Whether you are interested in additional income, exploring a career in consulting, or are in between jobs, joining an Expert Network may be one of the best investments you can make in your career. You will come to understand the marketability of your professional experience, make high level contacts in both financial and business communities, and learn how to convey your knowledge effectively and concisely.
We’ve put together the following 7 steps to help you get started.
1) Identify your Marketable Expertise - Your marketable expertise is the body of knowledge that a client is willing to pay for. Unlike a personal assessment where you identify things that you are passionate about and good at doing, your marketable expertise consists solely of the information and insight you’ve gained throughout your professional career. To get started, take a copy of your resume and highlight your technical certifications. Next, go through and identify any specific processes, products or services that you have touched in any capacity. Then, make a list of the companies you have touched as an employee, customer, supplier, client or partner. For each company you have worked with as an employee, make a list of their competitors, the entire market size and significant current trends in that market. Once you have completed this process, you should have a good understanding of your expertise. Now, go back and organize that information by a) Industry b) Company c) Competitors, market size and trends d) Technical Expertise e) Processes, Products and Services f) Customers, supplier clients and/partners.
Determining the marketability of that knowledge is largely a process of trial and error. You may find unexpected results. Clients may be just as interested in your experience as a customer as they are in your particular area of responsibility. To find lucrative engagements, you will need to be flexible in your approach, understand current industry markets and trends, and be able to help someone predict the future. Crystallize your thoughts by asking yourself the following question: “Would my industry/product or service make a good investment?” Why or why not.
2) Create your Expert Profile - Building on the previous step, creating your expert profile is the process of documenting your experience so that it supports your marketable expertise. Your profile is not like your resume in that it doesn’t focus directly on your accomplishments. Rather, it is a condensed version of your insight regarding your industry, service or product. For example, if you work as a sales manager for a technical company, your expertise would lie in your understanding of your product, the market, competitors products, the purchasing process in your industry as well as the size of your market and key trends. You may also have insights into complimentary products and services that touch your industry. Expert profiles are typically 150 words in length and should contain a list of your job titles, your functional responsibilities, technical skills, major clients and business partners.
3) Enroll in Expert Networks - Choosing and enrolling in Expert Networks that match your background and experience is a time consuming process. While we have attempted to shorten the learning curve by organizing the networks into different groups and providing company profiles, the fact is, it takes time to find appropriate networks and fill out the applications. To begin, spend some time browsing through the list of Expert Networks relevant to your experience. Even if you are qualified to join a specialized network, also consider enrolling in a general or broad topic network like Maven Research or Gerson Lehrman Group. You may have experience in topics of interest to private or institutional investors who often use these general interest networks for primary research.
Once you have decided on your Expert Networks, take some time to prepare the information you will need to complete your applications. For a list of suggested items, see our article Expert Network prerequisites. When filling out your online application, remember that you are not completing an online job application. As with your profile, try to create a broad web of keywords that allow clients to fully understand the depth and breadth of your knowledge.
Most networks will ask you for a reverse chronological employment history. In your job descriptions, make sure to mention key products, processes, customers, business partners, and geographic markets relevant to the position. Most will also allow you to highlight your professional certifications, licenses, and publications. Make sure to include a professional photo. Experts with photos are several times more likely to be selected for a consultation. Many website also give you the opportunity to upload a 30 second promotional video. Since many Experts fail to take advantage of this opportunity, your inclusion will dramatically increase your results.
Finally, before engaging in any consultation, make sure you review your employment agreements and/or non-disclosure agreements. Consult with your Human Resource department or legal council if you have any doubts. In most cases, it is a bad idea to discuss your current employer’s business with an external client. Even if you haven’t signed a non-disclosure agreement, there may areas which you are not permitted by law to discuss. Since regulations vary from state to state and country to country, there is no substitute for good legal advice. For additional tips see Compliance.
4) Make the Most of your Engagements - While most networks do not pay for your preparation time, it is still important to organizae your thoughts prior to every engagement. Your ability to communicate the details of your expertise in a coherent and concise manner will be critical to your ongoing success.
Before your consulting engagement begins, make sure you know who you will be speaking with - research their names online using Linkedin and Google. Review their company website and make sure you understand what they do, what level of experience they have in your area of expertise and what opportunities they are currently pursuing.
Most consulting engagements will begin with your client asking you for a short professional biography. Use you Expert profile as a starting point, but make sure to highlight areas that may be relevant to the engagement. Your biography should take more than 30 seconds but less than five minutes.
In most cases, your client will have a series of qualifying questions intended to validate your expertise. Most clients will test the information you give them against information they receive from other sources. Acknowledging the limits of your expertise will go a long way toward building your credibility. If you do not understand a question, rephrase it back to your client to make sure you understand their intent. To the extent possible, minimize the ambiguity in your answers. Use qualifiers like, “in my region” or “over the last two years” to further refine your answers.
If you are not permitted to talk about a subject (see Compliance), simply let your client know when the area in questions arises. Most clients are very attuned to compliance issues and will understand your inability to discuss certain topics.
5) Find Additional Opportunities - Micro-consulting is often a gateway to other opportunities including additional consulting projects, extended due diligence, business brokering, full-time employment and venture capital inflows. The secret to a longer term relationship with your clients is the value you add to their inquiries. Referrals to other experts in your industry can build your credibility as a thought leader. While your answers should be concise and to the point, your offer to provide additional information via email after the engagement will be well appreciated.
6) Assess your Progress - Enrolling in Expert Networks offers no guarantee of micro-consulting opportunities. Since the process is entirely market driven, you should re-evaluate your progress every three or four months. A lack of consulting opportunities may result from a vague or inaccurate Expert profile or your expertise may not currently be in demand. In either case, this should be a professional wake-up call. If your profile lacks focus, it may be that your career also lacks focus. Take the time to understand where your career is headed before you end up drifting into a well paid dead end job that leaves you high and dry when your industry changes. Finally, if you have a concise and accurate profile and are still not getting any micro-consulting offers, your career may be in trouble. Before you consider a massive career change, scope out the opportunities in your current field by seriously examining the research you completed while writing your professional profile. Take that information and write an article discussing the major players and trends your industry. This should provide insight into your career as well as providing you with material to enhance your visibility on your Expert networks as many networks provide you with an outlet to publish material on their website.
7) Build your Contacts - Once you have assessed your industry and current career direction, use the Expert networks to connect with professional in your field. Most networks allow you to refer colleagues (some also pay referral bonuses), and others allow you to contact consultants directly. Take advantage of this function to evaluate your career competitors and assess your strengths, knowledge, skills and experience against theirs to identify your competitive advantages and weaknesses. Armed with this information, chart your ideal career path.