Info-entrepreneurs, represented by the Association of Independent Information Professionals, stand out as innovative, forward thinking, and client focused information professionals. This series of posts delivers future ready solutions and strategies from current and past presidents of AIIP. As industry thought leaders they have much to share about staying ahead of the curve and delivering cost effective solutions to clients worldwide. In this insightful series of postings readers will learn how to create a job for life by listening for opportunity, watching for changes, stretching to acquire new skills, finding a balance, planning for the long term, and drawing on your strengths. — C.S.
by Mary Ellen Bates
When I launched my business back in 1991, I was surprised both by how different it was from my last job as a librarian and how freeing it was to be in control of my professional future. Being a future ready entrepreneur (and I think being future ready is a requirement) has meant constantly pushing myself. The unexpected trade-off to being challenged is that the new skills I’ve built over the years as an info-entrepreneur leak over into the rest of my life as well.
I recently staffed a booth for a local non-profit that I care about. I just picked up brochures, stepped out in front of the booth, and started approaching everyone who walked by, inviting them to find out more about us. The other booth volunteers were amazed. “You just walked up to someone and started talking?!?”
I realized at that moment that all those years staffing conference booths for my business really paid off. I had finally learned that it is, in fact, not at all scary to walk up to people and offer them info about a group. Had I not pushed myself to develop a skill I needed for my business, I wouldn’t have been able to let people know about a local group that I think is doing amazing things.
Fortunately, there’s no need to give up your paycheck just to think like an entrepreneur; you can be an intrapreneur within your own organization. As I reflect on the entrepreneurial skills that are most valued by employers, I realize that most of them are the skills that any future ready info pro needs.
* Look at yourself as a brand, and identify what tangible value you are providing to your organization. How does what you do for your (internal) clients advance the goals of your organization? Are you seen as a strategic asset who brings a unique perspective to a team or project? Can you explain your value in one sentence, in a way that others will hear and understand it?
* Be responsive. In this SMS-driven world, it’s remarkable to find someone who answers the phone when it rings. If someone texts you, respond immediately – even if just to say that you are busy and will call/email/text back later. Pick up the phone to talk directly with clients, because you know that the personal touch makes you memorable.
* Think like your clients. Read the newspapers, magazines and blogs that your clients read. Really. Even when you don’t have the time. The insights and perspectives you gain make you that much more valuable to your clients and enable you to be seen as a partner.
* Shake things up. Assume that whatever you’re doing now will need to be changed within a year. That updating service you’ve offered for years? Maybe it’s being deleted, unread, from everyone’s email. Put a sunset clause in all your programs and re-examine their usefulness, relevance and popularity regularly.
* Push your comfort level. Learning to network, to speak publicly or to write doesn’t come easy to most people. We entrepreneurs push ourselves from Day One to take on things we have never done before and that scare us silly. And we all learn eventually that, with practice and familiarity, it’s not all that hard.
Commit to doing one scary thing for six months, and you’ll see the magic work. Volunteer to host a brown-bag lunch and talk about the value the information center brings to a project team. Call the head of your SLA chapter or division and offer to take on one responsibility – welcoming new members, planning a webinar, or whatever else gives you an opportunity to stretch yourself. Take a client out for coffee and learn about their concerns. (See owl.li/6kHnQ for tips on conducting “informational interviews.”) You get the idea.
Want tools for building your intrapreneurial skills? Check out the Future Ready Toolkit, available to SLA members at wiki.sla.org/display/future/Home.
Mary Ellen Bates is an info industry long-timer, having started her business in 1991. She provides business research and analysis, as well as strategic business and entrepreneurial coaching. She was AIIP president in 1996-1997 and 2004-2005, and currently serves on the SLA Board of Directors.