The amount of information available today is staggering. For companies planning new products and patents or scoping out the competition, and for many other types of businesses, the trick is in figuring out how to access the information they need. If you love research--the excitement of sifting through a maze of books, magazines, journals and other esoteric sources for bits of information--you can ride to the rescue as an information consultant. You can seek out material for all sorts of clients--attorneys preparing cases; advertising, public relations and market research firms preparing campaigns; financial wizards; medical researchers; environmental engineers; or management consultants. Despite this wealth of potential customers, however, you should plan on specializing in a particular field. This way, you'll be familiar with the usual 'suspects' or avenues of research, so you'll be able to complete assignments faster. And since this can be a difficult business to market, by sticking to one industry, you increase your word-of-mouth advertising capacity. The advantages to this business are that you can start part time if you like, you're always learning something new, the industry has lots of room for growth, and if you love digging through information for the sheer joy of discovery, you'll be in information nirvana every working day. You'll need dogged persistence and the skills and experience to take you down the proper research avenues, plus the creativity and intuition to lead you in new directions when the usual methods fail. In addition, it helps to have a background in the field you choose to specialize in, but this is not an absolute requirement.
Who your clients are will depend on what field you specialize in. Once you decide, the best ways to reach them are by networking in professional groups and organizations and spreading the word among present and former colleagues. Write articles for and place ads in professional or trade journals. Give seminars and talks to industry groups. Establish relationships with other information consultants who can pass overflow or out-of-their-field work on to you.
You'll need a computer with a laser or inkjet printer, a fax machine and the usual office software. And since you'll do most of your research online, you must have a good Internet service provider and accounts with a variety of subscription research sites like Lexis/Nexis and E-Journal. Plan on having a separate, or dedicated, line for your Internet access--otherwise clients won't be able to reach you.