About one or two out of every ten readers (16 percent, to be exact) plan to start their own consulting business in 1998, according to this year's White Paper research survey. What are they getting into? Are environmental health and safety consultants bullish or bearish about prospects for the coming year? Two hundred and seventy-one consultants responded to the White Paper survey. Let's look at how they answered questions about issues and trends in the field.

First, a few demographics. The average consultant surveyed for the White Paper is 45 years old. Eighty-six percent are male. Sixty-two percent work in firms with 100 or fewer employees. Twenty-nine percent primarily focus on safety; 19 percent on industrial hygiene, and 19 percent on environmental affairs. Another 16 percent provide operations or engineering services. (The need to be multi-disciplined in consulting is clear: 78 percent of consultants surveyed handle safety; 68 percent are involved in health and industrial hygiene, and 59 percent are involved in environmental areas. Crossover responsibilities are more common in consulting than with White Paper respondents in general.)

Budgets and staffing

The past year has been favorable to most consultants surveyed. Only 8 percent experienced budget cuts, and 13 percent cut back on staff levels. Twenty-eight percent increased budgets, and 20 percent added personnel. It's a similarly bright outlook for 1998. About 10 percent of the consultants surveyed project budget cuts, with 31 percent planning to boost budgets. Nine percent expect to reduce headcount, and 22 percent will be hiring. More consultants say they will be adding to staff than any other group surveyed: manufacturing, process industries, government, and construction.

Most consultants (61 percent) feel they have the resources needed to get the job done, though only 37 percent say they have enough time. Still, that's higher than the 22 percent of respondents in manufacturing who say they have adequate time to do their work. Retired EHS pros who can be selective in taking on clients as consultants might account for this difference.

Key skills

It's interesting to look at the skills consultants value, compared to other EHS pros. Like all pros, consultants put a premium on communication. Eighty-nine percent say it's very important. Given the technical work that is often outsourced to consultants, it's not surprising that 80 percent say technical knowledge is very important.

The biggest difference of opinion regarding skills between consultants and other professionals has to do with business-related abilities. Almost half of the consultants surveyed (47 percent) say selling skills are very important, versus 32 percent of all respondents. Suffice to say you can't survive as a consultant if you can't sell.

Also, 36 percent of consultants say documenting the financial impact of EHS activity is very important, compared to 31 percent of all respondents. Financial impact is one way consultants market their services.

Marketing considerations also are evident in another area. Forty-six percent of consultants say professional certification is very important to their career growth, compared to 36 percent of all respondents. Seventy-two percent of consultants will pursue or maintain professional certification in 1998, compared to 62 percent across the board.

Business drivers

What's going to drive consulting business in the next 5-10 years? By far, most consultants point to regulatory compliance. Seventy percent say OSHA and EPA regs will be a driver. And as consulting goes global, it's not surprising that international regs are given emphasis. Almost half the consultants surveyed (46 percent) predict industrial expansion around the world will contribute to business growth, and 42 percent specifically point to international standards.

It's interesting that most consultants do not see behavioral safety programs as a long-term driver. Only 27 percent expect behavioral safety to be a driver. That's somewhat surprising, given the number of consultants now marketing behavioral programs.

Finally, how do consultants feel about their jobs? It appears the consulting life carries the same uncertainties as EHS jobs in industry. For example, one in every four consultants say they'll be worried about job security next year. Twenty-two percent will actively look for another job, and 47 percent expect to feel a rewarding sense of job satisfaction.