Could you make a successful career in environmental management consulting?
What skills, knowledge & experience are needed? How do I go about it? What ISO 14001 Training is necessary?
Dr John FitzGerald writes:
Having worked for 28 years as a management system consultant, I’ve learned a lesson or two (including some bitter ones) on setting up and running a successful consultancy business.
So I’d like to share my experience with you in this article. Of course, you must use the information and suggestions here at your own peril; ultimately it is you who must decide whether this life is for you. And if you don’t find the prospect of working as a consultant exciting, don’t do it. If you do, read on.
First, we'll consider 'What it Takes' and then we'll outline for you a 'Business start-up plan for the EMS Consultant - an 11 step plan'.
What it Takes to be an Environmental Management System (EMS) Consultant
To be a successful EMS Consultant you will need capabilities and competencies under five headings: fortitude, finance, experience, knowledge & expertise and personal attributes. You will need to be able to tick every box, almost.
- suitable and stable private life
- the ability to take disappointment
- prepared to work 16 hours plus per day
- sufficient funds to survive while building a reputation – self-employment puts great strain on relationships
- sufficient knowledge of financial accounting to manage and control a small business
- a minimum of 10 years’ relevant experience - as standards become less prescriptive the need for extensive experience expands
- relevant expertise at senior management or technical for the economic sectors which you propose to offer services - you will have to audit and negotiate at top management level
- the ability to talk-the-talk (and no BS)
- keep ahead of current and prospective clients in terms of marketplace activity
- extensive auditing experience – internal audits and supplier evaluations
- professional auditing experience working with a certification body (preferably as lead auditor)
- If the opportunity arises, work for an established consultancy – you will learn about what works and what doesn’t work.
Knowledge & Expertise
- a relevant third level qualification in a technical subject,
- in-depth knowledge of local, national and international environmental regulation,
- thorough knowledge and understanding of:
- the ISO 14001 standard and its interpretation,
- thorough knowledge and understanding of the ISO 14004 and other guides to the Standard’s implementation and maintenance (Note: Not included in an ISO 14001 Lead Auditor training course; an ISO 14001 Lead Implementer course is needed),
- The publications of the ISO Technical Committee, ISO/TC 207 "Environmental management",
- knowledge of the ISO 14001 certification and accreditation processes, and of associated ISO 14001 Certification costs,
- knowledge and experience of project management methods, and
- membership of relevant professional bodies.
- personable, without gushing
- patient, but determined
- self-starter, you will have to provide leadership
- gregarious, but not a lush
- confident, but not domineering
- well-spoke without the liberal use of expletives
- principled, and a respecter of confidentiality
- conscientious, and meeting your deadlines
Business start-up plan for the EMS Consultant - an 11 step plan
Here are eleven steps to setting up your EMS Consultancy:
Step 1: Identify the market niche best suited to your Knowledge and Experience
Begin by identifying the economic or market niche that matches your skillset.
Step 2: Acquire the Certifications, Licenses and Professional Body Memberships
While usually not a barrier working as a consultant, certification and memberships will help build credibility with prospective clients.
Step 3: Decide Your Short and Long Term Goals
Set goals for your business, and for your private life, looking three months, one year, and 10 years ahead. Discuss and agree on these goals with your spouse or partner - the stress and financial pressure of being self-employed can be very destructive of relationships, especially where the other person is naturally risk-averse.
Step 4: Choose Your Target Market
Identify organisations and organisation types in your market sector that can benefit from the use of your services for a short period of time.
Focus on sectors experiencing, or about to experience, significant statutory or regulatory change or that have had a recent environmental disaster.
Here the disruptive event creates an opportunity for you – people are more likely than usual to listen and to be willing to accept the changes you suggest.
Step 5: Research Your Target Market and your Competition
What needs, problems and opportunities can your target organisations successfully address using your services.
You need to be able tell your clients why they need you:
- Do they require certification for ISO 14001 alone?
- Do they to integrate ISO 14001 certification with an existing management system (such as ISO 9001)?
- Do they need ongoing expert advice on environmental matters?
- Do they need support in carrying out internal audits and in the management of the EMS?
- Do they wish to conduct environmental audits of current and prospective suppliers?
- How much do EMS Consultants charge for their services? Are travel, accommodation and other costs included?
- What are the ISO 14001 Certification costs, both implementation (including the consultant's costs) and the ongoing cost of maintaining certification?
Step 6: Prepare a Business Plan
The old adage is very true: organizations that fail to plan, plan to fail! No start-up business plan has ever matched the outcome, not even closely.
But if you can’t make it work on paper, you won’t be able to make it work. Preparing a business plan yourself is a huge learning exercise in itself and critically important.
Except perhaps for financial projections, you cannot/must not outsource this aspect of starting your consultancy. Like marketing and sales for a new business, you must do it yourself.
Step 7: Minimise your expenditure except where it really matters - consider a Home Office
When you fail to fully reach your short-term turnover targets, and you will (just ask any self-employed consultant you know), you do not want any regular monthly outgoings that can be avoided.
Work from home, don’t take on any mortgage or borrowings, rent a car month-to-month, buy second-hand equipment. You want to be able to survive while you build the business.
But you will need an appropriate car and you will need to be well dressed. If you don’t look as if you’re already successful, you won’t sign up for much business. Prospects will judge you on appearances – do you look and sound professional – they have little else to judge you on. You must look the business to so the business.
Step 8: Build Your Network
If no one knows you and you know no one in your field, you may find yourself in the midst of a disaster soon. It is important to start building your network as soon as you have decided to be a consultant.
A strong contact base ensures that you have the sources to find work. A professional network, coupled with a social network, can help you market and advertise your business.
References are also important ways to find work in the niche. Rely on your initial contact base to build your network.
Step 9: Fix your Fees and the way to bill Clients
As a beginner, you may not receive high fees as a consultant. Your charges increase as you become known as a consultant. Keep in mind your credentials and experience as well as market conditions, your target group and your competitors when you fix your fees.
Also, decide how you will bill clients. Most management system consultants charge by the day or half-day and invoice at the end of the month (or on completion, if before month-end). Payment within 7 days is usually requested.
Step 10: Arrange your Marketing and Promotion
Forget about advertising whether traditional or online. It is expensive and unlikely to produce results quickly. Instead, take the time to build a social media presence including.
- A website with blog/news,
- YouTube business page,
- LinkedIn business page, and
- Google+ business page.
A prospective customer can use these media to judge your capabilities. Without them, a prospect will ask themselves why do you not have an online presence.
Step 10: Don’t hire permanent Staff
You may find it easier to handle all tasks of your business on your own when you start. But after your consulting business is up and running, you may need the help of others and you may decide to employ people.
Check both legal and tax details before you do this. You may also outsource some tasks that do not require your immediate attention. Make sure that the tasks are not connected to your consulting business.
For example, you can outsource website maintenance for a consulting business, but not when it is your niche.
Step 11: Fastina lente (hasten slowly)
Don’t give up the ‘day job’ and start consulting. Wait until all previous 10 steps are essentially completed, seek out a ‘banker’ contract. For example, get one or more contracts working, say, 4/5 days a year maintaining an organization’s EMS – use your network of contacts to seek out such opportunities.
Many consultants also have ongoing relationships with Certification Bodies where they act as lead auditors and team auditors – an intermittent arrangement that suits both parties.
Only when you are confident that you can make a living from consulting should you give up the day job. And then ‘go for it’ working harder and longer than you have ever done before.
So, what do you think?
Do you have what it takes? If so, you should give serious consideration to becoming an EMS Consultant. Talk to people before you commit - family, friends and those who are already Management System Consultants.
Something you'll find common to all successful consultants is the joy they get out of their work - the pleasure of helping others and the freedom of being your own boss!
Best of luck!
Note: Updated September 2020; originally posted August 2016.