Dec 01 2008

Become an Information Entrepreneur

One of the great things about being an information professional, librarian or otherwise, is the wide range of things you can do to (as they say in the corporate world) “create multiple revenue streams.”

For example, in addition to — or instead of — your current job, you might consider using your information skills to do freelance work such as writing or research. Or, you may want to explore becoming an information entrepreneur, someone who creates an information-based product to sell to others.

Product vs. Service

What’s the difference between a product and a service? A service is generally provided to a client, and is tailored to the needs of that client. It’s generally provided “on demand” — in other words, a client asks you to provide a service, which you do in response to that request.

A product, on the other hand, is some type of predefined “package” of information that you offer for sale or license to customers. Your goal is to create your information product once, then sell it multiple times (as opposed to a service, which you offer one-on-one to a specific client). Essentially, you’re “productizing” some aspect of your information expertise.

Additionally, if you’re currently working as an independent, creating an information product allows you to:

  • create passive revenue, which allows you to ‘”scale up” your business without having to add more staff
  • create multiple revenue streams from one initial effort (ask yourself: how many ways can I sell this information?)
  • have less client dependency — if you are selling a product, you are less tied to client ups and downs for all of your income
  • separate dollars earned from hours worked — you can be bringing in revenue even if you aren’t working billable hours
  • identify potential market niches for which you can create additional, related products

Characteristics of a Product

Think about a product as something that you create once, then sell many times. Some standard characteristics of a product include:

  • pre-packaged — you’ve created a standard format for the product that is used for/by all customers
  • pre-established pricing — you have a set price for your product, although tiering is a possibility (you can offer more info/features/functionality for more money)
  • minimal personal engagement — your goal is to create passive revenue, with minimal “labor” costs
  • minimum customization — your goal is to have a single version that you create once, sell multiple times with as little involvement/intervention by you as possible
  • focus is on market size (a group of customers) rather than on individual clients
  • sale is of an existing, tangible item with immediate benefits that customer either needs or doesn’t; not about relationship-building (as is the case with a service business)

Info-Product Examples

Depending on your area of expertise and your interests, there’s a wide range of information products that you might want to consider. These include, among others:

  • market research reports
  • workbooks and training guides
  • syndicated columns
  • podcasts
  • self-directed online tutorials
  • industry or personal-interest newsletters
  • training CDs
  • annual market trend analyses and/or forecasts
  • weekly/monthly environmental scans
  • e-books
  • databases
  • revenue-producing website

Real-life examples that grew up to be major-market products include the wonderful reader’s advisory database NoveList, which started life as founder and then-public-librarian Duncan Smith’s personal card file, and Trip Hawkins’s Special Issues subscription product.

Mary Ellen Bates, independent info pro extraordinaire, says that the question to ask is “what do I have hanging around my office that I could turn into a product that someone would pay money for?” Or, another approach: what information do I have/know how to assemble that is unique, not overly time-consuming, and has potential interest for a group of purchasers?

Evaluating a Potential Product Opportunity

Okay, you think you may have a cool idea for a product. Now you need to ask some questions, both of yourself and of your potential customers, in order to determine, quite frankly, if it’s worth your effort. Here’s how to get started:

Consider the opportunity. Have others indicated an interest in your potential product? Is this a recurring request or need, or just occasional? Is the information that will make up your product difficult for you to find/update? (If so, are there ways to make your information gathering less problematic?) Does your product fall in the nice-to-have or need-to-have category? (You want to be in the latter, if possible.) If your information product will take a major effort (for example, writing a book), consider whether the return on your investment (ROI) will be worth the opportunity costs (lost evenings, weekends, and holidays for months!).

Consider the market. Who will buy your product? At what price? How big is the market? Can you product possibly be reshaped for another, additional market?

Consider your product. Is it automatable — in other words, can you produce it using technology-based, automatic processing? This will save you time. Is it scalable — can you produce and sell your product to 1,000 customers as easily as to 100? The less manual labor involved, the more scalable a product is. Is your product standardized, so that everyone is buying the same version? (A variation here is that you may want to offer customization for a high price premium, an attractive option if the customization can be done automatically.) If this is a technology-mediated product, how much customer support will you need/be willing to offer?

Consider your infrastructure. Will you be able to fill orders automatically via your website? How will you market and or sell your product? Are there regulatory, licensing, or other legal issues you need to consider?

Consider the impact on your existing work and life. Creating an information product that you then (we hope!) sell for additional income is a great way to add a bit of financial security in these uncertain times, and might also possibly end up becoming a significant part of your career.

But it’s important to realize that you need to be realistic about how much time you have to devote to your info-sideline, so that it doesn’t hijack all of your professional energies, time, and often, budget! When I made a decision to write a book, I naively assumed I could knock it out in about, oh, three months. Eighteen months (and countless broken social engagements) later, I finally delivered the Rethinking Information Work manuscript to my Libraries Unlimited editor. Now, when I consider doing another information product, I’m more realistic about both the amount of time it will take and what I will be giving up during that time.

A Path to Independence?

One of the reasons I decided to create my own information product — write a book in an area where I had expertise — was that I was working in a job in which all of my intellectual efforts focused on supporting my boss’s goals. Nothing unusual about that, and I really adored the CEO I was working with, but I got to a point where I wanted something in my professional life that I controlled.

My “information product” gave me visibility separate from my work as an information advisor to the CEO, and allowed me to begin developing a separate, independent career path while I still had the security of a steady paycheck. (I was, of course, diligent about doing all of my writing outside of my work hours.)

This sort of info-product sideline may offer you the same sort of opportunities.  Whether it’s creating an additional revenue stream to support current financial needs or future goals; building visibility for an expertise that may not be part of your regular job but that you’d like to pursue at some point; or just providing an opportunity for you to exercise your information skills in a way that allows you to be in charge — creating information products can be an enjoyable and potentially profitable option to consider.

Keep in mind that being an information entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily mean ramping up a major business undertaking; it can just as easily mean starting a small sideline that engages you and brings rewards, financial and otherwise.

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Nov 03 2008

Managing Up, Down, and Across

Published by kim under management, skills

Last week I had an opportunity to chat with a young colleague who is exceptionally bright, but inexperienced in workplace dynamics. He asked for advice about supervising people, which he had recently been asked to do, in a way that met the company’s expectations for their work.

Like so many of our young “best and brightest,” he has been put into a role that requires him to supervise others, work at a high level of success with colleagues, and meet executives’ expectations –- all with little or no training in how organizations work.

My advice to him? Coach down, collaborate across, manage up.

Coach down. Supervising others is about helping them deliver their best stuff to the organization, whether a library, a nonprofit, or a company. You need to hold people accountable for doing their work successfully, but that’s a lot easier to do consistently when you understand and support their motivations, goals, and concerns.

An example of this type of coaching is how you approach annual reviews. Instead of simply evaluating each of your direct reports and letting them know where and how they have or haven’t met expectations, consider also asking them to prepare their own assessment of their job, their career goals, and the ways they would like to grow in their jobs. Are there other projects they’d like to take on, teams they’d like to volunteer for, additional skills they’d like to develop?

Obviously you may not be able to accommodate all of their goals, but making the effort to create an environment where people can learn and grow will keep them much more engaged than if you maintain an environment where employees are simply told what to do. Although most of us, when first thrust into a supervisory or management role, feel most comfortable micromanaging, this approach is pretty much guaranteed to bring out the worst in the people reporting to us. Instead, consider working with your people to help them succeed in their jobs.

Collaborate across. An awful lot of organizational culture is about competition –- between departments, managers/executives, and budget priorities. You can see it in meetings where people vie for attention and credit rather than supporting anyone else’s ideas or solutions. But life -– and work -– is not a zero sum game, where your win is my loss.

How much better instead to build bridges to others, to find ways to support good ideas whether yours or your colleagues’. You can demonstrate support in many ways, but one of the most basic is simply publicly acknowledging someone’s contribution. This is as simple as saying something like “I think Bill’s idea is a good starting point for us.” Making the effort to value others’ participation is not only the smart thing to do personally, it’s also how teams become creative and innovative, instead of being mired in infighting and disarray.

It’s also how you begin building your impact within (and eventually, outside of) your organization. When you’ve been willing to acknowledge and support others’ good ideas, it’s much likelier that they’ll be willing to do the same for you. And when your colleagues move on to other jobs, they will take with them the knowledge that you’re a great team player, and someone with whom they can collaborate – rather than compete.

Manage up. “Managing up” means different things to different people (for one take, see “What it Means to ‘Manage Up,’” a recent post by columnist Elizabeth Garone to the Wall Street Journal’s Career Journal.) But from my perspective, it means doing those things that enable your boss to have confidence in your performance.

That means finding out what level of communication your boss needs from you, what issues/concerns are important to him or her, and, quite frankly, how you can help your boss succeed in his or her job.

Quoting from Ms. Garone’s post:

When someone tells you that you need to “manage up,” what he or she is really saying is that you need to stretch yourself. You need to go above and beyond the tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager’s work…

She also quotes executive coach Mariette Edwards, who says:

… there are numerous strategies her clients often overlook when it comes to managing up. For example, getting to know one’s manager – and his or her style. “If you and your manager seem to be speaking two different languages, then the problem may be that you are not leaning into that person’s style,” says Ms. Edwards. “An analytical [type boss] will take exception to someone who presents an idea without data to support it. A people person will be offended in the absence of regular communication.” Knowing your manager’s style — and adjusting your own to meet it — will help you manage up, she says.

Other pointers? Pay attention; jump in when needed; maintain a good attitude no matter what; do quality work; keep your boss informed; build relationships, trust and an information network; stay out of politics; learn the art of selling and negotiation as well as the company’s rules; and be a good follower when the situation dictates it.

Coach down, collaborate across, manage up. It builds trust, support, and long-term career growth –- not to mention a much more effective organizational team effort.

Further reading:

Badowski, Rosanne and Roger Gittines. Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You. Doubleday Business, 2004. 240p. ISBN 0385507739.

Goleman, Daniel. Working with Emotional Intelligence. Bantam, 2000. 400p. ISBN 0553378589.

Gordon, Rachel Singer. The Accidental Library Manager. Information Today, inc., 2004. 362p. ISBN 1573872105.

One response so far

Oct 01 2008

Making the Leap: Transferring Your Skills to a New Industry

Published by rachel under careers, skills

Recently I was asked how to go about getting started with LIS work in a new industry — a timely question, given how quickly industries emerge (and contract) these days.

Although there are considerations specific to each industry (for our purposes here, I consider “academia” to be an industry), there are some basic principles that apply across all industries and over a lifetime of career changes. These principles fall into the areas of: identifying transferable business skills, developing an in-depth understanding of your target industry, and building professional connections/bridges to potential employers/opportunities.

Identifying Transferable Business Skills

When you look at the professional skills you bring to your current position, you’ll probably find a number of basic business skills that will readily transfer to other business settings. For example, project management skills, team leadership expertise, the ability to be a budget whiz with an Excel spreadsheet… these are the sorts of things that you can point to as professional strengths in any organization, regardless of industry.

Start by looking at your resume to see what you’d want to highlight for a potential new employer. If you don’t feel you have transferable skills, now is the time to start working on them: Ask for new assignments; volunteer for cool projects; pick up some classes on key business skills. Another alternative is to ask for coaching from co-workers who have important skills that you lack.

Developing an In-Depth Understanding of Your Target Industry

This involves understanding:

  • What aspect of a new industry you want to work in (for example, in the healthcare industry, do you want to work for a hospital library, pharmaceutical company, or nonprofit healthcare organization?)
  • What type of work you want to do within your target area, and where the job openings are/might be
  • The key information resources for your target area — print and online, mainstream (New England Journal of Medicine, CableWorld, The Chronicle of Higher Education) and alternative (key blogs), government and association
  • What types of skills and expertise are required by the type of work you’d like to be doing
  • What professional organizations exist for the type of work you’d like to do (the Medical Libraries Association, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, the Art Libraries Society of North America…)

Your goal in doing this is both to understand what the opportunities may look like (and how your current skill set aligns with potential job openings) and how you will quickly develop the professional knowledge base you need to hit the ground running in a new position. This means understanding the industry, its issues, opportunities, and threats; understanding the company and its market/constituency; and understanding what skills you’ll need to bring to potential healthcare information jobs.

Building Professional Bridges to Potential Opportunities

After many years in one industry, you undoubtedly have tons of connections among other LIS colleagues in that industry. Now, your goal is to develop a similar set of connections in your new industry (or the part of it within which you want to work).

For a switch to the healthcare industry, for example, this could involve volunteering for work in a hospital library, joining MLA, and networking with the medical/healthcare librarians in your local SLA chapter. These contacts will not only be able to help you identify where the jobs are but also coach you on expectations and requirements for various types of jobs, and possibly pass along “insider tips” about various employers and company environments.

After you have completed the above three steps, you’re ready to check to see how your skills line up with the job requirements of various positions, and identify what, if any, further education or training you’ll need to be competitive.

In our healthcare industry example, that may mean taking a course in bioinformatics, studying medical terminology and the MeSH system, or learning how to search PubMed effectively. Assume that you’ll need to pick up at least some industry-related knowledge before you start applying for your new jobs; the more you have, the more confidence potential employers will have in your ability to transition into a new industry (theirs!).

Making the Leap

Consider these the basics for undertaking an industry switch/transition. Yes, this takes some work. But, it can be a very wise investment of your time if your employer is in an industry beginning to contract. Similarly, if an early career opportunity took you in one direction and now you’re ready to switch to a potentially more rewarding path, doing just this basic “due diligence” will raise the odds of making that leap successfully.

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Aug 31 2008

Going Independent: Asking the Key Questions

Published by kim under careers, nontraditional

Becoming an independent information pro can be a terrific career path –- or a quick route to ulcers, insanity, and ongoing fantasies about how great it would be to work at the local dry cleaner’s.

In fact, as someone who goes in and out of working as an independent depending on what cool project is being offered, I can personally attest to an ongoing relationship with those ulcers, insanity, and dry-cleaner fantasies. Nevertheless, working on your own under the right circumstances can also be incredibly rewarding, and a heck of a lot of fun.

What Does the Independent Path Entail?

This path can be as simple as doing the work you’ve previously done as an employee, but doing it instead as a newly-minted contractor. Or it can mean starting a new product or service business — alone or with colleagues — based on expertise you’ve gained along the way as an LIS professional.

In addition, there are many different approaches to working as an independent. You might work with a single client, for example, as a contract substitute librarian for one library district. Or you might become a solo, a one-person shop offering your services, for example, as a freelance indexer to publishers around the country.

On the other hand, you might want to build a business that includes several employees, thereby extending your company’s ability to handle multiple clients and projects simultaneously. Or you might decide you’d rather not take on the management and overhead of employees, so as an alternative you decide instead to join a loose network of information pros who come together on a project basis, participating based on the expertise needed on specific projects.

Alternatively, you might prefer to sign up with a temp agency that specializes in information work. This strategy lets someone else worry about the marketing, management and client relationships, while you simply show up and do the work (performing at the highest level of excellence, of course!).

The bottom line is, all the choices are completely up to you: what work you do, how you do it, what markets or clients you go after (as well as, occasionally, what clients you fire), what you charge, how you grow and expand your business (if this is a goal for you). These are but some of the major choices you’ll make as an independent.

What Work Might You Do?

Consider all the things that traditional librarians do, from cataloging to reference to indexing to bibliographic instruction to research. All of these can be –- and have been -– done on a contract basis, either for traditional libraries or special libraries. (Remember, in an era of downsizing, outsourcing key activities to competent LIS contractors is one of the best ways for organizations to continue to get the necessary work done.)

Then consider those activities that make up nontraditional LIS paths; these are all candidates for freelance or contract work as well. The emphasis on strategic management of knowledge assets means that businesses increasingly need people who know meta-tagging, know how to build taxonomies, know how to research international market opportunities, know how to research and write white papers, know how to do competitive intelligence, and know how to analyze and summarize key information. A lot of this work is done on a project basis by outside contractors… such as you.

Or, think about doing these same sorts of activities within a broader context. For example, your expertise in marketing libraries might turn into a consulting business developing marketing plans for nonprofits and cultural institutions. The years you spent designing and implementing your academic library’s web portal could translate into a business developing websites for alumni associations or career colleges. A successful track record as a bibliographic instruction librarian might launch you on an independent path as a corporate or association trainer, an online teacher, or a freelance creator of online tutorials for businesses.

Other examples might include freelance cataloging; creating and maintaining research guides and online tutorials for virtual libraries; developing web portals and online communities for clients; launching an information brokerage or freelance research company; providing current awareness services for start-ups in emerging industries; being a consulting editor for one of the library-focused publishing companies; or doing freelance prospect (i.e., donor) research for a nonprofit.

Independents have pursued careers as freelance booktalkers and/or storytellers, manuscript evaluators and consulting acquisitions editors, adjunct faculty (classroom-based or online), library building consultants, organizational development consultants, writers (books, articles, and online content), workshop and seminar presenters, and grant writers. Colleagues have set up and maintained technical libraries for local tech firms, cataloged personal libraries for wealthy clients, specialized in market research or patent searching, taken on systems and networking projects, built reputations as freelance legal researchers, provided research training to specialized groups, done trend analysis for marketing companies, written position papers for nonprofits, worked as freelance genealogists, edited manuscripts for LIS publishers, put together research guides for virtual libraries, and done contract cataloging -– all based on skills they’ve developed as LIS professionals.

Other Questions to Consider

Before considering the independent path, you’ll also want to thoroughly explore and answer the following questions:

How would you work? For example, would you work from home or in a leased office space? Would you work a regular 9-5 day five days a week, or do four 10-hour days so you could have regular three-day weekends? Would you prefer to work for national clients (which entails business travel) or local companies (who often have smaller budgets, but are easier to build a relationship with).

What market would you target? Will you focus on the library market, or on clients outside the library world? Specialize in nonprofits, or work only with the telecommunications or healthcare or education industries? Will you specialize in working with government agencies, and develop an expertise in navigating the red tape necessary to secure large and lucrative government contracts?

Another decision: will your product or service be applicable across a broad range of organizations (larger market opportunity) or will you be targeting a small niche market (easier to market to and make a name for yourself, but susceptible to market downturns)?

What would you charge? Again, many variables: do your prices need to respond to a competitive environment? Are you working in a geographic location where fees are generally higher or lower than the national average? Will you charge nonprofits less than you charge for-profits?

Will you base your fees on what you need to earn to cover your monthly overhead, or on what the market will bear, or on an hourly-charge basis that includes your invisible costs such as training/professional development, association memberships, marketing time, etc.? Will you charge by the hour (often the default for new independents who haven’t gained sufficient experience to confidently estimate project hours) or by the project (usually allows you to price at a higher rate)?

How would you get clients? This is the really challenging one. Most of us feel fairly confident that we can do the work a client asks of us –- once we have that client. But actually getting that client is a whole different matter.

Services marketing is, to quote a recent book title, “selling the invisible.” As is the case for all independents regardless of profession, assume marketing efforts will generally take up a substantial amount of your work week (at least 40%), especially when you’re just starting out. And assume you’ll be trying all sorts of things to get your message out, establish your brand, and increase your visibility within your target market.

What kinds of things might that include? You’ll network mercilessly, attending business luncheons, speaking at professional group meetings, presenting at conferences, and volunteering in the community or with organizations relevant to your market. Some independents find cold-calling effective, while others avoid it at all costs.

An informative, polished, and professional-looking website is imperative, as are business cards and at least minimal print collateral (for example, a tri-fold 8½x11 brochure. You may want to consider a quarterly e-newsletter with content relevant to your target audience as a way of staying in their conscientiousness. Another option is to find pro bono work that allows you to demonstrate your skills to your target audience (and connect with their key issues) in a way that showcases your value to potential clients before you’re ready to ask them for paying projects.

Not Done Yet!

And those are just the starter questions! Here are some more, just in case you were running out of things to consider:

  • What management structure will your business have?
  • How will you describe your product/service to others in 50 words or less? Make sure you’ve got a great “elevator speech” that clearly identifies your value proposition
  • Who/what is your competition, and how will you compete against them?
  • How will you get your first project, and then convert that project into an ongoing client?
  • How will you pay your bills if you don’t land any clients for 12 months?
  • How will you stay connected to others in your profession regionally and nationally?
  • How will you establish and maintain your brand?
  • How will you obtain payment from a non-paying client?
  • How will you handle technology crises?
  • How will you continue to expand your knowledge base? This includes your knowledge as a business owner whose goal is to expand your business and earn a profit; as a researcher with specialized topic knowledge and knowledge of information resources; as a marketer who needs to understand both who else might need your skills and how to connect with them; and as a business manager who needs to master key performance tools
  • How will you handle vacations and illness?
  • How will you handle too many projects?
  • How will you fund your start-up costs?
  • How will you handle family and friends’ disruptions and expectations?
  • What contracts do you need, and how will you deal with a client’s contract that has unacceptable terms?
  • What will your project proposals include, and how will they be formatted?

The good news is that there are several excellent books available to help you work through each of these issues. The reality-check news is that until you’ve thought all of these through and are confident that you’ve addressed each one, you’re probably not ready to launch.

Recommended Resources


Association of Independent Information Professionals
The must-join organization for anyone contemplating launching as an independent. Not only do the members throw an annual conference that feels more like a terrific family reunion where everyone’s sharing information, best practices, and hard-learned lessons, the AIIP list provides a daily clearinghouse of strategy and insider tips on how to succeed as an independent information pro.

Special Libraries Association
SLA is a target-rich environment if you are planning to market your services to corporations. Think about joining committees, presenting at conferences, and networking like crazy to showcase your skills among potential clients.


Bates, Mary Ellen. Building & Running a Successful Research Business: A Guide for the Independent Information Professional. Cyberage Books/Information Today, 2003. 472p. ISBN 0910965625.
Don’t even consider becoming an information broker without reading this book first. Those who have heard Bates speak at LIS conferences will recognize her voice here: smart, funny, realistic, and supportive. Bates walks readers through the entire range of issues related to starting, running, and growing the business, plus takes you through a “day in the life” scenario that provides a realistic view of what this career choice really looks like.

de Stricker, Ulla. Is Consulting for You? A Primer for Information Professionals. ALA Editions, 2008. 101p. ISBN 0838909477.
This slim volume covers, in the author’s words, “my experience in an effort to assist those considering a move into consulting. Covering the basics of setting up shop as well as typical project events and realities, I offer answers to questions I have often been asked: So what is it really like to be a consultant? What does it take? Is my personality suited?” de Stricker is well-known (and respected) among information professionals in Canada and the U.S. for her writings and seminars.

Sabroski, Suzanne. Super Searchers Make It On Their Own: Top Independent Information Professionals Share Their Secrets for Starting and Running a Research Business. Cyberage Books/Information Today, 2002. 336p. ISBN 0910965595.
One of the popular “Super Searchers” series, Make It on Their Own is a collection of interviews with 11 independent information professionals. The individuals profiled represent different industries and areas of expertise, and among them touch on such issues as client relations, starting up, day-to-day business realities, balancing personal and professional responsibilities, time management, and similarly useful topics. Each profile concludes with a hit list of “Super Searcher Power Tips,” and the book concludes with a listing of the more than 200 resources mentioned throughout the text. Like sitting down with a group of really successful mentors and listening to them share war stories, best practices, and their best tips.

Weiss, Alan. Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice. McGraw-Hill, 2002. 292p. ISBN 007138703X.
Weiss’s books are legendary among independents for their practical, hands-on advice and counsel. Million Dollar Consulting is useful even for those who would be happy billing out substantially less than that, as it addresses so many questions that independents of all sizes deal with every day. Topics include landing clients, pricing, growing the business, building sustainable client relationships, and many other strategic topics. Other equally valuable books by Weiss include How to Establish a Unique Brand in the Consulting Profession (Pfeiffer, 2001) Value-Based Fees (Pfeiffer, 2002), and Getting Started in Consulting, 2nd ed. (Wiley, 2004).


Info-Entrepreneurship: A Resource Guide for the Independent Information Professional
Contains selected resources pertaining to running an independent information business, with a goal of showing the current state of the profession.

Information Broker FAQ
A quick overview of the market for info brokers, skills and attitudes needed, typical services offered, working as a part-time info broker, etc. Useful and practical information for those considering the profession.

The Independent Info Pro Business (a.k.a. “Information Brokering”)
Links to a number of resources Bates has compiled on life as an information broker. At the website see also her archived “tips of the month,” which provide an ongoing “heads-up” about new search tools, research tips, and emerging issues of interest to IIPs.

From, this site was launched in 2002 to “bring together talented freelancers, consultants and independent professionals (Soloists) with the most qualified employers from across the United States.” You post your professional profile, they post their projects, and you both get to search for a match. See the resource center for useful “how to succeed as a solo” articles.

Steps in Starting Your Own Business
A useful collection of resources (business plans, tutorials, advice, government agencies, etc.) under the headings of “Steps in Starting Up,” “Finding Help,” “Funding for Your Business,” “A Little Legalese,” and “Setting Up the Office.” From the Riley Guide people.

One response so far

Aug 05 2008

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst: Creating an Exit Strategy

Published by kim under careers

Change happens.

Your company is talking merger with another firm, which means your job may be in play. Your wonderful boss got promoted, only to be replaced with someone who flunked her anger management training… and she’s got her eye on you. Or you’ve heard rumors that the exciting startup you signed on with has burned through its cash at warp speed and now job cuts may be in the works.

It’s not clear that any of these absolutely signal that your job may be in jeopardy, but the smart money is on those odds. What do you do? My advice: hope for the best, plan for the worst, and get your exit strategy in place.

What’s an exit strategy? It’s an action plan built around your “what next” questions: after this job, what kind of work would you like to be doing, for whom (and, possibly, where) would you like to be doing it, and what actions do you need to take over the next several weeks/month/quarters in order to be positioned to have those choices?

Benefits of an Exit Strategy

Going through an exit-strategy process provides a number of benefits when you’re in the midst of a work environment where you have no idea about – and little or no influence over – the outcomes.

First, it allows you to detach emotionally and move your energy from obsessing about “what’s going to happen/what if I lose my job” to “I’m in control of my future, and I need to invest my energy and attention into determining what my next job options will be.”

Essentially, you simply assume that your current situation is most likely going to end, mourn its loss if you need/want to, and prepare yourself to move on. That way you’re not waiting for someone to give you the bad news; you’ve already started moving beyond that inevitability into a better future. You have taken charge of your career and your choices, which places you in the power position. You’ve moved from a passive stance (waiting for someone else to decide what happens) to an active one (you’re deciding what you want your next phase to look like).

Second, an exit strategy allows you to hit the ground running if a layoff happens. You’ve already mapped out what you need to do and who you need to contact, so you don’t need to waste time trying to figure all this out when you’re in a funk from losing your job. All you need to do is follow the action plan you’ve already lined out when you’re ready to engage.

Third, having an exit strategy in place before you need it means you have time to start doing the prep work now to be solidly positioned for your next opportunity. For example, if you’ve been reading about web producer positions in job postings but realize your XML skills are lacking, now is the time to start taking classes or reading books on XML. Then, by the time you’re applying for those jobs, you already have the knowledge you need — and (best case) you’ve found ways to practice and hone those skills.

The Questions to Ask Yourself

Creating an exit strategy starts with asking yourself some basic questions, specifically:

  1. What type of work might you like to do next? This might be working in a specific industry, for a particular company, or doing a certain kind of work. You may have several ideas in mind, but your starting point is to identify a preferred path (or paths) that you’d like to have open to you if you leave your current situation.
  2. What information do you need to know about that industry, company, or type of work in order to better understand 1) what opportunities might exist, and 2) how to find jobs in your area of interest (job lists, conferences, networking, other?).
  3. What skills and/or knowledge might you need in order to be of value in the position you seek? One of the most effective ways to do this is by undertaking a SWOT analysis – an assessment of your professional strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in relation to a potential career opportunity. Your goal here is to identify where you need to “bulk up” in the areas where you may have knowledge or skill gaps. Then take it one step further and determine when and how you will gain that knowledge.
  4. Consider your professional network – who will you want to notify, when the time comes, that you’re going to be “on the market?” Start putting this list together now, as well as drafting a brief, upbeat letter that lets people know how much you’ve enjoyed your current job, but also how excited you are to explore new opportunities. Also, what relationships would it be helpful to have in place when you’re ready to move on to your next career opportunity, and how might you go about establishing those? For example, will you join a professional organization and get active in the local chapter in order to meet more people in a specific industry or profession? Volunteer with a local nonprofit to contribute your skills in a non-LIS environment? What else?
  5. What professional “administrivia” do you need to take care of before a change is likely to happen? This may include updating your resume (and possibly working with a coach to do so), making copies of any of your office files that contain information you’d like to have available to you in the future, and creating documentation for how you perform your job responsibilities to ensure as smooth a transition as possibly if there is staff turnover. (No matter the circumstances surrounding your leaving, it’s always a smart idea to leave on a positive note if possible.)
  6. Lastly, what do you need to do in your personal life to be ready for the disruption of change? It helps to get things like medical checkups, car maintenance, and house repairs taken care of to the best extent possible so that when a change arrives, there is still order in other aspects of your life.

Create Your Timeline

Once you’ve identified what actions you’ll undertake and information you’ll gather, it’s time to establish your execution timeline.

As someone who’s gone through this drill way more times than any sane person should, I tend to put together my exit strategies in three-month chunks, with the most critical actions done first in case it turns out I only have two months (or, in one case, two weeks!) before things head south.

So a way to approach this would be to look at, say, a three-month period, and line out on a week-by-week basis which of your actions you will do when. For example, you might decide that the most critical items are doing a SWOT analysis and updating your resume. The first month, then, you might spend your lunch hours and Sunday afternoons working on these action items. The second month might be dedicated to researching potential employers and positions as well as broadening your community of contacts. So your lunch hours might be spent cruising job sites and doing industry/company research, and you might also identify and join a professional organization related to your future job interests.

Your third month might focus on connecting with those individuals in your professional community or network who you might want to alert to your potential availability. So perhaps you’d schedule several “catch-up” lunches each week, or coffee after work with a number of former colleagues. Month by month, week by week, you would continue working through your priority list. You would essentially be preparing yourself for your next career opportunity, until you felt confident that if a job change, a.k.a., layoff, were to happen, you’d be ready to move forward toward your new opportunities.

Your Exit Strategy Puts You in Control

You may find that you want to put all these actions in a very different order (or undertake different actions). But the idea is to immediately begin to take an active role in what your future is going to look like.

This will make you less anxious about outcomes over which you have very little influence, and give you confidence because you’re investing your time and energy in outcomes you can shape through your own efforts. That confidence is important to a potential employer, because you want that person to see you not as an employee who’s holding onto a job for dear life, but as a professional who understands he or she has value to contribute, and is more than happy to leave for a new opportunity if it’s the right one.

It’s important to keep in mind that you can do everything right, and still be out of a job. Companies make these sorts of decisions for all sorts of reasons that may have nothing to do with intelligent thinking (or your extraordinary value). So the only thing you can do is put as little time and energy into being unhappy about that as possible, and instead invest all of your best efforts into creating the next phase of your professional life.

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Jun 30 2008

Organizations: Who Needs What Info?

Published by kim under careers, marketing, nontraditional

At this year’s SLA conference one of the hot topics was “embedded librarianship” — that is, working as an information pro for an organization, but not necessarily being attached to or affiliated with a corporate library or business information center.

Sometimes info pros end up as embedded librarians because their organization did away with their library, but were smart enough to realize the brain power of the library’s staffers was too valuable to lose. Other times this is because people were recruited out of the library to work directly, “on the ground,” with an operational team (for example, the product development team). Or it might be that an ops team was simply savvy enough to realize how much they’d benefit from the research/writing/information organization skills of an info pro, and hired directly for that skill set.

Regardless of the path taken to get there, embedded librarianship offers an interesting and potentially growing career opportunity for info pros, one that allows them to contribute directly to team and organizational goals (and make visible their value to the bottom line).

However, when discussing this with students recently, it became clear that unless you’re pretty familiar with how organizations operate, it can be a challenge to figure out exactly where your skills can add value. Within an organization, who needs what information, and how do they use it? Knowing this basic information will be critical to being able to plug in and add value, so here is a very rudimentary overview of how most organizations organize themselves, what departments do what work, and the information they need to do it. Keep in mind that every organization is different, so this should be considered simply a guide rather than a roadmap to any specific company’s organizational layout.

Human Resources. Works with: department heads, legal department, contract trainers, benefits providers and vendors. Accountable for: aligning workforce abilities with company needs; recruitment and retention; providing appropriate learning opportunities to grow the workforce; creating and managing competitive benefits and compensation programs; establishing contract and outsourced/off-shored employee relationships. Key issues: legal issues related to personnel matters; staying current with HR, T&D, benefits, and compensation best practices; advances in recruiting, hiring, and compensation practices. Information needs: best practices, benchmarks; vendor/provider background research, evaluations, comparisons; training and development resources.

Information Systems (”IT”). Works with: department heads; legal department (compliance); contract programmers. Accountable for: aligning enterprise IT infrastructure with company needs and strategy; allocating budget to reflect often-competing strategic priorities; evaluating new technologies in terms of long-term enterprise needs; creating new product IT, managing contractors responsible for creating new product IT, or managing relationship with vendor partner responsible for creating new product IT; supporting legal requirements (records retention policies). Key issues: managing unrealistic executive expectations; staying current on emerging technologies, bugs, and applications; understanding enterprise goals in order to support them via IT; getting other departments to understand and support IT roles and activities. Information needs: staying apprised of emerging information technologies; vendor/provider background research, evaluations, comparisons.

Sales and Marketing. Works with: product developers; engineering and development; finance (for product pricing issues); corporate communications (press releases). Accountable for: performing market research, market segmentation; creating and executing marketing and sales campaigns; documenting return-on-investment (ROI) of marketing campaigns; setting and meeting sales goals. Key issues: understanding characteristics of market opportunity; understanding customers’ purchase drivers, segments; understanding competitive landscape; organizing and managing a high-quality customer care program. Information needs: market, customer, and competitor information (includes demographics, purchase drivers, product response, trends and changing patterns); sales data; effective sales channels and approaches; statistical information; market research/characteristics of potential opportunities; call center and customer service best practices, benchmarking

Finance. Works with: department heads and key company strategists and decision-makers; legal dept (Sarbanes-Oxley, compliance issues); outside and internal auditors; investors and industry analysts; SEC (if public). Accountable for: integrity of company’s financial reporting; integrity of company’s financial operations; budget data; industry comparisons and ratios. Key issues: legal issues related to financial requirements; financial strength of organization relative to similar companies; competitive intelligence regarding potential joint ventures partners, acquisitions, or hostile takeovers. Information needs: internal financial performance data; budget data; industry comparisons and ratios; competitive intelligence of a financial nature; market trends (for financial forecasting); regulatory or market developments that may impact revenues.

Engineering and Production. Works with: product managers; sales and marketing; suppliers. Accountable for: creating products within technical and budget specifications; delivering products on time; using best practices and processes to maximize product’s consumer benefit while minimizing product production costs; supply-chain management; creative and managing competitive benefits and compensation programs; establishing contract & outsourced/off-shored employee relationships. Key issues: maximum-efficiency, minimum-cost production processes; optimizing supply-chain management processes (vendor relations and specifications). Information needs: best practices, benchmarks; vendor/provider/supplier background research, evaluations, comparisons; advances in engineering and materials sciences.

Legal. Works with: department heads, especially on contractual agreements; finance; HR; corporate communications (press releases). Accountable for: ensuring company compliance with all legal/regulatory restrictions; ensuring legality of hr policies; ensuring that contracts are appropriate and not damaging to the organization; working with outside counsel in the event of a lawsuit. Key issues: legal issues related to personnel matters; regulatory requirements and proposed regulations; keeping the company out of lawsuits. Information needs: ongoing updating regarding legal and regulatory changes; legal decisions and proceedings, current and background; any pending SEC issues.

Corporate Communications. Works with: department heads; legal dept; sales & marketing; “visible” executives making public statements. Accountable for: creating and placing external messages to “brand and position” the company, rather than the product (which is sales & marketing); communicating with the organization’s various constituencies, including investors, the media, and competitors; building and protecting the company’s reputation in the marketplace; managing public-relations crises. Key issues: controlling messages and communication processes; avoiding public-relations disasters; creating positive views about the company and its products; positioning the company and its leadership as capable, innovative, and expert. Information needs: quotable statistics, background information, competitive intelligence; media research; issues research; speech/article backgrounders.

Keep in mind that every organization has information needs specific to its business and the products and services it delivers. Just consider this a starter “map” to get you thinking about where and how your information skills could add value within your current organization — or one you’d like to work for.

One response so far

Jun 01 2008

Smart and Innovative Are Not Enough

Published by kim under careers, nontraditional

One of the great things about teaching a course in alternative LIS career paths is that it provides a great excuse to invite really smart people in the information profession to share their wisdom with all of us. We’ve heard from public library directors, information brokers, special librarians, library consultants, and a former LIS professional now applying her info/research skills as a niche-market travel agent.

Recently, I and my students had the opportunity to hear from Pat Wagner, a nationally-known trainer and management consultant to libraries, universities, government agencies, and nonprofits. Pat is known for her wit, energy, smarts, and complete willingness to tell you when you’re being really dumb. Consequently, most of us have learned over the years to pay attention to Pat’s ideas, even (especially?) when they go against conventional wisdom.

In her recent student discussion, Pat focused on understanding how organizations work and where we all fit in. She stressed that being smart and innovative was a good start, but only a good start: In order to build a successful and accomplished career, you also have to be realistic about how to navigate your work environment. Think of this as emotional intelligence for your career.

Pat’s reality check comprised about two dozen key points — essentially, attitudes and expectations that will serve you well regardless the type of organization you’re working within. Following, find the points Pat says we should all be scoring ourselves on. How do you stack up?

  • I always am building collaborative and sustainable relationships, inside and outside my career path. The person I am nice to today could be my boss tomorrow.
  • I am the theater director, not the star: I elicit the best from the people I work with and for.
  • I understand the realities of local practice. What I learn in graduate school might be meaningless in any given library or institution.
  • I know how to earn the trust and respect of my bosses, co-workers and employees.
  • I know that feuds and moods are self-indulgent. No prima donnas, no grumps.
  • I like library users specifically, and people in general. I don’t work at a library to hide out from humans.
  • I have no status issues about my roles in the library, no matter how old or successful I get.
  • I know I have to earn my pay, every day. No entitlement issues, no matter how old or successful I get.
  • I accept that the more secure the workplace, the more constraining the hierarchy. Large (and well-paying) public, academic, school and corporate employers usually are the most constraining.
  • I accept the cost/benefit ratio of most jobs. I don’t whine; I productively make changes as I can.
  • I am an expert at the governance structure of my workplace: I know who makes decisions, and how.
  • I know I am always auditioning for my next gig and that no position is permanent.
  • I anticipate that:
  • Few people will defer to me because I have a graduate degree.
  • No single factor will guarantee I get the jobs or recognition I want or deserve.
  • I will receive promotions and raises that have nothing to do with my abilities as a librarian.
  • Flexibility, reliability, hard work, good humor and a calm demeanor will probably have more to do with my success than being smart or innovative.
  • I will make a lot of mistakes, and many of them I won’t know about, because other people fix them.
  • I will be right, they will be wrong, and no one will care or remember.
  • I will be asked to take responsibility for mistakes that are not my fault.
  • I will have to work with and for people I don’t like.
  • I will be asked to do things I did not sign up to do.
  • My workplace will change in ways that are unexpected. I will never be 100% prepared.

So how did you score?

No matter where you came in, I’d suggest you keep these attitudes, actions, and expectations in mind as you go through your career. And one more piece of advice: if you ever have a chance to hear Pat speak at a conference or in your workplace, don’t pass it up. You’ll absorb lots of important insights, even while you’re laughing — always the best way to learn. You can find Pat at her Pattern Research website.

3 responses so far

Apr 29 2008

Information Strategist: New LIS Role?

Published by kim under careers, nontraditional

One of the great things about an MLIS is its nearly endless adaptability to new opportunities. An example of that adaptability is information strategy work.

Information strategy simply involves helping organizations align how they externally deploy their information resources to support or drive the organization’s key business goals. For example, a nonprofit may have a goal to help the general public learn more about a given topic, such as care-giving for aging parents. A for-profit company may have a goal to help potential customers learn a variety of ways its product can be used effectively, thus driving sales. A government agency may have a goal of helping people be able to quickly find local emergency preparedness providers, thus supporting its mandate to protect at-risk citizens.

What, then, is an information strategist? From my perspective, it’s someone who sees information as a strategic asset and is able to help organizations use it to achieve their goals. From my experience, this is a career path that many LIS professionals would be great at!

What an Information Strategist Does

The role of an information strategist is to identify, license, create, or link to information content that will help organizations achieve their key goals. Part of that process is working with the relevant decision-makers within the organization — perhaps the marketing director, public relations person, or business development team (or any combination of these individuals) — to clearly understand what those goals are. But, usually these begin with the word “more” that is, more revenue, more profits, more visibility, more members, more donations, more whatever.

Once you’ve clarified what the organization’s high-priority goals are, you then look at what information content might be used to help achieve those goals, and in what format. Might it be a series of white papers? Several industry-specific case studies? An online tutorial? A publication available only to members? Or perhaps all of the above?

To work through this process, you would go through the following steps:

Review the organization’s strategic goals. For example, is it trying to recruit new members or increase donor contributions? Is this year’s goal to develop new markets, or increase revenue from existing clients? Is the board pushing for greater visibility and credibility among thought leaders, scholars, the media? Or is the goal to more effectively disseminate information to the public for broader impact the organization’s most pressing mandate? These are only some of the goals that businesses, nonprofits, and/or government agencies may have that can be supported by print and/or online information content.

Determine what information content will help support/drive those goals. For example, if the goal is to increase visibility among thought leaders, scholars, and the media, an organization might consider doing a monthly interview/column with industry influentials and academic scholars to be posted at the website, then creating an annual compilation of key quotes, trends, and ideas to circulate to the media for story ideas. (The job of the information strategist would be to help them develop the concept, establish processes for creating the monthly column, research and recommend individuals to interview, possibly do the interviews, create the annual summary and analysis for the media, and identify the appropriate media contacts for distribution.)

Determine what information content the organization already has. Many organizations have been creating information content for decades. This can include publications, video and audio pieces, oral histories, conference proceedings, training materials, archival photographs and memorabilia, and similar sorts of materials. Often this can be repackaged and repurposed to provide membership incentives, additional revenue streams, or reference materials of value to scholars, researchers, and the media, among other options. For example, print content can be digitized and housed in a searchable, fee-based database, or made available to members for free as a benefit for signing on.

Determine what other information content needs to be created, licensed, aggregated, or otherwise acquired. Would a research guide on how to find industry statistics help position an organization as an expert authority with researchers and the media? Would an online tutorial on how to be an effective online learner help potential students sign up for a college’s online degree program? Would a members-only column by a best-selling expert on personal finance cause people to join a newly-launched investment club? Would a directory of clinicians specializing in disability rehabilitation draw users to an advertiser-supported, disability-focused website, and thus increase advertising revenue?

Based on the answers to these types of questions, an information strategist would then work with the client to develop and execute a project plan that incorporated all of the actions determined to help achieve the goals of greatest importance to the organization. Sometimes this might be a phased plan, with priorities set over a 6-, 12-, or even 18-month period; others times you (and/or the organization) may be pushing against a website launch date that has everyone scrambling to create and/or aggregate as much content as possible in the shortest amount of time humanly possible! (Actually, in my experience, it’s usually the latter.)

To wrap up the project (or build an ongoing relationship), an information strategist would then help the organization determine how they would maintain and update the content elements that had been built, and consider additional ways that information content can help them continue to expand their opportunities with current or new constituencies.

So if you’re thinking about expanding your info work in an interesting and challenging direction, consider looking for opportunities to exercise your “strategy” muscle. Bring together your ability to research, analyze, synthesize, write, aggregate and organize information, then layer on an ability to understand and align with business/organization priorities. Whether you’re officially called an information strategist or some other variation of information professional, the goal is to use your info skills to have a positive impact on the key goals of your client or organization.

For Further Exploration

Naumes, William. The Art and Craft of Case Writing, 2nd ed. Sharpe Reference, 2006. 296p. IBSN 0765616823.
A primer on how to research and write case studies, including developing objectives, doing data collection, drafting the case, reviewing and revising, and (for faculty), how to create case-related teaching notes.

Scott, David Meerman. Cashing In With Content: How Innovative Marketers Use Digital Information to Turn Browsers into Buyers. Information Today, Inc., 2005. 280p. ISBN 0910965714.
An outstanding overview of how online content can be used to achieve business (or nonprofit) goals.

Scott, David Meerman. The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly. Wiley, 2007. 275p. ISBN 0470113456.
A key component of information strategy is repurposing and repacking existing content – and blogs and podcasting are a great way to do it.

Steizner, Michael A. Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged. WhitePaperSource Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0977716937.
White papers have become one of the most effective ways to deliver information to various audiences — whether other businesses, clients, customers, members, or the general public. Steizner describes the various uses for white papers, and how to write effective ones.

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Apr 03 2008

The Most Important LIS Skill

Published by kim under careers, nontraditional

Fall down seven times, get up eight.
- Japanese proverb

Every spring marks the start of a new opportunity to work with students, specifically those taking the Alternative Careers class I teach for the University of Denver LIS program. It is one of the most rewarding — and challenging — parts of my professional life.

How does one say with any level of confidence (or honesty) “yes, this might be a great professional path for you to follow,” when the reality is we have no idea what career paths are likely to survive or emerge over the coming decades? Will there still be corporate libraries? Will there still be MLS-staffed reference desks in public libraries? What will be the role of academic libraries — and librarians — in a world of online learning and embedded resources? What new roles and opportunities will emerge that we can barely imagine today?

My belief is that, for every contracting LIS opportunity, ten new ones will open up. Demand for our skills may change in the coming years, but I don’t believe that demand will lessen — it will simply be coming from new and different constituencies. We may be deploying our skills on new types of projects, for new types of employers, with very different job descriptions. But we most certainly be deploying those skills.

So given this somewhat chaotic vision of the future, what do I tell my students is the most important LIS skill they can learn? Information networking? Research and reference? Web development?

Nope. Resiliency.

Essentially, resiliency is the ability to bounce back from a setback, to refuse to be derailed or defeated by adversity, to embrace the opportunity inherent in change. Resilience is based on flexibility and adaptability, and a belief that although circumstances may be difficult or confusing, you have what it takes to handle whatever’s thrown your way.

Psychiatrist Frederic Flach, who has written extensively about personal resiliency (see, for example, Resilience: Discovering a New Strength at Times of Stress, rev. ed., Hatherleigh Press, 2004), describes the personality traits that define a resilient individual as:

Creativity. The ability to tolerate pain. Insight into ourselves and what we are going through at any particular phase in our lives. Independence of spirit. Self respect. The ability to restore self esteem when it is diminished or temporarily lost. A capacity for learning. The ability to make and keep friends. Freedom to depend on others, with the skill to set proper limits on the depth of our dependency. A perspective on life that offers a vital, evolving philosophy within which we can interpret all that we experience and from which we can discover some measure of personal meaning.

Now, generally, in an LIS program (as in the LIS profession as a whole), you’re given high marks for learning and following the rules. There’s usually somewhat less support for the “hey, here’s a crazy-cool idea that’s never been tried — let’s try it!” types of initiatives. Yet that’s exactly the sort of thinking we need to cultivate (if not instigate) in order to become more resilient in our careers and as a profession.

So the way we approach this in class is to structure what-if scenarios around the sorts of obstacles or setbacks any of us might encounter in our careers. We’ll put one of these on the whiteboard (the class favorite is almost always “help, I’m ready to strangle my boss” – perhaps suggesting the need for a bit more management training in LIS programs?) and then we brainstorm solutions to the problem.

And the interesting thing is that the solution is never that the problem improves (no points for “my boss gets a personality transplant!”), but rather that the students come up with alternative strategies for dealing with the problem. The solutions are uniformly creative, realistic, and based on an expectation of personal responsibility. Basically, that translates into “what steps can I realistically take to improve this situation for myself?”

Or we’ll look at the really daunting challenge: someone just lost his or her job. No matter how solid you are, getting laid off can’t help but shake your confidence. And yet clearly this is the time you need that sense of personal resiliency the most (speaking from personal experience here). If you go back to Flach’s list of characteristics, you’ll see that each and every one of these will help you traverse the anger, pain, embarrassment, and confusion you’ll have to process through to get to the other side of your emotions — the side where you’re ready to go after the next great opportunity.

An additional characteristic that I believe contributes to personal resiliency is how you frame the stories of your life. We all have setbacks. But you can either decide that these setbacks are simply part of the normal up-and-down trajectory of a dynamic career and part of your ongoing career-building process, or you can let them derail you. How? By taking them personally, by seeing yourself as a victim, by giving in to a sense of powerlessness regarding your own life. Framing events this way keeps you stuck, when what you really want to be doing is feeling the pain, acknowledging that it’s a rotten deal, and then moving forward.

These days, I have an even better understanding of the power of personal resiliency. I recently became Vice President of Content for a company called Disaboom, which is creating an online resource of information and community for people with disabilities. The co-founder and man I work with, Dr. Glen House, is a quadriplegic as the result of a skiing accident at age 20. After his injury, he put himself through medical school and is now head of the rehabilitation program for a large Colorado-based hospital, working with others to help them craft an independent life despite disabilities. He is smart, funny, a joy to work with, and totally engaged with life. And he deals with his wheelchair every day.

We’ve talked about how someone with a recent disabling event such as a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis manages to move forward beyond the anger and grief. I’ve asked him how he did. And his description of his emotional journey basically integrates all of characteristics noted by Flach — you simply refuse to let life derail you. True, it might take you some time to get back on track, and you may need to do some “falling apart” for a bit, but then you choose to move forward. Or to quote Dr. House, to “live forward.”

I believe this is the heart of developing personal and career resiliency: a commitment to always get up yet again, no matter how many times life may knock you down. A commitment to learn anew, no matter how many times things change. If my students can master this skill, then I have no doubt that they will also be able to confidently find their way throughout decades of a changing LIS landscape.

5 responses so far

Feb 29 2008

Fitting Writing Into Your Life

Published by kim under careers, nontraditional, writing

Last month, we looked at the benefits of doing freelance writing outside the LIS profession and explored ways to identify possible writing opportunities. Next comes the really challenging question for most of us: how do you find the time to write in the midst of the myriad commitments that vie for your time and attention? Or, as I put it, how will you fit this into your day-to-day life — you know, the one with a full-time job, friends, family commitments, picking up the drycleaning, getting the oil changed, etc…

Reality: it can be pretty challenging, but it is possible. It just takes a bit of advance planning, and a bit of repurposing.

First, the advance planning. Try to find a consistent time within your weekly schedule that you can dedicate to your writing projects, and set up a standing appointment with yourself. This might be a Sunday afternoon from 2:00 to 5:00, or every Friday over your lunch hour at your favorite restaurant. It could be during your kids’ soccer practices, or the time you spend commuting by bus or train. For some people, getting up an hour earlier a couple of mornings a week carves out needed writing time; others hit Starbucks on the way home from work for a couple of hours of lattes and laptop pounding.

Everyone’s different, so you’ll want to figure out your own best time and space for your writing — the goal is to find what works for you, then make a consistent commitment to it.

Next, decide how to organize your writing process. For example, I organize my writing using several different approaches. First, I usually keep a notebook dedicated to writing projects in my car. If I’m writing a book, this will have the book and chapter outlines, notes about ideas I want to explore, and quotes I pick up along the way. If I’m thinking about an article, I’ll have a blank page with the title of the article, and then leave space where I can map out ideas and organization and questions to explore. Then, whenever I’m in a situation where I can spend some unanticipated time “ideating,” I’m ready to go.

Second, I keep a running hit-list of “interstitials,” or activities I can do in a brief amount of time, say 15 or 30 minutes, between other activities. That way, if I have a few spare moments, I’m never at a loss for what to do to help move a project forward. This might be tracking down a statistic or quote, verifying a bibliographic citation, or doing a bit of online research. I’ve got two goals here: the first is to keep making forward progress on my writing project, even though I may not be able to devote a substantial, uninterrupted amount of time to it for a while, and the second is to not waste precious writing time on “no-brainer” types of activities during dedicated writing time.

The third organizing tool I use is three 3′x4′ bulletin boards. On one bulletin board I put all the organization pieces of my project. If I’m working on a book, I’ll pin up the outline pages so I can see immediately see how the project is organized and where I am at any given time. I’ll also tack up the outline for whatever chapter I’m currently working on. If I’m working on an article, I’ll pin up the outline for the article (or several different articles at a time). I then use the other two bulletin boards to pin up all the pages of the chapter or article draft so I can see visually the organization and balance within the document. Especially helpful for me is that the bulletin boards are portable: I can leave all of my sheets pinned on the boards when I have to stop working and simply put them in an out-of-the-way spot until I’m ready to start working again.

The last organizing tool I use is a “what to do next” list, which is my reminder to myself of what I’ve just completed, what I need to write next, and any questions I was still noodling around when I stopped writing last time. That way I don’t have to waste any time trying to remember exactly where I was when I left off.

Second, the repurposing. One way to do as much writing as possible is to think of writing as content that can be revised, reshaped, and tweaked to fit multiple opportunities. So if you write an article for your state library association’s magazine, for example, is it possible to edit and reshape it for another publication? Alternatively, think of repurposing the research you’ve done for one project — say, perhaps, a guide to resources for online learning — for another audience such as a consumer women’s publication.

Do you have a presentation coming up? Why not also turn it into an article, since you’ve already done almost all the work (researching, shaping, determining key points)? Have you researched and written an especially good blog post? Consider whether it lends itself to becoming an article.

Or think about research you’ve done for your personal life — might you repurpose that into an article? An example of this is a friend who recently went through the process of creating a “road map” for herself and her siblings regarding how to care for their aging parents from afar. She’d done all the research on a topic that’s very important to many of us — and is now turning that into an article for the care-giving section of our website.

Freelance Writing and Your Career

Non-LIS freelance writing offers two important benefits. The first is an opportunity to practice your ability to write in numerous voices, which can be an important skill when it comes to broadening your career options. Being able to write effectively in business settings, whether it’s writing a memo to a CEO, a press release for the community, a marketing brochure, or online content for your website, is always a useful and valuable skill. Practice is good.

Second, freelance writing enables you to create additional income as needed — for example, to supplement an insufficient salary, to create income when you’re taking time off to be a stay-at-home mom, or to provide both work engagement and additional funds after you’ve retired. It’s an infinitely portable and flexible skill, enabling you to work — and earn — as much or as little as you prefer.

Although writing for the LIS professional should always be considered a smart LIS-focused career move, if you’re looking to broaden your experience and find venues that actually pay for writing, writing outside the profession may offer just the opportunities you’re looking for.

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