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.
The expert network 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.
The largest expert networks are:
- GLG, accounting for approximately 50% of the industry’s revenue.
- AlphaSights, the second biggest generalist Expert Network after GLG.
- Guidepoint services 6 major categories of clients globally, across several industries.
- Third Bridge hires and retains talent to “democratise the world’s human insights and upend the traditional research model.”
Other notable expert networks include Atheneum Partners, Coleman Research Group, Dialectica, ENG, Lynk Global, Mosaic, PreScouter, ProSapient, and Tegus. 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 is a primary research firm with a strong focus on Asia.
As an independent consultant, working with expert networks allows you to interact and learn from professional investors, industry consultants, and corporations; earn competitive compensation; and receive referral fees for introducing colleagues. Typically you’ll share your expertise in 5 main ways: phone calls, presentations/in-person meetings, surveys, white papers, and in-depth consulting projects.
Joining an expert network also saves you both time and financial resources. There is no membership fee to obtain access to potential projects with the expert network’s clients. There are also minimal marketing costs. While you should be proactive about being top-of-mind for the kind of projects you’d like to work on, the expert network will pair you with a client, if there’s a match. You also don’t have to spend time on negotiating or chasing payment, as the client pays upfront and the firm takes care of this for you.
These kinds of engagements also offer plenty of flexibility. The networks’ expectations towards you are minimal: once the expert network 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, and summarized below:
Attributes the Network Seeks
How the Network Assesses You
|Access to unique knowledge||
The expert networks usually don’t value social and management skills, as experts are mainly hired for the knowledge they possess, not for political or sales skills. This is good news for some people.
The key to success when working with expert and consultant 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:
- Currency. Keep your availability and biography up-to-date.
- Quantify your achievements. When writing your bio, the standard format is: “Achieved X by doing Y, which resulted in Z (a number, $, etc.).” For more, see how to write a biography that sells.
- Explain how you acquired your expertise, which helps in increasing people’s perception of your legitimacy.
- Keywords. Make sure to mention firms you have touched in the past – past employers, clients, or service providers. Also it’s a good idea to use the terms that are specific to your industry, for example, industry jargon or technical terms.
There are a few additional steps you can take 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.
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. 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.
When you’re in a consultation, we recommend follow these guidelines:
- Ask questions to understand the client’s hot buttons & make sure to answer them.
- Observe compliance restrictions tightly.
- Review current news. As a subject matter expert, you’re expected to stay on top of recent developments in your field of knowledge.
- 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 typically you’ll earn a referral fee.
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 or news piece.
- Civic’s report on The Rise of the Expert Economy.