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?


Journal of the American Revolution

Fantastic News Valued Readers! I am happy to announce that I am now a contributor to the Journal of the American Revolution, "a fun, educational and interesting resource for serious and casual consumers of American history."

I will continue to post high-quality and informative content about history, writing, and the historical profession on this site, but about once a month I will post an American Revolution-specific piece over at the Journal.

Have no fear, Dear Readers. You will not miss a beat. I will announce and affix a snippet of all such content here.

Thank you for reading and for your support. I am honored that you choose to spend some of your time each week with me.

Here's a taste of my new article over at the Journal of the American Revolution.


Bunker Hill Monument, postcard circa 1897-1924

Bunker Hill Monument and Memory

Yesterday marked the 170th anniversary of the commemoration of the Bunker Hill Monument. It took the Bunker Hill Monument Association, thousands of individual donors, a craft and bake sale organized by Sarah Josepha Hale, a large donation from philanthropist Judah Touro, and seventeen years to complete construction of the 221-foot tall obelisk, the first major monument to honor a battle of the War for Independence. Although a long and expensive undertaking, the idea for the monument would not have come about had it not been for the political ambition of Henry Dearborn.[1]

In 1818 Dearborn ran for governor of Massachusetts. He faced incumbent John Brooks. As a Republican in a predominantly Federalist state, Dearborn needed all the positive press he could muster to strengthen his campaign.[2] So when the editor of the Philadelphia-based publication Port Folio, Charles Miner, approached Dearborn about verifying and editing a British soldier’s map depicting the Battle of Bunker Hill, Dearborn jumped at the opportunity.[3]

Dearborn hoped to accomplish two goals by editing and verifying Miner’s map. First, he viewed the map as an opportunity to add to his Revolutionary War Journals, which Miner had published. Dearborn had served in the New Hampshire militia and Continental Army from Bunker Hill to Yorktown, but he started logging his experiences after Bunker Hill. Second, Dearborn hoped to generate political support by highlighting his service to both Massachusetts and the United States.

Dearborn submitted his edited version of the map to Miner along with a fourteen-page account of the battle. In March 1818, Miner published Dearborn’s map and battle description. Dearborn’s most surprising and controversial recollection was: “[General Israel Putnam] remained at or near the top of Bunker Hill until the retreat…he not only continued at that distance himself during the whole action, but had a force with him nearly as large as that engaged. No reinforcement of men or ammunition was sent to our assistance.”[4] According to Henry Dearborn, New England’s beloved “Old Put,” hero of the French and Indian War and gallant patriot, was a coward.[5]

Click here to read more.


How to be a Freelancer: Freelance Writing Essentials

Sometimes my ruminations over how to turn my passion for history, research, & writing into a paying job lead me to think about pursuing work as a freelance writer. Naturally, my brain follows this idea with a question: "How do I become a freelance writer?" On Friday, I attempted to satisfy my brain with an answer by attending a daylong workshop called: Freelance Writing Essentials.

Throughout the day, Ethan Gilsdorf took me and the other participants on a whirlwind tour of the freelance writing world. We learned what resources we need, about the commitment we must make, how to find stories, identify markets, pitch our stories to those markets, and what we can expect to be paid (not much).

The following represents the quick and dirty version of what I learned from this class.

3 Must-Have Resources

1.     [amazon_link id="1599635933" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Writers’ Market[/amazon_link]: Ethan described this book as Writers Market“the Bible for freelance work.” He also noted the importance of having the most up-to-date edition because each year there are new markets and editors.

2. Avant Gild Membership: $55/year or $89 for 2 years. Membership has its privileges, which include great articles on how to pitch certain publications, a publication calendar, e-mail addresses for editors, opportunities to purchase health insurance, invitations to social events, and more. (Click here for full perk list)

3.     [amazon_link id="B0012SMGQA" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Get a Freelance Life [/amazon_link]by Billed as “the complete guide to all aspects of a freelance writing career.”

freelance lifeThe Commitment/Disclaimer

Ethan loves working as a freelancer and would like others to join him. However, he did not allow his enthusiasm to overshadow reality.

Aspiring freelancers will need to invest 2-7 years before they will find regular freelance work.

New freelancers will need to devote a good amount of time to ideas, research, writing, & pitching (20+ hours a week) for the first 3-6 months to get going.

Rejection will become a part of every new freelancer's life, especially in the beginning.

Freelancers do not get rich. (According to [amazon_link id="B0096823KM" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Get a Freelance Life[/amazon_link] freelancers in the Boston area make somewhere between $10,000-$50,000/year.)


Great Markets for Beginners

Beginners should look to publish at small publications before they move on to bigger ones. The more publication credits a freelancer gets under their belt the more work they will receive.

Great places to start: Alumni Magazines & Local publications and small newspapers.


Finding Ideas/Stories

Who do you know? All freelancers should take advantage of their connections to find subject matter. We often know interesting people who work at interesting places. IdeasFrequently, the people we know can point us towards other fascinating people.

Freelancers need to think about “Why Now?” “Why You?” & “Why the Topic or Story” as they mull over their ideas and flesh them out. They will need to answer all 3 questions when they pitch their ideas to editors.

Identifying Markets

Freelancers must research publications and what their needs are.

[amazon_link id="1599635941" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Writer’s Market[/amazon_link],, & physical copies of publications play a crucial role in market research because they allow freelancers to see what publications are out there, what kinds of stories periodicals publish, and the name and contact information of a person to pitch to.

These resources also help freelancers save time and energy as they inform freelancers which features and columns are available to them.

Honing Ideas for Specific Markets

Before freelancers pitch a story, they need to research whether or not a specific publication has already printed a similar story. Serious freelancers will obtain the last 2-3 issues of the publication that they want to pitch to and browse its website to see if a market exists for their story with a particular publication.

Writers who wish to pitch stories related to travel, food, or current events need to be timely. Their trip or take on a given topic must be current or they need to add updated pieces to make their dated experiences current.

baseballMaking the Pitch

Pitches have a life cycle. Freelancers should look at each rejection as an opportunity to tweak and hone their pitch and story idea.

All pitch letters should be tailored to a specific publication and must contain 4 pieces of information: 1.Hook 2. Idea 3.Details 4. Author Bio

All of the above should answer the “Why Now?” “Why You?” & “Why this Topic/Story?” questions.

Pitch letters should be no longer than 1 page. They should be written in the body of an e-mail. Most editors prefer to see pitches that take up no more space than their e-mail screen.



I really enjoyed Ethan's class and encourage anyone in the Boston area to go to Grub Street and take it (Ethan will offer the class again on August 23). You will learn more than I could ever post here and receive his 5 packets of notes, tips, and examples.

I came away from the class with a great deal of knowledge about freelancing and the confidence that I can make it as a freelance writer.

I view freelance writing as an opportunity to earn a bit of money by writing about my historical work and my other interests. I may not get rich, but it seems like I could create a career where my part-time freelance work helps support my full-time historical endeavors.

What Do You Think?

Do you have tips on how to be a freelancer? Please leave a comment for all to read or send me a tweet.


How to Network: My Interview with Jennifer Polk, Ph.D.

InterviewThis week I had the good fortune to interview Jennifer Polk, Ph.D., founder of the blog From Ph.D. to Life. Since December, Jen has written about her transition from academia to real life and her quest to find a fulfilling (and paying) career. Jen’s website serves as a valuable resource for anyone who is thinking about how to apply their historic skills to other history-related work or about transitioning to a non-history career. When you visit Jen’s site you will find that many of her posts are the Q & A sessions she has conducted with educators, researchers, writers, project managers, career coaches, and public speakers. These sessions are the result of Jen’s quest to learn more about different careers as well as how others with advanced degrees have found jobs that they love.

As I am also transitioning from Ph.D. to life, I reached out to Jen to find out more about her transition and how she has managed to network with so many different people.


How does Jen Network?

When I asked Jen about networking she stated, “The challenge of networking is that you are asking people for help and seeking help is difficult.”

After graduation, Jen wanted to learn about what other people do for a living. Her friends helped her ease into networking by introducing her to spouses and colleagues with interesting careers. These friendly interviews gave her the confidence to interact with strangers.

Jen uses the Internet to research different career possibilities. When she finds an interesting position or company, she searches their webpage to find a person who might talk to her. In one instance she found an advertisement for a museum consulting firm in her city. She went to the firm’s website and clicked through the employee bios. Jen found that she and a V.P. of the company shared a common link: They both held doctorates in history from the same university. Jen believed that this common connection might induce the V.P. to help her with information, so she sent him an e-mail. Jen admitted that “it is intimidating to reach out to someone you don’t know,” but she also stated that “the worst that can happen is that they say “no” or ignore you.” Jen’s instincts about the common bond proved correct. A week after she sent her e-mail, the V.P. replied that he would by happy to sit down for a conversation. (Click here to read Jen’s interview.)

networkingAfter months of networking, Jen is still pleasantly surprised by how positively people react when she reaches out to them for her blog Q & As. She has found that people are excited and eager to help, “people like to help and they like to talk about themselves and give advice.”


Why Historians Make Good Networkers

I enjoyed meeting Jen and hearing about her transition experience. She taught me a lot about how to network and convinced me that I shouldn’t be afraid to ask people for help. After all, the worst that can happen is that the person says “no.” However, that outcome seems unlikely. The people Jen has contacted have been eager and excited to help.

My conversation with Jen also helped me to realize that historians are well positioned to network; we possess all of the skills needed to reach out and connect with other people. Historians know how to research and we like to interact with people. Okay, so most of the people we interact with are long since dead, but we seek them out anyway in the papers and works they left behind. We seek them out because we want them to help us answer questions we have about the topics, periods, people, thoughts, and cultures we study. We receive their help when we read, interrogate, and contextualize the papers and possessions they left behind. This one-sided engagement allows us to better understand and connect with our historical people. Networking with the living is not so dissimilar.

The best interactions take place when you find another person who shares something in common with you. Jen conducts research before she initiates contact. When she reaches out to someone she leads with what they share in common: an alma mater, an advanced degree, interests, an experience. After establishing this common ground, Jen asks for help. Historians study people and know that most people will respond favorably to requests for assistance when they feel connected to them. Moreover, historians are capable of making the most out of each networking opportunity because we know how to ask questions of our sources.

Networking will play an important role in my quest to turn my passion for history, research, and writing into a career that pays. I am grateful for the wisdom Jen imparted and I look forward to following and learning from her career journey at From Life to PhD.


What Do You Think?

Do you possess helpful networking wisdom or have you had a networking experience that you would like to share?

Do you use or know of other skills that historians possess that we can use to find or further our careers?



Design Your Own Destiny: How to Open the Door to New Opportunities

door-of-opportunityToday, I would like to discuss what I am doing to design my own destiny and how I am working to open doors to new opportunities. I see my blog as a practical history blog: A resource for independent and post-academic historians who want to surmount the obstacles we face because we are unaffiliated with academic institutions and a discussion forum where we can explore different ways of working and how we can turn our passion for history, research, and writing into careers that pay. In support of this forum, I plan to post more about how I am trying to create new opportunities and how these experiences unfold, for better and worse, in the hope that we all might learn from them.

Please contact me if you have a helpful experience that you would like to share or an issue that we independent historians face that you would like to discuss.

I am almost 18 months removed from graduation and I am still in transition, trying to figure out what I want my career to be. I am a historian and I want to continue working as one. But how can I turn my passion into a career?

Naturally, I have been researching some possibilities.


Public History

NPSI have some experience in public history. I worked for the National Park Service as a seasonal interpretive ranger as an undergraduate. I learned how to develop and present interpretive programs and how to interact with the public. As a graduate student, I volunteered for a couple of historical societies and museums where I conducted research, built finding aids for collections, and developed educational programs.

Even when combined with my Ph.D., this experience is not enough to land me an interview for a public history job. Times are tough. Public institutions want people with history backgrounds who also possess social media and digital humanities skills, curatorial experience, and an understanding of the inner workings of a non-profit organization.

Over the last month I have applied for internships. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear anything. I worry that my Ph.D. hinders me; I get the feeling that many think, “she has a Ph.D., would she really intern for free?” The answer is “YES!” I am anxious to learn the skills needed to work for a public history institution and will work for free to acquire them. (Of course, so would many others.)

I am also trying to create my own luck. I have reached out to my local history society contacts to see about creating an experience. Hopefully between my applications and contacts I will be able to garner an interview and internship.


iStock_000002508116XSmallFreelance Writer

Freelance writing would allow me to do what I love, make some money, and still leave me with time to work on my historical projects.

I have signed up for a workshop called Freelancing Writing Essentials. This daylong seminar will supposedly serve as a crash course on where to look for freelance writing opportunities, how to come up with ideas, and how to pitch stories. It will take place next Friday. I will post about it later this month.



Okay, so this isn’t a career, but it is important. Whenever I meet another historian, I always ask them about their work and how they obtained their job. With regards to the latter I overwhelmingly hear: “Luck” and “I knew someone."

Over the last several months I have pursued two avenues that have, and will, help expand my network of contacts beyond the academy.

networkingFirst, I have engaged in social media. I have found Twitter to be a great way to network with other historians, writers, explorers of alternate and post-academic careers, and, yes, other Boston sports fans. I have had meaningful conversations with other Twitterers and they have shared links to helpful information, job postings, and events that I would not have found on my own. (For more on Twitter see my 3 part series “How to Twitter.”)

Second, I have volunteered to be a docent at Boston by Foot, a non-profit, volunteer tour group that gives history and architectural tours of Boston. I pursued this opportunity as a way to get my head out of my work, to meet other people, and to reconnect with the public; I want to be reacquainted with why and how non-academics appreciate and learn history.

I am still training, but I have already met several interesting individuals and made a few new friends all with different professional backgrounds. Best of all, everyone there loves and appreciates history. Perhaps one of them will open the door to a new career opportunity that I never thought of.


What Do You Think?

If you would like to share your experiences working in public history, with freelance writing, networking, or some other career path that allows you to pursue your scholarship and earn money, please contact me.