April 21, 2015 - Mike Dilke
I have just had one of the most enlightening and interesting afternoons for a long time - however I was called 'weird' and I am still trying to work out if I am happy or slightly miffed about it!
I currently work in the world of ergonomics but most of my clients know that I am a chartered civil engineer and today I attended a council meeting of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) at the HQ in Westminster. The topic was pretty much what does the ICE need to provide for its members to keep them interested, satisfied and paying their subscription- my view is that if that happens successfully then it will be an exciting and relevant organisation with real influence.
My input was suggesting some things that could be useful to members who have set up their own business. How many of use are there? - civil engineers are a creative lot so I would suggest that there are many of us who have started all kinds of things. However there is no way of finding this out or of engaging with this large resource.
I am sure there is a wealth of knowledge that could be tapped into and my experience so far (admittedly small but then that is the point) is that entrepreneurs who have been successful are happy to share what they have learnt. My thought was that this could be facilitated with mentoring, networking both face to face and maybe online. We could even have these SMEs demonstrating what they do in the foyer at lunchtime or have a competition for the 'best' business started by a member and really celebrate all the different things we do and how engineers are resourceful and solve all kinds of problems.
How about access to a market? All small businesses need to sell their product or service and by definition a lot of what members offer, via their small companies run from their shed or spare room or whatever, will be needed by the membership. This really sparked some good discussion ranging from 'Why should the ICE help the little guy especially when his business is not mainstream civil engineering or not engineering at all' to my thought of, 'It is vital to engage with all members and provide what they need.'
The kind of help here I am suggesting is not the wholesale distribution of members' details but possibly a part of the website where company offerings can be showcased or space made available on an email update that talks about the businesses started by members. I like to engage with ICE events and exhibiting at the Health & Safety Conference last year was very relevant for me. This type of thing is expensive for small businesses like mine so maybe a reduced rate for member owned small organisations could be considered.
So I remained a member when I started my business because I am proud to be part of the ICE and after so long I could't imagine not being. Then I started to wonder what it can offer me and others like me. I suspect that members who have started their own business have done this in many walks of life, some directly related to civils and some less, so lets celebrate that diversity, persuade them to remain active members and create a relevant and respected ICE. I still think it has the potential to offer me a great deal in spite of my business not being main stream civil engineering and as such being labelled (in the nicest possible way) as weird so I have decided I am happy about that rather than miffed!
My input was only a small part of the whole and others put forward the requirements of larger and other types of organisation and I am very grateful to Nathan Baker for inviting me along and organising the event.
Please do use the reply facility to let me know if you think my ideas are useful or crazy or somewhere in between. I have attached below the notes that I took along today as my initial thoughts.
Help that would be useful to ICE Members with their own businesses
I am a member of the ICE and for the last four years have run my own small business, Relaxback UK. Relaxback UK is not an engineering company but is likely to supply engineering companies.
As a member and small business owner there are many services that I would find useful.
Access to Market - The ICE membership represents a market – providing ways to communicate and ultimately to sell to this market would be very helpful. This could be via:
- Include adverts in eshots to members.
- Have spotlights to showcase what members are doing on the website/ in the NCE
- Have a new business show at the ICE or have an exhibition stand in the foyer once a week for businesses to display.
- Have easier/ cheaper access to relevant existing conferences, for example I exhibited at the H & S conference last year.
Access to the Engineering Business Community – Civil engineers are by nature creative and many will have started businesses and encountered and solved some of the issues that arise. Help that could be given:
- Provide a framework for entrepreneurs to meet/ exchange information. How many members run their own business and what do they do?
- Hold networking events aimed at this group with some relevant speakers.
- Have an annual competition for the best/ most creative member business.
- Interview business owners and put them on the website/ in the NCE/ on social media.
- Engage with social media and create an online entrepreneur group.
Practical Help – There are also some simple practical things that can make life easier for a small business some of which exist already but could be developed.
- Provide meeting rooms/ desk space.
- A system of mentoring – there will be very experienced members who have a lot of knowledge of running their own business and providing mentoring in groups.
- Provide access to the purchasing decision makers at the ICE – my products and services are relevant to the staff here.
Back App UK Ltd (Trading as Relaxback UK)
33 Alma Road, St Albans, Herts, AL1 3AT, Tel: 01727 757221
Web: www.relaxbackuk.com Company Registration No: 7663872