Interview by David Powe , write-up by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
Jill Hurst-Wahl, RPCN president in 2001, wears many hats, including instructor, information consultant, speaker and author/blogger. In 1998, she began Hurst Associates, Ltd. , to provide business intelligence consulting. She later branched into consulting on digitization programs for library-related organizations. She was honored as the 2007 "Minority Small Business Champion" by the Syracuse office of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) office, which covers 34 counties in Upstate New York.
In 2009, Hurst-Wahl left Rochester to join the Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) as an assistant professor of practice to teach in its library science program. In 2012, iSchool graduate students selected her to receive the Jeffrey Katzer Professor of the Year Award. She is now an associate professor of practice and director of the M.S. programs in library and information science and in LIS with school media specialization.
"I remember RPCN as a warm and welcoming organization," said Hurst-Wahl. "Members were - and I'm sure still are - interested in helping each other and those interested in developing a consulting practice. The safe space that RPCN created is unique to RPCN. Other organizations want to have that type of environment, but can't do it. I think the founding members were instrumental in creating and maintaining a welcoming environment."
What Hurst-Wahl enjoyed most about her involvement with RPCN was its offering of early-morning get-togethers, which she recalled as unique in terms of collegiality, usefulness and affordability. "While I enjoyed the meetings at Brighton Town Hall, I really enjoyed the breakfast clubs," she said. "It was always amazing to see who would come, the questions asked and the information shared … and the food was good, too! Given my experience with other organizations, it is also amazing that all of the meetings were affordable. What mattered was being together and not necessarily creating a large income for the association."
Hurst-Wahl accepted the role of RPCN president because she wanted to give back to the association, although her term of office was short-circuited by her move to Syracuse. She did her best to continue to support the organization from afar, including trying to build connections between RPCN and a similar group in Syracuse. "Sadly, the group here didn't have the RPCN mentality," she said.
Hurst-Wahl is now the director of two academic programs. "My work at SU keeps me very, very busy, so I don't have time to do consulting. However, I am still a frequent speaker and an active blogger," she said. "One of my joys is talking with students who have entrepreneurial ambitions. I can share with them what I've learned from my own business, as well as lessons I've learned through RPCN."
Hurst-Wahl credits RPCN with helping her set up her consulting business for success. "I think my first RPCN meeting was within a month of starting Hurst Associates, Ltd.," she recalled. "I was heartened to find a group of people who were like me, although in different fields. Here was a group that I could honestly talk with about all aspects of running a consulting practice. RPCN members gave me advice, listened to me talk about my business and were truly interested in how I was doing. I remember Don Perko helping me understand what components would make a difference in project proposals. I remember getting marketing tips from Dave Young." Without RPCN, Hurst-Wahl said, it's likely that "I would not have had the support system I needed to develop the processes I needed to ensure my success."
She also found it important that, while many found a home in RPCN, the organization also helped some people recognize that an independent consulting practice was not for them.
Hurst-Wahl's advice for new consultants includes:Understand what you don't want to do. Defining this is as important as knowing what you do want to do.
- Understand what you don't want to do. Defining this is as important as knowing what you do want to do.
- Know that you're not alone. Others have been through what you're going through. Ask them for advice and listen to what they say. This is where an organization like RPCN can help.
- Read The E-Myth Revisited, especially if you want to have something other than a "lifestyle" consulting practice.
- Have people or companies you can consult about your banking, accounting, insurance and legal (BAIL) needs. You may not need to have a BAIL team, but you should know whom to call if you need help.
- If you're not having fun, maybe what you're doing isn't for you. It may mean that you need to change your consulting practice or do something other than consulting.
To read more about Hurst-Wahl's work life, read this story on her blog. For information about her speaking and blogging, visit www.digitization101.com.