Expert Networks Can Provide a High-Paying Source of Extra Income for PhDs
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For most PhD candidates, time and money tend to both be in short supply. Fortunately, there is a large, but little-known industry that will pay you extremely well for sharing bite-sized chunks of knowledge.
Expert networks are a 20-year-old industry that generates over $1.5 billion in annual revenue by connecting management consultants and investors who need to urgently learn about a product, company, or market with people who are highly knowledgeable in that field. There are well over 100 expert networks around the world, facilitating over 1 million paid interactions with clients per year. With so much activity, there is a demand for people at all experience levels and with expertise in nearly any field, especially business, healthcare, and government.
What can you earn through expert networks?
Hourly rates paid by expert networks tend to be sky-high, starting at about $100 and soaring well past $1,000 for prominent executives, highly accomplished doctors, or former government officials. PhD students and recent doctorates will likely be on the lower end of that scale (until you gain more experience), but rates between $100 – $250 are very achievable.
The standard expert network project is a one-hour phone call between the client and expert, where you generally provide a deep dive into the topic the client is researching. This usually entails providing an overview and data dump of what you know and then answering the client’s questions.
Oftentimes, the client is very new to the topic and you are just providing some foundational information to get them up to speed, though some others have substantial experience of their own. In either case, the conversations are usually easy and engaging. Best of all, they are incredibly convenient; you schedule them at a time that works for you. You don’t need to prepare anything and once the call is done, so is the project. There is no follow up or deliverable! Payment is usually sent directly to your bank account within one to two weeks.
Some expert networks also facilitate surveys, which typically take 10 – 20 minutes to complete and pay $40 – $60.
The downside of expert network consulting is that the volume of opportunities tends to be quite sporadic. If you’re knowledgeable on a ‘hot topic’ like a company that is about to go public, upcoming regulatory change, or a new drug that is about to win government approval you could complete a handful of calls in just a few weeks. However, it’s not unusual to go months between projects, either. Still, earning $1,000 – $2,000 per year is very achievable for active experts.
How to get started with expert network consulting
Expert networks employ small armies of recruiters who spend all day identifying candidates who match the project criteria that they are trying to fill. These recruiters – nearly all recent college graduates – usually know little about the project’s subject matter and are mostly focused on matching up keywords on candidates’ profiles.
The most common place they go to source experts is LinkedIn. In fact, you may have already received a message from an expert network in the past – many are disregarded because of the growing volume of spam in LinkedIn messages or because the offer sounded too good to be true.
To get found on LinkedIn, be sure to use keyword-rich descriptions. Recruiters here focus on what you know, more so than what you’ve done. A good rule of thumb is that if you could give a quality 30-minute presentation on a topic, you may know enough about it to complete an expert network consulting call. Make sure your area of study is described in clear and commercially applicable terms and that you have detailed descriptions of your work with current or previous employers. If you regularly use high priced services or products like software or lab equipment, make sure that is noted as well, especially if you played a role in making the purchase decision, implementation or training.
Next, take some time to create profiles with a good handful of expert networks directly. Start with “the big five” firms that comprise more than 50% market share: GLG, AlphaSights, GuidePoint Global, Third Bridge, and Coleman Research. There are numerous smaller and medium-sized firms that focus on a geographic region (particularly Asia, China, and India) or industry, particularly healthcare. With many firms, you can register as an expert directly on their website.
Soon, you should start receiving occasional phone calls or invitations to apply for projects. Be sure to respond to these quickly, as recruiters will generally reach out to several dozen prospects to fill a few open slots. You’ll need to respond to a few simple screening questions to qualify for a project. While you only need to provide a few sentences in response, make sure that these are precise and descriptive, showing how your experience and qualifications match well with what they are looking for.
You’ll typically only be selected for 20 – 25% of the projects that you apply for, and that rate may even be lower until you’ve landed your first assignment and created a bit of a reputation with an expert network firm. Don’t get discouraged. Do a great job on your first few calls and you can quickly establish yourself as the top expert in your niche, making you the go-to person on certain topics for future calls and sometimes opening the door to ask for a higher rate.
These consulting calls can be an easy and lucrative way to supplement your income as a PhD. If you’re looking for more strategies and advice on how to get started, check out this excellent step-by-step guide to expert networks.