A look inside The Institution of Structural Engineers’ Small Practitioners Conference

A look inside The Institution of Structural Engineers’ Small Practitioners Conference

October 23rd, 2019

“The Small Practitioners Conference provides advice on how to overcome a variety of problems specific to sole and small practitioners, and is sure to influence the way you manage your business afterwards.”

On 18 September 2019, our intrepid EMEA regional manager, Damiaan van Zanen and our exceptional customer success manager, Apinya Udomritkul attended The Institution of Structural Engineers’ Small Practitioners Conference in London.

We were delighted to sponsor this year’s event, titled Future-proofing and protecting your business. Below, Damiaan gives us an insider’s view on this excellent event, with some snippets from some of the more business focussed presentations.


The keynote of the day was by Tony Parasram, director of Free4m Consulting Ltd. Tony’s talk, Constructing an effective e-consultancy, delivered some sobering facts about the state-of-play in our industry:

Next on stage was Tim Hetherington — this time last year when he presented at this conference, things were not great in his practice. He provided a candid account of the mistakes he felt he made in the past year (or things that were critical), that included:

  1. Flawed business model
  2. Inadequate time and cost controls — good systems but struggle to get people to use them well
  3. Lack of attention to new work generation
  4. Creeping overheads
  5. Employing the wrong people for the task
  6. Decay of culture
  7. Loss of key staff
  8. Loss of workload as a result

Tim also had the good grace to walk us through what worked to change the above in his business, including starting to say no to certain work, sitting amongst his staff, and closing one whole office. Tim explained that it was essential to ensure every staff member understood they were in a business that was there to make money — so invoicing targets became a regular conversation, communication became essential, and regular cadence of meetings was critical to keep things on track.

Jenny King covered the pace of business change (hint: quicker than it’s ever been), the direct impact on loss of productivity due to not having digital skills, the thing about hiring good young people (they want technology, and they’re looking for a purpose), and the importance of succession planning for your business.

Parag Prasad talked about the importance of clarity around your vision and values, Gallup’s three types of employees (Engaged, Not engaged, Actively disengaged), and creating a culture of success that’s underpinned by your values.

In her talk, Fitness to practise and the impact on your PII, Emma Lynch talked about ensuring you have robust risk management for professional indemnity. Emma espoused three key messages:

As the day continued to overflow with usefulness, James Hutchinson discussed succession planning and mergers and acquisitions, how to structure your business to achieve your desired outcomes and succession plan, the legal structure of a business process, due diligence, and key legal documentation.

Last but certainly not least, Ashley Kacha talked about computational design in his introduction to digital design tools. Ashley made some great and resonant comments about how engineers can create significant wins in their business with efficiencies (by writing a small amount of code to rename a huge batch of files, or so that documents are auto populated into project folders).

Overall thoughts and summary

The event was really well put together with each talk able to pull examples from the previous talks to consolidate things and demonstrate key aspects of running a small business. The Q&A panel sessions throughout the day made it easy for everyone to get their questions answered, and there were a lot of great questions.

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