Making a living with a portfolio career

JAWS CAMP 2010, JAWS CAMP blog l

Jawdesses, it’s survival of the fittest out there, and it’s essential to be adaptive. Take a note from Roberta Baskin.

Robert Baskin

Panelist Roberta Baskin, Senior Communications Officer, Office of the Inspector General, Dept of Health and Human Services. (Photo: Nina Zacuto)

She turned her last pink slip in journalism into an opportunity for something better, and now she’s happily battling bureaucracy from within the government, somewhere she never saw herself before.
Baskin and other panelists, Linda Kramer Jenning, Charreah Jackson and Arnesa Howell, bet on their own talents and skills to carry them from job to job. They shared their experiences and top tips for building a successful portfolio career. Here’s their advice:

Build a Network: Charreah recommends casting a wide net when you’re building up your network. Don’t take anyone for granted, and nurture your relationships before you need them. Go meet the keynote speaker, for example, but talk to her intern, too. You’ll never know where that intern will be in a few years.
When you’re networking, either online or the old-fashioned way, make sure to target key players in your field.

Portfolio careers panel

Portfolio career panel. (Photo: Nina Zacuto)

Go for quality rather than quantity. Also, try to follow the top names and trends in your industry with Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social networks.
Finally, follow up. Ask for referrals, but also use your own influence to help others when you can. Send thank you notes (e-cards count) and make sure you keep in touch regularly with everyone who’s helped you along the way. Karma, ladies.

Time Management: Linda passed along her own time management techniques and some organization tips from She suggests making the first hour of your day an email-free zone. And don’t worry about being anti-social when you have work to do. Let your voicemail do its job, and feel free to blow off the office schmoozer if they’re getting in the way. And though it’s hard to avoid the urge to do laundry, cook dinner, play with your dog and blog all at once, multi-tasking wastes time. Break up your day into fours, and stick to one thing at a time. Keeping your whole life on one central planning system helps too.


Freelance writer, editor and consultant Arnesa Howell explains what it is like to be a full-time freelancer in Washington DC. (Photo: Nina Zacuto)

Mind Your Finances: Whether it’s your mortgage payments or play money, take an inventory of what’s on your shelves, Arnesa says. Make sure you know what’s realistic for your needs when you’re looking for work, be in control of your budget, and save. Online banking and resources like are helpful tools for keeping track of how much you’re spending and saving.
If you’re a self-employed freelancer, set up a separate business account for your expenses. It’s easier to track for tax purposes, and you can pay yourself a salary from that account. Look into a SEP-IRA for retirement planning and for health insurance, see if a High Deductible Plan with HSA works for you. For all of the above, a good accountant goes a long way in helping you plan out your options.
Also, make sure you invest in yourself. Take professional development courses, like those offered by JAWS, and keep your wardrobe on point for less by shopping off-season or negotiating for deals.

One thing to remember: Know your worth and bet on it.

Blogged by Jessica Rettig, JAWS Fellow 2010