Looking for the real secrets to success with expert networks? We asked employees at major expert networks and their leading consultants to share the inside scoop on becoming in-demand expert. A Client Associate at Third Bridge Group shares a behind-the-scenes look at how they find experts for a project and the factors that go in to whether you’re picked or passed over.
Starting out as an Associate at Third Bridge, I sourced new experts for each project I was staffed on. That meant understanding what types of questions the client wants to get answered, figuring out ideal profiles of people who can answer those questions, finding people who match this profile, figuring out a way to contact them, convincing them to consult, and then selling them to the client. To find a single expert, I typically had to speak with over 15 people – and on some projects a client would want to speak with up to 100 experts!
After getting to know the ropes, I’ve been promoted to Client Associate, so now I work directly with clients. I still custom source experts, but my focus now is on screening experts already in the network to match them up to projects.
With a couple of years under my belt, I’ve sourced so many experts for so many projects at Third Bridge that I’ve lost count! Make life easy for me and and my colleagues and we’ll try to staff you on as many projects as you can handle. Here’s my advice on how to do that.
Make yourself easy to find
Start by making sure your LinkedIn is up-to-date. Associates don’t rely solely on LinkedIn, but we lean pretty heavily on it. If you’re a department or category manager specify which department category you manage. If you’re a CIT/CTO or a high level IT executive, call out by name every software you’ve used, implemented, or researched. If you’re a buyer or procurer, specify what products you have procured. It’s always better to be specific. Instead of saying “in charge of procuring soft drinks”, say “procured Fanta, Gatorade, Lipton and Dr. Pepper”.
One of the under-the-radar places we often look to source experts is customer testimonials, which are a great place to source prominent customers of a product who were willing to offer up there opinion. For example, if a client is researching the CCaaS (Contact Centre as a Service) industry, then they will want to speak with the decision maker behind the choice of provider of this service.
To get started on a search like that, I’d often go the websites of top providers to find their testimonials page (if they have one), and figure out which companies use their services. If there are a few customer testimonials with name, title and company listed, it is incredibly easy to reach out to those people to ask them to hold a call with a client. Oftentimes, though, these reviews don’t have a full name attributed to them, so if you do provide testimonials, authorize use of your full name so that it’s easy for us to find you. (If you don’t want to do that, a first name, title and company makes it relatively easy to track you down; never be anonymous.)
Most importantly, you have to be very responsive. Our projects are very, very time constrained. Experts typically think we’re exaggerating when we say that the project is urgent but our clients change priorities (i.e they go from wanting to speak to a customer from x company, to an executive from y company) within 1 – 3 days. So if you’re sent an email about a new project, make sure to reply within the hour if possible or at least within the same day for the highest chance of selection.
Nine times out of ten, the project proposal emails you receive include screening questions. Clients provide these questions to us so that we can find experts for them to talk to who are on point. While a few clients are cool with an expert just confirming that they can discuss the topic of the consultation, but the majority of clients are much more picky than that and want brief, but very specific answers. You may be a great fit for a project, but If you respond to screening questions with skimpy answers, we’re generally too busy ask you to provide more details and you won’t land the assignment.
Clients don’t need an essay, but they don’t want yes/no answers either. A few thoughtful, descriptive sentences is all it really takes. For example, if one of the screening questions is “can you discuss the competitive landscape?”, a “yes” isn’t enough. Instead reply with “Yes, I can discuss company X, company Y, and company Z in detail”. Clients are looking for company names and figures (averages, percentages,etc). If you provide us with this information, it makes it so much easier to sell you. Selling experts to clients is the most important aspect of the associate’s role, so the faster and more thoroughly you reply, the more likely we are to put you at the top of the list of people that we present to our clients.
Your rate plays a role.
As you can see, experts have a pretty wide range of rates, even amongst the highest earners. There are many factors at play here, but ultimately it’s a function of supply and demand, with industry and seniority being the largest drivers. Some industries are really easy to find experts from (i.e music industry), others aren’t (i.e mining industry). If an expert has experience at a niche/difficult industry, they’re harder to replace and therefore can negotiate higher rates.
The average rate for most experts ranges between $250 to $500/hour, with a typical expert offering 2+ years of experience at a specific company. Many experts, especially higher earning ones, hold managerial roles because clients are interested in speaking with decisions makers.
Have a logical hourly rate. The majority of the projects we receive are market research or due diligence projects, which means the client is looking to understand the trends, dynamics, competitive landscape and future outlook of the industry. Less common are the strategy projects, where the client is looking to enter a market, or to invest in a market, where they are looking for an expert to solve problems.
If the project is a market research project, an hourly rate of $500+ does not make sense. It really doesn’t. It’s literally an hour of your time, that you’re not required to prepare for and that you can make while driving, while chilling by the pool, or while laying in bed. If your rate is too high, it’s not just that the client might not select you but it’s also that we might not even submit your profile over to the client.
One of the most important KPIs for associates at Third Bridge is cost. An expert with an hourly rat above $500 will drive the project cost to the roof and negatively impact an associate’s KPIs. So, we will look for someone with a lower rate, someone with a rate between $100 -$500. The rate for manager-level experts (account managers, sales managers, etc) ranges between $110 – $350. The rate for C-level executives ranges from $350 – $1,000. The $1,000 hourly rate is very rare, however. Typically they’re experts with 30+ years of experience in a super niche industry.
If you are new to an expert network or have only consulted a few of times, keep your rate at the lower end of the ranges provided above as you’re getting started. Once you’ve completed about five consultations and received positive feedback from the clients on all of them, ask for an increase of 100$ – $150.
Experts tend to assume rates aren’t negotiable, because associates make it seem like they aren’t. They are, but don’t take it too far. I once on-boarded an expert and explained that he will be compensated at 110$/hour. He was fine with that rate initially, but then he emailed me an hour later to tell me he won’t consult for anything less than 500$/hour. If he had said that had had thought things over, done a little research and felt that $200/hour was more appropriate, I would have increased the rate to 150$/hour. But to rudely demand an instant jump from $110 to 500$/hour when you’ve never consulted with us, and never consulted with any of our clients before? It ain’t happening.
Additionally, building a relationship with expert network associates can also affect your project selection rate a bit. At Third Bridge, associates can add comments and feedback to the experts’ profiles. If you were ever rude, mean, or inappropriate, the associate will likely make a comment about it which will discourage others from contacting you about new projects. Similarly, if you were very nice and approachable, associates will leave positive comments that will encourage others to contact you.
I once called someone for a project, and explained to them how Third Bridge is a global company with offices in China, India, London and the US. He proceeded to make a racist comment. I highlighted this on his profile and he’s never been contacted for a project again. On the other end of the spectrum, I once spoke with an expert who asked me where I’m from. Turns out he has previously visited my country, and loved it very much. We spent much of that phone call chatting about his visits. I made sure to recommend him for every single project in the nursing homes industry as it was his industry of expertise (he had great experience as well, I wouldn’t recommend him just because I like him.)
Associates also add clients’ feedback to your profile. When our clients tell us that they loved speaking with someone, we definitely make a note of that. However, if you consulted on a project and received negative feedback, it’ll be added to your profile and you’ll receive fewer opportunities to consult.
Name names on your profile
Make sure to add as many details to your profile at the expert network as possible. Add every industry you’re knowledgeable about, every company you can speak about, every product/service/solution you’ve purchased or been a part of the selection process of, and add your CV. We use keywords to find people through our network, so use them in your CV or profile.
Something you might have noticed as an expert is that in one month you’d receive 10+ consulting requests, and then months would go by without a single consulting request. The main reason for that is that instability and change drive our industry. If you’re suddenly receiving a lot of requests, it’s probably because a company in your industry is about to IPO, be acquired, is raising money, or there is a lot of investor interest in your industry. A month later, our clients’ interests have moved elsewhere.
Take advantage of that. You know what the ‘hot’ companies in your industry are, and if your are talking about a big piece of news from one of them at work, odds are that many expert network clients are too. Make sure that you continuously update your profile to include new companies that you know about, as well as your relationship to them (employer, competitor, customer, etc.) Read up about what’s happening, and accept every project sent your way. You have nothing to lose. You’re ought to be selected for at least one of these projects.
To wrap up – being an expert at an expert network can provide you with many opportunities, besides just great compensation. It’s an opportunity for you to network with the most prominent investment and consulting firms in the world. Many people consulted a couple of times with our clients, providing them with great insights that the client decided to work with them on a long term basis. Other people found a full-time job through being part of an expert network. The current Head of HR at Third Bridge Group was initially an expert, and was then offered a job at the company. This is just to tell you to stay open for opportunities, you never know what’ll come your way.
Though expert network consulting opportunities tend to come in waves, I’ve consistently earned a healthy 5-figure sum from calls and surveys over each of the past six years – I can’t imagine that there’s an easier or more lucrative side hustle out there. Turns out that you don’t need to be a Fortune 500 CEO to land these opportunities by the bucket load!
When investors and consultants turn to expert networks to do a deep dive into a topic, they usually want to get a bunch of different perspectives, which includes opinions from current and former employees, customers, and competitors. Three quarters of the projects I’ve done tend to revolve around a specific company, with the rest being broader overviews of a market or niche.
Thus, when an expert network goes hunting for people to speak with their clients, it tends to be very keyword driven. If the client wants to speak to former salespeople who worked for XYZ company, they are going to immediately reach out to you if your LinkedIn or expert network profile says “salesperson at XYZ company”.
Pretty straightforward, right?
So think about ALL of the companies that you know fairly well and have interacted with meaningfully over the past year or two and make sure you specifically call them out, too. Your current and former employers are obvious. But what about your competitors? If you spend a lot of time explaining to customers why your product is better than the other guy’s, you’re probably an ‘expert’ on that company, too – at least as far as an investor looking to get a broad variety of insights is concerned!
And don’t forget all of the products and services that you use in your work. Say there’s a certain piece of software that you use regularly at work. If you can articulate what you like and don’t like about it and if you anticipate using it for years to come or feel that it’s terrible and can’t wait to replace it with a new product that’s rapidly gaining traction, then you could be an expert in that as well. Did you recently go through a big evaluation process to select a new vendor? You’re probably qualified to speak about that whole product category, including valuable perspective on the companies that you didn’t choose to go with!
I want to offer one more important note on listing companies on your profile. If you’ve had some success with expert networks, you’ve probably done multiple calls on the same topic or company. Companies or niches that are attracting a lot of investor attention – often because they are about to announce an IPO, acquisition or key earnings release – quickly generate a large need for experts at multiple networks, so it pays to be in the right place at the right time. If you can provide good insights on a hot company, make sure you clearly detail that front and center on your profiles.
Ok, now that your email is filling up with new opportunities, it’s time to focus on the next step:
Landing the Call
Getting contacted about a bunch of consulting calls is great, but unless you land the assignment they’re not going to help pay for that weekend away. It doesn’t take much effort to differentiate yourself from the competition and land 50% or more of the relevant expert network opportunities that come your way.
Start by taking a step back and thinking about the two people you need to convince to hire you at sky-high rates for an hour of your time. There’s the paying client at an investment or management consulting firm, and there’s the beleaguered associate at the expert network.
It’s pretty easy to make them both happy. Be responsive, be descriptive and be available.
When an expert network associate kicks off a search for experts for a new project, they shotgun out dozens of emails, texts and calls at a time. Responding as quickly as possible gets you to the front of the line so there are lower odds of a project filling up before you are even considered. It also signals to the associate that you will be responsive and make their lives easy for any follow up questions and scheduling.
When answering screening questions, invest a few a minutes in writing complete, detailed sentences. Again, provide the company/product names and keywords that you think they are looking for. Never provide yes/no answers to questions about your experiences.
For example, a common screening question will be along the lines of, “Do you have experience buying XYZ products for your company?”
A strong, yet simple answer is, “Yes, I directly manage the $5 million budget for XYZ products at my company. I have been a customer of Company A three years and Company B for six months, plus I recently met several times with Company C to evaluate their offerings.”
Now, if the expert network or their client are trying to decide between two candidates for a call, are they more likely to pick the person who provides those kinds of details and specifics or the one who simply replied “Yes”?
As I often get very similar screening questions time after time, I’ve created a document where I’ve pasted every answer that I’ve given. This makes it really easy to provide quality responses to screening questionnaires in just a couple of minutes.
Finally, now that you’ve made them want to speak with you, make it really easy for them to schedule with you. Provide your availability for the next seven days with your response and try to provide the largest blocks of time as you can; don’t forget about before and after your normal working hours if that’s feasible for you. Making it convenient to schedule a call with you will absolutely help you to land more of them.
With your call all set, it’s time for the final step:
Make them Love You
Like any service, if you establish a reputation as a top provider, you’ll always have a steady stream of people looking to do business with you. Expert networks are no exception, and associates tend to turn to well-regarded experts first when they have a project to fill.
One of the simplest, but most important traits of a good expert is to be reliable and punctual. I’ve heard from a quite a few associates that I work with that there are few things they hate more than experts who reschedule at the last minute or don’t show up for a call. It’s embarrassing for them and adds to their workload. It can take just one missed call or client complaint for them to blacklist you from their entire network.
So find a quiet place, make sure you have a good headset and connection and show up on time. I also always try to block out some extra time, in case calls run long. Services like GLG that pay by the minute will keep paying for calls that extend past the allotted time, so it’s always nice to be able to pick up a few extra bucks if the client wants to talk beyond the 60 minute mark.
Finally, I do like to go against the conventional wisdom that you don’t need to prepare for these calls.
As calls tend to mostly revolve around the same few companies, I like to jot down a quick framework of everything I want to cover with the client so I can lead the call in a comprehensive and authoritative way. I want to make sure that I deliver a few key nuggets, examples and rules of thumb, as those tend be the deeper insights that clients are so eager to get at. During the call, I also like to check in a few times to make sure that I’m giving them the type of information that they’re looking for
Ahead of a call, I also like to spend a few minutes checking to see there are any recent news about a company that I may unaware of, so I don’t lose credibility if I’m unaware of a major news story that just broke. If a company just put out a financial report, I’ll give it at least a good skim so that I know the key numbers and any new strategic developments. It helps me provide sharper insights on calls, plus I often pick up useful tidbits for my day job as well.
I believe that some expert networks have formal rating or ranking systems that help determine the types and volume of project opportunities you get access too, and perhaps even the rate they are willing to pay you. They certainly all make note of both good and bad client feedback about you. So put in just a little bit of extra effort to stand out and you’ll often be rewarded.
Expert networks, like GLG, AlphaSights, Coleman, and Guidepoint, facilitate more than ONE MILLION one-hour phone calls per year with professionals from virtually all fields. These calls are easy, convenient and engaging micro-consulting projects that pay sky-high rates. Whether you’ve just received a LinkedIn message from an expert network inviting you to participate in a paid consulting opportunity or have completed your first few high paying calls and want to figure out how to do more of them, here’s your guide to getting started and thriving in this secretive industry.
Imagine you’re an associate at an investment fund…
You’ve just come out of a meeting to learn more about a business your firm is considering investing in.
The CEO was intelligent, charismatic, and told a great story about his company, including some glowing quotes from satisfied customers. He excitedly detailed how a new product line is going to revolutionize the industry. And he showed financial projections that point sharply up-and-to-the-right (even though they were labeled as conservative)!
Everyone was impressed, including your boss who wants to explore buying tens of millions of dollars worth of stock. But the timeline for a decision is tight, so he wants you to dive into deeper research on this business right away.
Ultimately, there’s one key question he needs you to answer:
“Is it all bullshit?”
To get the real scoop, you’ll need to talk to people who actually know – like customers, suppliers, competitors, and especially former employees. While you’re just parachuting in to learn about the company, these people deal with it every day (and have for years). They know what’s going well with the business and what isn’t. They know what the real story is underneath the highly polished investor presentations.
And they’ll tell you everything you need to know…for a price.
Expert Network Definition: A $1.5 Billion Dollar Marketplace for Small Nuggets of Expertise
What is an expert network?
For hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, private equity investors, and management consultants, knowledge and information create invaluable advantages.
These advantages can mean the difference between making, or losing, millions of dollars.
Over the past twenty years, over 100 companies have emerged worldwide to connect firms with information – more specifically, the experts who hold that information. These global expert network companies have rapidly grown into a $1.5 billion dollar industry, led by “The Big Five”.
The main product of expert networks is providing access to people like you, while charging their clients rates that often start at $1,000 per hour.
Best of all, once you connect with a few expert networks, these opportunities start coming to you. You don’t need to do any marketing or selling, and you’ll get paid within days. It typically takes just five or ten minutes to qualify for an assignment, and once you’ve gotten your feet wet with a few projects you’ll discover it’s so easy to find your rhythm that you won’t need to spend a single minute getting prepared.
Oh, and as soon as you hang up the phone, your work is done – no follow up, no deliverables.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the expert network industry is it’s inclusivity. Expert networks are open to professionals from virtually any industry and at almost any level. As a result, there are more than 1 million expert network calls arranged each year. If you have deep knowledge on a company, product or market, odds are that someone is looking to tap into your expertise. This is especially the case if you have good ties to a ‘hot’ company or two, such as businesses that:
are going public or about to be acquired
have a soaring (or plunging) stock price
have a new CEO or high management turnover
are launching a trendy new product
will be subjected to new government regulations or policies
Sounds like a dream side hustle, right? It absolutely is.
And I’ll show you how to tap into this world yourself. In this expert network guide I’ll explain the three types of phone calls you’ll typically have with a client, teach you how to get started with expert networks, show you how to stand out from the crowd, set your own hourly expert network rates, and nail your call. So let’s start by talking about what to expect.
How to Drop One-Hour Knowledge Bombs
The most common way you’ll share your expertise is through one hour phone calls with a client.
These phone calls generally break down into three types of conversations:
#1 -The Company Deep-Dive
This is your bread and butter expert network call. Investors are looking at taking a position in a company and they want to start getting input from the feet on the street: former employees, competitors, customers, suppliers; or key influencers, like doctors or former government officials.
Most deep-dive calls are about public companies (or companies about to go public), and the client may or may not have spoken directly with management before chatting with you. Keep in mind they are not always looking at investing in the company you’re talking about – sometimes they are considering betting against it with a short position or investing in a competitor, though they’ll tend to keep those cards close to their vest.
On a good call, expect things to get laser focused after building rapport with a few softballs. Remember, this isn’t an interview or a sales call. They want to pick up the key insights they can’t get from reading reports or watching presentations, and they want to know what YOU really think.
How do unit economics work and do you think they are getting better or worse?
Do customers really like the product or are complaints pouring in?
What do you think about the management team?
Which competitors are really winning and losing?
These clients love numbers and will probe for any key metrics you can share (without revealing confidential or inside information). It’s worth pointing out that investors will rarely, if ever, ask for your thoughts on the share price. It’s their job to evaluate that.
#2 – The Industry Overview
Investors may kick off their research by speaking with a few experts. They often come into these paid consulting calls without much foundation, which can make these calls a cakewalk; you get to play the role of star professor while they lap up your every word.
These calls tend to dive down into who the major customers and suppliers are in your market segment, what the economics look like, and where the industry is headed. Things will generally shift to your opinion on the leaders or breakout companies, and if there’s an upstart product or technology, they’ll want your perspective on how that may impact the industry.
You may be asked for your quick take on several companies during a lightning round. But more frequently they’ll want to know, “what questions should we be asking?” as they will be talking to others.
#3 – Consulting to Consultants
While investment firms are the largest client category for expert networks, management consultants are increasingly using expert calls to sharpen their insights. Consulting firms are typically helping their clients launch a new product or business-line, improve the performance of one that is misfiring, or perform due diligence as part of an investment or acquisition.
These calls tend to revolve more around how things work, such as your process for evaluating a product or service that your company has recently purchased, or if a new product with certain features would be something you’d consider using.
Again, these calls are easy because clients will hang on your every word while happily paying you top dollar for your opinions (which they probably bill at 2X to their clients. 😉)
Many expert networks also regularly conduct surveys on behalf of their clients. These tend to revolve around your perception of a set of products or what your expectations are for a market in the near future, such as if you expect your budget to grow, shrink or stay about the same and how you’ll allocate it over the next year.
These invitation-only surveys generally take 10 – 20 minutes to complete online and pay a fixed rate, that usually falls between $40 – $70. While they’re generally not as lucrative as completing calls, they are an easy way to make a few extra bucks in your spare time.
How to Get Started with Expert Networks
One of the best parts of expert network consulting is there are opportunities for practically any professional.
C-level executives charging over $1,000 per consulting call tend to get the headlines, but bread-and-butter projects go to upper and mid-level managers (you know, the people who actually DO stuff) in virtually any field:
And that’s not mentioning the countless projects in areas beyond business. Engineers, construction managers, small business owners, farmers, and former government officials are often in demand. Healthcare also comprises a meaningful chunk of the expert network industry, with a high volume of projects available to doctors, nurses, pharmacists, back office administrators, and veterinarians.
Ready to get started with expert networks? Here are your first steps mapped out.
Step #1 – Get found
Expert networks employee small armies of recent college graduates tasked with finding people who have the firsthand knowledge their clients are looking for on a project (AlphaSights ranks as one of the top 25 employers of new college grads!).
These associates spend much of their day trolling LinkedIn and looking for profiles that match up well with their project descriptions. They typically don’t know much about the subject of the project itself; they’re just trying to find people who match the requirements. (You may have found this page by doing some Googling about a paid consulting opportunity you received via a LinkedIn message!) Make it easy for them to connect with you on LinkinedIn by opening up the messaging settings on your and/or including your email address in the Contact Info section of your profile.
Step #2 – Optimize your LinkedIn profile
Start by adding a descriptive and keyword-rich list of companies, products and industries to your profile (these should be subjects you can knowledgeably talk about). This will help your profile pop to the top of more keyword-driven searches. A good rule of thumb is if you could give a half hour presentation on a topic, you may be an expert in it.
Be sure to list out former employers, vendors you closely work with, software and products you use regularly in your job, and close competitors you frequently butt heads with. Be specific about what your role entails, especially if you share the same title with dozens or hundreds of other people at the same organization (such as ‘program manager’ or ‘vice president’). If you own a budget or are the final decision maker on large purchase decisions, call that out directly as well.
Associates may scan through hundreds of profiles a day, so make it easy for them to see that you closely match the requirements in their project spec.
Once your LinkedIn profile is shipshape, the next step is to invest a few hours creating profiles directly with expert networks.
There are several hundred expert networks around the world, many of which are strong in certain geographies or industries and could be a great source of projects for you. However, “The Big Five” firms are a good place to start:
(If you are especially interested in completing expert network surveys that generally pay $40 – $70, you should also register with up-and-coming networks like Atheneum, Maven Research, and NewtonX.)
Your expert network profile should look different than your resume or what you post on LinkedIn. Expert networks are interested in what you know, not what you can do, so omit the soft skills you typically list elsewhere. Your goals here are to show up near the top of the list in relevant search results and quickly convince an associate you match up well enough to their spec to earn an invitation to apply to their project. Associates will typically spend about 10 seconds scanning your profile, so make it SIMPLE AND EASY for them to find what they are looking for.
Remember, most of the time associates know little (or nothing) about the subject matter of the project itself – they only know the qualifications the client is looking for. Those are the terms they are putting in the search query field, and those are the words or names they look for when they scan your profile.
It may only take a few keywords to land a project invite, so list out everything you are qualified to speak about in clear and organized lists. For example, let’s say you’re a seasoned veteran in the sugary cereal business.
You would create detailed, cut-through keyword lists like this:
I am an expert on cereal marketing, cereal product development, cereal pricing and promotion, food packaging design, and character licensing.
I have five years of experience as a brand manager for General Mills monster cereals: Count Chocula, Boo Berry and Franken Berry.
I compete directly with Kellogg’s Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, and Coco Pops.
I manage the $X million Got Milk cross-promotion and am a customer of Advertising Agency X, Marketing Agency Y, and Fulfillment Company Z.
Also, use an extremely direct headline or summary sentence to describe yourself. While you may have great success on LinkedIn by branding yourself with something clever like “Helping America love breakfast”, you don’t want to beat around the bush in your expert network profiles and should make a beeline for a clearer description like “Breakfast Cereal Brand Manager at General Mills”.
Alright, thanks to your finely polished LinkedIn and expert network profiles, you will soon start receiving invitations to apply for projects.
Most of these invitations should be on-point, but if you consistently receive emails about projects that are way off the mark, take another look at your profiles to see if you need to do any clarification or trimming.
Once you have become established with an expert network, you may be directly asked to participate on calls and projects. But for most opportunities, you will need to complete a few screening questions through an online form or brief phone call with an associate, especially if you are just getting started.
You’ll generally land about 1 out of 5 projects that you respond to, but with a few simple strategies, it’s easy to double that conversion rate. Three strategies I recommend include:
Create a template
Set your availability
How to use speed to get picked for more expert network calls
Speed counts, so reply to project invitations as quickly as you can.
Associates will fire off invites to as many relevant experts as they can to participate in a project, so getting your response in fast helps put you at the top of the pile. This will prevent you from missing out when everyone sourced has a similar set of expertise as you. Most projects call for multiple experts, oftentimes with different relationships and perspective on the focus of the call.
Associates tend to favor highly responsive candidates too, because they view them as reliable and lower risk of causing a major headache like rescheduling a call at the last minute or failing to show up altogether.
How to use a template to get picked for more expert network calls
When answering the screening questions, think about what the associate (and client) is really looking for and deliver it to them. The ideal answer to each question is usually two or three sentences that clearly demonstrate you can deliver the goods. This templated three sentence structure is effective at conveying that you’re the expert they’re looking for.
Here’s an example of how your three sentence structure might look:
Describe why you are an authority on this topic
Example: “I am a brand manager for Monster Cereals at General Mills and have ten years of experience in cereal marketing.”
2. Show that you are a leader and/or control budget in the area they want to know about
Example: “I am the final decision maker on toy-in-the-box promotions and oversee a $10 million annual budget for promotional inserts.“
3. Name related products or companies that they are likely care about and explain how you are knowledgeable about them
Example: “In the past year, I have executed significant purchase orders with Company A, Company B and Company C. I also explored proposals but did not buy from Company D and Company E.“
Consider how a direct, detailed, and concise answer compares to the respondents who write just a few words, or a simple ‘yes’. It’s hard to imagine a response like the example above wouldn’t make it to the top of the pile for a project on cereal box prizes!
How to use your availability to get picked for more expert network calls
Along with your responses to the screening questions, you’ll also have the option of listing when you’re available for a call.
Take a advantage of this, as it continues to make it easy for the associate to schedule a call with you. List as many convenient windows of time as you can, and don’t hesitate to include time when you take lunch or can pop out of the office or into a conference room for an hour or so.
Making money on your lunch break really is that simple!
How to Set Your Expert Network Hourly Rate
Sky-high rates attract many people to expert network consulting.
But consulting rates vary considerably, generally starting at $100 per hour, but can soar as high as $5,000 per hour (GLG is rumored to have several high profile council members at this price point).
This makes the question of where to set your fee a difficult one to answer. To help you set your expert network hourly rate, here are my top tips…
Tip #1 – Focus on the value you are providing
Your expert network hourly consulting rate needs to make it worth your while, which generally means meaningfully more than your standard hourly compensation. Don’t be afraid to ask for a multiple of what you regularly earn. Remember to focus on the value you are providing (for example, how much a portfolio manager contemplating a multi-million dollar investment will learn from you in one hour) and remember that many expert networks will charge their clients over $1,000 to facilitate a phone consultation.
Tip #2 – Align your fee with the market
Now you’re ready to ask for the big bucks, but keep in mind you do need to align your fee with the market. Understanding the average hourly rates for people with similar experience and expertise as you can help you survey the landscape.
Some general guidelines to targeting your rate:
Sample Job Titles
Manager, Nurse, Shift Leader, Small Business Owner
$100 – $250
Vice President, Doctor, Engineer, Department Head
$300 – $500
CEOs, Former Government Officials, Specialized Surgeons
$800 – $1,000+
While expert network associates have wide latitude on the rates they approve for a project, your hourly rate is a key factor in whether or not you are selected for a project (or even presented to the client).
Associates are closely evaluated on the profitability of their projects, so the more they pay out to experts the lower their profit margin. While associates strive to source experts with strong insights for their clients’ needs, if they find two people who look similar on paper, nudging the client towards the expert with the lower hourly rate can make the project more profitable for them.
Tip #3 – Establish yourself as an authority
The best way to consistently get assigned to projects while charging the upper-end of the rate band is by establishing yourself as a top authority in your field of expertise.
If you’re trying to land your first few projects with an expert network, put your consulting rate towards the lower end of your acceptable range to help land your first couple of projects. With a good performance on those initial calls under your belt, it’s easy to explain that you wanted to establish yourself and need to charge your higher ‘standard’ rate going forward. If you’re polite and professional, it’s not hard to rapidly increase your rate by 25% – 50%.
Being able to benchmark with what you charge at other expert networks is helpful too. A few up-and-coming expert networks focused on transparency, like DeepBench, will allow you to search and view other consultants profiles and rates. Put yourself into the shoes of an expert network consultant and search for the keywords terms that are commonly used on the projects that you land to see who else ranks highly in the search results. It’s a great way to research your competition for projects to see how they are positioning themselves and how your rates compare to theirs.
Tip #4 – Monitor your acceptance rate
Your acceptance rate on projects is another gauge for whether your rate is appropriate.
If you’re landing 1 – 2 projects out of every five projects you respond to, your rate is set at a good level. If you’re converting opportunities more often than that, a rate increase is certainly in order, while a a lower close rate may indicate you’re charging too much.
Reach out to associates to get feedback on why you weren’t selected for a project. They usually answer the phone and will give you straight feedback on how you can improve your chances of landing more assignments. A quick conversation can help you sort out whether you should adjust your rate, refine your profile, or be a bit more selective in which projects you apply for.
Tip #5 – Vary your rate by network and project
Every call is unique, so it makes sense to vary your rate by expert network and even by project.
For example, GLG has a reputation for pressuring consultants to keep their rates on the lower end, so your GLG hourly rate may wind up being lower than what you charge elsewhere in order to stay competitive.
You may also want to vary your rate by project, charging towards the lower end for broader projects where there are clearly many well-qualified experts available. Then opt for significantly higher rates for a client looking to speak to the few former employees from your business or functional area at your previous employer. Some expert networks make it easy to change your rate through their online interface, while you’ll need to ask an associate to do it for you on others.
Time to dazzle the client with your deep knowledge and thoughtful insights. A stellar call is not only interesting and engaging, superlative feedback from the client can help establish your reputation with an expert network, making you their go-to expert for projects in your niche.
Outside of being the expert that clients expect of you, one of the most important rules of expert network consulting is also one of the simplest – SHOW UP ON TIME!
Being late for calls, rescheduling at the last minute’ or worst of all, failing to show up, will quickly get you blacklisted. To avoid this problem, find a quiet place with a good cellular or WiFi connection and dial-in a couple of minutes before your call is scheduled to start.
Note that many expert networks, like GLG and Guidepoint will pay you by the minute on a pro-rated basis, so try not to have a hard stopping time so you have some flexibility to go past the one hour mark. It’s always nice to pocket an extra $50 (or much more) by keeping a good conversation going for a few extra minutes! You can often seize an opportunity about 10 mins before the scheduled end of a call and say, “based on what you’ve told me, you might also want to ask me about X, Y, and Z. Tell me what you need to hear about.” It’s a great way to productively extend the call or lead to a followup.
As for the conversation itself, remember your main objective is to give the client the information and insights they are looking for. They want the real story, not what they can find in an investor presentation or a Google search. Be specific, name names, and provide numbers where you can. Most importantly, share your opinions. They are talking to you because you are in the thick of things, so don’t hold back on what you think is going to be a huge success, or why something is doomed to fail.
Here are a few more proven ways to stand out and guarantee you grow your reputation (as well as your earning potential):
Don’t be afraid to go off-script: While clients will always come prepared with some questions, these calls tend to be fairly free-form. They like to hear about issues they haven’t considered and appreciate brief explanations and examples of how things really work in your field. During longer stories or explanations, it’s good to pause for a moment to check-in with the client to make sure you’re giving them the type of information they are looking for.
Don’t be afraid to disagree: Most clients turn to expert networks for help proving or disproving their thesis. If they are looking at things the wrong way, or haven’t considered an important factor, tell them. They are not spending top-dollar with expert networks to speak with a bunch of yes-men!
Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer to a question: A client won’t be offended if you don’t have an answer. In fact, they’ll usually have plenty of other topics they’d like to get your opinion on. Plus, many clients have finely-tuned B.S. detectors and you’ll lose credibility quickly if you start spinning tales.
IMPORTANT: In all cases, don’t provide any confidential or non-public information – the client won’t ask for it and doesn’t want to hear it. Violating compliance rules is the fastest way to be permanently kicked off of an expert network. It can be very tempting to just share a little something you shouldn’t with the client – they’re paying you and you want to be helpful – but DO NOT DO IT! When in doubt, err on the side of caution and tell the client that you are unsure how to answer their question without providing non-public information and they will move on to the next one.
You can also develop safe and legitimate approaches to pointing them in the right direction without sharing anything that you shouldn’t. Provide high level, generalized answers along the lines of “I can’t really share what I know about …, but let me tell you, more generally, ….” Additionally, familiarize yourself with what information is out in the public domain, even if it is hard to find. If there is information they could uncover on their own through public sources like Google or SEC filings it’s generally not going to be considered non-public and you can have at it!
Outside of the money and the flexibility, one of the best features of expert network calls is that your work is done as soon as you hang up the phone!
There’s no deliverable, and no follow up. You don’t even need to send an invoice.
With most expert network firms, it takes a few clicks on their web portal to trigger payment, and some will even pay you automatically. You can generally choose between direct deposit or a check, and you will usually have payment in hand within two weeks. Remember that expert network income is taxable in the United States (you’ll receive a year-end form 1099), so make sure you account for that.
If you’ve made it all the way through this guide, or if you’ve scrolled to the conclusion to see if I know what I’m talking about (no judgement here, I’d do the same) I’ll leave you with this…
If you’ve got it, you better believe someone out there wants it. And when money is on the line – possibly millions of dollars resting on that knowledge – they’ll pay handsomely to get your knowledge out of your head, and into theirs.
It’s not a mysterious industry. It’s simple supply and demand. Now it’s up to you to take what you’ve learned in this guide, and make your expertise count. Take what you’ve learned here and register with some expert networks. You’ll rapidly start receiving project invitations and be on your way to building an interesting and lucrative side hustle in expert network consulting!
Time to get started! Register with the Big Five expert networks here:
Getting paid $5 – $10 per minute for expert network calls can create some stress when you’re just starting out. How can you possibly make every sentence worth that high rate, and will they slam down the phone and vow to never work with you again if you can’t give a masterful answer?
Of course not. But it still feels good to shine when someone is coming to you for your expert opinion, and feedback on your strong performance will put you at the top of the list at expert networks like GLG or AlphaSights for future projects. So relax, and follow these tips for acing your expert network call:
1. Take a few minutes to establish rapport. The whole purpose of expert calls is to help clients rapidly get to the deep insights and unvarnished truth that took you years to acquire. They are paying you well for knowledge, but these calls can still feel like about as a transactional of a relationship as it comes. Add in the fact that you’re likely being paid by the minute (more on that later!) and you may feel like there is pressure to immediately get down to business.
Resist the urge to go from 0-to-60 and take a few minutes at the start of the call to get to know the client. Ask a few questions about the client’s firm and try to get an understanding of what they’re eager to learn about and their objectives. Take a few minutes to walk them through your background and engage in a couple minutes of small talk before you dive in. It will put you at ease so that you can deliver sharper, more candid responses that better deliver the information that clients are looking for.
2. This isn’t an interview or a sales call. The purpose of an expert network call is to provide a data dump of unvarnished information and opinions. The client wants to know what you’ve seen and done, not what you can do. You’ve already closed the deal by getting paid for the call, and follow up sessions are uncommon – you’re not selling a product or yourself on these calls. Give direct answers and honest opinions. Don’t parrot polished sales pitches that they can find in other places.
3. Name names. Clients are looking to get a thorough lay of the land, and do it quickly. They aren’t interested in hands waving in the air, they are trying to quickly ascertain who’s winning and who’s losing in your industry. Tell them. Which competitor is rapidly shedding customers or top salespeople due to bad management or which vendor is winning new business by the boatload with a great new product? These are the details (and opinions) that they can’t find from a Google search!
4. They love numbers and rules of thumb. Again, it’s the knowledge that you may take for granted that they are desperate to rapidly learn. Investors and analysts tend to be highly quantitative by nature and are often working on financial models to decide if they should invest and at what price. Many will be excited to validate their assumptions, so when you can share typical approaches to setting prices, estimating unit costs or calculating profits they’ll generally get pretty giddy! While you need to strictly avoid sharing proprietary information, publicly available numbers or standard industry practices are fair game and easy sources of expert network call gold!
5. Opine! Clients are eager to hear what you really think; tell them. You likely know much more about the topic you’re covering than they do and they want to know how you think things are going to play out. Many clients will speak to multiple experts, and they are often most interested in seeing how consistent their opinions are. This is one of the best parts of expert network calls – you get (well) paid to yammer on about what you think will be successful and what is a total waste of time and money.
6. Check in – are you giving them what they want? You’re getting paid to talk and will usually consume the majority of the minutes in an hour-long call. Frequently, you may be asked to provide long answers to explain how something works or what you think is going to happen. Be sure to take a pause once in a while to make sure that you are giving the client the type of information that they are looking for.
7. “I don’t know” is a fine answer. Sometimes it can be a little intimidating holding court as a high paid expert. You’re bound to get some questions that are outside of your wheelhouse and may feel pressured to fill the air time. But don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer to that question or that it’s not your area of expertise. Admitting you don’t know all of the answers helps provide more confidence in the information that you do provide. Many investors have a finely tuned bullshit detector and they are going to quickly disengage (and potentially complain to the network that connected them to you) if it’s clear that you’re just spewing nonsense. Clients usually come to these calls with a long list of prepared questions and they won’t miss a beat if they need to skip to the next one on their list.
8. Don’t be afraid to disagree. The genesis of expert network calls is often someone trying to verify an idea or investment thesis. They are investing time and money to explore this idea with you (and usually others) to validate if they are on the right track. While salespeople or investor relations folks will always look to provide positive spin, clients are coming to you for the truth. Tell them directly when they are off the mark or if you disagree with their core idea or assumptions. They won’t be offended – generally the opposite – as your feedback could be a valuable datapoint that prevents a multi-million dollar bad decision!
9. Know your limits. Some juicy nuggets just can’t be shared. Sharing confidential information or non-public information about a public company is a strict no-no (in fact, it can be a pretty severe crime!) So, you’ll need to get that recipe for the secret sauce to yourself. Don’t worry, every expert network will require you to complete some brief training on how to identify and avoid sharing things that you shouldn’t. Many clients will start a call with a reminder that they don’t want you to share any prohibited information either. Most calls or transcripts are reviewed by compliance teams to ensure that no questionable information was exchanged, so you’re not going to feel any pressure to bend the rules.
10. They don’t care about the clock. Just like phone sex, you get paid by the minute with many expert networks. So, while your stated rate may be $500/hour it can be nerve-wracking knowing that you are really making $8.33/minute and that a shorter call could result in several hundred dollars in missed opportunity.
Relax, the client doesn’t have their finger hovering over the disconnect button, ready to stop your meter from running up a larger bill as soon as there’s a brief lull in the conversation. In fact, they usually don’t care how long the call runs because they’ve paid a fixed rate for it and have no clue that you are paid by the minute! Most clients come into calls with a very long list of questions, so you’ll rarely have trouble filling the hour.
So there is no time pressure; they go into the call expecting to spend an hour on the phone with you. Take the time to give thoughtful answers. Let the client set the pace of the call. Suggest other, related topics that they may want to explore with you. When you can, it’s also helpful to leave a little bit of buffer time in your schedule in case a call runs over the allotted time – it’s always fun to earn a few extra bucks by keeping an interesting conversation going a little longer!
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 networks 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.