In the past, information consultants were generally ex-librarians or full-time librarians who moonlighted by doing extra research for clients. Things have changed a lot in the past 10 years. Now, primarily due to easier access to information online, information consultants can come from virtually any profession. Medical receptionists can become medical researchers. Magazine editors can become expert researchers in topics they used to cover in their magazines. Paralegals or legal secretaries can take their knowledge of legal matters into business doing research for lawyers. It's even possible for you to become an information consultant without any experience in the field by subcontracting work from established consultants. The possibilities are endless. Why, then, isn't everyone with any sense doing this type of work? The answer is simple: Many people are just not cut out for it. In the next section, we'll take a closer look at what it takes to be an information consultant, so you can decide whether the profession is right for you.
The Thrill of the Search
First, if you're planning to become an information consultant because it sounds like easy money, forget it. While you may get lucky and find information for a client quickly every once in a while or find out that two clients want similar information, you'll have just as many jobs where you'll be pulling your hair out trying to find information that doesn't seem to exist. The key to surviving in this field is to enjoy the work. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine whether you're cut out for information consulting:
- Do you like to read?
- Do you like research?
- Are you a "people person"?
- Are you a logical thinker?
- Are you organized?
- Are you disciplined?
- Are you self-confident?
- Are you computer-literate?
- Can you handle the financial demands of starting a new business?
Finding Your Area of Expertise
Most information consultants start their businesses by doing work in fields they already have some experience in. As we mentioned earlier, people involved in the legal profession frequently start their businesses by doing research for law firms, and those involved in medicine often start off doing medical research. We all have to start somewhere, and beginning with something you already have a background in can be a big plus. Many people even leave their jobs (on good terms, of course) and start their businesses with their ex-employers as their first clients.
If you don't think you have an area of expertise, do a little research. You'll be surprised at the variety and extent of the information that companies need. Take a look at the websites for organizations devoted to information professionals. A good one to check out is the Association of Independent Information Professionals' website . There you can look at a list of AIIP members and the type of work they do. Many organizations like the AIIP have websites that also feature links to their members' sites. A look at the membership lists of those professional organizations and a quick visit to some of their members' sites will show you that information professionals specialize in everything from arts and humanities to zoology.
Do a little more searching, and you'll find that organizations such as the AIIP will allow you to join as an associate member. The AIIP offers a mentor program, where you can get advice about starting and operating your business from seasoned professionals. It's not free, but it could be a good place to get started. The organization also has a referral program for members.
The combined listings of The Burwell World Directory of Information Brokers and the membership of the Association of Independent Information Professionals amount to less than 2,000 people. Even if there are twice that many information professionals currently working in the field, that only amounts to the population of a single big-city high school. Certainly, there's plenty of room for more information consultants in the Information Age.