actually has an answer! But it is something that I have struggled with and angst over. Probably unnecessarily. It has been especially difficult at networking events when I think I should have something smart and concise to say.

Really, it depends who asks. Sometimes I say I am a barista or that I run a coffee shop or café. Other times I say I run a creative consultancy. Mostly I laugh and say I do stuff, for people, for reasons!

Part 4 of Simon’s 6 part guest blog series coming soon.

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View the Human Zoo web site:

What could your portfolio career be made up of? Find out what your transferable skills are by downloading our free report:

Simon Strong’s portfolio career #2

Simon Strong making coffee

This is the second in a series of 6 blog posts by Simon Strong about his portfolio career. Reading how people have created their own portfolio career can be useful to inspire you to create one yourself.

The rest of this blog is in Simon’s own words.

How have some of the projects in your portfolio career come about?

Engaging students in learning

A couple of years ago, an ex-colleague from advertising days contacted me. She’d started teaching German at Radley College (boys public school just outside Oxford) and was intrigued as to how we could do something creative with her students. So for the last couple of years we have run the Radley Business Challenge in which we give the students a real business issue (Stabilo pens in the inaugural year and the German National Tourist Board last year) so that the students have to learn about German culture in order to create a marketing campaign. Last year another 6 schools took part in the challenge and I got the former Head of Sales and Marketing for Diesel UK and former Brand Communications Director of Orange Mobile to run workshops. Last year, for the first time, all her ‘A’ Level German students got A*, and more studnets have signed up for German than ever before. This year we hope to get extend the project to even more schools.

Coffee shop

My wife commutes to London every day for her job (CSO at ad agency Ogilvy and Mather) and she wanted a decent coffee on the train. So, because I love her, I opened a coffee shop at our local train station. The Zoo Café at Milford Train Station opened just over 6 months ago, and it’s just doubled in size when I took on my first member of staff three weeks ago. We serve 100’s of cups of awesome every day with clients including Lord Seb Coe and my very happy wife. I plan to develop a deli for commuters to pick up their evening meal on the way home, and also offer a dry cleaning service so they can drop off on the way in and pick up and the way back out. I’ve also go permission to set up a semi-permanent photographic exhibition on the platform, and I also want to run a pop-up restaurant out of the café (I’m in contact with Kerstin Rodgers of the Underground Supper Club who I met at a KFC workshop a couple of years ago who I hope to entice to cook at the café).

River of lights

A couple of years ago I organised an event in Guildford I called River Of Lights. It was inspired by a memory I had as a child of watching an event on TV (probably John Craven’s Newsround!) where tens of thousands of candles were thrown off a bridge like a waterfall, and which then floated down a river. In 2010, and again in 2011, I invited the community around Guildford to celebrate the winter solstice by floating candles on the River Wey.

It got flooded off in both 2012 and 2013, and last year I took a break. Next year I am planning to do it in the village of Witley where I live.

Other projects

I chaired the PTA for our local infant school where my two boys went (Lucas is still there). Although I stepped down almost 2 years ago, I still run the annual fireworks event that I initiated, as well as dad’s poker night!

There are lots of other projects that are simmering in the background (a community energy project, Shakespeare in the park, something to do with pants, a Quidditch tournament, “hats for cars”, and I have a strange desire to direct ‘Waiting For Godot’…). And I’m sure other stuff will crop up…

Part 3 of Simon’s 6 part guest blog series coming soon.

View Simon Strong’s LinkedIn profile:

View the Human Zoo web site:

What could your portfolio career be made up of? Find out what your transferable skills are by downloading our free report:

Pitch cul de sac? Read this.

Simon Strong  side profile

A portfolio career could be the answer

This is the first in a series of 6 blog posts by Simon Strong about his portfolio career. Simon used to work in advertising and is now self employed with a portfolio career.

Reading how people have created their own portfolio career can be useful to inspire you to create one yourself.

The rest of this blog is in Simon’s own words.

What are the components of your portfolio career e.g. study, paid freelance work, part time job, volunteering etc.?

I don’t really have components as such. More a load of stuff that I’m doing. Some I get paid for. Some I invest in. Some is just because I want to. Interestingly, it’s often the stuff I do just because I want to that leads to the most satisfying and lucrative work opportunities. Probably the easiest thing to do is tell you what I’ve been doing recently and what I’m up to now.

I ran Pecha Kucha Night in Guildford for a couple of years which allowed me to connect with so many amazing creative people and their stories. This led to being asked by Ellen Dowell (who runs Einstein’s Garden at the Green Man Festival, and whose academic work is based on interdisciplinary collaboration) to help set up Bright Club Guildford – where University Academics do stand-up comedy based on their research. Ellen and I ran Bright Club for 3 years before we stepped down in January this year. We have handed over to a fresh committee who we hope will be able to take it on to the next level.

I run a creative consultancy, Human Zoo, named after a book by the amazing Desmond Morris with whom I had the great honour of working when in advertising. We work with our clients across a broad range of projects including branding, innovation and culture change, running lots of seminars and facilitating workshops and conferences. We act as Ambassadors for the University of Surrey Business School and are involved in delivering seminars on their MBA and executive MBA programmes. I’m currently consulting with a global print company and am about to go out to Dubai to run a conference.

Last year my business partner in Human Zoo and I got bored of expending so much energy on client projects that went nowhere, so we decided to start investing time in our own innovation projects. We’ve got three projects currently underway:

1) We won a funding competition from the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) under ‘Re-Imagining The High Street’ for a feasibility study on an innovation we developed and we’ve just been asked to apply for phase 2 funding for a market test which we are just about to submit.

2) We are working on developing an accelerated learning platform which has been proven to deliver the same learning outcomes as 27 hours of traditional classroom based learning in just 1 hour. We are working with the University of Surrey Business School to run a learning tournament to compare different learning techniques in one of the largest studies of its kind – and we are engaging the top 1,000 businesses in the UK on how this will impact on engaging Gen Y and creating ‘Business Ready Brains’.

3) We are working with one of the University MBA students to take a charity start-up idea to market. We are about to go into a funding round…

Part 2 of Simon’s 6 part guest blog series coming soon.

View Simon Strong’s LinkedIn profile:

View the Human Zoo web site:

What could your portfolio career be made up of?

Find out what your transferable skills are by downloading our free report:

Feeling career satisfaction?

Growing sunflowers (Better Business)
Career satisfaction is a growing movement.

There are many reasons for this including the needs, wants, and values of Generation Y/the Millennials, the growing influence of women on the workplace in senior decision making roles and perhaps that many people are a bit (or alot!) weary from the downturn years.

Research by Bruce Woodcock from the University of Kent has explored the factors that create career satisfaction.

15 factors key for career satisfaction:

1. Living near work
2. Access to green spaces or working outdoors
3. Mindfulness – being aware of what we are doing
4. Flow – being immersed in an activity we relish
5. Learning new skills
6. Having purpose and motivating work goals
7. Helping others
8. Autonomy
9. Challenges with clearly defined steps
10. Receiving positive feedback
11. Having supportive social contacts
12. Working for small organisations or self-employment
13. Realistic deadlines
14. Reasonable hours and good work life balance
15. A conducive environment to working productively without distractions

Score your current work. Give each of the 15 factors a score out of 100%.

Add up your total – maximum 1500. What does this tell you?

Our company cat is a distraction at work, but a welcome furry and purring one! I am sure she send e mails without me knowing sometimes!

Working in many companies does not give people many of these 15 factors. Is it really surprising then, that more and more people are choosing to become self-employed, to work for less bureaucratic smaller companies and to design work to suit them – their own business or tailor made portfolio career?

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The unwelcome guest


I had an unwelcome guest over Christmas. In fact they were never invited.

The guest was fear. It visits me every year around this time, the ‘in-between zone’ between the festive season fading and the business world waking from its slumber.

It paralysed me for over 5 minutes; I could feel it camping in my body.

The negative self-talk started: “What if everyone ‘sits on the fence’ until after the general election – that’s over 5 MONTHS?!!” “What if lack of business confidence means no decisions are made?” “How will I deal with the fast pace of increased competition and technology?”

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Panic set in.

I noticed myself doing a displacement activity to sooth myself. Luckily mine is very productive and inexpensive rather than doing drugs or shopping – I started filing business cards A-Z!

That made me chuckle. And then the fear started to shift and the positive thoughts moved the negative ones to one side out of view. I picture cheerleaders carrying pom poms – not sure why!

‘Rachel – you have been self-employed for over 17 years. Most small businesses fail in the first 1-2 years.’

Rachel, you are in the 1% of the population who embraces risk and change, imagine how other people feel? Focus on them, you can help them.’

Rachel you have a portfolio career, look at trends, have many useful skills and are resilient.’

The unwelcome guest left.

There is no question we live in uncertain and disruptive times. So what IS the best way to manage fear?

10 tips to manage fear

1. Observe/sit with the fear until it shifts
2. Adopt/imagine a sense of curiosity about the future
3. Believe that you will work it out and it will be a positive learning and growing experience
4. Create a focused personal career vision, mission, strategy and plan
5. Remind yourself of what you have to offer
6. Understand yourself
7. Keep taking action to move forwards, one action at a time
8. Put aside 10% of your salary for retraining, coaching and/or a financial cushion
9. Invest in your personal & professional development and marketability
10. Define a focused sustainable niche for success

What tips would you add?

Useful resources to manage fear

• You
• Me
• Susan Jeffers books: ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ & ‘Embracing uncertainty.’

What next?

Here are 4 actions – why not choose 1:

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Put ‘Energise career coaching gift voucher’ on your gift list for this year.

Read our client testimonials:

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PS If you are ‘sitting on the fence’, here’s a thought. If you start coaching or our career e course now, you will be ready to move forward by the general election result. Ready? What have you got to lose, except 5 months of inaction and a sore arse? Get in touch!

Original reflection?

Question mark in maze

Many moons ago in my youth when discos were part of my social repertoire, I was on the receiving end of a wonderful chat up line.

‘Why are you wearing your Granny’s cardigan?’ this voice in the noisy dark asked me.

I was wearing a cream Aran cardigan – not very boob tube and mini-skirt brigade I agree, but then being in fashion with me has always happened by chance and accident rather than planning.

What a refreshingly wonderful non-cheesy line! We had a good chat and a laugh.

In a world where everyone is writing about everything, originality can be hard.

I have been working for over 27 years and am nearly 50, so the prospect of yet another New Year tips blog does not ignite me with passion! In fact, browsing the web recently, I found a web site dedicated to questions to ask yourself to reflect upon the year with lots of followers!

So this blog, #2 in a series of 3 in the run up to Christmas shares 4 different questions to the average – I hope!

How will you let more of yourself out in 2015?
What inner change needs to happen to enable outer change?
What’s the question you most need to ask yourself?
How will you know when you have found career fulfilment?

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Your 2014 headline

Older gentleman (2)

My late 95 year old grannie came close to falling off her rocking chair at Christmas. A plate of mince pies nearly became flying saucers. The culprit was a question.

The question I asked was:

“What are the top 10 highlights of your life so far?

Her no 1 life highlight was being proposed to on Waterloo Bridge – sweet!

The question I asked her is a BIG question, isn’t it? I mean there’s incisive questions and there’s incisive questions.

Open incisive questions are useful for purposeful refection, ideal in a full-on world.

The slowing pace after Christmas and before New Year is a good time to reflect, ask yourself big questions and plan.

I start by going through my diary and remembering what I have done and then reflecting to mine useful insights and plan actions.

This is the first of a series of 3 seasonal blogs to help you do this.

#week1 – headlines

Question for you.

What headline best sums up your 2014?

Here’s some examples:

• Fought tooth and nail for fair budgets and recognition
• Drowned in a sea of overwhelm and procrastination
• Lost time mindlessly doing social media
• Clung on by the skin of her teeth
• Quit the rat race
• Built a foundation for future success
• Created a portfolio career
• Became self employed
• Pushed out his comfort zone
• Had a life changing paradigm shift
• Played safe and stayed put

What would your headline for 2014 be?

A final 2 questions:

What would you like your headline to be for 2015?

What steps will you take to create this?

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“The future depends on what you do today.” Mahatma Gandhi.

Wasted at work

Fed up woman with pile of paper at desk
My eyes opened more widely recently, more than usual, and I am not talking mascara.

It was a discussion in a workshop of high growth microbusinesses about waste.

Waste is everywhere, sometimes obvious, sometimes hidden until you shine a light on it.

Common waste includes:

• Having a gym membership and not using it
• Buying too much food and throwing it away
• Meetings with no agenda where nothing is decided
• Houses where nobody lives when many are homeless
• Procrastination because of fear and worry
• Lack of focus when spreading yourself thinly
• Queuing – for anything
• Cars on the move with one passenger stuck in a traffic jam
• Energy worrying about things you can’t influence

A lot of the time, waste in many situations is preventable or reducible.

What is your biggest waste? What is it costing you?

Time, money, potential?

Waste of talent in business and in careers is scarily common too:

• Talented mothers leaving careers because of inflexible working practices
• Employees feeling disengaged because their skills are being underutilised or promotion prospects blocked
• Graduates doing a menial job because there can’t get one of a higher level
• Cruising in a dead end job because of lack of confidence or fear of change

What would you add?

No wonder self-employment and portfolio careers are growing!

Research recently got my brain ticking over faster than a lawnmower’s first outing in Spring. Employee churn is reducing, employee engagement reducing, stress increasing, trust in management declining. So where are the policies for job redesign, where do portfolio careers fit in workforce planning? Where are the career conversations around an individual’s values? From the outside looking in, hasn’t the world of work as we know it passed its sell-by date?

Do you feel your talent is being wasted, for whatever reason?

If so, isn’t it time we talked? My job is a talent liberator; I do what it says on the tin. Get in touch.
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“It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts.” Ella Fitzgerald.

A ‘waste of time’ is in the eye of the beholder

Woman juggling clocks
What is ‘a waste of time’ and who decides?

I went to an interesting workshop this week about ‘achieving more for less.’ A catchy phrase for efficiency and effectiveness and how to waste less time. Big trend that one in business as I am sure you have noticed, and sometimes a short term myopic one.

As someone who works pretty expediently thanks to a super organised family gene, a portfolio career + Stephen Covey’s book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’ being the closest I get to a bible, I was very hungry to gobble up more tips.

I remember having a battle with a home/office organiser who I commissioned to ‘sort me out’ when I moved from London to Oxfordshire 7 years ago. Apparently unbeknown to me, I had a very ‘creative’ filing system = new insight!

Super office organiser tried to browbeat me into having a big household bin near to the back door so I wouldn’t have far to take it to the dustbin and not empty it very often. No. No no no. I dug my heels in and we had a standoff.

I was really frustrated that she didn’t take time to ask me questions and understand my needs but instead imposed her map of the bin and rubbish emptying world onto me. I explained that I preferred a smaller bin that was emptied more often located further away from the back door so that:

a) I didn’t trip over it and end up in A&E
b) It was less likely to smell as it was emptied more often
c) I had more trips to the dustbin = exercise & escaping from my PC.

She acquiesced. I was the client after all.

So ‘a waste of time’ IS in the eye of the beholder and stakeholder. The currencies of ‘waste’ are diverse aren’t they? Money, time, energy, sleep, thinking, relaxation, chat, rubbish et al.

A lot of other things have benefits when another person e.g. your boss might perceive it as ‘a waste of time’. My afternoon naps aren’t a waste of time; they make me more productive afterwards. Creatives need space, percolation and varied stimulus to spark off an award winning idea. Others observing them might think they are doing nothing but a lot of chewing pencils, staring into space and drinking wine and coffee.

I spend a lot of time thinking, reading & writing sitting on trains = very productive. E.g. I chose to go to St Austell recently for its 11 hour return journey for thinking and planning and to hit some key deadlines.

So what time are you wasting or is it just how you or others are perceiving it?

What 1 change would make all the difference for you?

One change I am going to make following the workshop is halving the amount of reading I optimistically take to London, fail to read and lug around before bringing it back. But then again, maybe I won’t because it’s an alternative to weights in the gym.

So what is the moral of this story and is there one? I guess it goes back to good old marketing principles – find out your client’s needs and don’t make assumptions.

If you would like a free copy of:

‘How to do absolutely nothing’ (which I might re-name)
‘Addiction to busyness’
‘The danger of making assumptions’

e mail me at

PS We do gift vouchers which make a practical and thoughtful Christmas present. Please ask for details.

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Finally if you are twiddling your thumbs today, I found this web site sharing links to Pointless sites so you can waste some time.

Hope is not a strategy – part 2

To do hand written checklist
The world of work is changing fast. Are you ready for it?

Here are 6 trends from a digest of a MPF trends seminar I attended recently by Rohit Talwar of Fast Future. @fastfuture

This blog is the second in a series about world trends and how they will affect the world of work and business.

Change the Board agenda: Most businesses focus on 1 year, so changing the order of items covered on a Board meeting’s agenda is a simple way to get management thinking, planning and having conversations for the longer term

Up technology spend to compete: Businesses need to up their spend on technology e.g. typically companies spend about 1-3% of budgets on technology whereas disruptive small businesses are spending about 30%

Build employer brand: Businesses need to be created so that they attract talent to choose to work there

Reinvent business DNA: Businesses need to create a new game and think about how they can recreate their ‘DNA’

The new business way: New style firms have a clear ‘spine’; a) technology will become the core of the firm, b) project and business management will be separated, c) expertise will be used to serve clients and also other firms

SMEs and technology create disruption: Technology and hungry, nimble entrepreneurial market entrants are eating away at the heartland of traditional slow moving business and firms

How will these trends affect you?

What’s your first step to reflect on this?

To follow Fast Future on Twitter:

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PS We do gift vouchers – they make an ideal present to reflect, take stock, plan and make your career future-proof. Get in touch. #savesshoeleather