Penny Leach From Unemployment to Self-Employment
Jinfo Blog

Saturday, 25th April 2009

By Penny Leach

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On 18th March 2009 the Commercial Legal and Scientific Information Group (CLSIG) held their AGM followed by an evening seminar on librarian entrepreneurs entitled 'Be your own boss: tips from the top on using your information management skills to set up your own business'. The meeting was hosted in beautiful Forbes House, the 19th-century London HQ of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. In the AGM Oriole Newgass stepped down as Chair (after 4 years) and handed over the post to Penny Bailey, but not before thanking her colleagues on the Board and their business partners, celebrating CLSIG's triumphs over the year including several learning and social events, and also marking a sad event, the death of Johan van Helm of EUSIDIC.

Information industry commentator Tim Buckley Owen chaired the seminar, himself a freelance consultant for several years and well aware of the challenges of going it alone. Firstly, Jill Fenton shared her experiences of setting up her own independent business research company. She highlighted what she had learnt as an independent information professional, as an independent entrepreneur, and as an independent individual. As an information professional she tapped in to lots of networks (including the AIIP for support and clients, and also set up current awareness mechanisms, not just about the information industry but the world at large (including the industries and markets of her clients). An an entrepreneur Jill learnt the need for marketing -- here she referenced Sue Rugge's 'Information Broker's Handbook' (now out of print -- see also Mary Ellen Bates on 'Building and Running a Successful Research Business' ). She found it hard to learn to approach strangers in order to develop her network, whether in person at events or by cold (or preferably 'warm') calling. An an individual Jill realised the need to do her own honest self-appraisal, and to acquire the discipline to know when to stop working -- as well as to be a 'jill of all trades' (HR, business development, marketing, IT, accountant...). Overall however Jill summed up her four years as an independent researcher as rewarding. She highlighted the ability to decide for herself how her career will develop by selecting work according to her interests, the satisfaction of delivering work to a client as a result of her own efforts, her growth in self-confidence and the better work-life balance she has as her own boss.

CLSIG's new Chair, Penny Bailey, as the second speaker, used her own career as a case study to illustrate why someone might be inspired to set up their own company rather than work for others. She looked at the pros and cons of being employed, self-employed and as employer (she is now the owner of Bailey Solutions). Initially Penny took what she had learnt as a librarian working for others to become an independent consultant, and enjoyed the recognition from her clients, where her opinion was valued by senior management. Arguments in favour of setting up her own business were the (negative) option to avoid various 'isms' such as sexism, ageism and 'motherism', and to be less isolated. Like Jill, Penny found that she had to acquire different skills -- in self-employment marketing and budgeting; as employer legal awareness (HR and contracts for example). Also like Jill, however, Penny clearly enjoyed her current status, in spite of the occasional variable income and the competition in her marketplace. As a tribute to Penny's proactive approach on behalf of women in the IT industry she is now Women’s Enterprise Advocate for the South East England Development Agency, and she provided a fact sheet of links and statistics on small businesses as evidence of their value to UK plc -- for example there are 4.7 million small businesses employing more than 58% of the private sector workforce.

The number of attendees at the event, and of questions in the Q&A session and over wine and canapes afterwards, was evidence of how many might be tempted to go it alone in the current economic climate; the two speakers were evidence in themselves that information professionals can have what it takes to be their own boss.


The following FUMSI articles may be of interest:

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