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Things I wish I had known before starting my independent career

For the last decade, Alison Dungworth has had a successful portfolio career and is currently a part-time FD for a graphic design business, a Consultant and a Specialist Finance Coach and Mentor. She is a committee member of ICAEW’s Women in Finance Community and is the special adviser to the ICAEW Independent Advisers & Consultants Community. In this article Alison shares with us the things she wished she had known when starting off on her portfolio journey.

As chartered accountants, we have the advantage of our financial training and business awareness; but, nonetheless, the reality of establishing one’s own business and all that goes with it can be daunting. So to help, this is what I wished someone had told me.

What can you offer, what do you want to offer?

  • Be very clear about the skills and experience you have to offer. How can these best utilised to solve problems for potential clients AND so that you spend time doing more of the work you most enjoy which, after all, is often why a portfolio career is attractive.
  • Define what the above translates into: part-time FC or FD, consultant, coach, NED or trainer, etc. It may be several roles of the same nature, or a mix of different roles at the same time. This mix may well and indeed is likely to change over time.

Working hours commitment and pricing

  • Think about your charging rates, bearing in mind the skills and experience you have gained throughout your career. Research current market rates by looking on the internet for similar roles or by asking trusted contacts who do comparable work.
  • You may need to consider a varying charging structure for different roles.
  • Decide how much time you wish to commit to working. One of my drivers was to work a reduced working week.

Business structure, regulatory and legal implications

  • Decide on the most appropriate business structure – whether to operate as a limited company, partnership, or on a self- employed basis – and understand the related tax implications, including IR35. Some roles might even be on a PAYE basis.
  • Consider the need for a practising certificate.
  • Make sure you are up to date with the latest Anti-money laundering regulations.
  • Professional indemnity and other insurances may be necessary, e.g. car and public liability insurances. 
  • Engagement contracts and letters will have to be drawn up to ring-fence expectations on both sides.

Finding work

In my experience, sourcing work has not been a one-pronged approach, and the following can all be routes to seek work:

  • Networking, networking, networking – nothing new. Developing good networking skills is very important, as is maintaining contact with one’s existing network. Additionally for me, networking groups I can attend regularly which offer a balance of good content and sufficient time to network at a place and time that suits  me works well. ICAEW has a plethora of events and networking opportunities that may work for you.  Join one of the communities or faculties, and make the most of your district society. However networking is not the only source. ICAEW Jobs board may have part-time roles.
  • Recruiters – there has been a growth in recruiters featuring non full-time roles as the business landscape and the world of work has changed to recognise portfolio working. Examples include: Equity FD The FD Centre, Capability Jane and Your Right Hand Finance Team  
  • Registering for specific job alerts on internet job sites, maybe industry-specific ones if you have a specialism e.g. Indeed
  • LinkedIn – searching both the job postings and also being headhunted as a result of your profile. Set up an alert using key words for roles that may interest you.

I have sourced work through each of these routes at different times.


This is not always an area that naturally sits comfortably with us accountants, but to make a success of a portfolio career, how we present and therefore sell ourselves as individuals with both technical skills and crucially interpersonal skills is very important. So, in considering how to present yourself, prepare:

  • A brief intro – how do you succinctly describe yourself on meeting people?
  • LinkedIn Profile – does this reflect what you have to offer and who you are?
  • A website – is one necessary for you and how might it showcase your services?
  • Other social media – how much (if at all) will you interact via blogs, twitter etc?

Transitioning to portfolio working and accessing resources

As with all areas of life, a decision to make a change does not necessarily come with all the skills to do so. Chartered accountants who develop a portfolio career are  in the same position, even though we are highly trained and skilled individuals. We still have skill gaps which may need addressing and this is simply part of our on-going learning. To help fill the gaps, consider:

  • ICAEW Academy courses
  • CABA - an excellent source of training, mentoring and offer one-to one career coaching.  ;
  • Your existing business network – to bounce ideas and seek help; if we look we can often find someone who can point us in the right direction, but do be willing to offer it in return when asked
  • Other professional support – perhaps external IT services, legal and HR support; and crucially
  • Family, friends and outside interests – to help maintain perspective and balance.

And finally …other things I wish I had known at the beginning…

  • Things don’t always go to plan…it happens; such is the unpredictability of life!
  • Moving away from a corporate full-time role can come with feelings of loss of status, support and financial security – it is a natural part of the transition process.
  • The need to factor in adequate time for business development – networking, follow up, etc, and the on-going diary management; the latter in particular absorbs more time than I’d imagined.
  • Lead times can be frustrating slow but work can, and often does, come at unexpected times and in unexpected ways.

Good luck! Developing my own portfolio has given me so much more freedom to have flexibility, a broader variety of work, and more  opportunities to experience different businesses, cultures and challenges – but crucially much greater control over my working life.

If you would like to get in touch with Alison Dungworth visit her LinkedIn page.