Category: Career

Starting a consulting practice

May 21, 2023 by Andrew Waltho

I’d decided it was time for a career change when I left my previous employer in May 2021. I’d worked as a consultant previously in my career for almost ten years with consulting companies and more than a year in my own practice, which ultimately evolved into a full time, fulfilling role with one of my principal clients. That was, however, more than 15 years ago and a bit of work was needed to understand the market and the areas in which I wanted to try to focus my efforts.

My first priority was to take a break and take steps to gain greater exposure to aspects of exploration and mining geoscience that I was interested in, but hadn’t had the opportunity to explore further. My list included:

  • learning about developments in data science gaining traction in interpretation and analysis of geoscientific practice in both exploration and mining
  • deploying on-line databases of geological and mineral resource information
  • examining techniques that could be used to extend analysis of inherent uncertainty to geologic models forming the basis of mineral resource estimates
  • gaining greater exposure to, and knowledge of the commercial aspects of exploration and mineral resource development, and
  • developing a greater understanding of the roles of boards in corporate governance and achieving business objectives.

I tackled the latter by successfully completing the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) well regarded Company Directors Course. The course comprised five days of lectures and practical sessions in Brisbane, along with extensive pre-reading needed to gain maximum value from the face to face sessions, reflection on the course content and completing recommended reading provided during the face to face component of the course, and completing the assessment which takes the form of an examination and completion of an assignment. In all, I found that successfully completing the course required a three to four month commitment, which definitely delivered value.

The AICD course is exceptionally well structured and delivered and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in how businesses should be managed. I was recognised as a Graduate member of the Institute (GAICD) in November 2021, after enrolling in May and completing the coursework component of the course during July.

Recommencing Work

I was ready to get back to work in early 2022. This involved careful thinking about what I wanted to do in terms of the types of projects I was prepared to undertake and how to establish a client base. There was also a need to ensure that my business was appropriately structured to meet legal requirements and protect both myself and my family should something go wrong.

Setting up a Business

The most important steps from a legal and regulatory viewpoint were to secure appropriate professional insurances, set up the business structure and implementing systems to handle invoicing and manage accounts effectively with the aim of having to spend as little time as possible on compliance and housekeeping tasks.

Professional Insurances

Fortunately, both The Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG) and Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) have relationships with insurance brokers who the two professional institutes work with to ensure that cost effective and appropriate coverage is available to members.

Independent consulting and contracting practices require broad-form public and product liability and professional indemnity insurance. Additional cover in the form of workers’ compensation may also be required, particularly if you plan to undertake field work on mine sites. This will usually be specified by prospective clients.

You need to have a clear vision of the consulting services that you intend to provide as different activities are recognised as having distinctly different risk profiles that attract different premiums. Some forms of geoscientific work are also the subject of coverage exclusions in policies offered by some companies, so it’s essential to read the fine print when comparing policies. What you plan to do will also influence the level of coverage required, which goes to the cost of maintaining insurance cover.

Having a broker you are confident with is important, as the time your broker puts into understanding your needs has a direct impact on insurance costs and keeping premium increases to a minimum through your demonstration of best practice in managing risks to which your consulting business is exposed. I opted for the policies provided by the brokers responsible for the AusIMM scheme and can’t fault their service and understanding of my business’s needs.

Managing Business Finances

A good accountant is essential. I was fortunate to have a friend recommend a firm that has been fantastic in setting up a company and trust structure under which my business operates. A personal referral from someone you trust beats any advertising or on-line review.

My accountants set up a cloud-based accounting system for me which has been really valuable. My business’s bank accounts are linked directly to the accounting system which results in my having a single point of reference for all financial information. It looks after invoicing and keeps track of what invoices have been paid and those that are waiting to be paid, or where the client needs a reminder (which has been rare). Keeping the accounts up to date is simple and only takes a few minutes on days where there are expenses to record or transactions to reconcile that can be done anywhere due to the cloud-based system used. My accountants proactively look after all of the required financial statements and tax returns. All I need to to is tell them that the system is up to date for them to make sure that all statutory requirements have been satisfied on time.


Consulting is a time-based business. I’ve found a simple iOS app, Hours Tracker, to be a great time saver. I simply clock-in and clock-out of projects during each day. My phone is always on my desk when I’m working so it couldn’t be more convenient and it eliminates any guesswork. It’s also backed up to the cloud from where data can be accessed from a desktop app.

Engagement Contracts and Agreements

The other major requirement is a document setting out clear terms of engagement. Agreements to undertake consulting work need to be based on more than a “handshake” or, as is more often the case, email exchanges setting out a subjective scope of work and expected deliverables. Many clients will already have engagement terms or contracts for contracting or consulting work, which may be quite suitable but need to be clearly reviewed before signing. Many, however, prefer that the consultant provide terms.

AIG sought guidance for members in this area from the Institute’s legal advisors, Ashurst, in August 2021. This advice set out four key areas to be covered by independent consulting agreements.

Key issues to be covered by independent consulting agreements, Australian Institute of Geoscientists, 2021

The four key areas identified in the advice provided by Ashurst (above) concisely capture the key areas that need to be dealt with.

Contracts under which work is performed need to include:

  • A clear description of the services to be provided
  • how long the engagement will be for and when and how it may be terminated
  • payment terms
  • statement of obligations of both the client and consultant
  • confidentiality and management of intellectual property
  • a clear description of the client-consultant relationship, including statement of any potential conflicts of interest
  • terms (e.g. hours of work and provision of equipment and other resources relevant to the work to be performed)
  • legal obligations of both the client and consultant.

These points provide a useful checklist when both drafting and reviewing agreements.

There are no “off the shelf” templates for suitable agreements that I’m aware of. The services of an appropriately experienced solicitor are usually required to draft a suitable template agreement, or to review agreements provided by potential clients, particularly for larger projects.

Any client-consultant agreement needs to balance the needs and expectations of both the consultant and client. It needs to include a description of the scope of the project to be undertaken, expected deliverables and the timeline in which the work specified should be delivered. It also needs to set out payment terms for both consulting time and any expenses that could be incurred during the course of the project. Importantly, the agreement also needs to set out how required variations and extensions to the project scope will be managed and agreed to by both parties, and the mechanisms by which any disputes will be dealt with, including dealing with liabilities.

That covers the company structure and basic tools. Finding and keeping clients will be covered in a subsequent post.

Micro credentials

Apr 7, 2023 by Andrew Waltho

Micro credentials are attracting increasing attention as a means of obtaining recognition of existing skills or completing targeted training in specific areas, especially where skills are not covered by current university courses.

Micro credentials and Employability form one of the five pillars being pursued by The Australian Council of Professions, alongside Education, Accreditation, Professionalism and Ethics, and Diversity, Culture and Inclusion.

Developments are following two tracks:

  1. Short courses, where candidates complete a structured training course and complete an assessment to demonstrate competence and requisite knowledge in the field; and,
  2. Recognition of knowledge gained through industry experience, which again involves demonstration of acquired knowledge.

Recognition is being provided by universities, accredited commercial education providers and, increasingly, by professional associations. Universities are going as far as recognising micro credentials as prerequisites or as credits for enrolment or the award of higher degree qualifications.

The issue is particularly relevant to Australian geoscience at present, with a number of universities replacing courses in geology and geophysics with more broadly based courses in Earth, Environmental and Planetary Science. These courses have been criticised widely as not providing an adequate understanding of geology and geological processes in particular, and for not delivering “industry-ready” graduates. Who, really, would seriously claim that they did not learn enormously in their first years of employment? The real test should arguably be whether graduates have knowledge of scientific investigation and methods that underpin “good science” where hypotheses developed are adequately tested.

Micro credentials are, however, reinvigorating the concept of experiential learning which appears to have lost support, particularly as a pathway to professional association membership, in recent years. A number of professional associations have also introduced more specific education requirement, where membership[ applicants need to provide academic transcripts that demonstrate completion of requisite subjects in their degree courses. This requirement has existed in Canada for PGeo registration for a number of years.

The micro credential concept is in its infancy, but it seems to offer a credible means for professionals to expand their opportunities by demonstrating skills in areas of direct interest to employers.

Company Directors Course

Dec 20, 2021 by Andrew Waltho

I was advised today that I successfully completed all the requirements of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Company Directors Course.

The Company Directors Course is designed to give directors a distinct career edge through a better understanding of their duties and responsibilities. It also helps in developing skills to facilitate sound decision making and imparting best governance practices. 

The course is essential learning for directors seeking to establish themselves in their career as a trusted and respected board member.

I really enjoyed the course which exceeded my expectations. It is very interactive, well facilitated and it was interesting to hear the experiences of other delegates, from a range backgrounds, during the five days of lectures. The course requires a significant commitment to complete the pre-reading, assignment, quiz and exam. I would recommend the course to anyone with an interest in corporate governance, particularly the relationship between boards and their executive teams.

AIG Medal Recipient: 2021

Sep 22, 2021 by Andrew Waltho

I’m extremely pleased and quite humbled to have been named as the AIG Medal recipient for 2021.

AIG Medal for 2021

The award recognises outstanding service to the Australian Institute of Geoscientists by an Institute member and is the highest award granted by the Institute.

I value my membership of the Institute which is, I think, a dynamic and responsive body representing geoscientists in all fields of the profession throughout Australia and, increasingly, internationally.

Congratulations to Sam Lees for being named as the recipient of the award for 2020.

My Career – Next Steps

Sep 18, 2021 by Andrew Waltho

Thanks to everyone who has been in touch over the past few weeks.  

I took advantage of a redundancy to leave Rio Tinto Exploration at the end of May, 2021 after almost 15 years with the company (this time around). I also spent 10 years with Rio Tinto companies earlier in my career.

My first priority was to use the opportunity this created to take a break and spend some time with my family, while giving thought to the next phase of my career.  

I’m particularly keen to build on my extensive experience in multiple commodities, deposit styles and types of project in ways that add value and, in doing so, deliver interesting and challenging engagements that deliver positive results. I’ve also used the opportunity to undertake further study by completing the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ highly regarded Company Directors Course. The course provided valuable insights into the development of commercial and not-for-profit entities, and ways to make them more responsive and effective through improved governance.

In the past few years I have been really excited to be involved in exploration and development of battery metals projects, recognising commodities for which new demand will be driven by emerging technologies and seeking out opportunities in these fields. I’ve also developed a passion for sustainable development principles which will be in integral part of the future for resources and mining industries, from the earliest stages of exploration, throughout mine development and operations, through to mine closure. These principles can be applied in ways that will help to make us better explorers, developers and operators, to the benefit of all stakeholders and the perception of mining professions in our broader community.

In pursuing my future goals, I’ve established a consulting practice that I’m keen to develop, but I am also open to employment opportunities.

I am also continuing my work with the Australian Institute of Geoscientists, or which I’ve been a director for more than 20 years. I’m committed to continued professional development and helping others to recognise its value and benefits to their career. The Institute is at an exciting point in its development. I plan to step down as a director to make room for change, but would like to remain involved through committee work.