Thinking BIGGER: Freelance Consulting

Think BigI am thinking about starting a consulting business. Consulting appeals to me because I love controlling my schedule, managing projects, and taking on work that I find interesting and fulfilling. It seems like consulting would allow me to be the historian, writer, and researcher I want to be. However, to start a consulting practice, I need to figure out what skills and expertise I possess that other people would pay for. This is the stage where I have been stuck. How do I translate my academic experience into marketable, real-world skills?

Reinventing You

reinventing-youLast Tuesday, my writing group attended a talk given by Dorie Clark, author of [amazon_link id="1422144135" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Reinventing You[/amazon_link]. The premise of her book: How can you get to where you want to go in your career?

Clark contextualized her book by telling the audience about her journey from laid-off political reporter to business expert. In between these two careers, Clark worked as a political campaign spokesperson, marketer, and filmmaker. After catching a break with the Harvard Business Review, Clark used her experience and reporting skills to generate a 3-step process for personal re-invention, a process that enables people to get from point A to point B (or even point C) in their careers.


Dorie Clark’s 3-Step Process

Step 1: Discover your personal brand. You need to know how your friends and coworkers perceive you. Clark suggested either working with a career counselor or asking half a dozen friends to describe you in 3 words.

Step 2: Discover your personal narrative. You need to find the thread that connects all of your different career and personal experiences. To find this thread, Clark advised the audience to write down their “war stories,” the stories that we often tell people. These stories form the cornerstones of how we perceive the world. If you can identify the thread that connects these cornerstones, you will understand why you have chosen to pursue the jobs and experiences you have, even if they seem unrelated.

Step 3: Manifest Your Brand. Don’t tell people about your brand, live it.


From Skeptic to Book Buyer

Think DifferentAlthough an inspiring speaker, Clark’s talk did not move me to buy her book. I have read a number of books on personal branding and I did not find her strategy for how to build a personal brand to be all that new and novel. Her strategy: be consistent with your message and promote it via social media, especially Twitter. However, the Q & A session changed my mind because the posed questions allowed Clark to discuss the contents of her book in more depth.

Clark urged the audience not to overlook and undervalue important attributes of their personality just because they can’t figure out how to connect their love of baking with their career interests. It occurred to me that my seemingly disparate interests, history, writing, marketing, organization, and technology (to name a few), all share a common theme: problem solving. (Perhaps problem solving constitutes a marketable skill set.)

Clark asserted that the economic crash of 2008 has affected the present and future job market in two profound ways:

First, potential employers no longer want to see how you conform. Instead, they want to know how potential employees (and consultants) are different and unique. They want to know about the valuable skills and special perspective you will bring to the table if they hire you.

Second, by 2020, 40% of Americans will be freelancers. People who set-up their freelance shops now are in the vanguard of this coming trend.

Clark counseled that freelancers need to mitigate risk for potential clients by creating a rock-solid brand that demonstrates a track record of reliability. Blogs present freelancers with a powerful tool for broadcasting their ideas to the world. They also demonstrate consistency if freelancers update them on a regular basis.


Imagining My Future

Yoga-DogI attended Clark’s talk more out of peer pressure than interest. However, I left her talk interested in her ideas and inspired to think more about what my “brand” can offer people. Appreciative, I purchased Reinventing You. I have not read it yet, but it is my next read.

Even without reading Clark’s book, her talk stimulated ideas and gave me hope that starting a consulting practice may not be a bad idea. Late last week, I sat down and listed the skills and knowledge I possess that others may be interested in making use of. It turned out to be an expansive list.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to think about how I can offer and market my various skills. I love the idea of offering my skills for hire, but I do not want to offer them haphazardly. I want to develop a clear business plan for how I would offer each skill, how each skill adds to the work I want to accomplish as a historian, and what I would charge for my services. Most of all, I want to create a plan that will enable me to expand my brand and still prioritize the project most important to me: writing my first book: America’s First Gateway: Albany, N.Y., 1615-1830.

As soon as I draft my plan of action, I will let you know.


What Do You Think?

Do you offer your historical, writing, academic or other skills for hire? If so, how are you going about it? Do you have a self-imposed guideline for the type of projects you take on? How many projects do you accept?

Are you thinking about offering your skills for hire? If so, what is your plan of action?


The American Revolution: Coming to Terms with its Loyalist & Disaffected Legacies

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailThis week, the Journal of the American Revolution featured three articles I wrote about my quest to find out why so few Boston historic organizations offered Loyalist-related events during the 32nd Annual Harborfest festivities. (Searching for Loyalists Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3) My search for Loyalists began as an academic exercise. However, after I wrote my conclusion, “Americans must hear and consider all sides of the Revolution to truly appreciate just how dangerous, dramatic, and revolutionary the Revolution really was,” I realized that it had also been about my personal journey. Personal experience rather than the evidence I collected informed my conclusion. When I turned 18, I joined the Daughters of the American Revolution. My mother helped me fill out my membership application. I had several ancestors to choose from, but we focused our attention on two men because our family Bible made the lineages easiest to prove. In the end, we chose to file my membership with Michael Hess. The other easy-to-prove ancestor turned out to be a Loyalist. Mortified, I have kept the existence of this part of my family tree a secret.

Coming to Terms with My Loyalist Ancestor

When my graduate school advisor suggested that I research Albany, New York for my dissertation, I did not know that I had ancestral roots to Dutch Beverwijck. Nor did I remember that Michael Hess had served New York State as a member of the Albany County militia. However, this happy coincidence has helped me to appreciate the Patriot and Loyalist legacies of my ancestors. Albany began and ended the War for Independence as a Patriot base of military operations. However, not every Albanian wholeheartedly supported the Patriot cause. The historical record indicates that with the exception of a few Patriot firebrands, most Albanians approached the war with caution. (Much to the chagrin of hawkish New Englanders.) The historical record also suggests that the Albanians sided with the Patriots in 1775 because of their bad experiences with the British Army during the French and Indian War. America vs. EnglandA lack of information makes it impossible to determine the percentage of Patriot, Loyalist, and Disaffected Albanians. However, enough people supported the latter two positions that the Albany Committee of Safety and the Commissioners for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies felt compelled to enforce policies of imprisonment and banishment to keep would-be dissenters quiet. While researching at the David Library of the American Revolution, I took the time to look up the pension record of my DAR-approved Patriot ancestor Michael Hess. Like many Albany County residents, Hess was a lukewarm Patriot. His pension record indicates that he served in the Albany County militia between 1775 and 1780. Hess did not volunteer. New York State drafted him. The fact that Hess turned out for duty more than ten times tells me that he leaned towards the Patriot cause. Just as the fact that he did not enlist in the Continental Army tells me that his patriotism did not prove strong enough to draw him from home for years on end. Hess spent a total of ten months away from home during the war. He spent most of his time “hunting Robbers & Tories” throughout the countryside of Albany and Dutchess counties. Hess’ regiment left New York only once. In June 1778, they marched 144 captured “Robbers & Tories” from Dutchess County to Exeter, New Hampshire. Unite or DieThe historical records for the city and county of Albany have helped me to appreciate the nuances of Patriot, Loyalist, and Disaffected political thought. The Revolution did not occur as the black-and-white event that many histories portray it as. Instead, the period stands as one of the most tumultuous and dangerous times in North America. No one knew which side would win the war and for most, politics came second to survival. In fact, people changed their allegiances as often as the armies marched. The Patriots and Loyalists who did not alter their views stand as the exception, not the rule. Today, I appreciate the circumstances my ancestors faced. Loyalty to family, community, and North America informed their political choices. Michael Hess served in the Albany County militia and cautiously supported the Patriots because he felt that approach offered his family the best protection. This same logic informed my Loyalist ancestor’s decision to remain loyal to Great Britain and my other Patriot ancestors’ commitment to the Continental Army. Scholars will never know how many North Americans counted themselves as Patriots, Loyalists, or Disaffected nor the number of Americans who altered their loyalties with the tide of war. The roots of my family tree span the gamut of revolutionary political opinion. My ancestors left me a truly American legacy. I am proud of this heritage, and when I get the opportunity, I intend to research the histories of both my Loyalist ancestor and my more steadfast Patriot forefathers. I hope my fellow Americans have a similar opportunity to come to terms with the non-Patriot legacies of the American Revolution and War for Independence. No one political point of view should dominate our historical narrative because privileging one dilutes the struggles of the others and diminishes the most revolutionary aspect of the Revolution: The Patriots won the war with a minority of the North American population behind them. This true narrative sounds a lot more amazing than the romanticized version where the Patriots won the war with the support of a majority of the people.

What do you think?

Have you come to terms with the Loyalist & Disaffected legacies of the American Revolution? How do you think Americans can best grapple and come to terms with these legacies? Leave a comment or send me tweet.  


Identity: What's in a Surname?

Every morning I wake up, prepare breakfast, and go straight to my computer to enter 1 page of data into my spreadsheet. I am compiling the baptismal records of the Dutch Reformed Church of Albany. The records stretch from 1683-1809. Netherlands-CrestAt first, I started entering the data because I wanted to see which Albany families switched their religious affiliations from the Dutch Reformed to the Anglican Church between 1754 and 1775. Anyone who wanted to curry favor with royal officials for land grants or sinecures attended the Anglican service during the French and Indian War, when the British Army used Albany as a military headquarters. Attending the Anglican service showcased the Albanians’ Britishness.

With nearly 7,000 data points entered, I have come to realize that I will be able to glean much more information than I thought I wanted. I will be able to determine ratios of male and female children, how many children carry the name of a parent or godparent, the number of slaves, free blacks, and Native Americans the church baptized, and the relative number of intermarriages between the Albany Dutch and the English, Scots, Irish, Welsh, French, & German newcomers.

Crest-of-Great-BritainThe thought of obtaining concrete demographics for the ethnic makeup of colonial, revolutionary, & Early Republic Albany has me both giddy and perplexed. Surnames yield so much and yet so little information. The record keepers of the Dutch Church sometimes converted English surnames into Dutch surnames: Yates became Jaets or Jeets. Long-time families like the Gansevoorts, Van Zandts, and Pruyns identified as Albany Dutch even when their forefathers came from Germany, Portugal, & France (respectively).

Many Albanians proclaimed a dual identity. For example, in August 1775, Philip Schuyler wrote to his cousin and Abraham C. Cuyler, a loyalist & the last royal mayor of Albany, “it is much to be lamented that, the admirable [English] Constitution which our Virtuous Ancestors have purchased with their best Blood, has of late been most Notoriously trampled upon…” None of Philip Schuyler’s ancestors spilled their “best Blood” to preserve the English Constitution. His bloodlines emanated entirely from the Netherlands.

TreeI use "Albany Dutch" to describe long-established Albany families because so many of them expressed a composite identity with both the culture of their forefathers and the politics of where they lived. Perhaps herein lies the solution to my problem.

Rather then labeling a surname by its ethnic origins (if it can be determined), I should consider how far back a family’s roots stretch in the history of Albany. If they go back 2 generations or more the family likely identified as both Albany Dutch and as a subject/citizen of whichever nation New York belonged to. This proved to be the case with the English Yates family and the German Gansevoort family.

I have plenty of time to think about this question as I am only up to 1755 with my data entry. 72 years down, 54 to go. Of course, then I have to start entering the records St. Peter's Anglican Church.


What Do You Think?

Have you ever dealt with a similar, objective problem in your research? If so, how did you choose to solve it? I welcome any and all insight on my quandary.



How Long Until You Belong?: A Scholar Rethinks Historical Sources

Recently I had two of those conversations that stick with you. The first occurred when a friend showed me a portion of her postcard and photo collection. Her pictures chart the history of Albany through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and this portion of her collection captured various parades in Albany during the 1930s. As she showed me the photos, she mentioned that she had brought them to show another friend, an elderly gentleman. I quipped that our friend might point out that he had watched those parades in person. She replied, "Oh no, he was probably just a baby at the time. Besides, [our friend] has lived here [in Albany] for only about fifty years; he is not a native Albanyan." A week later, I found myself involved in another discussion about what it means to be a "native Albanyan," a community insider. This person said she had lived in Albany for nearly thirty years and remarked something to the effect of "Albanyans are an exclusive bunch. Even after many years of living here [in Albany] I still feel like an outsider."

I know that the issue of community "insiders vs. outsiders" is not unique to Albany. I grew up in a New England town where it is common to refer to your neighbors' houses by the names of the people who departed from them over twenty years ago. Moreover, I have studied how immigrant and migrant groups have, and do, experience the same feelings of "insiders vs. outsiders" when they come to reside in a new country and community. Yet, for whatever reason, it resonated with me that people still believe that if you are not born in a community then you can never truly belong, even after you have lived in a place for more than thirty years.

James Eights Pearl StreetI am grateful that I had these conversations because they led me to think more deeply about my historical sources. I have only one source that directly discusses how unwelcome the writer's new, Albany neighbors made him feel when he arrived in 1798. Yet I have many more sources that describe Albany as a "foreign" and "Dutch" city (these sources span 1750-1810). Eager to make my point that Albany did not, in fact, constitute  a true "Dutch" city, my dissertation refutes the authors' claims and concentrates on how the Albanyans worked to welcome newcomers. These conversations helped me to realize that my analysis unwittingly shows bias for the Albanyans' point of view. Now I understand that my dissertation does not fully consider how the authors' descriptions reflect that they felt like outsiders, even without their interacting with the people of Albany. The colonial Albanyans' Dutch-inspired architecture, Dutch-dialect, and hybrid customs seemed strange enough to passersby and new migrants that those characteristics alone made newcomers feel like they would never belong.

Newcomers felt more welcome after their initial shock over the appearance and sound of Albany wore off. Moreover, by the 1820s newcomers no longer commented on the seeming foreignness of Albany. Even Rev. Timothy Dwight remarked how Albany resembled an American city that other developing communities in upstate and western New York should emulate in both appearance and manners. Still, these recent conversations now have me thinking about whether the newcomers I studied ever felt like insiders. Even after the Albanyans adopted more ubiquitous architectural styles and the dialect of their American peers, and the newcomers had lived in Albany for twenty, thirty, or more years, did these non-Albany-born residents ever feel like, or identify, as "native" Albanyans or Albany insiders?  After all, if there are people today who do not feel like natives or insiders after fifty years of residence, did the people of the past ever feel like they belonged to a community that they were not born into? I will continue to think about this as I revise my dissertation into a book.