I’ll be the first to tell you that my people skills have been challenged, stretched, improved and used frequently. Oh, the personality types you will encounter! I heard this when I began my journey into self-employment, and especially from other info pros. Thank goodness for my background in customer service. A few interesting types I’ve encountered include:
- The “over-educated ego” that believes no matter what I say, they know more. And their conversation and requests are peppered with the college or university they attended. I always wonder why they had to come to me to find the information.
- The “defensive” customer that approaches me with a project, then gets defensive when I question them about it. Remember, my questions are all about being able to fully understand what the customer is looking for and what they envision the use of my findings will be. Never do I question the customer as if to belittle them, the project or their company.
- The “don’t email me…ever” customer insists that all conversations must be by telephone, never by email. No problem, until it becomes close to impossible to reach them by telephone.
- The “don’t telephone me…ever” customer insists that all conversations must be by email. No problem, until it becomes apparent that we don’t think alike, therefore what is written by one person is misunderstood by the other.
- The “panic is a motivator” customer believes that the tighter the deadline, the faster they’ll get the information. Which is true, in a sense. But I always caution them with the age-old adage “do you want it fast or do you want it thorough?”
- The micro-manager customer believes that they need to know every detail of every piece of work that I do. This is where good negotiating skills comes in very handy. It is also where I learned to emphasize the value and benefit of my doing the work so they can enjoy the results.
These are but a few personalities I’ve dealt with as an info pro, and trust me…my ability to negotiate, placate and communicate has improved greatly. Yes, I have an extensive customer service background. But I’ve learned that being self-employed means I must look at each situation with an eye to the higher purpose – the bottom line. And this affects my approach to each of the personalities I’ve encountered thus far.
Basic Business Skills
My husband and I owned a business in the early ‘90s, so I knew what to expect in terms of overhead expenses and bookkeeping requirements, what I wasn’t prepared for was the additional hats I would wear. I initially expected to outsource my bookkeeping and sales. But the Great Recession that began at the end of ‘07 and continues today really put a hurt on the income and prevented me from outsourcing much of the work. Which means I am Director of: Sales, Marketing, Advertising, Accounting, Strategic Planning, Customer Service, Procurement, Operations, Research and Development, Human Resources, etc. Which means that being organized, efficient and detail-oriented is essential.
I have a background that includes Marketing, Manufacturing/Engineering, Automation/Robotics, Business Management, Customer Service, and Strategic Planning – but having to put all of these into use at any given time is a challenge. So far, I’ve managed to do well. But I’m glad my business is growing because it won’t be too much longer before I can outsource some of the work and focus on areas that I do well in.
I recommend that anyone who wants to become an Independent Information Professional talk to an experienced professional. The Association of Independent Information Professionals (AiiP) has a directory of members available to the public – this is where you can find someone already doing what you want to do. Contact them. Talk to them about their business. Ask them what 3 things they would recommend a new info pro do before they put out the shingle, and what 3 things the new info pro should do once that shingle is hung on the door.
I also recommend the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), an agency closely tied with state and local Chambers of Commerce. They offer invaluable assistance to start-up businesses in terms of financing options, planning, and partnerships with local companies.
Another place to go for guidance is your local librarian. He/she is a master searcher and knows who in town is best suited to help the new info pro, if not themselves.
Personal Management Skills
What motivates you? For me, it’s not the money so much as the excitement of participating in a treasure hunt. The treasure, of course, is the information my clients need to move forward in their business. But a part of my personality includes tenacity and persistence when confronted with obstacles. I have found this to be an invaluable asset in my quest for information. Then there is the satisfaction of a job well done. Of course there is nothing better than receiving an email or voice mail from a client willing to take the time to tell me how wonderful I am; how they couldn’t have completed the project without me; how they’re looking forward to working with me again; or that they’ve recommended me to someone who is looking for a researcher.
Because I don’t have the constraints of an office with other people to think about, nor do I have a boss that walks by and makes sure I’m doing some kind of work, I need to be aware of how I work so I can plan the day accordingly. So far, this is what seems to work well for me:
- Start at the end – what do I want to have accomplished by day’s end? This includes attending networking events, client meetings, lunch with a friend, manual research at the library, phone calls scheduled, etc.
- Identify what the main event of the day is. As a way to prioritize, what is the most important piece on my calendar or desk that absolutely must get done?
- What steps need to be taken in order to accomplish the main event? Jot those down if necessary.
- Write down the remaining pieces that need to be attended to, making sure to note deadline dates and prioritize accordingly.
One thing I’m going to add to my arsenal of tools is a Gantt chart modified to my needs. As I progress with a project I want to see that progress like I did during my engineering days when we had progress charts shared with the team. And, as more projects fill my desk space and overflow my filing drawer, I have realized that I need to put some good project management processes to use. This is on my list of things to implement this year.
TO BE CONTINUED: Okay, that’s it for Part One. Look for Part Two next week where I’ll delve into the Information Skills that an info pro should have.