In post as Director of Operations and External Resource at Fingerpost my role is quite self-explanatory; I manage our internal operations and I resource all the projects that we win with clients. In this month’s blog it’s the external resource part that I’m keen to talk more about.
I’d been in recruitment for nearly 12 years prior to joining Cath at Fingerpost – the first 6 years solely within temporary market, where hourly/daily rates and large networks of ‘freelance’ candidates were my norm and the latter 6 years predominantly centric to permanent recruitment. I loved the temporary side of recruitment but the markets I worked in didn’t win my interest - this was truly piqued when I went into Market Access and permanent resourcing. The opportunity to join Cath and take responsibility for pulling together and managing project teams for her outsourced offering presented me with a chance to take two areas of interest (and a wealth of opportunity to learn new things) and blend them into what has been a wonderful role so far!
I’m a MASSIVE advocate of freelancers. If, as a business, you are under resourced or under skilled and there is time pressure on you to deliver then why would you not invest in someone experienced who is willing to come into an unknown culture and team and leave again once the job is done? (They may even provide you with some great insights on methodology or practise whilst they’re at it!) I’m pretty sure all the hiring managers/team leads reading this now are thinking ‘cost’ as one of the barriers, but I have experienced many a situation where the simple “pay as you go” cost of the freelancer is far less than the cost of not getting the job done on time or having to pull people off other projects to deliver yours.
Asides ‘cost’ another area for concern could be 'risk’. Of course, the great thing about a freelancer is that there is no employment risk to your business but granted, this ‘risk’ element manifests itself in skill and ability to do the job well – and I will give you this one! It’s always nerve-wracking as a recruiter, indeed as a manager, when you place a contractor who may not turn out to be as good as you thought; even with marvellous references, things can go wrong. This is where the Fingerpost model works incredibly well. We build a freelance project team where we are involved and can guarantee the outcome. More often than not Cath works on content, provides quality control or strategic advice. Occasionally when we face extreme time pressures and see there may be a burden on one freelancer, we manage multiple freelancers working in unison to get the work completed quickly. We have worked with many of our freelancers before and continue to build the network on positive recommendations.
Not only am I a massive advocate of freelancers but it seems so is the general workforce. According to a 2018 report from the Office of National Statistics (UK) “The number of self-employed increased from 3.3 million people (12.0% of the labour force) in 2001 to 4.8 million (15.1% of the labour force) in 2017”. As we frequently get enquiries about “becoming a freelancer” in the Market Access space, we have decided to conduct a short survey on freelancer experience to understand more about the role of a freelancer; measuring how freelancers are currently operating within market access and related fields e.g. medical communications, brand strategy, healthcare market research, HEOR, etc’ (you can participate here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XK8BVXJ). These results will be analysed in June and communicated in our July newsletter, although to give you a little snippet thus far, the overriding reasons for individuals taking the leap into the world of freelance are: lack of flexibility in permanent roles and negative company culture/politics in previous work places.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone (and we have asked about the negatives in our survey too!), nor is it necessary or practical for businesses to engage with freelancers continuously. However, given the limited pool of candidates within Market Access/HEOR, we hope our survey results will prove valuable to both freelancers and employers alike – indeed, freelancers may even help us all to understand the best approach for attracting and retaining high-calibre individuals within the industry.
Hello everyone, its Vic here! What is to follow is my first Blog entry for Fingerpost – I could fill the piece with how I’m getting on after what has now been nearly three months in my new job but that has been done before (in short, I’m having a fab time!).
Instead, I thought I’d share a snapshot as to the last couple of weeks at Fingerpost and what Cath affectionately refers to as our “quieter time” (!!)
Many in Market Access Consulting will know that there are ‘project cycles’ and my first 10 weeks in this job was a real baptism of fire as we rode a huge crest of project deliverables. In short, the wider team here planned, recruited for, conducted, analysed and reported on nearly 50 EU and US Payer Interviews. In addition, we compiled desk research, proposals and analogue studies as well as designing and conducting three workshops – oh, and Cath did some Strategic Advice work both in the UK and France. It’s been a busy whirlwind!
We closed off a lot of this work in mid-March and proceeded to sit down, breathe (with tea and cake), tie up administration, work on some of our own company strategy/materials and think ahead to the pipeline of projects we have kicking off in the next few weeks…
…well, we have had the opportunity to have some shorter, more relaxed days in lieu, (and a good volume of cake!) however, these weeks have been far from ‘quiet’ as more consultancies, including some new businesses, engaged with us for support including;
With all this activity going on in our 'quieter time', I have returned to what I know best and have started scouring the landscape with the intention of growing our internal team as well as continuing to expand our freelance network. We have added a ‘Join Us’ tab to the website and will continue to update this space with live vacancies. Freelancers can also register their interest to work with us on this page.
As a business our internal recruitment aim is to provide permanent staff with the flexibility of a freelancer alongside the safety cushion of employment – it’s a busy market and our quieter times aren’t strictly ‘quiet’ but we do value this time to recharge, take back some time, re-focus and mix things up with immersing ourselves in the tasks and learnings that come naturally in a small business.
I’d love to keep in touch with anyone in Market Access who might be interested in a permanent role that offers a bit more flexibility or even those who are thinking of going down the freelance route and would like some friendly support and advice!
This is my 4th year working independently under my own company, Fingerpost Consulting, and my 12th year as a ‘Market Access’ Consultant (as broad and vague as that term is!). Throughout that time, January has always been a quiet month. With this in mind, I tend to save this time for business planning for the year ahead, visiting clients to discuss potential opportunities and finishing off the few remaining strands of work resulting from December deadlines. Of course, as a freelancer, I’ve had ongoing contracts that required supporting, but nothing too strenuous.
I think you can see where I’m going with this, but this year has been the exception. I already knew that the month was going to be busy as by December we had committed to support an ongoing contract and three new outsourced payer research projects in Q1. However, the real surprise has come from the weekly, sometimes daily, requests and quotes to support other projects and contracts. And these have not just been requests for support from me, but for specific members of the Fingerpost team, including experts that we might be able to recommend, or for certain freelancers that we’ve worked with in the past. Most excitingly we’ve been approached to partner with other small agencies, helping them to expand their remit. The sudden demand has certainly taken me by surprise, particularly as given the time of year!
It’s left me wondering whether the Fingerpost team are creating this situation or just reacting to demand which extends beyond our control. I’m happy with either, but I would love to know whether this is going to blow over and be one of those ‘remember when we were crazy busy…?’ times, or whether this is here to stay and we need to think about ramping up our recruitment plan! I put it to the Fingerpost team in our weekly catch up, and here were some of our thoughts:
On the other hand, we have been doing a lot behind the scenes to grow the business:
Most likely it is a combination of all factors, or it could be a complete coincidence, but once an analyst, always an analyst…. 😉
If you’ve had a similar month, I would love to hear your thoughts on why that might be (you can comment below). Or, you may be in the position of expanding your business and are wondering how we could support you. We don’t just offer support and take on outsourced projects; we can help upskill your team too. For more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
+44 (0)7584 067407
Over the past 11 years, I have been involved with a number of projects that include market research interviews with payers. The aim of these projects is usually to gather feedback from the payer to help identify value drivers, validate value messages and/or inform market access strategy.
In my permanent consultancy roles I was involved from the proposal stage or kick off meeting, through to delivery of the findings. However, as a freelancer I am often asked to just fill in for one aspect of the project e.g. by conducting some of the interviews or just analysing a few transcripts and summarising the key findings in a report. In this capacity, I often have to work with a discussion guide that someone else has developed, which has made me increasingly aware of what makes a good discussion guide vs a bad one… So this month I thought I would summarise my top tips for preparing a discussion guide:
1. Make sure your main objective is simple and clear
Why are you doing the interviews? What is the main question you are hoping to answer? This is the most important step prior to developing a discussion guide. Defining this early on is important as it can also help you to understand who you need to interview, as well as the types of questions you want to ask. By defining the objective and helping the interviewer to understand why you are doing the research, what aspects of the project it will be informing, and even any hypotheses you want to validate, you will get a much better output from the interview. If you don’t do this, the interviewer will ask the questions as they are written down but will find it hard to know what responses to explore in more detail.
2. Keep ‘scripted’ lines as short as possible
You are not paying for someone to listen to you read out information, but to provide answers to your questions. By all means provide enough information so that the interviewer can answer any questions from the interviewee, but don’t insert a 5 minute speech for them to read out before the interviews start. If you need to provide further information to put the interview into context, this should be communicated in writing at recruitment and/or through any materials provided to the interviewee to help them prepare.
3. Write open questions
An open question is any that will typically provide a long answer, as opposed to closed questions that can be answered with a yes or a no. There are different definitions, but the following link provides some good guidance
Sometimes a closed question is appropriate, but from the interviewer’s perspective it can be tiring to keep probing ‘why’ when the question could have asked this in the first place. Also, as the interview runs on, the interviewee is likely to tire of providing detailed responses and will answer with a simple yes or no if they can!
4. Keep questions fairly topline
If you ask a specific question, you’ll get a specific reply. This is fine in some instances but often disrupts the flow of the interview and leaves little space to explore the response. You are more likely to understand what an interviewee really thinks about something if they have the opportunity to describe it in their own words, and it’s a finding in itself to hear what the interviewee automatically prioritises in their explanation.
5. Use plain English
If you’re not aware of the Plain English Campaign (http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/about-us.html) already, then I strongly advise you read some of their free guides. Writing simple, clear questions reduces the risk of misinterpretation by both interviewer and interviewee. Plain English is also absolutely vital if you are interviewing someone whose first language isn’t English, or if you intend to have the interview guide translated.
6. Halve the number of questions
When you’ve drafted all of the questions you would like to ask, think about how long you have allowed to answer each one. If you have 12 questions in a 60-minute interview, you have allowed 5 minutes per question for the interviewee to respond and for the interviewer to probe. I would typically draft the questions I want to ask, then go back and remove or combine as many as I can. I try to allow a minimum of 3 minutes per question, and also consider how long the interviewee will need to look through any visual aides.
7. Include a few probes, but don’t go overboard
An experienced interviewer will know when and what to probe, particularly if the objective of the interviews is clear. Every probe you add should be considered as an additional question in the overall timing because it still takes time to run through them. In general, I would only include specific probes that would not automatically come to mind when asking the question.
8. Don’t make it too busy
Provide opportunities for ‘thinking’ time, both for the interviewer as well as the interviewee. There is often the need for the interviewee to process the question before answering, and for the interviewer to collect their thoughts and check that everything has been covered in the responses. If you include too much for the interviewer to do (e.g. questions, probes, scripted lines to read out, briefing materials to refer to), you don’t allow the interviewer the capacity to ‘listen’ to the responses and adapt their questions accordingly. Likewise, there should be enough flexibility in the guide to switch questions around in accordance with the interviewees train of thought.
9. Don’t forget the visual aides
Any visual aides/briefing materials for the interview should be equally brief - even if shared in advance. Trying to gather feedback on 20 slides is not really possible within a 60-minute interview, even without any other questions.
For example, if the aim of the interview is to understand what value is likely to drive procurement decisions of product x in local hospitals, you will probably want to split the interview questions into the following themes:
In the example provided, and assuming we have planned to cover this off in a 60-minute interview, I would limit the guide to 4-5 questions per key theme. That works out as 3-4 minutes per question, although in reality some questions will require more discussion than others. Four key themes works well for a 60-minute interview because you can split the interview into 15 minute portions (give or take a couple of minutes at the beginning and end for introductions and wrap up, respectively). To further help the interviewer you could also include the approximate timings for each section of the discussion guide.
For the example themes, you may want to share a series of slides summarising the values of Product X but I would typically limit this to around 5 slides. Some people like to send slides in advance of the interviews so the interviewee is able to prepare; I prefer to share them on my screen during the course of the interview, which is again why you don’t want too much content! Even if the slides are sent in advance, you should be prepared that the interviewee may not look at them until the time of the interview.
Of course, this is just my approach to developing a discussion guide and there are no hard and fast rules. These tips are also focused on qualitative primary research methods. If you have any other tips you usually follow, please do comment below as I’m interested in hearing other people’s experiences. Or, if you would like to explore this in further detail, get in touch; we are happy to develop a training workshop to help develop your team’s skills in relation to conducting primary research with payers.
+44 (0)7584 067407
Hello and welcome to the September blog. Last month Louise shared her thoughts on the benefits of office yoga, but this month I wanted to share something a bit closer to home for our business activities: The Kendal Network.
Logo developed by Karrie Brown at Ms Bandit Wood Art
What is the Kendal Network? Well, it’s a group of market access and HEOR experts, professionals and very small agencies. A ‘trusted trader’ network, if you like. I’ll tell you more about it in a bit, but first I want to go back to the beginning.
When I first branched out as a freelancer in 2015, I met up with Keith Tolley who I knew from my days at Mapi Values (now Adelphi Values) and who had since established Tolley Health Economics. Keith was a great support and told me about his ideas for a trusted trader network. Keith organised an initial meeting in Kendal (Lake District) with other market access/HEOR professionals and, as such, the Kendal Network was established in 2016. This was followed by a less formal meeting at ISPOR in 2017. Both meetings provided a great opportunity for us all to share our experiences and expertise, as well as discuss hot topics in the industry; consequently, resulting in a number of collaborative opportunities.
Earlier this year, after a series of email exchanges, it was agreed that benefit could be derived for all by widening The Kendal Network further. Three of us (me, Louise, and Maximilian Lebmeier) agreed to support Keith and his team in organising another meeting and all put forward suggestions of other potential members who would complement the network. And so, we met on 14th September and were joined by:
As well as providing the opportunity to get to know one another better, the day provided a lot of fruitful discussion and relevant insights on the ‘hot topics’ of the moment. Topics included the NICE scientific advice process, changes being introduced by the SMC for ultra-orphan products, implications of the updated NICE STA process and the changing landscape of clients requiring market access support. I found this really valuable as there are limited opportunities as a freelancer to seek advice or bounce ideas around with someone more experienced, or with different expertise.
We also discussed potential opportunities to collaborate and agreed how the Kendal Network should operate. The overall consensus was to continue to operate informally as a network of professionals, providing guidance and advice, and collaborating on HTA and health outcomes projects, as the opportunity arises. There are no plans to turn our offering into a separate consultancy or business. Instead, the aim and benefit of forming connections through the network is to strengthen our individual value propositions.
So now you know what The Kendal Network is, feel free to tell your friends and colleagues. Through the network, we now have access to a diverse set of professionals and experts who can support us with HTA and health outcomes projects, as needed. The main benefit of joining together is to learn, share and increase our business opportunities so we have no plans to market The Kendal Network widely, however, you may see our logo from time to time!
All the best for the month ahead,
Managing Director & Lead Consultant,
Fingerpost Consulting Ltd