Finding a flexible career: Julie Read, founder of Portfolio Oomph


Julie Read set up Portfolio Oomph after realising people would pay for her specialist knowledge about arts degree applications. She lives in Midlothian with her husband and daughter, who is eight.

As more parents, particularly women, are finding it difficult to juggle family life with full-time careers, we talk to people who have left their 9-5 jobs to set up new companies, and more flexible ways of working.

  1. What do you do?I run an online hub called Portfolio Oomph that advises students who are applying for art college.  The hub provides eBook and eCourse guides that students can download to assist with all aspects of their application. I also work one-to-one mentoring students from my home studio/office and running occasional workshops for art teachers.
  2. Why did you want a more flexible career?Having a family was the driving force, however a number of issues all came about together and it was really the only way I could make a career work at the time.I was at a crossroads as I had been made redundant from a lecturing post shortly after our daughter was born and I was picking up short-term teaching contracts. However huge budget cuts meant that teaching hours were diminishing. Jobs in higher education for art are very limited and without relocating our family or having a huge commute my options were zero.
  1. What were you doing before you had children?I’d worked as a tutor at Edinburgh College of Art for 10 years and part of my job was interviewing prospective students and doing outreach work with schools to help pupils and parents with the application procedure. Each university course has a different procedure and standards vary hugely from one university to another, so it is more complex than you might think.
  2. What was the trigger that made you switch? 

    I had no choice but to try to craft out a career for myself. I was limited with my availability as you are with a young family and I desperately wanted to stay within art education as I’d spent years training and building my knowledge and experience.I stumbled across an online training course ‘How to be a business goddess’ by Goddess Leonie Dawson which made me think about the knowledge I had that people would pay money for. I really had no idea if there was a market for my own online training materials (eBooks) in how to make a portfolio or how to write your UCAS statement for art college but it was a pretty low-risk venture to try it out.

  1. What’s a typical day like for you? 

    My day usually starts with the school drop off, then straight to my studio/office in the house. Each day is totally different but it depends very much on the time of year as my work is cyclical. September – March/April is very busy with students visiting the studio for mentoring sessions. Later in the day I will be getting down to admin or organising workshops or events.
    Downtime is from April – August where lots of planning, backstage work goes ahead, adding to the website, marketing, doing PR and guest blogging. As our website is our shop for our eBooks and our online presence is key I’ve spent thousands of hours working to ensure our site ranks well with Google and being quite strategic with our plans. I’m an artist, not a marketer or businesswoman so I am incredibly proud of my steep learning curve over the past four years. At the moment I am also developing an online course that will be fully automated from lead generation and sales conversion funnels through to the delivery of the course with Skype tutorials at various times throughout the course.

  1. Do you work every day, or is it different each week?

    I work most days as I try to keep as much to a working week around childcare. However, I can take days off at the drop of the hat if, for example, it’s a beautiful hot, sunny day (not that often here in Scotland) or if events come up that I’d like to attend. When you’re the boss you can move time around and be pretty flexible if need be. Or even just relocate into the garden to work is actually pretty liberating and I do now totally take it for granted that I can do this.

    I can often catch up the time in an evening or just decide that priorities need to be made and actually at the moment our young family is priority. Yes, money needs to come in but I can work around many things. What I do love about working from home with students is that I can schedule a one-hour mentoring session say at 7pm while my partner is doing the bath routine with our daughter and it’s done by 8pm, no travelling home, really done by 8pm and I can say goodnight still.

  1.  What advice would you give to anyone wanting to give up a 9-5 job?

    Think carefully about what your new career is going to be, as to begin with you will find if it’s your own business that you work just as many hours, if not more. You spend a lot of your time thinking about work, talking about it and of course doing it. But if it’s your business then that’s OK if you’re passionate about it. This, I think, is the deal breaker, to be doing it because you love it, not just because it’s convenient.
    Flexible working in some scenarios can mean being ‘on’ all the time, doing short stints all the time rather than just getting the hours done and dusted. So whatever it is, you have to think practically too.
  2. How do your earnings compare with when you were working in a 9-5 job?
    My earnings took a huge nosedive in the first three years as I was basically starting a new business. Lecturing jobs are well paid and really I was starting from scratch. This is the first year that my income looks to be reasonable however certainly nowhere near the pro-rata of my old job. I have been very lucky in that I have family who have supported me incredibly during the early days – I know that if I hadn’t had this support I would not be where I am today.However, I have no red tape or restrictions in what I do and how I do it. If I want to meet a friend for coffee on a work day I can do if I have time or can work around it. I get to see my daughter every day, she is not in any childcare and that pleases us. She pops her nose round the door to say hello when I have clients and actually that’s fine, as long as it’s not for too long or too often! For me it’s about a work /life balance not the rat race and constantly climbing that career ladder.
  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge for working parents? 

    Juggling your lives and your children’s. Also the cost of childcare, time in childcare vs earning enough. Do you work a full time job, put your child in after-school clubs and only really see them to stuff a meal in them and put them to bed and at the weekend to allow you to earn a decent salary to keep your lifestyle?Or do you cut back, spend the time with the kids while they are young and at home? I’ve had to simplify my life big time to be honest, we consume less, do less but spend time doing more basic, free, enjoyable things and spend simple time together. These are choices I’ve made and I am really happy with them – they will change as our daughter grows I am sure.

  2. If you weren’t doing this job, what else would you be looking in to?You know, I really don’t know. Possibly arts administration for arts organisations, or maybe even a career change. But at the moment I am very content.

Have you changed your career since having children? Read some of our success stories of other mums who have opted for more flexible ways of working and let us know your thoughts…



  1. November 8, 2016 / 4:22 pm

    Very interesting to read Julie. I have recently done the very same thing. I love the flexibility and the fact that my sons get time with me and I don’t spend all of my hard earned cash on childcare. Thanks for sharing.

  2. November 24, 2016 / 1:41 pm

    Thanks for reading Jo. I had read that you’re working more from home, hope it’s working out. We must compare notes some time! x

    • November 24, 2016 / 1:46 pm

      Absolutely – studying and working at the moment (with childcare) but hoping to have some direction in the new year! x

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