When I first got a random note via LinkedIn, I probably thought it was a scam, if I thought much about it at all.
I had been identified as an “expert” by a company named Gerson Lehrman Group, which I’d never heard of, and they’d like to pay me to spend an hour consulting their client by phone. I was skeptical, but didn’t find any major red flags after doing some online research.
During a brief phone call, the GLG account manager who had contacted me explained that an investment fund manager wanted to learn more about a vendor I used at work, such as how I viewed them versus their competition and how satisfied we were with their services. I wouldn’t have to do anything to prepare and there would be no follow up work.
It sounded like easy money (spoiler alert: It was!) and I could set my own rate. I had no idea what to charge so I went with the account manager’s recommendation of $150/hour – amusingly billed in one minute increments.
A few days later, I took the call over my lunch hour. The investment manager was quickly trying to get up to speed on my vendor. Many of his questions were very foundational to me and easy to answer, but he soaked it all up like a sponge. It was an easy, interesting and pleasant conversation, and a few days later a $150 check from GLG arrived in my mailbox.
I was hooked. I’d been dabbling with a few side hustles for years, though they always seemed to require more time and effort than I had anticipated and were never quite as lucrative as I had hoped. Suddenly, I had discovered an incredible world of concise, but high paying consulting work that I could schedule one hour at a time, whenever it was convenient for me.
I couldn’t wait to do my second call. And over the next several years, I’ve wound up doing many dozens more, earning over $35,000 in easy extra income along the way.
I wanted to share some of the secrets to success that I’ve learned along the way:
You know more than you realize.
Calling yourself an expert can trigger a bout of imposter syndrome, but you if you’ve been in the same job or industry for a while, you likely know a lot more than you realize – and certainly a lot more than an investor or consultant who has spent just a few hours or days in getting to know the lay of the land.
You know what’s going well for your company and what’s not, and you have a pretty strong sense of which competitors are thriving and which are struggling. You have a strong sense of how a new product or regulation is going to impact sales. You’ve gone through extensive processes to select vendors and have strong opinions on which ones are doing an amazing job and which ones you can’t wait to replace.
This is expertise. Much of it may be so droll or second nature to you that you don’t even realize how much you really know. What’s standard stuff to you is a firehose of knowledge to an investor or management consultant who has barely passed square one in getting to know what’s really going on in your industry.
Getting started with expert networks
There are over 100 expert network companies around the world, creating an industry that now generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue. They typically charge their clients $1,000 for each one-hour call with an expert, meaning that the industry is facilitating about 1 million calls each year – thousands per day!
With that many calls to arrange on an incredibly diverse and ever-evolving range of subjects and companies, expert networks have a voracious appetite for new consultants and thus have their own large teams dedicated to finding and recruiting experts to their platforms. (Expert network AlphaSights hires so many people for this role each year they’ve even cracked the top 20 list of most popular employers for recent college grads!)
So, oftentimes your first exposure to an expert network is when they reach out to you, frequently via LinkedIn. An associate will be looking to match consultants to an active client request, and they haven’t been able to find candidates with the right fit (or enough of them) in their existing database to present to their client. (Referrals are also a top source of new consultants for expert networks, so if you have friends or colleagues working with a platform that you are not, let them know that you’d love an introduction!)
The first step is generally a brief phone call with an associate, who can give you a brief overview of their company and the assignment, pre-qualify you for the opportunity and ask you to set your rate. Even if you’re clearly not a fit for the assignment they are working on, this is a great opportunity to register with a network and create a profile, which will lead to more potential opportunities coming your way.
Every assignment will require you to complete a handful of qualifying questions, either online or during a very brief phone call. This will take you less than ten minutes, but do invest some effort to show how you match with what they are looking for. Where you have firsthand experience with companies that they are likely to have interest in learning about, be sure to name them and detail your relationship to them.
From there, an associate at the expert network will present your answers and profile to the client, who selects which expert(s) they’d like to consult with. If you’re selected, you’ll generally be asked to find a time that’s convenient for you, and then it’s off to the races!
From the time you receive that first email about a project to holding the call with the client is usually just a week or two. At the scheduled time, you’ll connect via the network’s conference calling system. All you need to do is show up on time. Most calls tend to still be audio-only, so it makes it easy to take the call from anywhere and is a nice reprieve from unending litany of video calls we all suffer through these days.
When the call is done, all you need to do is hang up. There are no further deliverables hanging over your head, no follow-up work to do, and no one to send a thank you note to.
Getting paid is a breeze! Most networks have simple online invoicing systems that require just a few clicks to complete, and you’ll usually see an electronic deposit show up in your bank account a few days after that.