By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, RPCN Communication Committee
RPCN librarian and long-time member Ruth G. Balkin has been a consultant almost from the very beginning of her work life. She did work briefly as a secretary in a law firm and spent a year-and-a-half with the Job Information Center at Rochester's Rundell Library, but she says that being a consultant comes naturally. "I've been tutoring French for money since I was a child," Balkin said. "When I was a kid, I didn't play house - I played school or office. I was destined to be an entrepreneur."
Here is a video interview with Balkin in which she will tell you about her special offer for RPCN members.
Balkin is the founder and CEO of Balkin Information Services in Irondequoit. The business is formally a partnership; her partner is her sister, who lives in Pennsylvania. The company provides "mainly research - document retrieval in anything from business, marketing, competitive intelligence and due diligence to medical," she said. They use the Internet and other sources to find documents and perform different types of research.
Balkin formally established the company in late 1978 when she was working at a law firm while pursuing a master's degree in French and earning her New York state teacher certification. Firm members encouraged her to look for freelance work and she was asked to do something with the firm's library, which helped launch her consulting business. As "things were changing in the industry - publishers were moving to CD-ROM products - we started offering training," Balkin said. That was one area where Balkin found that "education is never a waste"; her coursework in teaching was invaluable in developing training. As "things were changing in the industry - publishers were moving to CD-ROM products - we started offering training," Balkin said. That was one area where Balkin found that "education is never a waste"; her coursework in teaching was invaluable in developing training.
The variety of projects is wide-ranging. In the medical area, they look for articles on specific topics and find patients for follow-up studies. For estate and real estate attorneys, they find missing heirs and have tracked down an ex-spouse whose name was still on a property deed. "I love doing that!" she said. A litigation attorney once asked Balkin Information Services to find out what happened to a company that had gone out of business. One project involved going back more than 100 years to verify that names to be used in a TV production were not real people or ones who had died; Balkin's knowledge of the legal and university systems in France, as well as her fluency in French, was invaluable.
The company can handle "just about any type of research," Balkin said. "If we don't have the expertise or access to a database we need, we can call on colleagues in the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP), which is like RPCN on steroids, with members around the world. And AIIP members come to me if they need help with something, especially anything in French."
Balkin earned her master's degree in French, and permanent New York state teaching certification, in 1977, but consulting "seemed like a better idea than teaching in a high school."
Balkin's business has evolved over the years in response to new trends and technology. She created the partnership around 1985 or '86. They added research when a client needed census data for marketing purposes, and the company grew from there. At a conference of the American Association of Law Librarians (AALL), she met a medical librarian who did online research that she and her sister needed. "We could see which way things were going - that technology was changing." She works from home, although she sometimes will go to a client's office. The company uses subcontractors on occasion.
Balkin finds clients through networking - in addition to the RPCN, she is active in AIIP and AALL and also belongs to the Special Libraries Association. Clients also find her through her participation in several e-mail discussion lists and on LinkedIn.
Balkin joined the RPCN around 1992 and has benefited from her membership in many ways - even beyond business success. "RPCN meetings are a shot in the arm every week - a boost. I go to a meeting and I've done business with a quarter to a third of everyone in the room," she said. On a personal level, "RPCN has kept me going over the years through thick and thin. It's literally gotten me back on my feet. When I broke my ankle, Mary Ann Shew organized everything for me. It was amazing. People brought food, people took me to doctors' appointments."
These days, her company also provides virtual assistant services, mainly to RPCN members. "I like doing virtual assistant work for RPCN members because I know them; I know what they do," she said.
RPCN has also helped Balkin expand her business in another way - she has a joint venture with fellow RPCN member Dick Blazey. They work together on First Look, which provides due diligence reports; Market Sonar, which does a combination of research and cold-calling; and Trade Show Follow-up.
Like many RPCN members, Balkin sees involvement as key to getting value from belonging to the organization. "Don't just be a member," she said. "The more active you are, the more you get known, the more business you get, the more satisfaction you get from your membership."
One way that Balkin is active and gives back is by managing the RPCN library. Although she doesn't have a library degree, her extensive experience in and with libraries made her the ideal person for that role. "One of our members moved and had a lot of books he wanted to donate," she recalled. "That became the foundation of our library." She appreciates "anything coming in about consulting and entrepreneurship."
While her consulting business is her official life's work, French is Balkin's passion. In addition to that tutoring activity going back to her early years, she belongs to a French conversation club and has New York state teacher certification. As a gift to RPCN, she invites members to come to her French classes over the summer for free - she teaches from 6-7 PM on Thursday evenings and 11 AM-12:30 PM on Sundays. To take advantage of this generous offer, contact Balkin at email@example.com. Bonne chance!
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader and speaker whose motto is "I can write about anything!"™ She is also the owner of Communication Central (www.communication-central.com), which hosts a conference for communications entrepreneurs in the fall.