Get Started in Consulting: Join an Expert Network

Whether you are working full-time, consulting, or in transition, Expert Networks allow you to share your knowledge with other professionals who value your expertise. Originally designed to provide insights to private and institutional investors, Expert networks have expanded to cover virtually every industry, profession and geography. Currently there are more than 40 networks specializing in everything from Education and Small Business to Life Sciences and Real Estate.How it worksTo join an Expert Network, you must complete a professional profile which includes a paragraph outlining your expertise, your work history, and technical certifications. Once completed, this information is stored in a database maintained by the network. When clients contact the network, a representative will match their needs with the profiles contained in their data base. If you are selected as a good match, a representative will contact you with details of the project, and ask you if you would like to proceed. In most cases, you will be given 24 to 48 hours to decide. If you agree, the representative will pass your information on to the client, and schedule the engagement. Typically, the first engagement will be conducted via telephone and last 30 to 60 minutes.Generally, a “micro-consultation” will begin with introductions and a statement of the client’s interest. You will then be asked to summarize your expertise. It is not uncommon for 3 to 5 individuals from the same organization to be on the phone with you at the same time. Typically, clients will have done extensive research prior to the call, and will be interested in reconciling their beliefs with opinions they receive from you and other experts. While most consultations will be limited to a single call, some will lead to extended due diligence projects, in person meetings, or even full-time employment. The extent of your participation will be entirely up to you.Benefits of ParticipationJoining an Expert Network is the first step down the path of becoming a true expert in your field. Some of the benefits include:1) Strategic, thought-provoking projects. Becoming an Expert Network consultant gives you the opportunity to take a look at your industry from a strategic prospective. After a few engagements, you will begin to get a better feel for how investors evaluate opportunities in your industry. This new perspective will allow you to better evaluate your competition and focus on areas where you have a competitive advantage.2) Competitive compensation. Expert networks generally pay well. Investor focused networks typically pay $150 per hour for telephonic consultations, while consumer focused networks pay less. Most consultants will not be able to make a living through the Expert networks because the engagements are too few and far between. Sometimes, however, initial consultations lead to extended due diligence projects, round-table discussions, white papers, or other long-term assignments.3) Extensive networking possibilities. Expert Networks take a lot of the awkwardness out of business networking. Everyone you meet will be actively pursing opportunities in your industry. They will be interested in your insights and have extensive contacts with important decision makers. It’s hard to find a better format for networking.4) Career Assessment. One of the most interesting ancillary benefits of becoming a member of an Expert network is the ability to see how your role fits into the larger scope of your industry. During your preparation, you will go through and identify all of your competitors, their strengths and weaknesses, and identify major trends in your industry. At that point, it’s very easy to see your potential career trajectory, and what changes you will need to make in order to capitalize on new developments.5) Visibility. In addition to consulting opportunities, most Expert Networks allow you to showcase your knowledge by publishing articles pertinent to your industry on their website. In many cases, these articles will precipitate micro-consulting opportunities and help you become known as an industry expert.6) Flexibility. One of the best features of the Expert Networks is their flexibility. Prospective engagements are emailed to you. You can choose to accept or decline, and specify your availability. Most of the engagements are conducted over the phone so they can be completed virtually anywhere. Finally, there are no long-term mandatory commitments. You can join more than one network if you choose, and you can select the types of engagements you are interested in.Joining an Expert Network can be an important step in developing your career. While many professionals get stuck in their day-to-day commitments, they often end up stranded if they unexpectedly lose their job. Rather than letting your current employer determine your career track, join an Expert Network and begin investing in the career you really want.