State of Green Business

Tips on Becoming an 'Independent Practitioner'

Tips on Becoming an 'Independent Practitioner'

Also this month:

This edition starts our SIXTH year of providing you with insightful and timely EH&S, sustainability and Responsible Care advice. To keep it fresh, informative and meeting your ever-changing needs, we've made several changes starting with this month's column:
  • Perhaps the most noticeable change is in the column's contributors. While I will continue to host the column and provide many of the responses, we're going to open the column to a wider range of contributors.

  • The column will increase its focus on providing practical pragmatic advice to professional practitioners; there will be less emphasis on conceptual and "30,000 ft." topics. We'll include specific case-study examples whenever possible.

  • The responses will be shorter and much more to the point, making the column a quicker read.

  • The Postscripts feature will now give both relevant commentary and personal, front-line experiences that provide key lessons to EH&S and sustainability professionals.
We hope you like the changes as we move forward in 2005. If there are any other changes you'd like to see in the column, please let us know.

Steve Rice

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I'm thinking of becoming an "independent practitioner;" what suggestions can you provide to increase my chances of success?

I've put together a list of fifteen top "Lessons Learned" for you and other readers contemplating such a move. While I've tried putting them in reverse priority, don't take their relative order all too seriously -- they're all important!
  • Have a Web site. I've advised several small firms on how to prepare very low-cost, easy to build/maintain Web sites. Don't expect to establish a direct cost/benefit ratio, though. Think of your site as a means of people finding out about you, pre-qualifying yourself in their eyes BEFORE they ever contact you and obtaining copies of your marketing materials "24/7/365." Then, when they do contact you, they've already overcome their first concern of "Can this person do the job?"

  • Develop a mix of both shorter-term and longer-term, ongoing clients/assignments. You'll grind off a lot of tooth enamel and chew up a lot of project development time if you depend on only erratic, short-term assignments.

  • Beware of "it's a marketing opportunity" offers to speak or present. It seldom works. Unless you are sure that you'll generate sufficient business to justify the time and expertise you'll be providing, you'll only gain a reputation for giving both away for free. If it's local (driving distance) and not too expensive, commit to penciling them in on your calendar with the condition that paying assignments will take priority.

  • Keep your name in front of your clients. Jacquelyn Ottman gave me some great advice when I started out: "Providers will never find needy clients at just the right time -- too early and there's no need; too late and they've found someone else. Make sure they remember, and can find, you when their need arises." The Web site (above) and periodic newsletters help.

  • Associate yourself only with other reputable partners, colleagues and clients. See the Postscripts feature below for a specific example.
As you can, and will, see, this is not a career path for the normally passive engineer, scientist or geologist. You'll have to constantly be presenting yourself to others; no wall flowers allowed.

Next Month: Five more "Lessons Learned!"

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What are the primary differences between the RCMS(r) and RC14001 options in a Responsible Care Management System(r)?

To be comparable to ISO14001, RC14001 contains everything that RCMS contains, plus other requirements, including:
  • The policy must provide a commitment to continuous improvement and pollution prevention;
  • There must be a formal "aspects and impacts" assessment;
  • There must be a document control process (although implementing an RCMS might be very difficult without one);
  • Surveillance followup audits are required every 6-12 months; and
  • Certification must be conducted under the ISO requirements.
While RCMS Element 1.3 requires a policy that provides an organizational commitment to continuous Responsible Care improvement, there is no policy requirement for continuous EHSS performance improvement. Element 2.5, however, requires "these goals, objectives and targets shall reflect the organization's commitment to continuous improvement." In contrast, EPA's National Environmental Performance Track Program and OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program require participants to achieve continuous performance improvement.

As we noted in the October 2004 column, companies face the same legal risks by promising specific EH&S performance improvements as they do promising specific financial performance.

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Postscripts: Another One Bites the Dust -- Part II. Ecos Technologies, the EH&S enterprise software company, has bit the dust. Its phone number is "no longer in service," the Web site is down and sample mail has been returned. This is not too surprising, to me, given my experience with the company.

About three years ago they came to me seeking product development assistance and market strategy guidance; they were a group of displaced software developers and tech investors with very little EH&S market experience. After reviewing their product offering and getting a feel for their business plan, I provided a bit of free advice -- including the assessments that a) their current marketing effort had been ineffective in getting the company on the market's radar, b) while their product had a nice feel and flow, it was fundamentally flawed in the way it approached its intended purpose and c) their business plan was disconnected from the marketplace.

They were not interested, however, in fixing their structural problems; they only wanted personal introductions to key clients (e.g. sales leads). Of course, I told them that I would not sacrifice my professional reputation by introducing companies with flawed business plans and products to any of my highly cherished company EH&S contacts. Later on, I learned of at least one company that purchased a portion of their product and tried getting it to work for a year before finally canceling the contract.

The lessons learned here are:
  1. The EH&S support services market continues to be challenging -- where even survival can be considered a significant measure of success. Anything more is difficult unless one is either on the top of one's game or a retired/semi-retired individual seeking only a bit of extra or discretionary income.

  2. New entrants can not afford to take short cuts; the product/service, message and market focus must all be near-perfect from the start. If one isn't intimately familiar with the nuances of the marketplace, the price of market entry needs to include funding for suitable guidance.

  3. Top-tier professionals must maintain their reputations by associating only with reputable people and companies -- otherwise their misdeeds will hamper, possibly fatally, your ability to succeed.
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Got A Question?
Send your questions about environmental management issues to [email protected]
We can't guarantee that we'll answer every question, but we'll try.

Steve Rice is president of Environmental Opportunities, Inc., a strategic EH&S management and project support services company in Florham Park, New Jersey. He has 30 years of executive EH&S leadership experience, including 25 years with both Exxon and BASF, and is an ACC-authorized Responsible Care Management Systems (RCMS) auditor.

Copyright 2005, Environmental Opportunities, Inc.