The information consultant or sometimes called independent information professional, performs a wide variety of services. Most information consultants specialize in a particular kind of research and focuses on a specific industry or vertical market. Many of them have wide range of clients that may include self-employed speech-writers, engineers, ad agencies, executives from Fortune 100 firms, lawyers, and doctoral students, but most of them focus on a specific market. Their customers are the “Average Joe's” who are looking for information on the lyrics to a specific song, how to file their own divorce, what cars people are purchasing and they may even look for and find a lost relative for a client. The one thing these people have in common is that they called the information professional for their research needs.

There are those information consultants who target the health-care industry, architectural firms, the aviation market, or the chemical industry. While many of them also have clients outside their primary market, they tend to target their marketing efforts on a specific subject area or industry. Some of the information services described below, especially document delivery, are more apt than others to serve clients across several markets.

On-Line Research

Most information consultants who provide research services of any sort include at least some on-line research in their portfolios. Most of their research is done on the Internet.
Some examples of are locating government statistics on international trade, analyzing company filings with the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission, or searching on-line catalogs of libraries around the world. The professional on-line services are a richer source of information then the free or public Web. These databases provide material that never appears on the Web, and they provide sophisticated search tools and value-added features that enable users to conduct in-depth research in ways not possible on the Web.

Using the professional on-line services can be an expensive proposition. These services charge by the search, by the document, by the amount of time you spend connected to them, or by various other pricing criteria. As an information consultant, they pass along the on-line expenses to their clients, and these costs can add up to a third or even half of the total project cost. There is very little demand for the information consultant who does only Web research, because of the public perception is that it takes no great skill to search the Web. They set themselves apart by offering access to on-line research sources not generally available to their clients and by using uncommon and lesser-known Web-based sources.

Library Research

When the independent information profession began, much of their research involved going to libraries on behalf of clients. Some instances still call for library research or, similarly, contacting information centers or other brick-and-mortar collections of material. An info pro might travel to a government agency's information center to search a database not available on the web, e-mail a university library in Sweden to find a copy of a doctoral thesis, arrange to visit a trade association's library to use its specialized collection, or review records in the U. S. National Archives to determine how a particular site was used by the U. S. Army 50 years ago, in order to determine what hazardous materials may still be lurking in the soil and groundwater.

As more government agencies, embassies, associations, and other resources make their information available on the Web, demand for hands on library research has diminished. On the other hand, library research can uncover information not available anywhere in electronic format.

Public Records Research

A great deal of information about individuals has always been available in court clerks' and county recorders' offices and other government agencies. Some of these records are now available on the Web, but the majority still reside only in print files. Public records research includes:

Reviewing bankruptcy filings to determine what assets are held by a corporation

Conducting a pre-employment check of a school bus driver to make sure he has no criminal record or driving offenses.

Looking through articles of incorporation to identify the executives of a privately held company

Finding prior court testimony given by an expert witness, to determine how she is likely to testify for an upcoming case.

Public records research is not for the faint of heart. It often requires a private investigator's license, it requires a good understanding of the ins and outs of various government agencies, and it takes a gut sense to know when you have found all the pieces of the puzzle.

Telephone Research

A lot of information never appears in print or in any electronic format. Sometimes, the fastest way to obtain it is simply to call an expert in the field and ask. Telephone research is an art form, and many independent info pros don't have the special combination of charm, patience, persistence, chutzpah, and the ability to talk to anyone about anything that a good telephone researcher needs. This type of work tends to involve more hours per project and a longer turnaround time than other types of research because of its very nature. Merely identifying the person who can answer your question might involve 10 to 15 calls. When you factor in the inevitable delays brought on by voice-mail tag and varying business schedules and time zones, it means that very few telephone research projects can be completed in less than a week,m even if the total amount of time spent on the hone is only a fraction of that time.

The kind of telephone research here requires more sophisticated research techniques than just running, through a list of survey questions with a pre-selected list of contacts. Usually, you'll get an assignment to find out about a specific topic and you will have to develop your own leads. That means some preliminary on-line or library research to identify likely sources for the information, as well as deciding on the best way to approach the project and exactly what questions to ask.

Document Delivery

Tracking down obscure citations and obtaining photocopies or originals of articles, reports, and books is the job of document delivery firms. Unlike most other types of independent information businesses, document delivery firms may employ a number of people, due to the amount of clerical and paraprofessional work involved. A document delivery company acts, in a sense, as a librarian's—or researcher's –librarian. Once an info pro has identified the white paper, academic treatise, industrial standard, conference paper, 20-year-old annual report, or obscure article from a Polish medical journal that the client needs, the document delivery firm's job is to get a copy of the item. Sometimes that means searching on-line library catalogs to find an institution that subscribers to the journal or maintains an archive of old corporate annual reports, and arranging to send someone to that library to photocopy the material. Sometimes it involves contacting the publisher and negotiating royalty payment for a copy. Sometimes it means tracking down the original author or conference speaker to see if he is willing to supply a copy of his paper or presentation.

Many document delivery clients are librarians looking for material they don't have in their own collections and may not have been able to find through their own network of sources. That means that document delivery firms often get difficult, incomplete, or incorrect citations. So part of the job of a good document delivery researcher is to think like a detective. Document delivery firms are threatened by the perception that “it's all available on the Web.” People are sometimes not willing to wait a week for an article when they are accustomed to getting material at the click of a mouse. Customers often balk at the price for a document delivery; an article can easily cost $25 to $50, once the publisher's royalty fee is included in the invoice. Document delivery is a specialized niche for people who are detail-oriented, able to generate and manage large volumes of orders, and can identify clients willing to pay the not-unsubstantial fees.

Competitive Intelligence

Competitive intelligence (CI) doesn't require diving into dumpsters and digging up a company's strategic plans from the trash. What CI does involve is using a variety of research and analytical skills to gather information on a company or industry and to figure out what it means. CI research may tackle questions such as “why are my competitors pulling back from Asia,” “what is my competitor's product strategy,” and “what do purchasers think of our products and those of our competitors.” Some of this information is available via in-depth on-line research—in market research reports, industry newsletters published interviews with executives, and so on. But much of this type of intelligence resides in more obscure sources, so CI research may involve, for example, researching public records to find factory blueprints filed with construction permits monitoring a company Web sites to see what jobs are being advertised or what new offices or divisions have been opened; or conducting telephone interviews with a target company's vendors, customers, and competitors.

CI often includes analyzing research findings and developing conclusions regarding a company's strategies. CI researcher find it challenging to dig up hidden information without compromising the confidentiality of their clients and without misrepresenting themselves. This is one reason why CI research may be outsourced to independent information professionals; the CI department within a company doesn't want its employees associated with the research and prefers to have an independent researcher making those probing phone calls.

Information Management

While most independent info pros specialize in particular types of research, some provide more general consulting services related to the acquisition, organization, management, and distribution of information within organizations. These consultants may provide “information audits” - in-depth surveys of an organization's information needs and resources – and offer recommendations on what information sources could be acquired, how these sources should be distributed within the organization through intranets or other technologies, and how to teach employees how best to use the information. Information consultants also help set up information resource centers and libraries, develop Web sites and databases to organize and disseminate internal and external information, and offer workshops and training sessions on information-related topics. Most information consultants come from a library background or have formal training in library and information services.

Library Staffing

Libraries within organizations, sometimes called “special libraries,” may need help in recruiting new staff or finding temporary help during a busy period or while a staff member is on leave. Some organizations want the entire library function handled by a third party, preferring to pay a set fee to have all the staffing responsibilities managed by someone who understands the information profession, rather than trying to build and staff the library internally.

Library staffing companies usually focus on a single geographic region or a vertical market – law firm libraries or engineering firm libraries, for example – because it is difficult to maintain staffing quality when the client libraries are all over the country. With the exception of firms that only do library personnel recruitment, most staffing, companies consist of the principal(s) and a number of information professionals. One of the skills that these types of independent info pros need is the ability to manage and motivate employees. This is one skill that those of us who are on-person businesses do not have to develop.

Training and Seminars

A number of independent info pros offer training, workshops, or seminars on research – related topics, in addition to other information service. They often find that these are good vehicles for marketing their expertise, expanding their client base and keeping their information skills sharp. Some independent info pros work their seminar schedule around trips they already have planned – to professional conferences, meetings with clients, and they handle all the marketing, registration, and administrative tasks involved in organizing and promoting their sessions. Others work with the organizers of existing professional conferences to present their workshop as pre- or post-conference sessions. They piggyback on the attendance and marketing effort of a larger conference, but give up a portion of their income in exchange for having someone else handle all the marketing. Info pros who give pre- and post-conference workshops are usually just paid a flat fee, regardless of the number of people attending the session. The independent route works best if you already have some name recognition and/or a large base of contacts you can market to; generating interest in your workshops from scratch is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. A third option, which works well for some independent info pros, is to market your workshops to professional organizations, who then handle the promotion and administrative responsibilities.

WHO NEEDS INFORMATION, AND WHY?

Corporations Preparing for Buyouts or Mergers

Corporations that are looking to buy or merge with companies that produce competing or complementary products need a substantial amount of information. They would, for example, have to investigate the financial pros and cons of merging with a competitor or purchasing a supplier. Depending on your client's needs, this type of information consulting can be tricky. They maybe asked to find this information without contacting the companies they are gathering information about, or without telling anyone who their client is.

Companies That Need Product Information

This area of research varies widely. It includes finding information on specific types of software applications that companies will be investing in, computer hardware and software prices and capabilities, and even ergonomic factors that may arise from purchasing specific types of office furniture. While this type of information may seem trivial, companies that are purchasing a 100-seat license of a certain software application or 1,000 chairs often hire information consultants to help them make the right purchasing decisions.

Companies That Need Medical Information

Medical information consulting takes many forms. As in any corporation, medical supply and pharmaceutical companies have to keep on top of their industries to remain competitive. Is there a market for a particular type of drug or medical device? Are other businesses in the market turning a profit from the proposed product? Is there room in the market for additional companies to make a profit selling similar products? These questions are similar to those asked by corporations assessing their competition.

Individuals Researching Medical Conditions

There are some information consultants that does research for individuals about the type of medical treatment they are receiving and alternative treatments. Despite our reverence for doctors, most of them (especially the good ones) will admit that they don't know everything. In addition to getting a second opinion, presenting doctors with information about the illness that has been diagnosed, or information about other possible diagnoses, can help people get better medical treatment.

Individuals Looking for Personal Information

Checking the truth of someone's resume to locating a long-lost relative, people often want to find personal information about other people. This type of research is performed for clients that include lawyers, private investigators, employers, and even people digging into the pasts of potential spouses. Researching personal backgrounds is not for the faint of heart. While the information you are providing to the client is generally available in public records, there's no guarantee that the client's intentions are honorable.

The Information Explosion

With the massive amount of information on the Internet today, many companies and individuals have come to the false conclusion that information consultants just aren't necessary anymore. If they are looking for small amounts of information or happen to get lucky a couple of times and find what they're looking for, this conclusion is further fortified. The first time these companies or individuals spend a week's worth of time looking for information that the information consultant could find in a day or two, the information consultant's value will be proven. It takes a lot of expertise, practice, and sometimes training to find information , whether the searches are conducted on the Internet or another type of on-line database.

The media has given many people the idea that absolutely every bit of information in the universe is now available for little more than a monthly fee to an Internet service provider (ISP). Because other on-line databases charge (sometimes very high rates) for access time, many clients seeking information request that a certain number of hours be spent sifting through the Net. That's because they want to see if what they need is available without the added expense of hourly on-line database rates.

Author's Bio: 

Angela is the owner of Coastal Computerized Information Service, and is known as a generalist in the information consutanting field. A generalist is someone who will research on the topic of choice by her client.