Help is on hand for the one-man band

Joanna Parfitt on the consultants that don't cost the earth
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Workers who can offer continuity without commitment are becoming increasingly popular with small and medium-sized businesses. So what are the benefits to both employer and employee?

Sandra Webb has 12 years' experience in personnel management. She now offers a range of services, from job-search preparation to working as an ad hoc personnel manager for small firms. "Everybody who employs someone at some time will have an employee issue. Because there is so much red tape and legislation around, it can be hard for small business owners to keep up to date," she explains.

When a client wanted her to produce contracts of employment for his staff of 11, it took her two days. Next time a personnel issue arises, she will be back, dealing with things such as discipline, training, and recruitment.

After Linda Bond's three years as a personal assistant to the managing director of a management company, she was certain she could cope with anything. This summer she embraced self-employment and is happy to go into companies to undertake whatever is thrown at her.

"I will do anything from setting up systems, purchasing equipment and giving computer training, to auditing an established company's procedures. I am also quite happy to buy a wife's birthday present or organise a surprise party," she says.

By taking on the jobs that would otherwise waste an employee's valuable time, the employee can then get on with what he or she does best. Ms Bond first had the idea for her business several years ago when she discovered that a number of temping assignments led to her being asked to stay and clean up office procedures.

"People have neither the time nor the energy to concentrate on back office stuff," she continues. "If the client company is a one-man band, then I can be particularly valuable."

It takes Ms Bond an average of two weeks to set a new company up from scratch, leaving the managers free to get selling. She would then be glad to go back as and when she is needed, to give computer support, help with recruitment or even type some letters. "My business is getting your business settled so you can get going" she concludes.

Avon Management Services is a management and marketing consultancy established in 1987 by Peter Hopgood. He is often called into a company to help them set up a marketing plan. He can then return as needed to conduct customer surveys, market research or follow up marketing projects.

"Lots of companies cannot afford to employ me full-time, or even part- time. They like to be able to call on me as required and tap into my skills," he says. "A company with just two sales executives, for example, may call me in to help the business expand. It may only take me half a day to give valuable advice."

Mr Hopgood also works for Business Link in the Peterborough area where his skills are available for two hours free of charge at what is termed a "surgery". Through Business Link he works as a facilitator for a company that is developing a strategy under his guidance. Here he sees his role as being a bit like a distance learning tutor. Over a four-month period he will perhaps visit this client 12 times but he is always available at the end of the phone.

"My heart is in helping small businesses," he says, a sentiment that is shared by a growing number of ad hoc employees who can offer such companies continuity without costing the earth.

Sandra Webb can be contacted at Sandra Webb Associates on 01778 560540; Linda Bond can be contacted at LKB Associates on 01780 470795; Peter Hopgood can be contacted at Avon Management Services at 01780 783484;Business Link can be contacted on 0345 567 765