Ask a consulting historian: Lynn Kronzek

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Lynn Kronzek. Photo credit: Lynn Kronzek

Lynn Kronzek. Photo credit: Lynn Kronzek

Lynn C. Kronzek is a public historian and writer with over 30 years of executive experience directing her consulting practice, as well as successful nonprofit agencies and programs.  She is an award-winning author of two books and numerous articles and reports, and for seven years she also taught graduate courses in regional development and community relations.

Describe how you first become interested in history, your education and training.

History was my favorite subject since I knew how to spell the word, and it still consumes my after-hours “recreational” reading time. I’m a history nerd with a capital “HN”! My post-secondary education occurred from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, with time off for exploration.

It was a transitional period in so many ways, all of which affected my career choices. The NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) became law during 1970, but had not yet made its way into the academy when I started as a freshman, several years later, at the University of Michigan. The only definite career path a history major could pursue was teaching, beginning with some education credits all the way to a PhD. Though I loved history, Ann Arbor also perpetuated the activist spirit of the 1960s. I could always return for a PhD–once I mellowed, perhaps in twenty years, I reasoned.

Enormous economic changes wracked the industrial eastern and midwestern U.S. I definitely was concerned about the job market, so I double-majored in history and journalism. I loved to write and correctly figured that journalism would add some solid skills to my portfolio and provide a less crowded, more “exotic” vehicle for history. It was perhaps my most sensible career decision.

After graduation, I joined VISTA (yesterday’s Americorps) where I was the PR person for a nonprofit consortium. I came to appreciate the sector’s commitment and earnestness, but realized that professional management skills sometimes lagged. Public Administration was the closest academic discipline, and I received a fellowship from George Washington University, allowing me to obtain a MPA (Master of Public Administration) degree. I’ve always been a woman in the crossroads of disparate fields! Public administration, public history.

When did you start consulting?

I left an associate-level nonprofit director’s job more than twenty-five years ago, with the employer as my inaugural client. At the same time, I began work on my first book, another contractual commitment. If you’re self-directed–and enjoy playing both the infield and outfield simultaneously–being an independent consultant may be your calling.

Do you specialize in a particular field of public history?

Both of my parents came to the U.S. with their families as child immigrants. Ethnic and immigrant history are my specialties, though I’m equally steeped in Los Angeles and its neighborhoods.

Describe an average day at work.

There is absolutely no average day! I can be out in the field researching or meeting with different client organizations, following-up on projects from my desk via email or by phone, writing or coordinating the submission of grant proposals, polishing an article or report.

Describe your typical clients.  

I’ve now engaged in virtually every type of public history project, from environmental/cultural resources studies to books, articles, exhibits/displays, and expert witness testimony. There is a hierarchy to these operations. Government agencies or large nonprofits initially realize the need for a project or program, and large “prime” contractors may oversee them. Technical practitioners–archaeologists, architects/historic preservationists, publishers, and others–reach out to me or my firm when they’re looking for substantive expertise. But remember the public administration component? The larger part of my consulting practice continues to be development: working with nonprofit and government organizations to create innovative public programs and secure the funding necessary for their implementation, sustainability, and growth. In this capacity, I deal with chief executive officers, comptrollers, and program staff. My management and historical consultation don’t intersect.

How do you handle the business aspects of your consulting work? For example, billing, taxes, insurance.

I’m a consultant in private practice, also known as an independent contractor. Many of my expenses, certainly liability and auto insurance, are deducted from my income. The same holds true for any subcontractors/partners I hire. During annual visits with our accountant, I estimate what my net income (after such expenses) will be and, accordingly, determine quarterly tax payments. If I over- or under-estimate, I can compensate during the next quarter. I bill monthly because it’s easier when you have an established client base, though a twice-monthly schedule assures better cash flow (especially helpful for new businesses).

How do you seek new work? 

Sometimes it’s serendipity. I think you just need to be active on all fronts, doing what you love. For example, I discovered on a tour of Jewish Los Angeles that the sponsoring historical society accepted book proposals. We were relatively new to L.A. and had just moved from its longest surviving Jewish community into our beloved “condo by the sea.”  I submitted a proposal to write about the “old” neighborhood. The ensuing book did far better than any of us expected. An archaeologist read about it in the Los Angeles Times and asked me if I would work with her on a cultural resources impact mitigation report for the Chinatown section of Metro Rail. We collaborated periodically for the better part of about fifteen years and are still friends.

Experiences morph into new projects and relationships. The problem lately has become that my practice is small yet so diversified that it’s difficult to develop a focused marketing plan.

Describe some of the projects you’ve recently worked on.

A few months ago, I wrote an article for an EBSCO database on history. Although it was a relatively short piece, I felt privileged, and quite humbled. I also recently completed my first assignment as a curator. A multimillion-dollar renovation to a historic landmark stirred the realization that the site exhibit was more than twenty-five years old; the organization had likewise grown, new leadership emerged, local demographics changed. I was engaged for that project by a museum fabrication and design firm. The chance to grow professionally, through varied assignments, continues to excite and inspire me!

~ This post is part of our “Ask a Consulting Historian” series, brought to you by the NCPH Consultants Committee. Follow the Consultants Committee on Twitter at @NCPHconsultants. You can find more “Ask a Practitioner” posts here.

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