Consultancy Special Interest Group
08 May 2013

So tell us what you want ...

woman with clipboard

SPOILER ALERT: If you're reading this and you haven't yet responded to the survey, please head over there now, and tell us your thoughts. I'm sure you wouldn't want other consultants' responses to influence yours ... We'd be flattered to think that people might want to read this first in order to employ tactical voting, but really – it's not that kind of poll. So please fill it in first, and then come back here to find out how the early birds voted.

We're now halfway through the month long consultation period and so far an amazing 852 people have responded (838 at time of data analysis). This article is going to discuss what you have told us you want from the Consultancy Special Interest Group (ConsultSIG) and how you want to be involved.

ConsultSIG survey topics

In general, and particularly for those who are currently working as consultants, the most popular topic was 'receiving new business leads'. Correspondingly, 'finding subject matter experts' was the topic that clients/employers thought consultants most needed assistance with. It would be remiss of us to try to address either of these complex issues with a newsletter article or expert webinar alone; they are both opportunities that could be better addressed collaboratively. As such we have initially started discussions on 'receiving new business leads' and 'finding subject matter experts' on LinkedIn – please share your thoughts.

'Legal advice' was the biggest issue for those who are considering entering consultancy – we'd like to consult a lawyer on this, and intend to invite one or more of them to give a webinar covering the main legal considerations for practising consultants. Local events may also provide a forum for advice for different jurisdictions. It may make sense for these to wait until we have a 'standard contract' as a framework for discussion. IChemE’s contracts committee are currently working on a services form of contract which they intend to subsequently distil into a form of agreement for sole trader consultants. Similarly we hope to get professionals in to cover 'intellectual property' and 'insurance'.

We hope to cover most of the other topics in the coming months. We will focus on the most popular ones and probably not bother with the rather unpopular 'internet telephony and similar cost savings' or 'social media'. Nearly 300 of you have already said that you don't need help, or aren't interested in the former. Of course, if you have any burning issues, feel free to bring them up in the LinkedIn group.

Other topics requested to date include how to start out in consultancy, do's and don'ts for consultants, proposal writing, winning business, tax, cost control, screening out scammers, and collaborative working on projects. There were also a number of discipline-specific requests like process optimisation, separation processes, etc. that we would hope would be addressed by the relevant subject SIG.

As a matter of interest, while 42% of consultants said they were experts or didn't need help with 'project and time management' (or could advise others or weren't interested), 33% of clients said consultants they had worked with had a 'large need' for training in this area, and 90% of clients suggested there was some need for training. So it sounds like there's room for improvement with all of us.

ConsultSIG survey volunteers

You asked for an electronic newsletter, and here it is. Receiving an electronic newsletter was the most popular means of involvement with the ConsultSIG, and fortunately a fifth of the number asking for a newsletter said they were willing to contribute to it, so we hopefully won't be short of articles.

Neck and neck for second most popular means of involvement were webinars and local events. Conversely a number of people mentioned that they couldn't participate due to location. We therefore hope to provide a blend of both global webinars and local events.

Our main focus as a steering group should be on webinars as these have the potential to benefit the most number of members. Our first webinar is on ' Communication for Consultants ' – an unfortunate title given that 'communication skills' are the sixth least popular topic. We are listening however, and the webinar will focus on the results of this survey, in particular feedback on how clients like to be contacted by consultants. In order to make the most of the opportunity to get feedback, please ask your clients to take the survey. As per survey requests, the webinar be repeated at optimal times for both European and Asia Pacific attendance, and will be made available to members subsequently as a recording.

While newsletters and webinars have maximum reach, the networking benefits of local events are undeniable. I seem to be the only IChemE consultant in Mauritius, but would be happy to host a consultancy conference here if there was enough interest. In the meantime the first planned local event is an expert panel on insurance (primarily professional indemnity [PI]) – time and location to be advised. Please contact us if you would like to organise a local PI panel discussion in your jurisdiction.

A considerable number of respondents also expressed interest in having or being a mentor: with the current numbers we could hook you up on a 2:1 basis. If you are looking for a chartership mentor we would recommend the Get Chartered mentorship scheme in the first place. Beyond that we would welcome volunteers to manage a consultancy mentoring database, and put candidates in touch with the most appropriate mentor. If you're interested and are one of the 112 people who said you'd like to join the organising committee, you should receive a questionnaire in the next couple of weeks where you can volunteer for this role.

A 112 member committee may be considered excessive, however we are hugely encouraged that so many people are keen to help. The questionnaire that we’ll be sending to those who expressed interest in this or 'developing our website and online resources' aims to assemble a representative committee with a blend of enthusiasm and experience where each member has a specific role and defined responsibilities. For those who wanted to volunteer but thought geography would be a problem, the current steering group is 100% online using voice over IP and a number of cutting-edge collaboration tools. This allows a truly international group, with minimal environmental impact and expenses.

Finally we have LinkedIn discussions; with 200 votes, this was by far the most popular means of contributing to the group. To me this could be one of the biggest benefits that we bring the world: an always-on community of consultants, sharing experience and helping each other. We've already had conversations on collaborative meeting tools, careers advice, and EPC design price competition. Hop over there now and tell us what's on your mind.

Dr Martin Currie CEng MIChemE
Steering group chair, Consultancy Special Interest Group


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