Expert Network firms source subject matter experts from various domains and pair them with clients seeking topical or industry insights. They typically charge clients up to $1,200 per hour, and pay the expert $100 to $500 an hour.
While GLG, the largest Expert Network, accounts for 50% of the industry’s revenue, the rest of the industry is divided into smaller, global and regional players. The other top four players include:
- AlphaSights Limited, the second biggest generalist Expert Network after GLG;
- Guidepoint services 6 major categories of clients globally, across several industries.
- Third Bridge Group Limited hires and retains talent to “democratise the world’s human insights and upend the traditional research model.”
Other prominent, but smaller players include:
- Atheneum Partners “redefines how business intelligence is shared across the globe by introducing leading professionals to the highest quality information – anytime, anywhere, within 24-36 hours”;
- Coleman Research Group connects “clients directly with industry experts, to hear immediate, relevant insights”;
- Dialectica provides “on-demand knowledge to support more efficient growth strategy, due diligence, organizational design and market assessments”;
- ENG’s “Client Services, Research, Technology, and Operations directly contribute toward the ENG Difference: individual attention, relevance, responsiveness, efficiency”;
- Lynk Global’s platform “enables you to seek, build and share knowledge to help inform business decisions and capture new opportunities.”
- Mosaic provides “semi-exclusive access to precise industry experts by performing custom searches for each of their research projects; an excellent complement to the services of traditional Expert Network providers”;
- PreScouter offers “research support services to help business leaders make better R&D, product development and corporate development decisions”;
- ProSapient’s platform allows clients to “gather insights from executives around the globe via consultations or large-scale surveys (…) to manage projects easily and maximise the value of [their] insights”;
- Tegus’ platform is a “smart-searchable database of thousands of instantly-available, investor-led interviews with industry experts.”
There are also expert networks with sector or geography specialization. For example:
- SERMO is a social media network for physicians globally to exchange knowledge and share challenging patient cases;
- Clarity.fm connects startups to experts in building new businesses;
- The Expert Institute helps law firms and lawyers find expert witnesses for legal cases;
- Kingfish Group specializes in servicing the Private Equity industry;
- CAPVision, a primary research firm with a strong focus on Asia.
The expert network (EN) industry has grown an average 4.5% annually between 2015 and 2020, its market size topping $1.3B in 2020. While the major clients were initially hedge funds and private equity firms, consulting firms now comprise 32% of total demand for expert network services.
As an independent consultant, working with Expert Networks allows you to:
- Interact and learn from professional investors, industry consultants, and corporations;
- Work on thought-provoking projects;
- Earn competitive compensation; and
- Receive referral fees for introducing colleagues.
Joining an EN also saves you both time and financial resources, as there is:
- No membership fee to obtain access to potential projects with the EN’s clients;
- No additional marketing costs. While you should be proactive about being top-of-mind for the kind of projects you’d like to work on, the EN will pair you with a client, if there’s a match.
- No time spent on negotiating or chasing payment, as the client pays upfront and the firm takes care of this for you.
Expert Expert members work with companies and investors in 5 main ways: Phone calls, Presentations, Surveys, White papers and Longer consulting projects.
These kinds of engagements also offer plenty of flexibility. Expert Networks’ expectations towards you are minimal: once the EN finds a fit between your expertise and a client’s knowledge requirements, they will send a request which you can accept or reject within 48 hours (usually). For confidentiality reasons, the consultation is held strictly between the client and the subject matter experts. Given that you are hired on a per-hour or per-project basis, there is no fixed obligation of time.
The criteria for offering your consulting services through an Expert Network are fairly specific:
- Relevant experience:
- Industry recognition – appearing in industry magazines, being known for the work you do, consulting experience, etc.
- Academic credentials – through published research or relevant degrees;
- Access to unique knowledge:
- Affiliations – listing specific companies of interest will help you win projects over equally qualified candidates with no obvious links to those companies;
- Communication skills:
- These skills can be demonstrated through any public speaking engagements (industry conferences, speaker panels) in which you’ve been invited to speak.
Other skills that aren’t as relevant to Expert Networks include social and management skills, as experts are mainly hired for the knowledge they possess, not for political or sales skills.
The key to success when working with these Networks? For starters, a detailed, up-to-date profile. Ensure that you’re putting your best, digital foot forward on Linkedin and your personal website by:
- Keeping your availability and biography up-to-date;
- Quantifying your achievements – when writing your resume, a sample format could be: “Achieved X by doing Y, which resulted in Z (a number, $, etc.).” See how to write a biography that sells;
- Explaining how you acquired your expertise, which helps in increasing people’s perception of your legitimacy.
To further increase your odds of success (ie: being found and / or matched to projects of your interest), Patrick Sullivan, CEO of Bonsai, emphasizes the importance of enriching your online biography with all possible relevant keywords, such as firms you have touched in the past (past employers, past clients) and terms specific to your industry- jargon and acronyms are worth mentioning.
There are a few additional things you can do to win even more consultations:
- Apply for open projects, which are listed on the system and also typically pushed to you via email.
- Mail your liaison when you have insight into a hot topic – for example, breaking news or a conference you just attended.
- Go on-call, i.e., indicate you’re available on short notice for any immediate needs clients have.
- Contribute to an Expert Network’s news service, to increase your visibility to potential clients and establish yourself as a leading expert in the field or subject.
- Contribute to Expert Network discussion boards, for the same reason as above.
To set your rate, the Networks will typically suggest a modest figure, e.g., $200/hour. You’re not beholden to this. If you have unique expertise, the Network REALLY needs you and is not very price sensitive. If hundreds of people have your expertise, then your rate needs to drop to something in the range of their suggested figure.
Our founder once paid an expert £5,000 an hour. The client wanted his expertise; he was one of the top 5 people in the world in his domain (pharmaceutical M&A); so that was the rate he earned. Another example: a lobbyist for U.S. multinational companies in China writes about how his knowledge of U.S.-China relations and Chinese commercial policy experience allows him to charge between $400 and $1000 hourly for a call.
As with all consulting, acquiring new customers or clients is more difficult than keeping existing ones. Once you’ve managed to land projects, ensure that you are thoroughly prepared to execute them well, as it will lead to higher client satisfaction, and potentially additional follow-on opportunities:
- Observe compliance restrictions.
- Review current news – as a subject matter expert, you’re expected to stay on top of recent developments in your field of knowledge.
- Ask questions to understand the client’s hot buttons & make sure to answer them.
- Acknowledge your limits – it is better to be upfront about what you don’t know or can’t do, than to improvise and risk disappointing the client.
- Offer referrals (via the expert network) – the client is then able to obtain specifically what they need and other experts might later return the favor.
As a next step, we recommend that you register at the major expert network websites, as well as LinkedIn and job boards, if you haven’t already. Make sure to include your biography and resume. You could also consider becoming a public expert: Profnet and HelpAReporter connect subject matter experts to journalists needing an expert opinion for an article. Your visibility in the media will help to source more consulting opportunities.
- Civic’s report on The Rise of the Expert Economy.