Are you an aspiring taxonomist looking for work? Because taxonomies tend to be project-based tasks, a lot of taxonomy work is freelance, contract, or consulting. I have written on this topic in my book, but that was over four years ago, and I have seen or experienced many taxonomy jobs since, so it’s time for an update.
Freelance taxonomy work
The freelance taxonomist works on portions of a taxonomy project but does not do everything required of taxonomy project. I now see that the greatest opportunity for freelance taxonomy work is to freelance/subcontract to independent taxonomy consultants or small taxonomy consultancies. These consultants take on projects too big for one person and need to subcontract parts of it. Freelancing directly to an end-client, meanwhile, has become increasingly rare.
The best way, and really the only way, to find this kind of work is through serious networking with taxonomy consultants. Make sure, however, that any freelance contract does not preclude you from serving competing consultants.
The freelance taxonomist does most of the work remotely from home, but could be called on to visit a client site, depending on the nature of the project. Being open to travel and having client relationship skills thus helps, but is not always a requirement. Work could be researching and creating a new taxonomy from scratch, editing an existing taxonomy, mapping two different taxonomies, or developing auto-categorization rules for a taxonomy. In any case, the freelancer is not the sole person responsible for the taxonomy.
People suited for this kind of taxonomy work tend to be those with at least one past employment in taxonomy, metadata, or classification work and already comfortably set up as a freelancer, such as through editorial work, indexing, or consulting in the information field. Basic office software is usually all that is needed, but prior experience with a taxonomy management tool is helpful, and, if needed, remote access to the system can be arranged
Contract taxonomy work
The contract taxonomist may do the same kind of work as the freelance taxonomist or may take on more responsibility in the taxonomy design strategy. The contractual relationship may be different, though, and instead of being treated as a freelance vendor the contract taxonomist may be treated as a temporary employee on a W-2 tax status.
When a company needs a taxonomist, it is often for a temporary assignment, so instead of posting a full-time position on the careers portion of their website, they turn to a staffing/recruiting firm for help. While it could be a general staffing firm they use for other assignments, experience has shown that finding taxonomists is difficult, so companies turn to specialized staffing firms in the areas of information technology/science. Sometimes a company has a large information technology project for which taxonomy development is only a piece, and they contract the entire project out to a large IT consulting firm. The IT consulting firm then seeks to fill the taxonomist slot by turning to a third-party recruiter. Recruiters from the staffing firms then search LinkedIn or Monster.com resumes or other sites. So, if you looking for taxonomy work, make sure you have a strong LinkedIn profile and a resume on Monster.com open for all to see, with “taxonomist” prominently in the title. It’s also important to get on the list of staffing firms/recruiters specialized in library science and information technology.
The contract taxonomist is generally expected to be more on the client site than the freelance taxonomist, but with some negotiating, part of the work could probably be done from the home. If the assignment is relatively short and the location does not have any qualified taxonomists, the client will pay for travel and lodging , sometimes for several weeks or even a couple months. So, being open to short-term (1-3 month) relocation can be an advantage.
The nature of the work can be the same as for a freelance taxonomist, or it could involve more taxonomy design, planning and strategy, similar to that of a consultant. The rate is comparable to freelancing, as there is an intermediate party in both cases, and rates vary based on one’s experience and level of responsibility. A third level of intermediary could result in a lower rate. On the other hand, difficulty in finding a taxonomist for a specific project is a specific location allows the contracting taxonomist room to negotiate.
People suited for this kind of taxonomy work need to have prior taxonomy experience, but often experience with a specific software tool is also desired, whether a taxonomy management system, auto-classification system, content management system, or digital assent management system. Location in a major metropolitan area or willingness to travel is also important.
Independent consulting work
Being an independent taxonomy consultant means not only do you need to know how to conduct every step of taxonomy development yourself (research and requirements gathering, design, developing, testing, governance planning, etc.), but you also need to keep track of deadlines, deliverables, meeting schedules, and other basic project management tasks. There is no need for major project management skills, as long as you are not subcontracting to others. The client may already have a project manager on staff if taxonomy development is part of a larger project.
The other major task in consulting is creating a proposal, involving estimating the costs and time requirements, and then meeting those expectations. The proposal-writing task is often an obstacle to new aspiring consultants, and the best preparation is to either work in a consultancy or subcontract extensively to other consultants first to get exposed to the proposal requirements. Fees are typically charged per project and not per hour, so this can be tricky.
Obtaining independent consulting work involves a lot of self-marketing: a web site, a blog, LinkedIn and other social media, speaking at industry and professional association conferences, publishing articles, and general networking. Even networking with competing consultants is good, because sometimes they hear of projects they do not want and will refer the work. It’s also good for you to refer work to other consultants when it comes at the wrong time or is in the wrong location, so they might return the favor.