It's 10PM on a Monday night and my roommates are losing at video games against some 12-year-olds a thousand miles away when my phone rings. For the second time that day, I answer the phone an am connected to an anonymous client. We immediately jump into a consultation. Just over an hour later, I hang up the phone and tally up my earnings for the day's two calls: nearly $500, coming soon to a business bank account near you.
Expert networks like GLG, Guidepoint, AlphaSights, and dozens of others connect clients (usually banks, investors, consulting companies, or large enterprises) with subject-matter experts for ad-hoc work ranging from short surveys to phone calls to workshops and on-site consultations. These calls are facilitated by full-time network associates in a high-touch business model that is refreshingly retro. For a young person in tech the whole experience has an alluring old-school big-business feel.
The clients pay extremely high hourly rates in exchange for four things:
- Keyword-matching expertise: The network finds the client a consultant with directly relevant experience.
- Ironclad compliance: The network ensures that the consultant is not bound by any NDA or non-compete and will not discuss material non-public information.
- Availability: The client generally wants to schedule a consultation ASAP. I've had turn-around times of 12 hours though a couple days is more common.
- Engaging and Eloquent: Calls are pro-rated on a per-minute basis, so the longer the consultant can retain the client's interest, the more money the expert makes.
Finding a consultant with these four qualities is quite the effort, so networks invest heavily in a team of associates who use technology and their own judgement to do match-making. And they incentivize the consultants with high hourly rates.
Becoming a Consultant
While the dozens of expert networks out there would really appreciate it if you went through the hassle of applying to join them, the truth is you don't have to. Every time I've been invited to a new network, an associate has contacted me directly about a specific project through LinkedIn or email. They do most of the onboarding for me as part of that project.
When you join a new network, it takes 15 or 20 minutes to do a bit of onboarding, click through their compliance tutorial, verify your information, and provide your banking details.
A while ago, when I did my very first consultation, my rate was $100. A short chat with a friend of mine who works on the other side of the table helped me understand that $250 would be a much better rate and I have used that rate on every consultation since. This rate is a fraction of what the client actually pays for the consultation.
If you want to become an expert network consultant, my biggest tip is to keep your LinkedIn profile comprehensive and updated. That said, at the time of writing, mine needs a major glow-up and I've been found for these opportunities anyway.
Pros and Cons for Consultants
I keep doing these expert network consultations because for me the pros outweigh the cons and $250 per hour buys a lot of pizza.
- High Rates: Even prorated, each call is substantial incidental income.
- Passive Client Search: Someone else finds me clients.
- No Follow-Up: When the call is over, it's over. I spend 3 minutes sending an invoice and then I do something else and forget all about it.
- Pro-rated Time: If you go over, great, but having the client show up a bit late or leave a bit early can make your paychecks a little lighter than expected without really reducing your time and energy investment.
- Infrequent: If you have a pretty niche domain, you might only land a call once a month or less.
- Declined Consultations: I have to spend 5 to 10 minutes qualifying myself for each opportunity and I tend to have a 50% acceptance rate. So factor in that wasted work.
Pros and Cons for Businesses
For larger businesses, expert networks are a useful tool.
- Experts Delivered: Expert networks stay in business by finding exactly who you need. Especially when operating outside your core business areas, this saves tons of time versus finding your own.
- Speaks Enterprise: If you work for a business that is big enough to speak enterprise, you'll feel right at home.
- Happy Back Office: Accounting and compliance teams are gonna love these networks. And you can stay anonymous.
- Expense: Speaking enterprise isn't cheap. And you probably have a contract too.
- Follow-Up: There is a bit of a gap between "talk for an hour on the phone" and "fly a consultant onsite for multiple days" that is easier to bridge directly with the consultant.
- Probably More: I have never sat on the other side of this particular table so there might be some downside to the client experience that I am unaware of.
If your company uses an expert network, tell your account manager that you want to book Philip Kiely for all of your creator economy consulting needs. If you're a smaller operation or solo, contact me directly for all expert-network-style inquiries.