Careers advice: Five tips on setting up a consultancy

Published on: 25 Aug 2016

IPE consultancy staffKeith Holland (pictured, centre) co-founded planning consultancy IPe in April 2016 with ex planning Inspectorate colleagues Lee Ermitage (right) and Chris Snarr (left). IPe focuses its services around advice on local plans, neighbourhood plans and the community infrastructure levy (CIL).

We asked IPe, as a new start up, for their five tips when setting up a consultancy. 

Know your market

Is there a clear marketplace for you to enter, where there is a need for your services and a realistic opportunity of winning work? Find out who your competitors are and why clients use them. You should respect your competitors and do not underestimate their established foothold. Think about what you can offer over and above their service. We had formerly dealt with local authorities extensively and knew that there was a need for really targeted, practical, pre-submission local plan and CIL advice. We also identified the limited choice around providers of examiners for neighbourhood plans and CIL charging schedules.

Know your subject

Don’t try to be all things to everybody. There is a temptation to cast the net wide. Know what you are really good at and make that your primary focus.  We felt confident that the extent of our examination experience provided us with a valuable and unique insight into tackling the hurdles of plan making successfully. And ask yourself honestly, is this something I enjoy? If you are going to start a consultancy, having a passion for what you do will make it a great deal easier!

Get the right staff

Taking on staff is a huge commitment for any small business. As such we resolved to get the very best people we could, with no compromises. Knowing and having worked closely with the people you will be employing puts you at a huge advantage. We also wanted to embed a culture from the outset of rigorous peer review of all work. An ability to welcome critical team appraisal is a must. Pool your team’s collective experience and expertise to provide the very best advice. 

Be competitive in terms of pricing

High quality advice using the most experienced people comes at a price. Face up to the business viability realities in creating your pricing model. But, if, like IPe, your clients are primarily local authorities you must demonstrate value for money for the public purse and be respectful of the client’s budgetary constraints. We focus on quality not quantity and many of our assignments are only 4-5 day engagements. For the lengthier assignments be prepared to be flexible on pricing – building relationships with clients will lead to repeat business.

Set and adhere to realistic deadlines

The highest levels of service will set you apart from your competitors. Plan to provide clients with clear, achievable timetables for the work commissioned and keep them informed against agreed milestones. All too often local authorities and others are held up by the planning consultancy that knowingly overpromises on meeting unrealistic deadlines to secure the work. Don’t be that consultancy. Lastly, do not underestimate how much time you will need to dedicate to business management as well as delivering your professional work!