Here’s to another 18 years
Eighteen years ago, I started working with my first client. As I was closing in on completing my Masters degree in Library and Information Services, one of my connections from grad school brought me in on a very cool project creating a virtual academic library for online MBA students.
This connection contacted me at the perfect time. I still hadn’t answered the question that all MLIS students ask each other: “What kind of library do you want to work in?” My answer was always, “Not sure, but I know it won’t be in a regular library.” I’d explored all the options – university, public, corporate, private, specialized – and none of these library settings appealed to me. I needed something different.
But when this connection sent me that fateful email towards the end of 1999, finally it all came together:
Hi Marcy – How would you like to join our team? We need someone with your background in math, so we’d love to have you. You can work from home, as much or as little as you want, and we’ll pay you [insert amount much higher than what I was earning in a library].”
I had finally found my calling – challenging and fascinating work with smart colleagues, a flexible schedule, and no commute. That’s when I decided what I would do with my degree, and it didn’t involve working in a library. I’d start my own company and find others who would pay me to do research from home.
A few months later, after earning my MLIS, I officially launched Phelps Research. I found out there was an association of people doing what I was doing, the Association of Independent Information Professionals, and quickly signed up. After attending my first conference a year later, it became clear that starting a business was just the first step. I now needed to treat it like a business.
I had a lot to learn, so I found coaches, mentors, books, and anything else that would help me build and run my research business. Since I’d discovered that simply hanging a shingle doesn’t mean clients will flock to your door, I started thinking about how to market my services. I got out and met as many people as possible and eventually found my niche.
For years, my company focused on helping marketing professionals learn about their customers, competitors, and industries. Business was good. I made many lasting and fruitful relationships through my networking and marketing efforts, eventually establishing a name for myself with the publication of my book, Research on Main Street.
Then the market dried up. I’d been so busy writing my book and taking care of my existing clients’ information needs, that it took me a while to notice. I blamed the slump on spending too much time writing the book and too little on building the business. When my renewed marketing efforts brought few results, I did what I should have been doing all along – I gathered insights through market research.
After several conversations with executives in my target market, I discovered that they no longer valued my services. “We have an intern who likes to Google.” “I tap into my LinkedIn network when I have questions.” And the worst, from an actual client, “I just put together a quick survey in SurveyMonkey.” Quite a reality check.
About that time, though, I received another fateful email, this time from an AIIP colleague, introducing me to a private investigator who needed some research help. He and I met for lunch to discuss how my research would fit into his investigations – and that was the start of something big.
I found the work fascinating, and this PI liked my research. Then he took a step that many professionals don’t often do – he taught me everything he knew. He encouraged me to make the transition from research to investigations, and when Colorado [finally] instituted PI licensing, I became a licensed investigator. A couple of years later, I expanded my expertise and became a Certified Fraud Examiner. I’ve never looked back.
The past 18 years have been a great ride, filled with exciting work and, for the most part, incredible clients. And after being in business this long, I’ve seen lots of changes.
Here are just a few of the big changes I’ve seen in the past 18 years in business:
It’s more than just the research – Back in the day, Google was brand-new and had lots of limitations, so clients needed someone to do the research for them. With all the DIY options out there now, that’s no longer why they work with me. Clients now value results – my analysis, reports completed on their ever-changing time lines, and keeping them from going into business with fraudsters.
Being a librarian is cool again – For a while there, advertising my library and information science background would elicit blank looks and comments such as “I like books, too.” These days, it’s about too much info, rather than not enough, and clients in high-risk industries know that they need an expert to keep them from making costly mistakes. My MLIS skills don’t look so stodgy any more.
Change happens, and it’s happening faster – Markets shift, and clients’ needs change. Companies that want to succeed don’t stop at pre-launch market research. They keep checking in with their markets to stay on top of trends and identify new gaps that they can fill. It doesn’t have to be formal research, either. Just getting out for coffee and conversations can be enlightening.
It’s been a great 18 years. I’ve encountered the kindest, smartest, and most creative clients and colleagues. I learn something new everyday, and it’s never felt like work. I’m forever grateful to everyone I’ve met along the way, especially those who gave me my start(s) – Kim Dority (my first client) and Chuck Sullivan (the PI who taught me about investigations).
So here’s to the next 18 years in business! I look forward to the ups and downs – and all the new experiences, connections, and changes waiting for me along the way.
And stay tuned for a big announcement next month about some big changes here at Phelps Research…