What does it mean to be “successful” as an independent consultant? There are, in fact, many ways to succeed in this undertaking. The answer depends on how you define “success.”
The simplest measure of all is survival. Lots of people who try consulting aren’t able to make a go of it in the long run. The survival rate after three years for sole proprietors in the American economy is a meager 50 to 60 percent. Independent public history consultants might fare a bit better than the national average (too small a sample for quantitative investigation?), but if you can stay in business for more than a few years, congratulations. You have succeeded where many others did not.
A more complex and interesting measure of success has to do with the quality of the work that consulting offers you. Continue reading
Public historians who enjoy a regular paycheck find certain aspects of consulting curious–none more so than the issue of money. I expect that this curiosity also extends to the ranks of those who are considering a leap in the consulting direction.
I hope I will be forgiven for devoting the next several hundred words to this subject. I promise that I will return to a more high-minded level of disquisition in my next post.
Questions about the money side of independent consulting seem to fall into two general categories: “How much should I charge?” and “How much can I make?” Not surprisingly, the answers to these two questions are related. Continue reading
What kind of knowledge and skills do you need in order to create a viable historical consulting practice?
Becoming a consultant requires more than simply deciding to work for yourself. It requires the shift to a new mindset, because as an independent consultant you become a creature of the marketplace. This means two things: First, you must have something to sell. Second, you must figure out who will buy it. As a consultant it is your job to understand the marketplace and respond to it. The capacity to do this effectively will be a primary determinant of whether or not you succeed in your consulting venture. Continue reading
When I started graduate school in the now-distant year of 1979, public history was still in its infancy. Within view of the spot that I habitually occupied in the basement of the university library, two or three loose issues (the entire run to date) of The Public Historian perched precariously on an otherwise empty stack shelf. During moments of daydreaming (or was it deep thought?), I thumbed through them idly, and thus became acquainted with the then-novel concept of public history.
Public history is now well established — one might even say flourishing — both within the academy and without. Plenty of people do history work outside of academe in a variety of institutional settings, supported by web sites, associations, and professional networks. Particularly within the Ph.D. community, colleagues who have moved “beyond academe” have reached out to each other to offer advice and assistance.
Among practicing public historians, however, independent consultants are still a bit of a mystery. Working for yourself seems to be an underrated and perhaps underappreciated opportunity for those who have historical training and are looking for a way to make a living using it. Continue reading
Famous jump scene from the 1969 western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, directed by George Roy Hill, written by William Goldman and starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
1997 was the hardest year of my adult life. During that year my marriage of 15 years ended in divorce; during that same year, my employer, a nationally prominent museum of American cultural history, began to transform itself into a children’s museum, and eliminated the position of “senior historian” that I had held for the previous seven years.
Determined to continue living close by my three children, and anxious to continue the museum-based public history work that I loved, I circulated a letter to colleagues and friends announcing that I was seeking freelance consulting work and was prepared to take on independent curatorial or museum interpretive planning projects. Writing this letter, and spending a couple of hours designing a letterhead, marked my professional rebirth as an “exhibition developer and consulting historian.” Continue reading