|P.Mean: Promoting your consulting career in the era of web 2.0 (created 2012-01-27, updated 2012-02-18).
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I am giving a short course in February, "Promoting Your Consulting Career in the Era of Web 2.0." Here is an outline of what I will talk about.
Abstract: Web 2.0, defined by Wikipedia as "web applications that facilitate participatory information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web," offers new opportunities for you to promote your consulting career. These tools are mostly free or inexpensive, though they are labor intensive. I will describe Web 2.0 that I have used to promote my independent consulting career and some of the unwritten rules about appropriate usage of these tools. I will contrast the tools with simpler Internet methods and noncomputer methods that can help promote your consulting career. Web 2.0 will not replace more traditional modes of career promotion, but it offers unique opportunities to supplement these efforts.
Ground rules: I want to encourage participation and I will ask you questions throughout the talk. I won't force anyone to speak, but I want a broad level of participation from more than one or two people. I will stop at times and ask if there are any questions, but you are welcome to ask questions at any time. I will offer one five minute break halfway through the talk, but feel free to get up at anytime for a bathroom stop or refreshment break.
Icebreaker. I want to start with an icebreaker. When and where did you first start using the Internet? Was it email? Was it FTP? Was it the World Wide Web? Was it "Angry Birds" on your iPhone? I first started using the Internet in the early 1990s. I used email a lot, with some Gopher and FTP applications and this new fangled thing called the World Wide Web.
Your consulting career. I have been working as a statistical consultant since the late 1970's. I've been a consultant at an academic consulting center at the University of Iowa while I was a student, an assistant director at an academic consulting center one summer at Bowling Green State University, and I'm currently starting up an academic consulting center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I have been a statistical consultant and manager for 9 years at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and a statistical consultant at Children's Mercy Hospital for 12 years.
This talk is going to describe my efforts since 2008 to promote an independent career as a statistical consultant with P.Mean Consulting, a sole proprietorship. Like you, I am interested in promoting many aspects of my career. My website, for example, has helped me get one book published (and a second one is on the way), and I also use it to find collaborators on some grants I am trying to write. But my general focus will be on getting clients for an independent consulting practice.
Open discussion. What aspects of your career do you hope to promote? Do you want to get new clients for your business? Do you want to attract collaborators for your research activities? Do you want to increase the number of invited speaking engagements that you get?
What is Web 2.0 and why should you care? Web 2.0, defined by Wikipedia as "web applications that facilitate participatory information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web." This is an intentional contrast with older applications on the web and on the Internet which are more static and one-directional ways of sharing information. I'll refer to these as traditional Internet applications.
A closely related concept is social media, which again is defined by Wikipedia as "The use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as 'a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.' The two key defining features of social media are: building a network of friends, connections, or followers; and bi-directional commentary."
Web 2.0 and social media provide new ways to promote your career. They are inexpensive, but they are labor intensive. These new ways of promoting your career should not replace more traditional ways, but rather offer a supplement and a way of reaching a different audience. There are also unwritten rules that limit the ways that you can promote yourself, and you need to understand and respect these rules.
How should you promote yourself? You should not rely on any single approach, but should rather look at several approaches simultaneously. Don't try to do everything, but rather look at one method of promotion as your primary avenue and use the other methods as ways to supplement and reinforce your primary avenue of publicity.
The goal of promotion is to make yourself appear as a familiar presence in the minds of people who might recommend you. No one likes paying money to a total stranger, and they will seek out instead people that they already know and that they are already comfortable with.
Promote yourself not only to potential customers, but also to your peers. Other statisticians will not hire you, more likely than not, because they have the same skill set that you have. But they may receive requests for consulting themselves, and if it is something they don't want to do, they are more likely to offer it to someone they know well. So being known well in the Statistics community is a very valuable commodity.
Open discussion: Using myself as an example, I will ask how many people know me already, and how they know me. You may know me based on an earlier panel discussion I participated in at the conference, from questions that I may have asked at other talks at the conference, or some other way. You may know me through the book I wrote, through my website, through my webpage, through other talks or papers that I have written, through my participation on various listservs, through my email newsletter, through my Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter accounts, through my volunteer efforts with ASA. It's okay if you've never heard of me before this presentation, of course.
Web 2.0 and social media tools. These are still very new and they offer a lot of different opportunities to promote yourself. These are hyped as the future of computing but also frequently mocked as tools that reinforce personal vanity or which promote insipid discussion of vapid trivialities. I am still trying to figure out how best to use these tools and am uncertain, at times, if they offer serious advantages over other methods for promoting your consulting career.
While I present this discussion of Web 2.0 tools, I do not want to imply that these are superior to more traditional tools for promoting your career. In fact, you cannot afford to ignore the more traditional approaches and focus entirely on these new tools. These are best when they are used in synergism with one another.
Another reason to become familiar with Web 2.0 tools is that they offer a new way for you to communicate with your current and potential customers. This can't be emphasized enough. It's a big hurdle for someone to contact you to ask for help, so it helps a lot if you can communicate in the mode they are most comfortable with.
Personal, professional, or both? You need to decide the "face" that you show to the public, and that will determine the content that you create and, to some extent, which social media tools you use. Social media is used by many people solely for sharing personal information, and at times this can appear to be rather vain and trivial. People at a restaurant will take pictures of the dinner they are about to eat and share these photos with their friends. Depending on who you are, you might think, boy is that stupid, or hmm, that's interesting.
So some people will place a big wall between their personal lives and their professional lives and share only professional information on social media. That's fine, though I would argue that it helps to lower that wall somewhat. Many of your clients will enjoy relating with you on a personal as well as professional basis. I have some clients who act almost offended when I see them if I don't have any new pictures of my son to share. Sharing a bit of personal information also makes small talk a bit easier and that can also help. So in my newsletter, I have several articles, descriptions of interesting books and websites, a pithy quote, but I also include a brief story about my family.
I also enjoy learning some of the personal details about the family, pets, and hobbies of my consulting clients. Your professional interactions will be smoother and more effective if you can start off or end a phone call, for example, with a comment about your client's cute dog.
If you are a very private person, or if you feel that sharing personal information is unprofessional or distracting, don't do it. If you want to be a bit more open, be sure to limit the personal information so it doesn't overwhelm the professional information that you are providing.
Blogging. According to Wikipedia, "a blog (a portmanteau of the term web log) is a personal journal published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries ('posts') typically displayed in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first." I recommend a blog over a website, because they are very easy to maintain, they allow indexing using tags, and they allow returning users to see very easily all of the new content since their last visit. I started my website, www.pmean.com, before blogs became popular, but if I were starting over again today, I would start with a blog. There is enough similarity between websites and blogs that I will cite examples and discuss applications of both concurrently in this section.
The typical blog allows readers to add content. This has many advantages. It increases the value of your blog entries when others comment on your writing and offer additional insights and links to other resources. More importantly, it increases the sense of participation by your reader. This is an important dynamic of Web 2.0 applications, the ability of others to contribute to and to enhance your content.
I do not allow users to add content to my web pages because I'm fussy about letting others have a say in how the material on my website appears to the outside world. I also don't want to police other people's comments and remove comments that are profane, unkind, or blatantly commercial. It's also something that I do not include because it was not easily available back in 1997 when I started my website.
If you start a blog, you should add content that is of value to your audience. You should pick a niche that is unique, so that your content will stand out from the crowd. There are currently dozens of blogs about R, for example, and unless you provided some commentary that was fresh and different about R, you are unlikely to attract much notice.
I can't identify a unique niche for you, but I can mention an earlier example that led to great success.
Raynauld Levesque started a website on SPSS syntax and macros back in 2001. It was widely mentioned on the SPSSX-L listserv and others started contributing their syntax and macros to Dr. Levesque. He eventually took much of the work on the website and created a book, Spss Programming And Data Management: A Guide for Spss And Sas Users.
If you blog, make a point to adding new entries on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be daily, but it needs to be more than one a month to be effective. I think that two entries per week is a manageable amount. That's a pace I set for my original website at Children's Mercy Hospital, and in the twelve years I was working there, I ended up creating over 1300 web pages.
Blog posts can be original content or a link to someone else's content with a brief commentary by you on why this link is interesting. Bare links, by the way, are very bad. People want to know what they are likely to see before they blindly click on the link. I often just quote the abstract or a brief excerpt from the site I am linking to.
Blogs allow you to attach tags to a post. These are valuable because they allow readers to explore additional related content on your blog by clicking on the tag. You should also cross-link liberally on your blog (e.g., I've talked about difficulty in getting a client to specify the minimum clinically important difference here and here, but I've just found a wonderful new paper that offers excellent suggestions that I was previously unaware of.)
Open discussion: Talk about a blog or website that you visit repeatedly. What is the content that makes this worth coming back to?
Facebook. There are several websites that offer features similar to Facebook (Google+, for example), but I want to talk specifically about features in Facebook. Facebook is a lot like a blog in that your content appears in reverse chronological order. Facebook makes it easy to add photos and video. Facebook allows you to create a network of friends, who are able to see all of your content. Most of the content on Facebook is not normally visible to outsiders (via a Google search, for example), although you can control this through privacy settings. This is a serious limitation to someone who wants to increase their visibility.
Many people use the Facebook messaging system in place of email, so like Chat and Skype (see below), this offers you another avenue to communicate with potential clients.
Many people use Facebook solely for sharing personal information (pictures of their dogs, updates on their health, etc.). Others use it solely for business reasons. Still others use it for a mix of personal and business reasons.
LinkedIn. While it has many similarities to Facebook, LinkedIn is worth discussing as a separate entity because of the different expectations on LinkedIn. The LinkedIn community stresses having resume-like information on your profile and has a more formal way of networking. You're adding a "connection" in LinkedIn, rather than a "friend." It is easy to add connections to those who you went to school with or your co-workers at former jobs, but a bit trickier to add a connection to someone out of the blue. You can ask people in your LinkedIn network to write a recommendation for you, which other users can see.
Most LinkedIn users are all business and bristle at information that is unrelated to the workplace. Some people see this as an advantage, but I tend to view LinkedIn as a bit stodgy.
Like Facebook, LinkedIn has a messaging system that many people use to discuss business propositions. If you're on LinkedIn, you have another way for people to ask you to work for them.
Twitter. Twitter is also unique enough to mention here. According to Wikipedia, "Twitter is an online social networking service and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters, known as 'tweets.'" The limit on the length of tweets is hard for many, including myself, to accept. If you are used to texting and chat rooms, however, this limit seems less important. The limit also makes Twitter easier to monitor on smart phones.
Like the friends on Facebook and the connections on LinkedIn, you have "followers" on Twitter, though your tweets are viewable and searchable by anyone on the Internet. Twitter has hashtags like the tags on a blog, that allow you to categorize the content of your tweets. Hashtags are a nice way to get some extra notice for your tweets. I have used #statistics frequently on my tweets.
Warning: Don't advertise overtly on these social media. An ad with nothing of substance beyond the ad itself is going to backfire. Your goal is to create something of value for your friends, connections, and followers. As you build a reputation for offering useful information, people will come to trust you and view you as an expert in your field. That's the thing that is frustrating about social media. You have to spend a lot of time producing valuable information, and your benefits accrue only indirectly and over a long time frame. I do believe in the benefits of social media, but it is wrong to ignore the labor intensive work that you have to put in to be successful.
Open discussion: Do you use a different social media service than the big three (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter)? What are the distinctions of these competing social media services?
Webinars. A webinar is not really a Web 2.0 application, but it has developed in roughly the same time frame as many Web 2.0 applications, so I want to discuss it here. A webinar uses the Internet to present a seminar. This typically involves a voice connection via the Internet (or a parallel connection by telephone), and a way to display applications to your audience that are running on your computer. The typical webinar has a special application for displaying slides (e.g., Powerpoint), and on screen annotations similar to a whiteboard.
Most webinar systems allow you to share an image of yourself through your webcam, and there are a variety of opinions about this. Some people advocate that you not use your webcam or only post a static picture of yourself, as the image on the webcam is just a distraction from your voice and your slides. Others advocate the use of the webcam as it encourages a more personal connection between the audience and the speaker. I find the latter viewpoint far more persuasive. The lack of many sensory cues in a webinar (see below) should not be worsened by keeping the audience from seeing your face.
If your audience members have webcams. you (and the other audiennce members) have the capability of seeing other people's faces as they ask questions. As the webinar organizer, you also have the capability of muting and unmuting individual audience members so they can comment or ask questions. I do not use images from other people's webcams because (a) not everyone has a webcam, and (b) many people in the audience of my webinars, I suspect, would not want themselves to be seen during the webinar.
I also do not use the audio capabilities to let people ask questions. This is probably a mistake on my part, but I've attended too many seminars where there is a lot of background noise and chatter. I want to avoid any chance of this in my webinars, so I keep everyone on mute for the duration of the webinar. Instead I ask people to comment and interact using the chat window.
A webinar can be a money making proposition by itself where you charge people a fee to attend. But it can also be something that you do for free to promote your visibility. You can also mix these, giving one hour "samples" of your webinar offerings for free and get them interested in paying for a longer and more detailed webinar offering.
You may find presenting webinars to be difficult. You lose a lot of sensory cues in a webinar that are an important part of your interaction with your audience. You can't hear the audience laugh (or groan) at your jokes, for example. In a live talk, you will get obvious cues if your audience is bored or distracted, but most of these cues are hidden in a webinar.
Your audience also loses a lot of sensory cues in a webinar. You can't walk around the room in a webinar and your gestures are limited to what will fit in the field of view of your webcam. Even facial gestures are difficult to notice through a webcam unless they are grossly exaggerated.
Podcasts. I do not use podcasts, but this is another tool available to you. A podcast is an audio recording that people can download and listen to on their iPod or other music player. Podcasts are like an audio blog. I don't know any statisticians who do podcasts, but it has much potential. Like a blog, you have to commit to producing podcasts on a regular basis, at least monthly.
Setting priorities. You can't use all of these social media tools and be effective at them, so you have to prioritize. A large part of your priority should be oriented to your own personality. Don't spend a lot of time with something that you find annoying. If it's not fun, you won't do it regularly and you won't do it well.
I think it makes sense to make a blog your primary application and use other social media tools to drive traffic to that blog. So every time you make a new blog post, share a link to that blog with your Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, and Twitter followers. This is not an optimal use of the advantages that Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter offer, but it allows you to get some experience in these areas. Besides, if you tried to use every social media tool optimally, you'd die of exhaustion.
Traditional Internet applications. There are plenty of things on the Internet that pre-dated Web 2.0 and Social Media and these are also a good way to promote your career.
Email. There are many ways other than spam that you can use email to promote your career. First, create a short signature file. This can take several forms, and take care not to use an excessively long signature file in certain settings. A simple signature file is
Steve Simon, P.Mean Consulting
You can use try a brief advertising blurb
Steve Simon, P.Mean Consulting
Providing quality consulting at affordable prices
or you can promote one of your other promotional venues
Steve Simon, www.pmean.com
Steve Simon, email@example.com
Sign up for the Monthly Mean Newsletter
The longer the signature file, the more likely that it will backfire and cause complaints. See what others are doing, and follow their lead. If someone (anyone) complains about your signature file, try using a shorter one (unless you know for sure that the complaint is bogus). Usually if one person complains about your signature file, there are ten people who are annoyed by your signature file.
Email newsletter. An important opportunity that email provides is the distribution of information in an email format. If it is not sent too often, then this will be something that people will look forward to. I think that a monthly newsletter is ideal, but it is possible to send it out biweekly. Anything more than weekly can become more of an annoyance than an attaction.
Avoid blatant commercial pitches, and be sure to offer content of value. Like a blog, your newsletter should target a niche topic.
Most email newsletters use a fake email return address. That way all the "on vacation" notices don't clutter up your inbox. I prefer to suffer through those notices and have a live return address for my newsletter. That makes it easier for someone to offer me feedback or to contact me about a consulting job.
There are several commercial services that will manage an email newsletter subscription list. This helps make your newsletter appear less like spam because there is an independent mechanism for subscriptions and renewals.
If you manage the newsletter yourself by sending out a regular email to all your subscribers, respect their privacy by listing the individual emails in the BCC line. Also be sure that users have an easy way to get off your list.
Listservs. Listservs or email discussion groups can be a wonderful way to get yourself noticed. Never, ever, advertise directly on a listserv, even if others do. Rather, you should provide substantive answers to legitimate questions. You can put a brief promotional item in your signature file. If someone asking a question sounds like a potential client, approach them, but privately and not to the listserv.
If you participate in a listserv, be sure to offer quality answers to questions. If you are perceived as an active and helpful contributor to the list, then you will be given a bit more latitude to promote yourself and you'll be more likely to be quickly forgiven if you accidentally overstep your bounds.
Listservs can be a big time sink, so be careful how you participate. Learn how to skim, and feel free to delete unread messages if the message title indicates a topic of little interest to you. And please figure out early how to change you subscription options and how to remove yourself from the list.
Open discussion: what listservs or email discussion groups have you participated in. What are the formal and unwritten policies about direct advertising and about the appropriate length of your signature file?
Website. I'm going to talk about blogs, which I think is a better alternative, but there is some value to having a website. Register a domain name that is evocative of your name or your company name (I use pmean.com). Choose a short domain name, if you can, and avoid anything that might cause ambiguity or confusion (homonyms, for example). Also keep the URLs as short as practical because word wrap in email messages will cause you a lot of grief.
Some people use a website like an electronic business card. It provides information about how to contact you. There are simple tools like address munger (www.addressmunger.com), that allow you to post your email address without it being easily harvested by spammers. You can also use the website to list your areas of expertise, your educational background, your publications, and testimonials from some of your clients. Some people put their resumes on the web, but beware that job recruiters will find your resume and will bombard you with job offers.
You can also add content to your website. This takes a lot more work, refer back to the secion on blogging for the suggestions about what content you can add to your website.
Web-based directory. The ASA has a website listing consultants and their specialties. It costs nothing for you to join. To see the list, go to www.amstat.org/consultantdirectory/index.cfm.
Information on how to add your name to this list is found in the Spring 2008 issue of The Statistical Consultant: www.amstat.org/sections/cnsl/newsletter/pdf_archive/vol25no1.pdf
Chat. I'm not a big fan of chat or text messaging, but some of your potential customers will prefer to contact you this way.
Skype. Same thing.
PayPal. You can send clients an invoice via PayPal, and that's something that some of them will find more convenient than a traditional invoice.
What doesn't work. There's nothing more unprofessional than when your email or web page is plastered with ads for someone else. Take the time and trouble to pay a bit extra for advertiser-free email and websites. People will tolerate ads for something that is totally non-commercial. But if you're making a commercial pitch, having an ad for anything else is a huge distraction. Also avoid generic email accounts but use an email account associated with your domain name (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org rather than email@example.com). A generic account leaves the impression that you are not serious about your business.
One final thought on Internet applications. A big advantage though it might be a disadvantage also is that the Internet is not restricted by geography. You will end up interacting with people around the globe. If you want to find clients locally, this is bad. If you don't mind consulting by telephone and/or email, then this is good. Web 2.0 is also largely unrestricted by time, which again is a two-edged sword. Never put anything negative out on the Internet, as it will haunt you for the rest of your life. But the good things that you write will help promote you forever. I wrote a nice webpage about odds ratios and relative risks in 2001
that is repeatedly cited by others when questions come up with the difference between the two.
What are some traditional ways to promote your career? There are some extremely effective ways to promote your career that do not involve the Internet or Web 2.0. Do not neglect these. These are quite frankly easier in many ways that learning to master new computer tools.
Word of mouth. This is the biggest and best way to promote yourself, and it's the reason that most consultants start independent consulting later in their career. You will meet and work with people as part of a "normal" job, and the contacts you make here will help jump-start your career when you go off on your own. When you set up a new consulting company, send an email to everyone you have worked with in the past and let them know the change in your career and ask if they know anyone who might be interested in your new services as an independent consultant. It's better to ask "do you know anybody" rather than "would you be interested" because some people are turned off by a direct solicitation, but almost no one will read the indirect solicitation to mean "do you know anybody other than yourself."
Once you have a customer, make sure they don't forget about you. Find an excuse to stay in touch with them on a semi-regular basis. Do this carefully and be sure not to become a pest. A common strategy is to send them an article that you found that you think they might be interested in. If you can do so without being perceived as obnoxious, ask them if they know anybody who might be interested in work. Don't ask them directly for new work, for the same reason as listed above.
Here's an email I sent out in February 2012 based on an email I found from August 2011 while I was cleaning out my inbox.
I was cleaning out my inbox and I came across this very old email from you. My memory is frail, but I think we did have a phone conversation about this. I wanted to check if there were any unresolved issues. As busy as I've been, it would have been very easy for me to overlook your inquiry and I apologize if that was the case.
Now I am 95% confident that I did resolve the issue, but I'm unlikely to offend this person by checking back in. Either an unresolved question or a new question might end up producing additional consulting income.
You will have personal contacts through your family, your church, your hobbies, etc. You should let these people know that you are a statistical consultant (without being obnoxious). Your personal contacts are highly unlikely to need your services, but maybe they know someone.
Open discussion: How have you used word of mouth to get new clients?
Write a book. Not everyone can write a book, and not everyone wants to write a book. But writing a book, far more than writing peer-reviewed publications, is one of the fastest ways to get known. You won't sell a lot of copies of your book, but anyone who buys your book will develop a bond with you. They'll perceive you as an expert (often "the expert") in a given area and will be likely to seek you out, rather than a stranger when they have consulting work that relates to the topic of your book. One thing: if you write a book, make sure it is a good book.
There are lots of opportunities for self-publishing, and these options should not be ignored. Self-publishing has many of the same advantages of placing content on a website or a blog. It doesn't have the aura of having a book published by "Oxford University Press," but if you market it well, a self-published book will get you name recognition.
Give talks. The other scholarly activity that gets you more notice than peer-reviewed publications is speaking opportunities. Never turn down a chance to speak, especially in front of an audience that largely does not know you yet. Write up a brief introduction that includes among other things, a description of your consulting company (or just "Steve Simon also has an active career as an independent statistical consultant"). Don't mention your consulting business yourself during your talk, unless it is directly relevant to a point you are trying to make. But you can put the name of your consulting company on the title slide and on the footnote at the bottom of each individual slide (e.g., Copyright 2012, Steve Simon, P.Mean Consulting)
Local talks are just as valuable as talks at regional and national conferences. The one thing about a talk, just like a book: if you do it, make sure you do it well.
Open discussion: Describe a talk you have given. What was the audience like? How might this have produced consulting leads?
Print and distribute business cards. No one is going to hire you on the basis of the fancy business card that you produce. But if you make an impression on them some other way (say through a talk you just gave), then a business card provides them with a memory jog when they think about a possible consulting assignment for you. It also gives them something concrete that they can pass along to a friend that they think might need your help.
Always have lots of cards on hand and pass them out liberally. Many of them will end up in the trash, or buried in a desk drawer, but business cards cost so little that it doesn't matter. If you get one business lead for every thousand cards you pass out, you will easily recoup your investment.
It helps to have a business logo, as it makes your card more memorable. Here's my business logo.
Use it not only on your business card, but on your mail correspondence. It can be part of your return address label on the envelope or be incorporated into your letterhead.
Hand out bling. "Bling" is an inexpensive item that has your name and contact information on it. It could be a pen, coffee mug, bumper sticker. These do cost money, but they are more likely to be kept than a business card.
I have not handed out bling, but a company I have consulted with works on male reproductive assessments and they send out a chocolate sperm each Christmas to anyone they have worked with.
Volunteer. There are many ways that you can offer some of your time for free in a way that gets you well known. You have to be careful not to overcommit yourself, of course, and you should give special consideration to volunteer efforts that have high visibility and therefore high return.
I have found that serving as an officer for the local chapter of the American Statistical Association or for the local SAS Users Group is an easy way to get well known by all the local statisticians in your area. You will find yourself sending out emails under your name (and include a brief signature file, as described below), and introducing speakers at chapter events. You'll talk to a lot of people as you try to find speakers for chapter events.
Another highly visible (and very easy) volunteer effort is serving as a session chair at professional meetings like the Joint Statistical Meetings. You get a brief chance to introduce yourself at the very beginning of the session, but you also get the chance to interact with the speakers in your session by asking them for introductory material. Be sure to chat with the speakers before the session, and thank them publicly and privately afterwards.
You might consider pro bono work for an organization like Statistics Without Borders
These efforts are professionally rewarding and look terrific on your resume. But you might also receive press coverage, such as a description of your work in Amstat News.
There are volunteer efforts totally unrelated to Statistics, of course, and you should not ignore the potential contacts that you make. Many of the others who volunteer would not be interested at all in Statistics consulting, but you never know.
If you do volunteer, make sure you do it well.
Open discussion: what volunteer efforts have you done or are you considering. How might this produce consulting leads.
Be a problem solver. You will often find people who come to your for help, but they really need somebody else. They might need data entry rather than data analysis, for example. See if you can find a person who meets those needs. If you solve their problem, they are more likely to come to you the next time they have a problem and this time it might actually be something that you CAN help with.
There are often small questions that don't constitute enough to be worth billing for, but try to help out to the extent you can. If you answer a small question for free and if you do it well, you are more likely to get other small questions (which is not good), but you're also more likely to get a big question (which is good). Make sure that you don't do so much of this that you neglect the paying customers, but a bit of free assistance on short and easy questions is a great way to build a relationship that can turn into a paying client.
Stand out from the crowd. You will often find yourself in settings where you can do small things that get yourself noticed. Don't do something bold and outrageous, of course, just to get noticed, but there are simple things that aren't obnoxious but are effective.
If you're attending someone else's talk, try to be one of the people who asks two questions. Ask one during the Q&A portion of the talk and stop by after the talk and ask a second question while thanking the speaker for a wonderful presentation. The question after the talk might be an opportunity for you to offer a business card. If you show up early and the speaker doesn't seem to harried, you might even engage in a bit of small talk prior to the talk itself.
Don't thank the speaker for a good talk if you can't do it sincerely. Don't ask a question unless you have a legitimate one (a pointless question will hurt rather than help your cause), and don't make your question too hostile. Asking a question increases the chances that someone in the audience might notice and remember you. And speakers, as a general rule, LOVE questions about their work. In some forums, you are encouraged to introduce yourself prior to your question, and don't be bashful here. Preface your question with "Steve Simon, independent statistical consultant at P.Mean Consulting."
This is not for everyone, but I like to wear brightly colored ties to help me stand out in an audience like this, in the hope that people will remember, "Oh yeah, he's the guy with the frogs on his tie."
If you are going to attend a meeting that has introductions all around, try to be one of the first people there. That way, you get introduced during the first round, and then re-introduced each time another person arrives. This also has the advantage of helping you to remember other people's names. And being early is also a good way to stand out in a positive light. Make sure you hand out business cards, if appropriate, as you are being introduced to everyone.
Open discussion: What have you done in a public setting that helped you to stand out and get noticed?
Be an extrovert. If you're already an extrovert, skip this section. If you're like most statisticians, you're an introvert. You're probably very content to be sitting in your office crunching numbers. Make an extra effort, for the benefit of your career to get out and mix with people. Show up during the social hour of your local ASA chapter meeting rather than just for the talk. Stop by the mixer at the Joint Statistics Meeting and be sure to attend your alumni dinner. The phrase that you don't want to apply to you is "out of sight, out of mind."
Things that don't work. There are many professional activities which have great value, but they do not enhance your career. Serving as a reviewer for a peer-reviewed publication or on a scientific review group for NIH grants is largely anonymous (although you do get to interact with the editor of the journal and the other members of the scientific review panel). Authoring peer-reviewed publications, unfairly, do not get as much credit in the minds of your potential customers, as writing a book or giving a talk.
Advertising is expensive and it is very hard to target the narrow group of people who are interested in your consulting services.
Conclusions: What works well in promoting your consulting career? It's hard to say. A lot of the effort is synergistic. For example, I wrote a lot of webpages about evidence based medicine and was able to turn those webpages into a book. Someone saw that book at invited me to give a talk in London. One type of exposure leads to another type of exposure which leads to a third type of exposure.
A research scientist regularly peppers me with email questions which I provide 15 minute email responses. Some of these questions are interesting enough that I also convert these to webpages. When I start my consulting career, I send this scientist an email announcing my career change. He lines me up with several paying clients.
I show up at a JSM meeting on isolated statisticians. Several months later, the chair of this group is asked for some assistance. She's too busy but notes that I am located in the same city as the client and sends them my way. There are dozens of independent statistical consultants in the Kansas City area, but I'm the one she knows because I'm the one who showed up at her meeting.
I give a talk on analysis of means (ANOM) and put the content up on my website. A journal editor does a Google search on ANOM and my website pops up. He then asks me to serve as a reviewer for an article.
I write up a case study on research ethics and mention it in an email that I send to a listserv in the process of answering a closely related question. A scientist who is trying to get grant support for training materials on research ethics contacts me and asks for collaboration on the next grant he is writing.
All of these encounters are somewhat serendipitous, but they all result from being "out there." I'm shocked at the number of total strangers who say they know me. It's hard to say what works best at getting me known, though I suspect that it is mostly through word of mouth, my webpages, my book, my email newsletter, and my talks. I'm still trying to understand how social media fits into all of this. I believe that social media can supplement some of the more tradtional methods of promoting your career, but it is a bit early to understand the payoffs and to assess if they are worth the effort I have put in.
The bottom line with any attempt to promote yourself is to recognize that people do not want to hire a stranger. If they have some sense of connection to you because of Facebook, because of your participation in listservs, or because of a talk they heard you give, then they are going to be more comfortable in approaching you and asking for help.
This page was written by Steve Simon and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. Need more information? I have a page with general help resources. You can also browse for pages similar to this one at Human Side of Statistics.