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Taking the Independent Research Plunge! How I Did It.

I don't gamble, am not a risk taker, and can't remember the last time I took a dare. However, after a year of talking about leaving my job my husband Bob finally said, "If your going to do it, just do it!" So I did. After all, he had already made the transition from employee to self-employed several years ago.

Becoming a self-employed research consultant was a scary step for me to take. After twenty years working for a fairly stable employer like the County I was afraid to leave that safety net of a steady salary, good benefits and relative job security to jump straight into the unknown world of being an independent researcher. I never had to go out and find my clients; they always came to find me. The choice of becoming an independent researcher was obvious since the thing I enjoyed most about my job was the research and working with individual patrons in helping them find solutions to their problems. It was also obvious to me that I was tired of supervision along with the headaches of running a branch library and being in middle management. What was a fun place to work had turned into a day-to-day drudgery. As I said earlier I had been contemplating a career change for quit some time. Several months before I took "the plunge" I was reading the book Opening New Doors: Alternative Careers for Librarians, edited by Ellis Mount, SLA, 1993. Several chapters discussed becoming an Information Broker working alone or by creating a company. I do not remember now who wrote which chapter but I am sure since I also found a reference to the AIIP (Association of Independent Information Professionals) web site that one or more of the contributors were most likely AIIP members at the time. After I gave my two-month notice to the library system I joined AIIP and subscribed subscribe to the AIIP discussion list. For support as well as help on the do's and don'ts of being an independent researcher you cannot go wrong in lurking on the list to learn as much as possible and/ or asking for help in solving a problem. About this time my husband purchased a copy of Information Brokers Handbook by Sue Rugge and Alfred Glossbrenner, which I read from cover to cover.

Using suggestions from the book and with help from Bob, I set up a web site and began the process of establishing contacts and advertising my services to potential clients. I also recommend using Information Brokering: A How-To-Do-It Manual by Florence M. Mason and Chris Dobson, Neal-Schuman, 1998. And Mary Ellen Bates' excellent Getting Your First Five Clients, AIIP Professional Paper No. 98-1 (Rev.01/99).

And, be sure to plan to attend an AIIP Conference. I have had the pleasure of attending one just after I started my business and hope to attend others in the future. To get my name "out there" I also began writing web review columns for Library Journal and Reference Reviews. Although I had used web sites for quick reference work at the library, writing web columns enhanced my ability to weed out sites of less than reliable content.

As with any beginning entrepreneur I have shifted focus and reworked my game plan many times over the past three years. In order to be successful at the independent services game it is important to grow and change directions, as client needs or the market itself dictates.

I am very glad I took the risk. From talking with fellow AIIP members and other friends who are entrepreneurs I was warned to give it at least three years. I am now fully into my third year and although still struggling with finding my niche and having steady clients, I do not regret the step I took.

This article appeared in the Spring Issue of the AIIP newsletter Connections. Volume 16, Number1. page 10.


Updated: May 03, 2003


Copyright 2000, 2001, 2002 by Barbara Fritchman Thompson. All Rights Reserved.