How to be an Information Consultant
Captain Information to the rescue! OK, you probably shouldn't put that on your business cards, but clients will recognize your heroic powers of research when you start an information consulting firm.
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.
In decades past, information consultants were considered dealers in obscure information. Companies hired them to dig through dusty old libraries and spools of microfiche to locate information that was difficult or too costly in terms of personnel hours to locate. Times have sure changed. Such a huge amount of information is now available that those who hire information consultants are often paying to have the information narrowed down to a few key topics. If the Web keeps expanding as it has in the past 10 years, it won't be long before clients start hiring information consultants to find other information consultants (just kidding, but you get the idea). So much information is available that those trying to find it can't see the forest for the trees. The talent shared by those who pursue information consulting as their life's work is the ability to enter that same forest and return in a reasonable amount of time with a list of the location and size of all the pine trees.
Filtering information has become such a big business that in some areas--especially the fast-moving high-tech world--there is a large enough market for specialized information that some consultants make their living by researching specific topics and offering their findings for sale on the Web. They use the information itself to attract customers. Some even collect data on specific industries and charge customers a subscription price to receive weekly bulletins via e-mail.
Many companies don't have the resources to do their own research. They may also not need research done regularly enough to justify taking on an employee to perform it. It's generally far more expensive to hire an employee and provide the needed equipment and benefits than it is to hire outside help. Here are a few of the types of clients you can expect to work for, should you decide information consulting is for you:
- Lawyers looking for the historical background of a particular type of case. Lawyers constantly need to sort through old lawsuits to find precedent-setting decisions. Smaller firms are more likely to need outside help with this task. This type of information consulting is particularly fitting if you have a background in law--if you've been a paralegal or worked in the research department of a large legal firm, for example.
- Corporations looking for information on competitors and potential suppliers. Believe it or not, many large companies really aren't all that knowledgeable about their competitors. Some will hire you to find out everything from the specifics of another company's product line to figures that show how profitable a company has been over the course of the past few years. Some use this information to make sure they remain competitive, and others use it to scope out potential strategic partners, suppliers and even companies to buy.
- Companies or individuals looking for patent information. There's no reason to reinvent the wheel, right? That's why many companies hire information consultants to find out about potential patent and ownership conflicts. This is an especially important subject for high-tech developers, whose ideas may be considered intellectual property even if they're not patented.
- Magazines compiling buyer's guides. If you've ever seen a 50-page buyer's guide in a magazine, chances are it was put together by an information consultant. Most publications don't have the time or the resources to put together a complete listing of products and services for their readers. This can be a good place to start for information consultants with knowledge of a particular industry.
- Publishing companies looking for untapped markets in hopes of starting new magazines or newsletters. Publishing companies, especially ones that publish several magazines that each serve niche markets with small numbers of subscribers, are constantly trying to identify new markets. Once a new market is found, the search for competitors begins (to be sure there's a need for a new publication), and research is conducted to find out whether the market is valuable enough to warrant launching a new publication.
- Investors seeking company background information. Sometimes the stock market numbers don't give the entire story, and providing financial and historical data on companies can help investors decide where to spend their money.
- Individuals looking for personal information. For reasons that range from checking the truth of someone's resume to locating a long-lost relative, people often want to find personal information about other people. This type of research is performed for clients that include lawyers, private investigators, employers and even people digging into the pasts of potential spouses. Researching personal backgrounds is not for the faint of heart. While the information you're providing to the client is generally available in public records, there's no guarantee that the client's intentions are honorable. Before you start conducting personal research for clients, be sure to talk to a lawyer about potential liabilities.
Finding a Market for Your Services
Reading the examples of the different types of information people and companies are willing to pay for may lead you to wonder if there's anyone who doesn't need the services of an information consultant. The fact of the matter is, just about anyone can benefit from having more information. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power.
As an information consultant trying to make a living, you'll need to find out not only who needs information, but also who has the financial resources to pay for it. Hopefully, the suggestions given in this chapter will get the old gears turning in your head. If you have a background in general research or library science, you've got a head start into just about any area of research. If not, it's probably a good idea to keep your focus fairly narrow when you're starting out. Ask yourself these questions:
- What subject would you be considered an authority on?
- Is there a need for research in this area?
- Are you willing to spend some time up front to find out whether those who need the information you can provide actually pay for research?
- Is there a related field that may be more lucrative that you could learn more about?
All of these questions are important. If you intend to support yourself by being an information consultant, you need to find paying customers. Unfortunately, the areas that information consultants serve are extremely diverse, which makes it difficult to describe the actual procedure you'll use to find out whether there's a need for your talents.
A good first step is to become a voracious reader. Read absolutely every magazine and book available about your subject of choice. Become an expert. Becoming an expert on a particular subject is not as difficult as it sounds once you realize that most people are too busy doing their jobs to really learn everything there is to know about the field in which they work.
Once you've picked an area of expertise, test your research skills by finding contacts at companies you can provide services for. Call them up and introduce yourself. If they've never hired an information consultant, just knowing that someone is available may entice them to use your services. As you engage in this little exercise, you may be surprised by the number of companies that enlist the aid of information consultants.
Another way to find out more about the market for information in your area of expertise is to join an organization such as the AIIP. This kind of organization gives you access to people who have years of experience as information consultants. The AIIP also provides a listing on the internet where you can display your area of expertise and find others who do similar types of research. The key to taking advantage of this type of resource is to become a resource yourself. You may need information on starting a business, and someone else may ask your advice on issues in your area of strength. You'll reap as much as you sow.
Established information consultants rarely turn down a job--even if it isn't in their particular knowledge niche. It's entirely possible that another consultant may hire you as a subcontractor based on your background or skill set. While the client may not know who you are, it's a foot in the door and a great way to get experience.
There are two ways to go about buying the equipment you need to launch your information consulting business. Your first option is to upgrade your office and equipment as needed. You can get by at first with an inexpensive computer, a few software programs, the least expensive internet access you can find, and the furniture and office supplies you have around the house. From there, you can slowly work up to a DSL line, a super-fast computer and the chair that looks like it came out of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
Your second option is to start out spending a bunch of money and be prepared for just about anything. If you have the money, get the best equipment you can right from the start. Why? Upgrading any part of your business will cause downtime--time when you're not doing work that you're billing for. Even switching to a new desk will probably cost you a day of work while you rearrange your office.
Here's a list of the average startup costs for an information consultant who's working from a home office (which is usually the case). Because it's assumed that you'll be starting out from the comfort of your home, this list of expenses does not include office space or equipment for additional employees. The costs shown are estimates based on reasonable expenditures for computer equipment, furniture and the like. For example, if you're buying a $3,500 computer and spending $2,000 for a Chippendale desk and chair, your expenses will be higher. If you're using a computer you already own and an old kitchen table for a desk, your costs will be significantly lower.
|Phone & Fax Machine||$200|
(Business Cards, Letterhead Stationery)
|Phone Line Installation (Two lines)||$150|
|Other Communication Devices (Cell Phone, Pager)||$100|
(add About 10% of Total)
|Total Startup Costs||$3,410|
The monthly expenses for an information consultant are really pretty minimal when compared to other types of businesses. Assuming you're working at home, expect your electric bill to increase about $25 per month from running your office machines. Your ISP will charge around $25 per month for unlimited web access and e-mail. Throw in paper for your fax machine and consumables for your printer, and you're looking at about another $15 per month. Each phone line will cost you about $25 per month. So without including long-distance phone calls and high-speed internet access, you can expect to pay a little under $200 per month in expenses. With cable modem or DSL access included, it still comes to under $250 per month.
Depending on where your clients and contacts are located, your phone bill can sometimes be a frightening surprise. Keep an eye on it. Send faxes at the least expensive times of day (some fax machines have this feature built in), and bill your clients for any long distance calls you make on their behalf. You may also want to shop around for the least expensive long distance service available in your area. The difference between seven cents a minute and ten cents a minute may seem small, but it really adds up if you spend a lot of time with the phone attached to your ear. Some long distance companies even offer perks like frequent flier miles that can make them even more attractive. You have to take a vacation some time, don't you?
What can you expect to deal with each day as an information consultant? Well, as with any job, each day will bring its own challenges and rewards. When you're self-employed, as most information consultants are, discipline is required on a daily basis. You'll only be "making your own schedule" as far as your projects will allow. Sure, you may have a few days or afternoons when you can take a little time off, but you'll more than likely spend that down time drumming up business--unless you're so far ahead financially that you can afford to nap in the hammock for a while.
In this section, we'll take a look at a typical day in the life of an information consultant. This little synopsis assumes you're taking on an entire consulting business on your own. If you're going to be working with another person who takes on some of these tasks, you'll have more time to spend on your portion of the work--but you'll also need to get enough work to support the two (or more) of you.
9:00 a.m. Check Your e-Mail and Phone Messages
E-mail is the communication method of choice in today's business world. You'll need to check your e-mail constantly throughout the day for messages from clients. It's a good, quick way to send off brief notes, questions and project updates.
One of the many advantages of e-mail is that it allows you to keep a record of the correspondence you have with clients. With a little software savvy, you can create for yourself an electronic paper trail that shows what was requested by whom. Many e-mail programs will even sort your messages into different folders as they come in, so that you can keep the correspondence you have with each client separate.
Check your phone messages next. If you're on the West Coast, clients on the East Coast have a three-hour head start on you (unless you're a really early riser) and may already have been waiting a few hours for the answer to a question by the time you're having you morning cup of coffee. Follow up on any calls you've received from clients about current and future work--especially future work. When you're first starting out, it's quite possible to miss getting a job by not responding fast enough.
9:30 a.m. Primary Research
Unless a client specifically asks only for what you can find on the web or another online resource, you're going to have to do some primary research to fill out what you've dug up electronically or from libraries or wherever else you've been researching. Primary research means going straight to the horse's mouth by calling companies or people who have written articles about the topic you're researching.
Primary research frequently involves interviewing experts about a subject. You'll need to find these experts first, but they can be very helpful in keeping you up to date. If you're focusing on a particular area of research, developing good relationships with experts can be very valuable. Are there magazines or newsletters devoted to your area of expertise? Subscribe to them, and try to develop relationships with the editors. Are there conferences devoted to your research specialty? Attend them (cost permitting) to keep up to date with new developments and make other important contacts.
11:00 a.m. Contracts, Bills, Invoices and Project Scheduling
Ahh, here we are. The inevitable (and usually least favorite) part of running any business: paperwork. Establishing contracts with clients is important; it ensures that both you and the client know what to expect. Is there a limit to the number of hours you'll work? Are there limits to where you'll do the research? Is it clear how much you'll be charging for the job? All those things need to be reviewed carefully and put in writing to prevent you and the client from having misunderstandings later on.
Pay the bills. You don't want your phone shut off in the middle of a project, and you don't want your ISP to stop your e-mail service. Have you subcontracted any work to other information consultants? If so, pay them promptly, just as you would expect a client to pay you. Are any of your clients late paying you? Give them a call after 30 days to check on the status of your payment. Have you sent out invoices for the work you've completed? Have you paid for your magazine and newsletter subscriptions? Have you tracked all this information so you can pay the required quarterly income tax installments? If not, you have some work to do.
Check your schedule to make sure you know what your workload is going to be like in the next month or two. Too much or too little work can be equally damaging to your business. To avoid financially devastating down time, you need to make time to find work even when you're in the middle of a project. Make sure you set aside time for this no matter how busy you are, especially when you're starting out.
12:00 p.m. Lunch?
OK, go ahead and raid the refrigerator. You may want to take this opportunity to review the status of projects you'll be tearing into after lunch or to read the industry magazines and newsletters you subscribe to. You'll have to make time for these tasks at some point during the day, so you might as well do your reading and eating in the kitchen to keep the crumbs out of your keyboard.
1:00 p.m. Start Searching!
Finding information is your business. Spend the next two hours online, whether it's on the internet or one of the commercial online databases. You'll become more proficient at deciding which one to use as time goes on. You'll also realize that much earlier when you've spent too much time on a wild goose chase. Sometimes you can gain more information from making a single phone call than from spending hours online. Make a list of calls to make tomorrow.
3:00 p.m. Errands
Do you need to go to the post office to mail out invoices and/or contracts? Are there any urgent packages that need to be sent FedEx? Do you have blank cassettes for interviews? Ink and paper for your printer? Make a quick run out to take care of these tasks.
3:30 p.m. Search Some More
After getting out for a little fresh air on your way to the post office, etc., your eyes will be a little less bleary than they were when you left. Back to work! Find that information!
5:00 p.m. Organize
Spend the next half-hour backing up any work you've done using your method of choice. If you wake up in the morning to find that your computer won't start, at least you'll have the data in some form (like on disk or tape). Now spend some time organizing the piles of printed material you've generated during the course of the day.
5:30 p.m. Miller Time!
Time to sit back and sip your brew of choice? Maybe, but not necessarily. There are a number of things we haven't fit into our day:
- Phone calls can come in at any time, delaying your other daily activities.
- Meetings with clients can easily eat up half a day.
- Trips to the library can set you back a few hours but are sometimes necessary.
- Quarterly taxes will take a day out of your schedule four times a year.
- Emergency rush jobs may come up. (These often pay well, but don't let them ruin jobs you're doing for other clients.)
- Marketing, in whatever form you choose (mailings, maintaining a web page, and so on), must be attended to.
- Making yourself more visible by writing articles or speaking at conferences can take up considerable time.
- The information you've gathered for your clients has to be formatted into a readable report.
All this, of course, is assuming you're working full time as an information consultant. It's possible to get started in this profession working part time or even just evenings (though it can make contacting clients a little tricky). You can also partner up with someone who has complementary skills or subcontract work to other information consultants. But as a full-time information consultant, the key is to keep all the balls in the air at once.
Income & Billing
There's really no set pricing for information consultants. Figuring out what to charge is something you'll get a feel for with time, but even then you'll occasionally underbid a job and have to work your butt off for less than your services are worth or overbid a job and not get it at all. As you gain more experience, you'll eventually reach a point where these situations will occur less frequently.
Joining an organization like the AIIP can be a tremendous help in figuring out how much your work is worth because becoming a member gives you access to consultants who have years of experience. Depending on your skills as a researcher and your knowledge of the field you'll be serving, you may decide to work as a subcontractor while you get a feel for how much to charge. That disclaimer aside, we'll hazard some estimates of what the pay is like by profiling information consultants at different skill levels:
- $25 to 30 per hour. You're just starting out and haven't worked in an information-gathering field before. You're either working part time while you hold on to your day job or you have some other means of financial support. You've picked up some of the research skills you need by taking classes, or you're using skills you have from previous jobs. You feel comfortable searching for information on the Web but aren't an expert. You're primarily looking for subcontracting jobs where you're doing work for someone who's already established in the field.
- $50 per hour. You've become an expert at conducting web searches and are comfortable but not yet an expert at finding information using online databases. You've proven yourself by subcontracting work from others and are beginning to get work on your own. If you were doing information consulting part time, you're now getting enough work to quit your day job. This pay rate is also the starting point for consultants who have worked as librarians or researchers but are just beginning to work independently.
- $75 per hour. You're now getting enough work on your own that you are doing little or no subcontracting unless it's because you are being hired by other consultants for your knowledge in a specific field--and then only accepting projects when you can make close to your standard pay rate. You're comfortable with Web searching, database searching and telephone interviews, or you know your own skills well enough to begin subcontracting work outside your area of expertise to others. You haven't had to seek out work in six months to a year, and you have more than one regular client.
- $100 per hour. Besides the skills you had at the previous pay level, you are becoming well-known as an expert in the industry you serve. You're probably being asked to speak at conventions and write articles for magazines. You have enough work to confidently subcontract certain tasks to others--mostly because you've worked with enough subcontractors to know whom to trust.
- $150 and up. You're an expert in the field you serve as well as an expert in information consulting. You're being asked to not only find information for clients, but to consult with them to help them figure out what questions they need answers to and why. You're a frequent speaker at conventions, contributor to magazines, or author of books, either about the subject you specialize in or about information consulting itself. You may be training others or giving seminars about the skills you've gained as an information consultant. You probably analyze the data you gather for your clients and may even go on site to present the information.
All of the hourly rates we've listed are estimates and can be affected by many factors. Maybe you were already working as a researcher for a large corporation and left your job while continuing to serve that corporation as an independent consultant. Or maybe you're already an expert in a particular field and will be looking for clients among people who already have a lot of respect for your skills. Perhaps you were a librarian. Any of these factors will increase the amount you should be charging for your services. The amount you earn will be affected not only by your skills, but also by what the market will bear in the field you serve.
Here's the fun part--payday. You can bill the client immediately after the work is completed to their satisfaction. Be sure to charge for online database access, long distance phone calls on the client's behalf, and your hourly or flat rate. Your monthly ISP charge is counted as one of your business expenses because you also use it for e-mail and personal web access. Putting a note on the invoice that says the payment is due in a specific number of days gives you a set time after which to call the client if you haven't received your payment.
Other scenarios will require you to make financial arrangements with the client before starting the job. For example, if a job is going to continue for an extended period of time, you may want to make arrangements to send the client an invoice once a month. Some information consultants also work on a retainer fee just like lawyers. They're paid once a month to be available to the client for a specified maximum number of hours, whether or not they actually do any work. In this case, you may not even need to send an invoice, depending on your agreement or contract.
Expected Annual Income
An information consultant in the $50-per-hour range can make about $40,000 a year. The top salaries will be earned by those who are considered experts in their information fields--those who write articles, speak at conferences and consult. These experts bring in $100,000 a year or more, depending on the length of time they've they've worked as information consultants and the size of their client base.
One more thing to keep in mind before multiplying your hourly rate by 40 hours a week is that a lot of the work you do, including bookkeeping, studying, attending conferences and looking for work, is stuff you don't get paid for--and that's pretty time-consuming, to boot. Being an information consultant takes a lot of work. The work is rewarding and pays well, but it's definitely not for those looking for a get-rich-quick scheme.
How do you let potential clients know that you exist? Welcome to the wonderful world of advertising. If you're an independent information consultant, it's quite possible that you walked away from your previous place of work with a potential client--maybe even your former employer if you played your cards right. However, even if you come out of the chute with one or two clients, it's unlikely that they'll bring in enough work for you to rest on your laurels and wait for them to call every week. You need exposure.
Before you get started, you'll need to do a little bit of work. Figure out what industry would be most interested in your services. Next, compile a list of companies in that field, along with contact information for the person in each company who is most likely to need your services. If you're a legal researcher, you'll need a list of law firms and contacts. If you're a high-tech researcher, you'll need a list of software and hardware companies.
Because there are so many fields in which information consultants provide services, you're pretty much on your own in finding an initial list of potential clients. Do some research. Leaf through magazines. Click around on the web. Even flip through the Yellow Pages if you think that's where the information lies. Still no list of clients? Not to worry. The following marketing ideas should help you find those first clients.
It's in the Cards
Ah, the lowly business card. It's an often overlooked but extremely effective marketing tool. It's also just about the cheapest form of marketing you can do. Having a professional-looking business card makes your business look like it means business. Keep your card simple. Be sure to include your phone and fax numbers, e-mail address and website address (if you have one). If you work out of your apartment, you might consider using "Suite 340" instead of "Apt. 340." Most information consultants will tell you that a homebased business usually appears less legitimate to clients than a business run out of a suite in an office building. It's all about perception.
Keeping professionalism in mind, you may also want to invest in things like letterhead stationery and envelopes. While these kinds of printed products may seem like they fall into the category of office supplies, they're really marketing tools. You're trying to sell your services, so you need to live, eat and breathe professionalism. Even when you're talking to potential clients on the phone or meeting with them for lunch, you're marketing your business.
Snail Mail Potential
There are all sorts of nifty promotional pieces you can mail to potential clients, from simple sales letters to brochures. First off, you'll need to know what companies to mail them to. Getting information about companies in your field of expertise and finding out to whom exactly you should send printed materials is an excellent exercise to sharpen your research skills before you actually go into business. Search the web. Buy magazines. Go to libraries. Do everything you can to find out who and where your clients are. Got your list? OK, now let's take a look at what you can send potential clients.
- Sales letters. Letters describing your services and your background are great, especially if you have other information to include with the letter, such as magazine articles you've written on a subject pertinent to the client (more on writing magazine articles later). Keep the letter brief and to the point, and be sure to make it clear that you're an independent contractor. Make the letter as businesslike as possible and be sure to have a resume ready if asked.
- Press releases. Everyone likes to keep up to date with his or her profession. So another effective way to get noticed is to send out press releases. You can't use information that you supply to clients in your press releases, but in the downtime between jobs or in the months before you start your business, you can do your own research and perhaps come up with key information and conclusions about the market you intend to serve.
You'll want to send press releases not only to potential clients, but also to magazines that are related to your area of expertise. You should send press releases out on a regular basis--maybe once a month--at least until your business is prospering. Be careful not to give away all your findings at once.
Does It Pay to Advertise?
If you're thinking about placing a print ad in a magazine that targets the same field as your information consulting business, take the time to do some research to make sure you're advertising in the right place. If you're hoping to have computer software companies as clients, find a magazine that addresses them specifically. But be careful here. If you want computer software companies as your clients, it won't do you much good to place an ad in a magazine for software consumers. Likewise, if your targeted clients are pharmaceutical companies, it probably won't be in your best interest to advertise in publications for pharmacists.
If you decide that a particular magazine is an appropriate place for you to buy print advertising space, look to see whether the publication has a "marketplace" section. That's the section in the back of the magazine where companies place one-eighth--or one-ninth-page black-and-white ads--in other words, the inexpensive section. Ad space in this section is often very reasonably priced at $100 to $400, depending on the circulation of the magazine. Add in another $250 or so to have a designer create a little text-only, black-and-white advertisement. Keep the ad simple and to the point.
You'll have to test the ad to see if it works for the market you're targeting. Try it out for a month or two and see what happens. Every field is different, so don't sign a contract to run your ad for a year at a reduced monthly rate until you see some results. Even the smallest market that is profitable for a publishing company to serve (around 15,000) adds up to a lot of eyeballs that may see your ad and need your services. So keep in mind that, unless you see tremendous results from advertising, a small black-and-white ad will be just fine.
The World Wide Web: Your Own Private Infomercial
Just about everyone has a website these days. A website can be a valuable marketing tool for information consultants who have enough information about their business and capabilities to fill a computer screen. Since most ISPs give you a limited amount of space for a website, it makes sense to use this space to advertise your business. Remember that your website doesn't need to be complicated. You can hire someone to put together a bare-bones, information-only site for around $500 to $1,000.
Seizing the Limelight
Your goal in all these marketing endeavors is to be an expert in your field of choice, someone who can not only gather information but also make sense of it. In this vein, there are two major steps you can take to show that your skills are up to par: writing magazine articles and books and speaking at conferences. If neither of these things is in your repertoire, that's OK. It's tough to get in front of people at a conference assuming that you know more about a subject than they do. However, even if you don't feel up to the title of "expert," you're not completely cut out of the limelight. Most conventions have panel sessions in which people in the industry you serve discuss situations they've encountered, and the audience gets to ask questions. You don't need to have an expert opinion to be the moderator (read: referee) of a panel discussion; you just need to know enough about the subject to keep the discussion flowing.
There are also alternatives to writing full-fledged articles for publications that serve your industry. Many magazines publish annual buyer's guides that list products that are available to a particular industry. You should be subscribing to these magazines anyway, so why not offer your services to them as an information consultant? If you do a good job, you may be offered other opportunities to contribute to the magazine as a researcher or a writer. However, if you decide to write for magazines, keep in mind that most trade publications don't pay very well. You accept assignments from them based on the fact that they're giving you a byline and exposure to thousands of readers, essentially a free advertisement for your services.
- The American Association of Law Libraries(AALL)
- The Association of Independent Information Professionals(AIIP)
- Association of Information and Dissemination Centers(ASIDIC)
- American Library Association
- American Medical Informatics Association(AMIA)
- American Society for Information Science & Technology(ASIS)
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation(EFF)
- Medical Library Association
- The National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services(NFAIS)
- Research Libraries Group(RLG)
- Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals(SCIP)
- Special Libraries Association(SLA)
- Find Public Records Fastedited by Michael L. Sankey
- The Information System Consultant's Handbook: Systems Analysis and Designby William S. Davis and David C. Yen
- Start Your Own Information Consultant Business: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Successby George Walsh, Alan Breznick and Rachel Adelson
- Super Searchers on Competitive Intelligence: The Online and Offline Secrets of Top CI Researchersby Jan Herring
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