Frequently Asked Questions for A Private Practice of Industrial Hygiene, by Dan Napier, MS, CIH, CSP.
The following items are based on my opinion and have the usual disclaimers. In My Humble Opinion (IMHO) if you disagree with me, OK, I am good with that. Do not act on anything that you do not want to do. Do not take advice from anybody, including yourself. Seek and find the truth, do not believe anybody, including yourself.
Should I call myself an Industrial Hygiene Consultant?
Well you may, but a consultant is someone brought in for a second opinion. There are no requirements to be a consultant. So you are joining a very large and usually unqualified group. That is why there are so many jokes about a consultant being someone with a briefcase coming from far away. Most business people consider the word “consultant” to be close to a pejorative. A far better term is an Industrial Hygienist in Private Practice. That speaks to your professional ability and the CIH that you have earned. By the way if you are not a CIH do not list yourself as an industrial hygienist. In many states there are legal requirements associated with calling yourself an Industrial Hygienist. Someone in California spent two years in jail for claiming to be an IH, when he was not an ABIH accredited CIH.
Do customers know what an Industrial Hygienist is?
The ones that pay you certainly do. The title CIH or Industrial Hygienist is very well known in the professions that need our services. The State of California requires that anyone advertizing or acting as an Industrial Hygienist must be ABIH certified. The CBD lists many jobs for CIHs. Your Aunt Hilda may not know what an IH is, but generally she is not the one sending you checks for your work. Personally I have never met a Lawyer, Physician, Plant Manager or Manufacturing Business Owner who did not understand what an industrial hygienist was.
What should I name my company?
Do what you want, call it anything, but check and make certain that your selection is not in use already. There is a lot to be said for “John Smith, CIH” that is if you are in fact John Smith. People respect the fact that you are standing up as yourself with all that that implies.
Do I need a license to practice?
Most certainly, if you are practicing in most cities you must have a license to do business in that city. Most local regulations require licenses for business ventures. Some cities can be very pesky about this as they see it as a good revenue source. The state of Illinois requires you to be a Licensed Industrial Hygienist, most states have the so called four day wonder licensing requirements for specific work, notably lead and asbestos.
Where should I practice?
A most personal question. A CIH I greatly admire came to my State and looked around for the best conditions for his practice. He selected a city where he felt comfortable living and that had very few other CIH’s practicing there. The area had a large and growing industrial and agricultural base. But for you, the question is more personal, where are you now? Do you like it there?
Should I start my Practice Moonlighting while I am still working for someone else?
More than one hundred years ago Goethe was quoted –“Make a commitment to something, when you do all sorts of opportunities will open up to you, things you never thought possible or considered. Unless you make the commitment you will only have delay and disappointment.” Those words are current today as they were years ago. Moonlighting may expose your current employer to liability that they did not know about or accept. Your employer usually does not expect you to engage in moonlighting you may essentially be stealing from them. Universities are a noted exception to the moonlighting issue. If you cannot openly discuss your extra curricular work with your current employer, you should not do the work. Lastly I find that the Practice of Industrial Hygiene requires a full week every week, you are going to shortchange either yourself, your current employer or your clients.
Should I work for another Consulting Group that is already in Business in my Community?
Other groups may be an excellent lead into other work, but there is a high risk of unethical behavior. IH’s have found that someone they were “Stringing” for were charging much more for the IH than what the IH was charging the Consulting Group. Or the consulting group simply stole clients that were the IH’s client base. On the other hand with a clear contract document you can virtually eliminate the cost of insurance and client acquisition by working for a group that acquires business for you. Insurance companies frequently want to hire you for a particular item, and they have no concern if the insured-client subsequently hires you for other work. A Consulting Group would take a dim view of that. Splitting fees is a difficult task, again it requires trust. What was actually billed that you are splitting 80/20? The split of fees is your business and should be based on many factors. What is the cost of the overall contract? How big is the project? A one day project needs to be generous to the IH, a large multi year project needs to generous to the Client.
Should I buy an existing IH Company?
What is their Telephone Number, how long has it been out there? What is their URL(WWW Web Address)? If you Google CIH do they even appear? If they are on the first or second page, buy the company otherwise FORGETABOUTIT. What are you buying? You cannot become the old IH, and all they really have is their reputation. You may consider buying the equipment, and phone number and URLS, however you are not the other person and you cannot be the other person. When you buy an established practice you may be buying some liabilities, or unhappy clients. Think of the purchase as a purchase of used IH equipment, a URL, a phone number and a mailing list. Most of these are things you do not see for sale even on Ebay®. The last time I heard about an IH buying somebodies practice he paid more than thirty thousand dollars for it and he was back working for a company within the year.
What should I set as a monthly goal?
When I started so long ago, I thought if I can clear 3000.00 a month I’ll be OK. Well let me tell you, clearing 3000.00 a month is nearly impossible. I have never been able to do it. 10,000.00, 15,000.00 or 20,000.00 easy, but 3000.00, kinda hard to do. Forget about worrying about how much you are going to earn, worry about how much you are going to do, and then do it. Try as a starting point http://www.osec.doc.gov/osdbu/.
How should I bill my Clients?
Learn to use a good software accounting system that has the ability to bill clients automatically. Send out the bill when you finish the work or at agreed upon benchmarks. Then send a bill monthly until it is paid up. The US Department of Commerce has a good collection of letters to use to send with late bills. The same site has good contracts and other business forms.
How about a really profitable Contract once in awhile?
A good contract is fair to both the contractor and the client. When the client pays too much they eventually will become dissatisfied. When the contractor is paid too little they will become dissatisfied. Your goal is to be impeccable with the truth and keep the books and the costs correctly. That said you need to really understand the marketplace, do not overcharge or undercharge the market. Your best source of information is your clients, and colleagues. It is an unfair trade practice to meet with competition for the sole purpose of fixing rates. You can test the market and find out what others are charging and set your prices accordingly. Most of your clients will stay with you, unless you are well over the market.
How many CIH’s are in Private Practice?
You know I do not know. Look at the ABIH roster and it seems every other CIH is listed as a consultant. I have such an aversion to the word I was not listed for awhile. Hopefully someday the ABIH will upgrade the profession and list the CIH’s in Private Practice. In a nice neighborhood, (Manhattan Beach, CA) in the hill section, there are four CIH’s within about five blocks, two are in private practice two work for large Aerospace companies. It’s most likely like that in most other places.
What are the HOT niches to get into?
I will quote my class notes and John Corcoran. “Find something that you love to do and do well. Do it. It should be considered difficult by others and you should get paid well to do it. Someone asked about BSL-3 safety audits, great idea, become the expert in biological safety. If you are interested in doing the work, others will not want to compete with you and you should be well compensated.
How should I sell myself?
Know the rules of ethical conduct. Memorize them, then live them to the fullest extent. Behave honestly at all times. Be impeccable with the truth. Be available to your client base. Selling yourself is really your own personal choice. A CIH who wanted to be in Private Practice, but delayed and delayed. He finally made the commitment and started his Private Practice, within the first month he was on the cover of a magazine published statewide to all of California’s Lawyers. His enthusiasm and commitment to the IH practice got him noticed immediately. I speak of priming the pump, you have to give of yourself to be able to have others commit to you.
What is my Client base?
Who do you like working for and who knows you? A client base is the people who respect you and pay you to help them. The old 80-20 rule usually applies here. If you forgot the 80-20 rule here it is. Eighty percent of your work generates twenty percent of your income. That means that twenty percent of your customers are paying you eighty percent of your income. Look carefully at your current efforts, you will most likely find that the ratio holds pretty well. If you can just shift it a little you can increase your income significantly.
How do I find a Client Base?
Do what you like to do and do it for the clients who need the service. A very successful CIH had a practice in a small desert community. There were no industrial plants there, just a very relaxed and pleasant living conditions. His practice was for law firms and most of his work was research or expert witness work. Research needs a good internet connection and expert work usually is not sensitive to your location. On the other hand he was a very well known and an established expert in his field. Do not expect to locate somewhere in the desert and have people flocking to you, unless you are a well known expert.
Where should I advertize?
That depends on where you want your clients from. Advertizing in the telephone books generally brings in homeowners. A carefully crafted website will bring your information to a wide cross section of clients. The longer you are on the world wide web the better your listing will be. Teaching at local universities and colleges is a good way to build both credibility and a client base. Speaking at local Chamber of Commerce and Bar meetings is another way to become known to your community. Active membership in both the ASSE and AIHA will be very helpful to your practice. I am one of the worlds worst golfers, but I generally meet potential customers when I play in the local charity tournaments. Be an active part of your community–remember “you have to prime the pump before you can drink the water” Spending a lot of money on advertizing will not get you thriving practice, it will get you lots of advertizing debt. Check with your local laws, you may be legally required to show some license number or other salient items on your advertizing.
Should I try direct mail?
The key here is do you have a list of people who will hire you? A CIH who worked for an Insurance Company used to save every business card he ever got. When he started his practice he wrote everybody a letter. It was a well designed merge letter, that produced about a ten percent return. He started his practice with those first projects. I understand that his last direct mail letter produced an even better return. So direct mail is good –if you have a targeted audience and you do a good job with the merge letter. Design a database that has the information broken down. Data fields must be specific, if you have Jones, Bob as a single name field you will have problems. You want to be able to say dear Mr Jones, address the letter to Mr. Bob Jones and be able so say, “Bob, I look forward to....” somewhere in the letter. Bear in mind that you will rarely see a better than ten percent return, some mass marketers would be thrilled with a 0.01 percent return. Some of my letters have resulted in work years after I sent the letter.
What about a Short Newsletter?
Well we are talking old fashioned BLOG, are we not. A newsletter to a base of clients is a good thing, but do not expect to see instant results. Sometimes a client shows up with a newsletter that I sent out ten years ago. A news letter is good, especially if you have something interesting to say.
What about Giveaways?
I have given away calendars and pens, but the best item so far was a coffee mug. They last a very long time and most folks want a coffee mug for work or whatever. Pens are inexpensive and popular, the calendars are a little too personal so I believe most people said thank you and then used Microsoft Outlook®.
Should I have a WEB Site?
I believe that almost fifty percent of my new business comes to me from the WWW. That was not true when I started, heck there was no WWW then. A WEB Presence helps you provide a copy of your CV as well as your services. Keep it simple and uncluttered. Provide good factual information.
What should I pay to have my www site built?
Are you kidding? If you can use a word processor, you can publish it yourself. Where you host it is another thing. Find a low cost web hosting system. You should not be paying more than thirty bucksters a month for WWW Hosting. I put up my own web server, used an old desktop and the rest is history. If you still want to have someone write your web site you should expect pay around $500.00 to $1000.00. Do not copy someone else’s web site, besides being unethical it is a copyright violation. Be very careful about using any other sites as a pattern or model, you may find yourself in a very costly copyright infringement case.
Should I pay to have my Web Site Optimized?
Paying for search engine optimization is generally a waste of money, some of the so called search engine optimizer vendors actually get you banned from some search engines. The best optimization is to write your web page in HTML4 Code and have as much information as you can on the site. Spinning rotameters are cute, but they do not get you listed on the first page of Yahoo. High density photos slow down your site and discourage views. You want the most views, and the fastest loads.
Should I buy Business Cards and Stationery?
In the Orient when someone gives you their Card it is polite to take the card with both hands, look at the front carefully and turn over the card and look at the back carefully. My point is your letter and your business card are sometimes the only thing that the person who pays you will ever see. That said your letterhead and business card need to express professional style. The letterhead paper must be acid free, your reports often must be maintained for thirty years by law. Stuart F Cooper Company ® (213) 747-7141is a printer that still does engraving, and an engraved business card is a hallmark of quality and sophistication. They are located on both coasts. They are not inexpensive. Put your name, certification and licenses on your card. Check with your local laws, you may be legally required to show some license number or other salient items on your card–it qualifies as advertizing.
What is better: A client that likes me, or one that respects me?
Purchases are always made with a strong piece of emotion. You have to have both, but the liking part is sometimes able to be ignored if you are really good at what you do. When a CIH who was working for an Insurance Carrier started his Private Practice, one of his accounts at the carrier was a furniture manufacturer, who was very difficult to work with. When the CIH told them he was starting his own private practice and someone else would be working with them. They were even more unhappy than usual. They insisted that the CIH let them hire him as his first paying customer. Why? Because the CIH was very effective in doing his job, and they – even though they resisted every recommendation -- still respected and valued his opinion.
Should I have a home office or business office?
The Japanese have a concept that says when you want to learn something you go to that special place where only that what you want to learn exists. I personally have maintained an office for most of my practice. When I started I did practice from my home for about six months. I had a 250 ft office that was located at the back of my home. I told my kids that if they had an emergency that involved blood loss that they could not stop-- they then could disturb me, I was not married at the time. An office gives you a place to work and keep your business there. The cost of an office has never been anything that I could not afford as part of a practice. I believe the office is a critical if you have other people working for you. There are many local office suites that provide a small office, internet access and usually a receptionist. You can rent them on a month to month basis. That would be my suggestion for a start up IH Practice.
How important is my telephone number?
Keep a phone number as long as you can. 800 numbers are now relatively inexpensive. Your telephone number is a key contact for you. You will have, pens, mugs and letters out there with you phone number on it. The recent changes in telephone regulations make it easier to keep your phone number. Most likely the two most valuable items in anyone’s practice is the phone number and the web site.
What is VOIP?
To quote Howard Hughes “It is the wave of the future” Voice over TCPIP or the internet. Very sophisticated answering machine technology that is relatively inexpensive. AT&T® sells two VOIP lines for about fifty dollars a month. All you can eat calling to US and Canada with Conference calling and follow me call routing. When people call you, you can get the calls on your office phone, your cell phone or your home phone. A complete loss of privacy is at your command, or you can simply put them on DND (Do not Disturb) and get the calls in your email in box. You have to have a constant fast internet connection to use VOIP. Cable or fiber optic (FIOS) can easily support VOIP.
Should I form a Corporation?
There is no protection from either criminal or civil liability because you have a corporation. From a liability standpoint you are better served to pay for higher levels of insurance. You can be charged with criminal conduct for environmental crimes both as an individual and as an officer of the corporation. If you are sued for civil liability both the individual and the corporation are named. As far as criminal liability the corporation offers you no refuge what so ever, in fact a corporation often pays more in fines than a sole owner would. In California Corporations pay a minimum tax each year, around $900.00. IMHO, If you have many employees and want them to own part of the company a corporation is the way to go. If you are forming a group of owners (Partners) a corporation is the way to go. The warning here is that you need to get good legal advice about the laws in your State.
Isn’t asking an Accountant or Lawyer about forming a corporation like going to a automobile dealership and asking if you need to buy a new car?
That is a very well framed question. Both accountants and lawyers are required if you own a corporation. The books of a corporation generally require that you have a CPA. A corporation that is involved in any litigation must be represented by an attorney. I wonder if that is why attorneys and CPAs so strongly advise the formation of corporations?
How much liability insurance should I have?
You should have enough Liability Insurance to cover your net worth. If you own property and have a significant net worth you need to obtain good professional advice. Find an Insurance broker that you like and trust, and then let them know that you shop them every year. EEIS is a very competitive insurance broker, they can obtain coverage for you because they specialize in high risk enterprises and clearly understand the practice of industrial hygiene. Call David Newell, PE at 800-464-6014. Liability insurance is based on your annual gross, so when you start out it is what you estimate you will be earning. Hint estimate low, sometimes for a small increase in premium you can even get a non-audited policy. You can pay for the insurance monthly, but there is a finance charge for the monthly premium service. Go for high deductibles and multi year premiums for the best rates.
What is the difference between Liability Insurance and Errors and Omissions Insurance?
There is no difference, only the coverage. Errors and Omissions Liability Insurance (E&O) is professional liability insurance. Most liability insurance such as your homeowners insurance excludes E&O coverage. Generally you need specific E&O coverage and that might exclude some activities, such as mold or asbestos work, but you can negociate all that when you purchase the coverage. Liability insurance is a very important item and should be addressed before you start your private practice of Industrial Hygiene.
What are Confidentiality Agreements & Non Disclosure Agreements?
These are agreements that require you to not disclose or discuss or advertize information that you find while working for someone. Since the practice of Industrial Hygiene finds, discovers and identifies intimate information you may frequently have to sign Confidentiality Agreements & Non Disclosure Agreements. That said you may find yourself in a very difficult situation when a client attempts to hide information that is legally required to be disclosed. More is discussed in the Retainer Agreement section.
Should I have a Retainer Agreement?
You must have a good retainer agreement. The American Industrial Hygiene Association has a template for a retainer agreement. It is a good start. There are several items that I do not believe are good ideas. My retainer agreement is not the same as the agreement recommended by the AIHA, but it has many similar items. This is an important document, you should seek advice from your liability insurer and your legal counsel (Lawyer). A client that balks at signing a retainer agreement is usually someone who will find any excuse to not pay you or try to sue you. Your retainer agreement should spell out clearly what will be done and what it will cost. It must address who owns the work. It must spell out what happens when disclosures must be made, and who will make the disclosure. It must spell out who pays for your time if a lawsuit later happens and you are called as a prescient witness. You could spend a great deal of time in testimony and other work and not be compensated for any time or work. Be certain that your retainer protects you when there is a legal requirement to disclose some facts. Include a duty to defend so that the client has the responsibility to pay for your legal costs, and include a hold harmless clause in your agreement.
Should I collect Advance Fees?
Some work requires advance fees, other work based on your comfort level do not require advance fees. Some clients should be on a COD basis, based on their past payment record. Others do not need to be or some large companies cannot advance fees, and they will take a long time to pay. They usually expect to pay more for the services that you provide, be certain to calculate the payment delay into your fee schedule. Ask for credit references, discuss payment history with other suppliers. If you keep the discussion informal you will find out a wealth of information about your potential or current clients. Be careful about written discussions of clients credit worthiness. Personally I do not usually demand fees in advance for most work. But most of my clientele are well established companies. Startup companies, homeowners should pay as they go and cover all costs that you advance for them. Getting an advance for hard costs is not unusual. Hard costs are monies spent on behalf of the client, air travel, laboratory fees etc.
How much time will it take to have a Private Practice?
You will get out of your effort what you put in. I usually spend more than forty hours a week with my practice. But I often take time for other than IH work, whenever I want. When I leave for a vacation I arrange for someone to be able to take care of any clients that need help when I am gone. It is very important to have a network of other practitioners who you can trust. Of course you may need to cover for someone else when they are on vacation. Being in Private Practice is not for everyone, the best thing about being your own boss is also the worst thing. You have no one to help you or to blame when things go wrong. You are truly a pure commission sales person, if you do not work you do not eat. I can assure you though that the food tastes better when you grow it yourself.
What are the main “Do’s” ?
Follow up on commitments. Complete your work as quickly as possible. Bill for your work when you deliver the finished product. Be impeccable with the truth. Listen to your clients and find out what they want, and find out what they need. Then bring those two thing together and help the client realize the best outcome for the client.
What are the main “Don’ts?
Do not purchase anything that has a monthly maintenance fee. Do not spend a great deal of money starting up, start small and grow into the Practice. Do not start up with plans of global domination. Do not start up because you think you can make a bunch of money doing something you have no particular interest in, knowledge of or skill doing.
What Laboratories should I use?
Develop a close relationship with a Laboratory that you like. The Laboratory must be AIHA® accredited, and of course have all the local and state licenses. DHL® makes it possible to send any lab in the US material the next day, so the labs location is not so important. But I prefer working with a few local and very reputable labs. A word of caution I do not recommend using labs that have a closely affiliated IH group, or who are owned by an IH group. You will never get a referral from that laboratory. If you insist on using a Laboratory that competes with you directly be certain to encode the work location and the clients name, that way your client will stay your client.
What are some good books to read?
Besides Patty? I recommend “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, “Mistakes were made, but not by me” by Carol Tavris, Elliot Aronson and “Why does the toast always land butter side down?” by Richard Robinson.