How to Create a Data Viz Position for Yourself

Tameeka emailed me this: “I’ve been a researcher for 10+ years but my passion and strength really is data viz. I’m trying to figure out how/where I can do that more than other research stuff. Should I start my own data viz business? Any chance you’d be down for like a 30 minute career-related Zoom chat?”

I love a good career pivot. So I got on that Zoom with Tameeka and asked 

Do you like maintaining spreadsheets of your budget and expenses? 

Do you like getting on social media to sell yourself? 

Do you like coming up with marketing campaigns?

Tameeka’s eyes started bugging out of her head. She was like HELL. NO.

Well, now what? 

If it turns out that you love data viz but hate the idea of launching your own company, you need to convince your boss to create a data viz-focused position and put you in that role.

Your pitch needs three supporting pillars:

How the job would work

Paint the picture of where this role fits into the typical business processes at your company.

Most research firms have a launch phase of a project, a data collection phase, an analysis phase, and then a teeny bit at the end to cram in reporting. The cram is one reason why even people who value viz don’t do it. You’re outta time and capacity.

Diagram showing that most research firms cram data viz and reporting into a short window at the end of the project but the ideal situation is when data viz is sprinkled throughout the lifecycle of a project.

But this new role?

It’s going to come in at launch phase with a skeleton of the report for feedback. It’s going to show up at data collection and make sample graphs that’ll just be waiting for the final data. In analysis, this role will be identifying the most important points for the executive summary. And then reporting? It’s a breeze.

No more floppy sweats across the finish line. 

And maybe you want this role to include some internal training, where this person gives mini sessions to everyone else on viz-adjacent topics like communication skills and public speaking. You get to make it up, so draw out your dream job here.

No matter what, this new role is going to mean Tameeka isn’t doing some of her old tasks. It isn’t healthy or sustainable to make viz an add-on to an existing full time job. It needs to replace some tasks that get swapped out to others.

If your imagination needs a prompt, head to the job board at the Data Viz Society and browse the postings.

You’ll get some sense of what tasks a data viz specialist is expected to do (and how much they earn).

How this role will make the company more effective

If you stop at 1, some of yall will have bosses that launch right into the chorus of their favorite Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always get what you want.” Which is their attempt at finding a less harsh way to say no. 

The second pillar of your pitch is about how a data viz role isn’t just serving you and what you want. It’s about what the whole company needs.

Show how your data viz position creates a win-win for the staff. 

It reduces the burden on your colleagues who just want to focus on the numbers and analysis. Data viz isn’t their strong suit. Graphing makes them feel bad because they know they aren’t great at it and they’re out of time anyway and that’s a recipe for burnout.

And protecting against burnout is incredibly important, particularly in these days of The Great Reshuffle. It’s one of the top reasons people quit their jobs.

This new role lets the team focus on their strengths and use their time most effectively. It improves morale. It’s better than a pizza party.

Though the cost of turnover should be evident to your boss at this point, you could add to this pitch pillar by talking dollars, too. Better data visualization sets you up for bigger clients. 

Here’s just one quick example that I found in less than a minute: USAID issued an RFP for a $20 to $24 million dollar grant which requires the research team to produce data visualizations. 

The role and the expertise held within it will be what allows your company to take a moon leap.

Show how you’re right for the role

Of course, you don’t want to advocate and develop a dream job that Todd lands. You wanna be the one in the hot seat. Time to provide evidence that you’re an emerging expert in this data viz.

Pull together a portfolio of your work. Just grab 5-10 of your old charts and remake them with the knowledge you have now. Show the evolution of company graphs that happen under your care.

Your case will be even stronger if you have client testimonials, speaking to how much they love and benefit from your efforts at stronger data viz. You might have to hit up old clients and specifically solicit a few testimonials, too. So when you do, pay attention to a key word from the first sentence of this paragraph: benefits.

You want them to speak to the benefits they got from your work.

“We just loved the beautiful visuals in Tameeka’s latest report.”

is nice but weak and unconvincing compared to

“The graphs in Tameeka’s last report were so clear and illuminating that our four hour meeting became a one hour meeting and we had clear action steps to take based on the data. That’s a first for us.” 

Do you hear the difference? Ask for specific benefits when you reach out to clients for an endorsement. The benefits are what will make them repeat customers.

While you’ll build a strong portfolio, you don’t have to make it out like you’re the total expert yet. After all, you haven’t been able to devote all of your time to data viz. But you want to be the total expert and you have ideas for continued professional development. 

Come to the pitch prepped with ideas for growth, like my The Evergreen Data Certification Program.

You get a personal data viz expert, coaching you to your own expertise, for one ambitious year. We look at your data together and teach you the exact lessons you need to massively improve your team’s viz.

By the end of the year, our thinking will be coming out of your mouth as you coach your teams across the reporting finish line. You should check out The Evergreen Data Certification Program.

PS. In case you’re wondering how things turned out for Tameeka, she’s negotiated a split in her current duties such that half the time she’s engaged in her usual research and the other half, she’s data vizzing her heart out.