Entrepreneurship and Medical Writing: Building a New Career

It was nearly 6 years ago when I made the fateful decision to "leave the bench" and become a medical writer and entrepreneur. The decision didn?t come easily, but now I?m my own boss and I have a successful business in a niche market: My company provides a unique combination of medical writing and conference planning services for the medical and health sectors. Building the business has been a huge challenge, but the rewards are incredibly satisfying. I get to do what I love, I meet many interesting people, I can choose my clients and projects, and I?m constantly challenged to learn something new.

Several years ago, I was working as a laboratory technician in a medical research lab at the University of Toronto. I had obtained a master?s degree in physiology years earlier, and the technician job had been created to utilize my specialized skills in electron microscopy. The job was quite satisfying in many ways. Besides conducting bench work, I also organized and ran a new lab, taught several students, wrote annual reports and manuscripts for submission to journals, and prepared and presented posters. But the intense focus on a specific topic, the monotony of bench work, the lack of control over which projects would be pursued, and the limited opportunities for advancement (without devoting several years to further graduate and postgraduate study) were sometimes frustrating.

On some level, I was always aware that I would not work as a laboratory technician for the remainder of my professional life. So when grant funding was cut and my position was eliminated, I took the opportunity to examine alternatives and try something new. My interests were diverse: I really enjoyed the writing aspect of my job; I craved a chance to learn about a broader range of medical and biological topics; I wanted more social interaction in my job, but I also needed "quiet time"; I wanted to continue organizing workshops and conferences, which I had been doing on a volunteer basis; I liked to focus on the details; and I constantly needed to learn something new.

After taking some time to explore several different career paths, each of which addressed only some of these interests, I also realized that I wanted the freedom and control of being my own boss. With the encouragement of a friend who was working as a freelance medical writer and had inside knowledge of how that industry works, I decided to create my own unique job that utilizes my many skills and interests. Hence, MedSci Communications & Consulting Co., was born.

As for any new entrepreneur, my first 2 years in business presented a huge learning curve. Initially, my efforts were focused on learning about the medical writing industry; defining the parameters of the company and developing a business plan; identifying government regulations and legal considerations; locating sources of professional, financial, and emotional support; finding other individuals with complementary skills and expertise (graphic designers, photographers, translators) that could work under the umbrella of my company as needed; and learning new skills or improving existing ones. For example, I upgraded my computer skills and enrolled in a six-course night college program for formal training and certification in conference planning.

During this time, I also investigated many associations to find a forum that would provide the contacts, information, practical skills, and support I needed. Some associations focused on sales and marketing skills, while others were geared primarily to entrepreneurs and the challenges of starting up a company and being a sole proprietor. Still other associations had memberships composed of my business?s target market, and these provided an opportunity to meet potential clients and develop leads. It took substantial time to evaluate each of these associations, attend their meetings, and then carefully select the ones that would provide the right balance of tangible benefits (skill development, support, and potential business) through membership. At this early stage, one can easily become so involved in the associations and their meetings in order to build contacts and learn more, that there is little time left to focus on the sales, marketing, and follow-up required to generate income.

Generating income is the ultimate purpose of any business. But it doesn?t always happen right from the start. Often, there is a long lag time until that first contract materializes, and then the second contract, and the third. Hence, I continued to work in various research labs on short-term part-time contracts during the first couple of years of my new business venture. These contracts provided a steady, base income with flexible hours, so that I had significant weekday time available to pursue medical writing and conference planning projects and gradually build a solid business portfolio.

Approximately 3 years ago, I was able to focus entirely on writing and conference planning projects that were generated through my company. My portfolio has grown substantially, with a variety of different projects, and I now have repeat business from several clients. Two years ago I launched a comprehensive, informative Web site to showcase my company?s services. The Web site was designed primarily to act as a follow-up sales tool and provide information to any potential clients I met through my various networking functions. In the past 18 months, however, the Web site has become my primary sales tool, generating new clients in both the United States and Canada.

Today, the company has grown to the point where I am facing a new transition and must decide what direction this growth should take: whether to hire permanent staff, outsource some work, or limit the number of projects I take on in the future. Although my business is now well established, it remains a constant struggle to balance my time between income-generating activities, marketing and administrative activities, and those that provide professional and personal growth. However, the satisfaction and joy that have come from knowing I have created a successful company that permits me to do the work I love are immeasurable.

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