Sunday, November 11, 2012

Creating Your Career

This post is for all those seeking "alternative" careers. While my first paragraph focuses on archives consulting, the purpose of this post is to address the idea that we have the opportunity to build our career and make it what we want to be, no matter the field in which we work.

Last week I had the pleasure of moderating a group at the New England Archivists' fall conference. Our session, Creating Your Career: Alternatives to Traditional Employment focused primarily on the archives consulting business, with three archives consultants on the panel. Our session was well attended. Our goal was to introduce ourselves and then answer audience questions. Audience inquiries kept us going past our scheduled time. There was a lot of curiosity in that room. I saw an unasked question in the eyes of some audience members - "What's your secret?" I want to focus on that unasked question in this blog post.

[The NEA session had handouts that describe our tips for archives consulting and information about how Susan Chapeldaine of CCIM Consulting, Cynthia G. Swank of Inlook Group, and I built our careers. Scroll down on the page to our 2PM time slot to find the link to our handouts.]

Building a career different from the mainstream takes patience, persistence, creativity, flexibility, outside-the-box thinking, good listening skills, the ability to build a strong professional network, and some financial savvy. You can create a career if you are a genealogist, writer, marketer, health care doesn't matter the field. Find a niche. Find something no one is doing or find something that no one is doing the way that you would do it. Aim to fill the niche. Write a business plan. Write a mission statement. Take your work seriously. Tell everyone what you are doing. Build a web presence. Listen to feedback from friends and the world. Be prepared to focus and refocus your business as you go. The business with which you start may not be the one with which you end up - and that's okay if you continually revise your plan based on observation and feedback.

One more point that didn't come up at our session or in our handouts: These days, it is trendy to "brand" oneself. I think that this kind of thinking may be here to stay. To brand yourself, you build a public presence that shows how you are different from the next guy. Even if you work in an institution, I believe that branding is a valuable thing to do. You may be in a traditional career. What about that job makes you passionate? Think about how you can share that passion with others.

The following is a list of some business people I know who have invented themselves. I hope that one day they will agree to write about their experiences here. (Though I haven't even asked them yet!) I list them here so that you can explore their web pages and consider how they created their careers. The first talented lady is in a traditional career but has built a brand through her blog and special project. The rest are entrepreneurs with outside-the-box thinking that I hope serves as some inspiration.

Rebecca Price works with AASLH, but is also the creator of Chick History. Her curiosity and passion are inspirational.

Erica Holthausen abandoned her career as an attorney and re-invented herself (twice) to bring to the world "The Honest Marketing Revolution."

Marian Pierre-Louis is a genealogist, house-historian, frequent public speaker, and newly minted podcast host. Simply put, she is a one person whirlwind, operating her business Fieldstone Historic Research.

Cheryl Dolan is a speech/language pathologist who spent many years building her Platinum Presence Program. This class may be the best class I have ever taken and I am so glad that Cheryl had the persistence and vision to create herself, bringing her ideas to fruition.

So whomever you want to be, use these women as inspiration and go for it!

[I was recently interviewed for the New England Archivists newsletter on this topic and the interview is out in the latest edition. I'll link to it online when they put it up.]


  1. Taking yourself seriously can sometimes be the hardest part!

  2. This is fantastic Melissa. Thank you for sharing. I've been a huge admirer of your blog for some time now.

  3. Yes it can be Judith ;)

    Thank you for your kind words Michelle. I'm glad that you found the post worthwhile and enjoy the blog. It's very nice to hear that!

  4. Thank you, Melissa! I'm currently researching consulting.

  5. Melissa, I think it is so timely to be exploring such options--and encouraging others to broaden their outlook to include such possibilities.

    Thanks for the great resources. It was nice to see Marian Pierre-Louis included in your list!