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
Hi everyone, Louise here! As summer turns ever so quickly to autumn all of us at Fingerpost are looking forward to getting back into our weekly yoga practice as Susie our amazing teacher returns from her summer break. We have been having Yoga classes with Susie since January this year after Helen in our team mused during the Fingerpost Christmas lunch how nice it would be to use our large meeting room for some weekly group exercise. Little did we know how much that suggestion would impact on all of our lives.
Rewind back to our first class, we all sat on squishy mats bare foot and in our best gym leggings waiting to see what we had let ourselves in for. Some of us had done some yoga before and others non, but Susie came in and made us all feel instantly at ease and not self-conscious at all. The first class was a mixture of stretching poses and strength building followed by a lovely 10 min Savasana (lying down with a warm blanket listening to a guided meditation or simply a relaxing snooze). At the end of the class we all came away feeling energised as well as calm, looking forward to next week’s session.
As the weeks progressed we all started to see improvements in our flexibility and balance and we made sure we made time for it in our increasingly busy days. We learnt that by giving ourselves that hour, we were actually more productive and personally it made me feel more able to manage the day to day stresses of life, kids and work.
My light bulb moment that made me realise I really needed to practice yoga regularly was at the end of a particularly challenging class (Susie pushes us without us even knowing it – clever lady). Susie asked us to think of one thing we were going to do this week for ourselves, reminding us all how important it is to be kind to yourself. In my head I thought, “wow; be kind to myself, it’s a while since I have actively done that”! Being reminded that if we are kind to ourselves we will also be kinder to those around us really resonated with me trying to balance my busy life.
Don’t get me wrong, yoga hasn’t taken over my life, but I try my hardest to practice when I can, knowing just 20mins will make me a calmer nicer mum, wife, friend and colleague. As well as helping me with the aches and pains of my other sporting activities (I love to lift weights too).
Aware of the impact it had on me, I thought I’d ask the rest of the team what they thought. The feedback made me realise how it’s helped us all in different ways! The perspectives included:
I guess what I am trying to get across is sometimes taking yourself out of your comfort zone, trying something new and being kind to yourself can have a bigger impact than you thought possible! Oh and yeah I recommend you try yoga, you might just love it!
View Susie's youtube channel here.
This month I’ve been thinking about what is in store for us as a small business and how we can keep evolving to keep offering relevant and helpful support for our clients. At the end of August, Fingerpost Consulting has been operating for three years. That’s not a long time in the scheme of things, but in my head, three years was the magic timeframe to determine whether the business would be a success or not. As it turns out, I still feel that this is just the beginning and we are still evolving our service… However, if the last three years have been nothing but extended market research, it is clear that there is a demand for our services and I am immensely proud of everything we’ve achieved so far. And of course, I’m extremely grateful to the agencies and individuals who have given us the opportunity to support them. And to Louise, Kaz and our extended team of freelancers who have helped us to fulfil our commitments and (hopefully!) exceed expectations.
Looking back, the first two years were largely spent as me providing freelance support to market access consultancies. It wasn’t long before I realised the demand was greater than I could fulfil on my own. Recruiting a permanent employee for a single project isn’t feasible and finding senior support when someone moves to another role isn’t a quick process. Sometimes there is a need for someone with a specific skillset for a very small part of the project. And who develops the much-needed training when your senior team are working flat out on proposals and projects? Or perhaps there is a need to look outside of the organisation for a fresh take on a project or for training on a particular skillset. These needs have helped to define Fingerpost Consulting over the past two years but I realised quite quickly I would need support to develop these ideas into a reality.
And that’s when Louise joined me. As well as helping me to provide freelance support on the consulting side, Louise has built up our training capability and enhanced it significantly through her previous background and expertise.
Between us we have also spent the past year building a strong foundation for the business to enable it to grow. We moved into the office in Poynton last October, have attended a number of market access and business-oriented events, moved all of our files on to a secure sharepoint system and set-up webex accounts.
Most importantly, our own version of CMAP (integrated project planning and project accounting software) is due to go live in August. This will be a great relief because the invoicing and timesheets are getting more and more complex with every new contract we work on.
We’ve also employed the services of Helen Everatt, a HR consultant. Helen has painstakingly gone through all of our contracts to make sure we have the right paperwork and policies in place for permanent employees and freelancers. Louise has even gone to extra lengths to understand more about employment law so we know what we should be doing as both employers and contractors!
And, of course, Kaz has spent the last two years supporting us with our design needs for both our templates and marketing, and when required, our deliverables. This is all helping us to build a recognisable brand.
Well the operations side of the business is a never-ending mission; as soon as we improve one area of our operations, we realise there is another aspect we could improve on!
We don’t know what the next year will have in store for us but I’m really excited about it. Already our client base has expanded beyond market access consultancies and now also includes medical/healthcare communications agencies. We are looking forward to rolling out more training modules, providing strategic market access insight, and supplying much needed resource through our in-house and freelancer teams. We recommend freelancers on merit alone or we work together to ensure a consistent level of support, quality and value. After all, if we help our clients to deliver a great product and generate repeat business, we are only increasing the opportunities to work together again in the future!