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Internet Researcher

The field of online research is growing as more and more clients require information for success, according to Alex Kramer, president of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP).

"A few years ago it was a big fear that since everybody was getting access to the Internet and getting proficient in it, that we would lose a lot of business," says Kramer. "But what we're finding is we're getting more educated clients. It's been in our favor that the Internet has become so popular."

Online researchers use the Internet and commercial databases to track down information for clients. "With the vast amount of information and the various formats in which it exists, business clients need assistance in determining their information needs and locating the appropriate sources," states the AIIP.

Researchers can work for customers within a variety of industries, such as aviation, pharmaceutical, finance, or entertainment. Online work can be done at any time of day, but it may be necessary to keep regular business hours to communicate with clients.

The majority of AIIP's 750 members worldwide are online researchers. The 12th edition of the Burwell World Directory of Information Brokers lists approximately 1,800 companies performing this type of work in 51 countries.

When Kramer first became involved with AIIP five years ago, most members had a library science degree or library experience. Now she says the trend is toward more varied backgrounds. Women currently outnumber men within the AIIP, but the male membership has been growing.

Keys to Success

Online researchers need a computer, modem and printer to get started, as well as accounts with major database suppliers. According to Kramer, most researchers need to go beyond self-teaching methods and receive some formal training. Many major database vendors offer training classes, and colleges are adding Internet courses to their curricula.

One important skill for a researcher is, of course, the ability to research. "You need a strong background as an online searcher using the professional online services, or a strong background in a specialized area of research such as public records research or telephone research," says Mary Ellen Bates. She was a corporate librarian for over 10 years before starting her own business, Bates Information Services.

Bates recommends getting expertise in a particular profession before becoming an independent information broker. "This is definitely not a profession for someone right out of school," she says. "You are selling your expertise, so it's critical to get that expertise in a professional capacity before you go independent."

Linda Cooper worked for the Institute for Scientific Information and attained a master's in library science before opening Cooper Heller Research, Inc. Eventually, she and partner Pat Heller were able to sell CHR to a larger information firm.

Now Cooper works as an independent researcher from home, providing research services and library management consulting. While she enjoys the independent aspect of the business, she says managing finances and collections is the worst part.

Derek Pugsley's company, Inquix Consulting Ltd., specializes in business and technical information support for senior management. Before starting his own business nine years ago, he used online databases for competitive and business intelligence and to target acquisitions.

"I help clients make better decisions by locating information from public sources which bears on their strategic or tactical needs," he says. "My business experience helps me to act as a credible proxy for them when I sit at the terminal."

To generate new business, Pugsley started a newsletter. He also joined industry associations, not only relating to the information profession, but also relating to his target audience. Through these associations, he was able to meet potential clients and demonstrate his skills so that they would contact him when a research need developed.

"The problem for many beginners is that they don't realize that most prospects don't have an imminent research need," he says. "It may be months, even years, before they are contacted."

What are some other keys to success? "It helps to have significant research expertise in a subject area," Bates advises. "It also helps to have personal name recognition within some segment of your target industry before you set up business. And it helps to have some influential contacts that can regularly steer business your way."

According to Pugsley, there are two ways to succeed. "Either combine research with a sideline [like writing about the business, teaching others how to search, or supplying tools for other information professionals]," he says, "or build aword-of-mouth reputation for being a more efficient [and confidential] resource than the client would have with an in-house person."

Pugsley and Bates both stress the importance of marketing. "Keep marketing and join local industry groups or associations where you can make contacts more efficiently than calling prospects one at a time," Pugsley advises. "Expect to market like crazy the first couple of years and to spend at least 30 percent of your time marketing after that," says Bates.

From Research to Riches?

"It's not a business where you'll get rich quick," says Bates. "The first year will be a lean year income-wise." Pugsley echoes the sentiment. "You need patience to build a business from scratch," he says. "And at least a year of negative cash flow."

According to Bates, first-year researchers can expect to net about $15,000 -- assuming they already have research skills, a collection of contacts, marketing abilities, and the willingness to work 50 to 60 hours a week. "After maybe four or five years -- depending on your client base and how hard you work at marketing -- you can earn from $50,000 to $200,000."

But Bates emphasizes that these estimates only apply to people who have already established themselves in the professional world for a number of years. "I have seen only one person come right out of college and successfully run an information brokerage firm," she notes. "All of the rest of them give up after a couple of years, usually seriously in debt."

Cooper advises against borrowing money to start this type of business. "Service businesses have nothing to sell if the business fails," she points out. "You do not want to end up in debt if things don't work out for you."

"Being an information professional requires not just search skills and an experience base -- it also requires an entrepreneurial spirit and basic sales and marketing skills. The world will not beat a path to your door on its own," says Pugsley.

"It's a very gratifying and exciting career in that you make your own opportunities," says Bates. "If you're good, the sky's the limit. There are far more potential clients out there than there are skilled independent professional researchers."


The Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP)
208-10290 Monroe
Dallas , TX   75229
Phone :  609-730-8759
Fax :  609-730-8469
E-mail :


Bates Information Services
Includes an industry-related newsletter called FYI

Inquix Consulting Ltd.
Includes a section on the cost-effectiveness of hiring an information professional

Center for Internet Research
Detailed information about Internet research

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