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Is Expert Consulting A Viable Side Gig?Is Expert Consulting A Viable Side Gig?

By FinanceTLDR | Dec 29, 2021

Hello! This is a guest post from a friend I highly respect. He's a Principal Product Manager at a FAANG company working on a high-growth SaaS product. In this article, he shares his experience expert consulting as a side gig. This is not a paid promotional piece.

In November 2020, I got approached to do expert consulting via a platform called GLG. Since then, I've had 5 consulting calls and 2 paid survey opportunities totaling $1,820 in extra income. Overall, I believe GLG and other expert consulting platforms are good ways to make an extra buck here or there but are unlikely to generate significant income. Read more to find out why.

What Are Expert Consulting Platforms?

As I've mentioned above, GLG reached out to me about expert consulting, which piqued my curiosity and I gave it a shot. GLG is a consulting platform that helps connect clients that need specific advise or information with experts in relevant fields (i.e. you, potentially). Clients range from companies looking for expertise with new markets to investment firms looking to refine their understanding of a market, company, or product.

GLG handles the demand generation, scheduling, and payment for a consulting engagement and is very protective of client and expert contact information. Everything goes through GLG so they can track activity and send payment, while ensuring that the platform gets a cut.

GLG is the largest expert consulting platform out there but there are also dozens of other providers that satisfy specific geographical or industry niches (e.g. Capvision).

When and How to Get Started With Expert Consulting?

It's hard to pick a specific time in your career when expert consulting becomes viable, but in general, it becomes more realistic once you have built up significant domain expertise in your field. Having a large breadth of knowledge, unfortunately, is less useful than specific expertise. In most cases, clients are looking for true experts. Who needs someone that "knows about" a field when there are people with 10+ years of experience available for a call.

For reference, I was first approached for a specific project only after 11 years in my professional career and as a Director level position at a FAANG company.

If you are looking to get started, GLG (and other platforms) has an application page where you can apply and share your professional history and areas of expertise. However, I've applied to a half dozen other platforms like GLG but have not gotten a single response. I got on GLG after being messaged by a recruiter on LinkedIn so LinkedIn may be your best bet. Otherwise, a referral link from someone already on GLG may also help tip the scales.

What Is Expert Consulting Like? (Hint: It’s Not Passive)

Consulting Opportunities

After successfully onboarding to GLG, you will get a login to access your "council member" portal. From there, you can update your professional history, refer colleagues, browse consulting opportunities, and check the status of your payments. Of these, the consulting opportunities page is the most important place to keep an eye on to start earning income. Email updates for opportunities are sometimes sent but I've found these to be inconsistent.

Screenshot of GLG's Consulting Opportunities page
Screenshot of GLG's Consulting Opportunities page

The "Bidding Process"

Consulting opportunities usually look like a "wanted ad" post where the client asks about a specific company, technology, or subject. They come with a small questionnaire as a way for experts to calibrate if they fit the profile or not. As an expert, if you think you're a fit, you can accept the request and answer the questionnaire as your "bid". After answering the questions, you set your rate, provide schedule availability, and then wait to see if you've been selected or not.

This process allows the client to select (in their opinion) an expert with the right qualifications at the right price. Another consideration is availability. Not surprisingly, the more available you are, the more likely you'll be chosen. In general, I find that on GLG, the early bird gets the worm. Responding as soon as possible significantly increases your chances of being selected, while being late by even 1-2 days after an opportunity appears can seriously hurt your chances. The quality of questionnaire responses is also important but this takes more time.

My acceptance rate is around 15-20%, and I've stopped bidding on anything that I'm not a deep expert on. I suspect this acceptance rate is suppressed by my high asking price of $500 per hour, which is on the high end for GLG. I actually wanted to ask for $750 per hour originally but was advised to lower this rate during onboarding.

Screenshot of an example GLG Project Acceptance Question
An example of a Project Acceptance Question on GLG

Consulting Opportunity Types

Based on my 3 months on the platform and seeing probably over a hundred opportunities, I have identified some patterns around consulting opportunity types. The first type is market research clients (e.g. hedge funds) looking to do due diligence on a specific company by learning about (1) the company's product, (2) the competitive landscape, and/or (3) industry trends. The second type are companies that want to solve a specific challenge. These generally revolve around (1) entering a new business or market, (2) executing a business transformation, or (3) making business operational changes.

My high level estimate is that client requests are 75% market research related and 25% corporate related.

Every once in a while, there will also be smaller survey opportunities. These generally pay a flat fee of around $50 and take 10-15 minutes to complete. Similar to the main consulting opportunities, there are screening questions at the start to filter for qualified experts.

Scheduling and Coordination

GLG has both manual and automated scheduling and coordination. Specifically, you can either manually enter your availability or share a calendar. After a call date is confirmed, you will receive automated emails and text reminders along with outreach from GLG employees. You will also get reminders the day of and a few minutes before your call. GLG is focused on making sure you don't miss your meetings.

As a rule, GLG warns against coordinating (or even communicating) with the client directly. This is to prevent you from going off platform with the client and cutting GLG off from a commission. I wish I knew what the experience was like from the client's side, but based on my understanding of the expert consulting industry, I wouldn't be surprised if GLG charges their clients in excess of $1.5K per hour. I think there is a lot of margin for GLG which is why they are so concerned about clients and experts connecting off platform.

How Much Can You Make? Is It a Viable Side Gig?

I was able to make an extra $1,820 in under two months on GLG in 2020. I'm averaging a similar but slightly lower rate in 2021 so far. For a side gig, $500-$1,000 in monthly income is nothing to sneeze at. However, expert consulting is definitely not a passive activity.

I spend about 5 hours a month on GLG between a couple hour-long calls and checking/bidding on opportunities (I don't prepare for my calls and respond purely based on experience). This isn't a lot of time, but it puts my effective rate at $100-200 per hour rather than the $500 per hour I charge for the call itself. At this hourly rate, it becomes a trade-off between working a bit harder in my day job or investing my time on other side gigs that may be more passive.

Expert consulting still makes sense for me but I feel like it's one of the lowest priorities in my various side gigs.

Another aspect missing from GLG expert consulting is growth. There really isn't a growth lever for an expert to increase their income. Doing a better job during a consulting call (e.g. being more thoughtful) doesn't have any tangible benefits. Because the client and the expert are restricted from making contact outside of GLG, there isn't a network building effect, word of mouth, or any sort of reward for doing a good job that may translate into more demand and income.

Final Words

If you are looking for a side gig that you can grow and eventually gain financial independence with, expert consulting is not your vehicle. You would be better off spending your time elsewhere.

However, if you are looking to make a bit of money on the side to supplement your income or fund other investments, expert consulting is worthwhile to consider.