Alastair Duncans Action at Home: Voluntary Consulting in a SME

Alastair Duncan: Voluntary Consulting

What, where, when and how?

I have spent over 20 hours providing voluntary consulting for a 4-year-old hospitality company based in London. Their office is in South East London and I visited it a handful of times to meet with the Founding Director and Senior Management staff as well as to conduct interviews with the office staff. From this process of information elicitation, I was able to complete an Organisational Structure analysis, a Production Process Map and a Breakeven Analysis for the enterprise. I was also able to look through the company’s finances with the Head of Accounts to identify areas of cost saving and potential areas to increase profits. Ultimately, I presented my findings and some recommendations to the Senior Management staff by making a recording of myself speaking and creating a presentation they could refer to. The perspective I could take was quite unique as I temporarily worked for the company (approximately 25 hours) as one of their Events Staff, getting an on-the-ground, client-side perspective of their work at the beginning of my Action at Home project.

Why did you choose to conduct voluntary consulting for this project? 

I am interested in pursuing consulting as a career and I saw this as an opportunity to practice what I had learned during my Challenges Worldwide ICS placement in Ghana where I was a Business Support Associate for BK Farms and learned material for completing the Chartered Management Institute Level 5 Qualification in Consulting. The enterprise was a great example of a company that could benefit from some external consulting as it is large enough to make it interesting to analyse but small enough that the analysis provided could result in some greater insight in how to improve their business. Ultimately, I felt my efforts would benefit a local business, in my local community, which employs mostly students and young people as events staff, providing them with valuable experience and necessary income.

Did your Challenges Worldwide ICS placement inspire this action? If so, how?

My action was completely inspired by my Challenges Worldwide ICS placement. I applied the techniques, tools, and lessons I learned during my project with BK Farm in Ghana alongside Challenges Worldwide and whilst completing the CMI Level 5 Qualification in Consulting. While in Ghana, I decided for my Action at Home I wanted to directly apply what I was doing from an enterprise in Ghana for an SME back in the UK. I would not have been able to approach a company to offer my voluntary consulting services without my Challenges Worldwide ICS experience.

How many people did you talk to through this project?

I spoke to th1e majority of the office staff at the company including senior management as well as events staff employed by the company. At the beginning and end of shifts, I got a chance to talk to the clients themselves in an informal capacity. In total, I may have spoken to around 30 individuals during this project.’

Have you ever done something like this before?

I have provided voluntary consulting for a large international development charity while in my second year of university. I was a member of a team of consultants as part of a pro-bono, student-led consultancy group. I have also provided voluntary consulting as part of my Challenges Worldwide ICS experience for BK Farms in Ghana.

I often will provide valuable insight to others regarding the work experiences I have had in order to pass on useful information to others. While working as a Sabbatical Officer at my university’s Student’s Union, I took a pride in speaking to students about their future career choices in order to ensure they would make a more well-informed decision.

During my time as a Business Support Associate in Ghana, my In-Country Volunteer partner reached out to me for some advice on his CV and cover letters. I went over these with him and had some in-depth discussions regarding his future career following his Challenges Worldwide ICS experience. He has now secured himself a very good finance related job as he desired!

 What did you learn from doing this project?

I was wary of not over-promising outcomes during my initial meetings with Senior Management. Nevertheless, I felt I needed to gain their attention and interest and found myself making suggestions of outcomes I wasn’t sure I could fulfill. In the future, I would try not to make these claims, particularly now after this experience, as I have learned more about what I can actually do within a certain time-frame and limited resources.

Another lesson I learned from this project was how important scope is for a consulting project. I was unable to gain any particular direction for this project. My theory for this was that the Senior Management were cautious to give me any in-depth strategic information, most likely because in doing so there is an increased likelihood of the security of this information being jeopardised which may lead to negative consequences for the company. I recognise this and understand it but it meant the outcome of the project was going to be limited from the beginning.

Finally, I now recognise the important of deadlines and setting a time horizon for a project. It is easy for a project to lose its appeal after a certain amount of time has passed.

4How did you feel when you completed this project?

I felt very grateful that the company i volunteered with were willing to give me as much access to their information as they did and to give up their time for meetings and interviews. I am very happy to have had this experience to better my understanding of what consulting is and my strengths and weaknesses within the field.

I inevitably feel like I could have done more. This is something which you will always feel when you have high expectations for yourself and a strong desire to achieve. Nevertheless, I am happy with what I was able to achieve and have learned to be more content with what you can do rather than beat yourself up about what you could do. Lastly, I felt relieved to be able to move on from this project and to start my career in consulting as I have just started an internship with Tata Consultancy Services as a Business Analyst, in Pune, India.

In what ways has your voluntary consulting action at home changed how you feel about your community?

I was pleased by how excited the enterprise were to get me involved to complete my Action at Home. I feel that perhaps other businesses would also be happy to help people like myself in a similar way. It is businesses like this SME that provide employment, income and enable people within the community. SMEs drive the real economy and play a fundamental role in development amongst our local communities. It was great to be a part of this for a temporary time and makes me feel that starting my own business one day could be a possibility.


2What advice or encouragement would you give other people about to start their action at home?

Specific to my type of Action at Home, do not be afraid to approach a local company to offer them voluntary consulting. The most important things you need to demonstrate to them are:

  • You are professional – you know what you are talking about, have some business experience and something you can produce to help them understand their business and how it can improve
  • You are trustworthy – they will need to share confidential information with you for the project to have any impact. You will need to show that you can be trusted with this – you should suggest signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement and perhaps create a template if they don’t have one
  • You are willing to be flexible – they won’t always be able to make time for you and when they can, you will need to fit their schedule
  • You are important to them – you will need to come up with reasons why they should spend their time on you. Show them previous work, previous results and the potential you can bring to the company. Perhaps highlight an area you think they could improve and demonstrate how you could do this!

Generally regarding Action at Home, it is a great experience and an awesome opportunity to meet new people in your community in order to offer them something that benefits them and yourself. What’s not to enjoy about that?

Any other comments 

I also went to speak at a local Ghanaian church regarding my Challenges Worldwide ICS placement. I attended a church service before going to Ghana and told them what I was going there to do. I then attended a church service after going to Ghana and told them what I actually did. I passed on information regarding Challenges Worldwide ICS and stayed behind to talk to anyone who was interested in knowing more about the scheme.

I actually met the pastor of the church several times while in Ghana and attended his church service while I was there. (pictures below)

Lastly, before moving to India to start my role with TCS as a Business Analyst, I held a goodbye dinner at Adwoa’s Kitchen, a Ghanaian restaurant in Thornton Heath, London, to introduce my friends and family to Ghanaian food!5