By PAUL ANTHONY
You’re a small or medium-size business. What do you do when your company needs quick access to reliable information for a new product launch, entry into a new market, detailed information on competing firms, or possibly complex legal or technical information like a patent search, regulatory information or technical information in support of a new manufacturing process?
Some of your required intelligence and data will be picked up by your sales team and through the normal course of doing business, but it may not be enough. You’ll probably try the usual Google search, but distinguishing between thousands or even a million web hits can be time-consuming and exhausting. Further, some promising hits will be locked behind the firewall of the deep web, requiring either a subscription/license or fee.
Depending on the scope of your problem, a next step might be visiting your local public or academic library if they are big enough to support some of the standard business databases. These libraries will also have someone on staff who is experienced in business reference, so making use of these “public” entities can often make sense and perhaps meet your information needs.
You may have tried all these avenues, and you are still stuck. In many cases, your business problem demands the type of in-depth investigation, research, and analysis that are beyond the skills or available time of yourself or that library desk you visited. Think now about engaging the services of a professional information research consultant.
Known more commonly as Independent Information Professionals (IIP’s) or Infopreneurs, these are individual with varying backgrounds who work as entrepreneurs doing research and analysis for hire, either on an ad hoc, hourly basis or often as an extended project. Many IIP’s were former librarians who decided to begin their own businesses, but increasingly there are individuals with legal, engineering, competitive intelligence, scientific, marketing, and other business backgrounds who are working as independent researchers and consultants. They develop expertise in a specialized area and gradually build an appropriate clientele.
OK, how are you going to find such an expert? One avenue is contacting the body of experts who comprise the Association of Independent Information Professionals (www.aiip.org). Their publicly searchable business directory will allow you to zero in on a research professional who is expert in your business area.
The variety of business focus among these entrepreneurs will quickly be evident, but to list a few specialties, one will find individuals and firms that specialize in market analysis and research; competitive intelligence; data analysis; strategic planning consulting; private investigative and public-record research for due-diligence, fraud investigations, etc.; a range of specialized research expertise in such areas as medicine, law, finance, technology and engineering; IT and web consulting; editing, writing, and communications consulting; document delivery and copyright clearance services.
Once you’ve connected with a suitable Infopreneur, what would a typical project look like? Here are a few examples of problems that many small businesses might need assistance in tackling: One frequent area of research is providing a detailed profile of an industry for a company seeking entry into a new market. The steps involved in gathering secondary research, including estimating the market size, analyzing the existing players, supply chains and the overall environment can get fairly involved. Similarly, an industry profile and market analysis may be demanded by a regional economic planning agency or by a local venture-capital group trying to decide whether to invest in a start-up. For this type of industry and company profile analysis, work done on an ongoing basis for a company could evolve into an active competitive intelligence examination of its industry and competitors and significantly assist this firm in its strategic planning. Another area might be researching and compiling the best practices on employee retention, salary remuneration, and a host of common management issues affecting company performance and operations.
The marketing arena finds IIP’s assisting clients in many areas of market analysis and content marketing. In the technology arena, independent information researchers can be found working with clients on website optimization or the introduction of appropriate taxonomies for more effective search capabilities on company intranets or public websites, to cite just a couple of examples.
Regardless of the specific business problem involved, an independent information professional’s work will be structured along customary consulting lines. A key first step is the clear identification of the research problem, which flows from an initial consultation between the client and the IIP. Typically, the researcher, after some initial exploratory research, will assess the problem, its feasibility and scope, and decide if their firm is qualified for and wants to accept the work. Following on this, the researcher will lay out for the client in a letter of agreement the project scope, what research deliverables are anticipated, and a best estimate of a research budget. Like any professional consultant, an IIP will build into the budget not only those costs of research, such as fee-based online services, but also his/her billable hourly rate, which will reflect all the direct and indirect costs of working as an independent consultant. When the client agrees, the research proceeds, results are submitted, and the project concludes with research meeting the client’s needs and expectations. It is important to note that typical deliverables provided by a professional IIP almost always extend considerably beyond just factual lists and supporting documentation and usually comprise considerable analysis and extensive presentation materials for use by the client. This value-added research is the justification for employing an IIP.
Keep in mind, finally, that Independent Information Professionals, such as those belonging to AIIP, often have arrangements with other independents as subcontractors for those projects for which they feel unqualified or unable to accommodate in their schedule. And these info pros are also very good about referring jobs to individual researchers with the appropriate skills and background.