Getting up to speed in a new industry – A 3-step approach

diagram showing 3-step process

Investigations involve working with clients from a variety of industries, and that means learning about the environment in which they operate. It’s the only way to get to the heart of client concerns. For example, when I started working with my hedge fund clients years ago, all I knew about alternative investments was the Madoff story. How could I advise my clients on risk and due diligence without knowing something about their industry?

After all this time, I’m definitely not an expert in this arena, but I learned what I needed to know to get started and developed a system for staying current. It’s more than paid off over the years when clients have asked those unexpected questions, and I discovered new ways to add value.

Industry research comes with its challenges, and – as you’ve heard me say – it helps if you have a process. For those times when I’m working in a new market, or my clients’ questions lead me there, I’ve developed this three-step process for industry research:

1. Discover
When first starting out, it’s best not to jump into your search too early. Get to know what questions to ask and what words to use through the discovery process. The goal is to find authoritative sources and content by scanning the information environment. Search for industry associations and talk with industry experts. Look for basic jargon and identify content “buckets,” main topics and subtopics that most sources cover. Locate the best databases, and learn how to use them. Don’t get bogged down with too many details in this step, since you can always come back later.

2. Search
Now that you have a basic understanding of sources, content, and keywords, you can start asking questions. See where it takes you and note any new terms, sources, or follow-up questions. Analyze your findings, fill in any gaps with additional searches, or go back to the discovery phase for a short time, if needed, but don’t go overboard with your research. Keep an eye on your key questions, separate the need-to-knows from the nice-to-knows, and move on.

3. Monitor
In a fast-paced world, everything you learned in the first two steps of this process quickly gets stale. That’s why you need stay current. Look for news, events, and other developments by updating your research on a regular basis, or by setting up alerts and feeds through the most reliable and content-rich sources. At this stage, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so tame the information flow with technology and by reviewing and updating your key questions. You don’t need to know everything, and this shouldn’t become a full-time job.

How do you get up to speed in a new industry and stay current? What challenges do you face with your searches and your sources? What else would you like to learn about this three-step approach to industry research? Let me know.

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2 comments

  • Informative and insightful approach! Wish I had known about your processes when I was in public accounting. We had clients from various industries, manufacturing, technology, construction, nonprofits, retail, water districts, etc. Your approach would have streamlined our company research in an efficient and effective manner.

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