The fleet industry is undergoing constant change.
Managers have to keep up to date with legislation and consider a wide range of issues – risk management, duty of care, costs and going green, to name just a few.
And there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution in fleet.
If you’re new to fleet, the industry can appear complex, limitless and downright scary.
Experienced operators know that the best way to get started and develop your fleet expertise is to build up a network of colleagues and industry contacts and to get involved in the fleet community, but even that first step can seem rather daunting.
“A fleet manager or fleet operator’s role really can be a very lonely one, especially if you’re the only person in your organisation that has that job,” says Julie Jenner, chairman of the fleet operators’ association ACFO.
“You might think, where do you start, who do you turn to? It’s imperative to have a network of contacts on hand.”
Debbie Floyde, fleet manager at Bauer Automotive, agrees.
“I don’t think there’s anything better than getting out there and networking to improve your fleet knowledge,” she says.
“Speaking to others is the best way to get advice on best practice.”
If you’re not sure whether to brave a large industry conference straightaway then ACFO regional meetings can provide a gentler introduction to fleet.
“ACFO meetings are relaxed and informal and will give you more confidence at larger events,” says Alan Miles, fleet manager for the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
“They’re one of the best ongoing ways to network. You’re not under pressure to actively participate but managers have that common background.”
Managers will find networking opportunities if they choose to go down a more formal route, such as taking a diploma with the Institute of Car Fleet Management (ICFM).
As part of the institute’s fast-track learning scheme candidates work together in small groups and are encouraged to network during their modules.
“Networking is critically important which is why we continually mix up the groups as part of our training programme,” says ICFM director of education and training James Langley.
Alan Miles believes manufacturer launches and hospitality events offer a more relaxed starting point for networking, rather than formal presentations.
“Manufacturers’ driving days or events such as Company Car in Action are a good way to meet managers and suppliers.
They’re relaxed events where you all get involved,” he says.
These kind of events are also easier on the company purse, as Debbie Floyde points out: “Smaller fleet managers might find it hard to get the funding to go out to industry events.
"In that case take advantage of manufacturer launches and hospitality.”
If you do want to jump straight in and head off to a large industry event then you need to know which one to choose.
“Pick an event like the Fleet News Risk in Fleet conference that covers a range of issues, rather than a more specialised one,” advises Julie Jenner.
And the cardinal rule, when faced with a room full of unknown suits, is to just get talking.
“If you’re new to fleet or haven’t been to many events you should never be afraid to speak to other managers.
"It is scary if you’re at a large event and don’t know anyone, but we’re all in the same industry.
"Most managers are happy to help,” says Debbie Floyde.
It’s also advisable to consider the conference topics before you arrive and think of a game plan and who you would like to speak to during the day.
“The first thing I do at an event is grab a delegate list and scout people out,” says James Langley.
But if you are still unsure then try talking to the event organisers and see if they can put you in the direction of fleet managers who can introduce you around.
“There will be somebody there with a fleet similar to yours who is happy to share their knowledge,” says Nigel Trotman, fleet manager for Whitbread.
“It’s just a case of trying to start up a conversation – “How big is your fleet?” is always a good question to break the ice.
He also suggests new managers look for events with question and answer sessions, to get your queries answered quickly and to get your face known.
“Break-out sessions, like those at the FN50, are good.
Everybody’s on the same level and you’re encouraged to participate – if you speak out, people will talk to you more.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to others – we all want everybody else to succeed.”
- Join a fleet organisation such as ACFO or the ICFM.
- Take advantage of manufacturer and supplier hospitality.
- Pick a diverse conference that is relevant to you.
- If you’re nervous, talk to the organisers.
- Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and start asking questions.