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Meet the Team: James Bebbington

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There’s something so unique about working with startups and small businesses. It requires creativity, flexibility and a passion to work closely with a tight-knit group of people all striving for the same goal. So it’s no wonder that James Bebbington has built a career supporting growing companies brimming with innovation and possibility. As the newest addition to our team – and a longstanding member of The Portfolio Collective – James has brought a unique insight into the minds of our members and the ways in which they find opportunity.

We sat down to discuss his role as our Client Success Manager and learn more about his journey into the exciting world of portfolio careers, discovering everything that led him to The Portfolio Collective.

We’d love to hear a little about your background and the journey that led you to The Portfolio Collective.

My career journey started in retail. I worked for small, heritage businesses, a lot of whom had been around for a few hundred years and needed turning around. Those roles were what kickstarted my love for working with small businesses. 

I enjoy supporting businesses that have potential and just need to be unlocked. An example I often give is taking a business that in 2004 was still taking orders from a fax machine and figuring out how to modernise it. That’s when I started learning more about ecommerce and manufacturing, and from there I moved to a different challenge working for The Goodwood Group, which was this amazing opportunity to get involved in a little business unit that was launching a consultancy and doing lots of internal innovation work. 

Afonso Pereira © The Portfolio Collective

I had a lot of fun over the three and a half years I was there and I got to visit most of the Formula 1 circuits. But working in the sports and hospitality industry when COVID struck meant that I was made redundant. I was one of the many many people looking at their career and wondering what they could do now they had all this time on their hands. I started working with charities and expanding my horizons, doing lots of random things to build new skills and explore different working environments. That’s how I stumbled upon The Portfolio Collective. 

That’s right, you were a part of one of the first Catapult cohorts we ever ran!

Yes exactly! I did Catapult in January 2021, and it was from there that I fell in love with the community and the people that make it up. I’ve never met a bunch of people so willing to help one another, which I thought was incredible. 

I started experimenting with freelance consulting at this point, but then I made a slight diversion from my portfolio career and startup work and did my MBA. That was such a great experience and it really helped me to organise my thinking and approaches. I also met so many people from different backgrounds, countries and experiences, which was amazing. Having to work in regularly changing groups for short periods on different problems actually felt like good training for portfolio life.

I then moved to a food and drinks startup, helping them launch and get to a point where they didn’t need me anymore. Everything happened quite serendipitously because it was at that point that TPC was looking for a Revenue Operations Consultant and I was tagged in a post on the platform. It seemed like the perfect opportunity.

It would be great if you could explain to those who maybe don’t know – what does your role consist of here at TPC?

I originally came in as a Revenue Operations Consultant to help build better processes, create a bit more infrastructure and help scale the Venture Consulting side of The Portfolio Collective so that, as it got bigger, we were still giving our members and the companies we work with the best experience. The strategy changed slightly, as it often does with startups, because there was a lot going on and we had a lot more work coming in. So I transitioned more into the delivery side of things, giving Ben time back to be less involved in the day-to-day stuff. 

Now, I effectively help companies design their organisations and understand the skill sets they’re looking for, before connecting them with people in our community that fill those needs. That means I help our community members connect with exciting companies and  new opportunities. That’s both directly through the client work we do, but I also spend quite a bit of time with members getting to know them, brainstorming ways in which they can put themselves out there and sharing their profiles with companies. Then finally, I manage and train our talent partners that work across a number of those roles. 

Much like the rest of the TPC team, you have your own portfolio career. How are you finding that experience and what would you say has been your biggest learning from doing that?

I’ve been dabbling in variations of portfolio work for around four years now and I’ve very deliberately not taken a full-time job since October. I’m still in the process of figuring out how to make that successful. I’ve been practising what I preach and it definitely makes conversations with companies and community members richer, as it means I’ve got quite good insight into not just the benefits but also the challenges of a portfolio career, which in turn means I can better help our members. It also means I’ve been given a great opportunity to broaden the people and organisations I interact with on a week-to-week basis.

One of the biggest challenges for me has been the variability in workload and being prepared for when stuff gets super busy and also when things are slower. As is always the way, deadlines often all come at once, so learning how to be quite strict with my time, whilst also staying flexible, has been a real learning experience.

The other challenge for me is that this is my first fully remote role. I’ve discovered how much of a people person I actually am – I love bouncing around ideas and the random chat that comes with working in-person with others, so I’m now making much more of a proactive effort to cowork so that I’m not spending all my time at home. 

I’ve discovered a whole realm of people just like me – solopreneurs, business owners, portfolio professionals and freelancers – who don’t necessarily have a set workplace and are looking for community and like-minded individuals. It’s been a big change, realising that now I don’t have a sole company that I work for, that I also don’t have coworkers in the same way, so figuring out where to go for professional relationship stuff has been challenging at times. I think there may be a direct connection between the future of work (if people are working remotely) and creating communities in a localised setting. I’m exploring that at the moment and trying to work out if there’s something I can do within that space. 

Now, you’re one of a few people who’s experienced TPC both as a community member and a member of the team. How have you found that?

I think what you see when working here, is how much the team really does care about the community. It definitely comes across when you’re a member, but it becomes really clear that everyone just wants to help TPC members and give them the best experience possible. The team are such advocates for the community, which I find super inspiring. I’ve never been involved in a community and business where you really see the human side of things, which I think is pretty awesome. 

That’s so lovely to hear! And finally what would be your advice to someone who’s thinking about or who has a portfolio career?

I speak to lots of our members and one of the biggest things I’ve learnt from that experience is that it’s so important to put yourself out there. The people I talk to who consistently get work always seem to find opportunities from having conversations with people – and they don’t necessarily go into these conversations to find work, but but as a way of remaining curious, open and interested. 

Afonso Pereira © The Portfolio Collective 2023

Those unexpected conversations, which you enter into not expecting anything, are so full of possibility. As portfolio professionals it’s much harder to find work on job boards than it is with full-time positions. So having conversations, learning to stay top of mind and getting your head around that is one of my biggest bits of advice. And read Faris’ article on ‘How to stay top of mind as a portfolio professional’, I’ve gone back to that article more than once for advice. 

And, I know it’s something we talk about quite a bit, but spending time on your LinkedIn and TPC profile also really helps! The fact that you’ve done it and made an effort leaves a good impression and shows that you care about the way you come across to others, whilst also showcasing to others about what you do. 

Want to learn more about kick starting your own portfolio career? Become a member of our community and reach out to James and the team directly to find out why we’re so passionate about what we do and discover how The Portfolio Collective can change your career. 

Think this sounds like the right path for you? Come along to our monthly Get started event for new members to find out what a portfolio career could look like and how The Portfolio Collective can help you take those first steps towards professional success – and don’t forget to connect with our community!

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