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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.
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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, 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:. 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:. 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 Can, If You Believe You Can
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. 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. If you're using a computer you already own and an old kitchen table for a desk, your costs will be significantly lower.
The monthly expenses for an information consultant are really pretty minimal when compared to other types of businesses. 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. 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. 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.
How to Scale Your Consulting Business to $1M (And Beyond)
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. 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. 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. 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.
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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. Search Some More After getting out for a little fresh air on your way to the post office, etc. Back to work!
Find that information! 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. 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:. 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. This is an important distinction. You are responsible for developing new business so your consultants have projects to work on.
What Is a Consultant Job? How to Find One and Who’s Hiring
The more projects you get, the more consultants you can hire, and the more profit you can generate. These products can take the form of information products, courses, programs, books, subscriptions, etc. There are no customized proposals, you often avoid lengthy sales cycles, or complex pricing agreements. You put a price on your expertise, package it into a product, and introduce it marketing is critical, of course to the marketplace. If you are used to working very closely with your clients on custom consulting engagements, it can feel a bit unnatural. You can start with something simple like a discovery offer.
Example : The Intertwine Group. The Intertwine Group is another productized consulting business. Elliot Begoun, CEO of The Intertwine Group, could easily offer custom consulting with his expertise for emerging food and beverage brands. This is a highly scalable model and way to grow your consulting business. Listen to our podcast with John Warrilow and learn how to productize your consulting services. I ran my own consulting business for decades. When you run a consulting business using this model, you have all the freedom in the world.
You get to choose everything: who you work with, how much you charge — and you can customize everything you offer exactly how you like it. You have to do a lot yourself. Perhaps the biggest challenge of customized consulting business is that they are the toughest to grow. As you will read below, driving aggressive growth is not for every consultant.
Perhaps you want to stay small and create a nice lifestyle business for yourself. Example : David C. David C. Baker, Founder of ReCourse, is a great example of a successful solo consultant. He runs a highly profitable consulting business and works on a variety of different projects with a variety of different clients. Could he grow his consulting business: hiring more consultants, training them to do his work, get a nice office space, etc? He gets to work on what he wants, who he wants to work with, and wherever he wants to do it.
Every consulting business model can grow — and each model comes with its strengths and weaknesses. These three consulting business models are only a start. You can mix and match different elements of these. As a solo consultant, you can build products. As a firm owner, you can work on high-value consulting projects or retainers.
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Think about this: there are a few tasks that you do that are worth far more than the majority of the tasks you spend your time on each day, week and month. You increase your income by focusing on all these activities and find some other way, or some lower-paid person, to do the low-value activities. You move resources from the left side of the curve to the right side. Imagine that you hired an assistant to do your direct outreach.
Landing a call with a big decision maker? This is the essence of delegating and using the assistance of others to drive growth in your consulting business. When you do this, you can spend 3 hours a day on your highest value task — instead of 30 minutes. Having a visual reference of the tasks you can hire someone to take of your plate is the first step before hiring your first contractor and outsourcing your first task. Think about the tasks in your business that you do frequently. You probably have a set of steps — or a process — for doing said task in an efficient, timely manner.
Instead of having to think about what to do to accomplish the goal of the task — you go through the steps and get your desired result. To create processes for your consulting business, you want to list all of these tasks — and then write out those exact steps you take to complete them. They go from abstract and in your head to solid, tangible steps. Formalizing your standard operating procedures will open up new doors for outsourcing. You can hire contractors to carry out your Standard Operating Procedures and run other parts of your business. This standard operating procedure — your system for completing this task successfully — makes it easier for your contractor to do it right.
And it also makes it easier for you to teach them. Building and perfecting these systems make up the foundation of a growing consulting business. Many consultants might think they want to grow their consulting business, but growing a consulting business is difficult. Consultants that successfully grow their business are hungry for it.