Most self-employed consultants I know have deep expertise in a certain function or industry, and nearly everyone would like to earn some extra money. If this describes you, check out what I recently discovered.
It’s the Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG), a 20-year-old international company that brings together subject matter experts (SMEs) with businesses and non-profits looking for insight on various topics. GLG refers to these SMEs as Council Members, and they can provide expertise through various engagements, e.g. focus groups, surveys, and consulting projects, but typically advise GLG clients in a 30 to 60-minute phone consultation. GLG also sometimes hires independent consultants for longer projects. (For more information about that type of work, click here.)
As research for this blog post, I asked a colleague about her experience as a Council Member and contacted GLG. I also scoured message boards such as Quora and Reddit, and then signed up myself. I learned that GLG may be a good option for you to make some extra cash!
FAQs About Being a SME for GLG
Who should become a Council Member? Just about anyone can apply, but it won’t be worth your time unless you’re truly an expert in an in-demand function or a specific niche. Based on my research, I suggest you have at least 15 years’ experience.
Which Council Members get the most work? It’s hard to know if your expertise will be in demand, but like most solopreneur marketing, the more specific your niche, the better. My colleague Nancy says that someone in an area like talent management may not be specialized enough to get many project requests; they’d do better if they specialized in a subset of talent management like sales compensation or talent management software.
How can I sign up to become a Council Member? It doesn’t cost anything but does take at least an hour, depending on the state of your résumé. The application lets you link to your LinkedIn profile, but it’s best to upload a current résumé so your work history pre-populates. (I didn’t upload a résumé and it said I’ve only been an independent consultant since 2016, although I’ve worked as one since 2004.) After doing the initial application steps, you must do a compliance/rules tutorial, which takes about 25 minutes. Then you can log in and update your profile.
How does the GLG process work? After you complete a profile,GLG will email you with project opportunities based on your expertise. From there, you can accept or decline an inquiry. Once accepted, you will have to complete questions from the client to see if you have the requisite experience. If so, you then use the GLG online scheduling tool to select a mutually convenient time to speak with the client. GLG will pay you on a 1099 tax basis.
How many leads or inquiries will I get per month? This depends on your area of expertise. My colleague Nancy, who has broad experience in HR, gets about three inquiries per month. Your results will vary depending on your area and breadth of expertise.
Do I set my own rates? Yes, and the greater the level of specialized expertise, the more you can charge. The GLG platform has a rate estimator you can use, but I recommend using your regular billing rate if you have one. Also, you cannot easily change your billing rate once you list it.
Here’s some additional guidance from an anonymous source on Quora: “To optimize revenue, I would recommend starting in the $150-250 range to give yourself a chance to establish positive feedback on calls and a reputation within GLG, and then move up to the $250-500 range once you are seeing consistent volume.”
How can I be successful as a GLG Council Member or online SME? My research turned up these tips from people on Quora:
1. “Try to position into a niche + hot area e.g. if you are in retail, try to see what are the hottest trends, technologies, learn about them, and bring them to bear in your work experience.”
2. “Try to be super responsive as a lot of these are running on very tight deadlines, and if you can come back to them faster, even though you are not the best expert, they might bite.”
3. “Build rapport with the GLG coordinators, so that they know instantly whom to reach out to.”
Why are the subject matter experts in the GLG network called Council Members? “When GLG launched in 1998, we called our expert consultants Advisors, and referred to them as our Council of Advisors. The phrase “Council Members” references this history.”
How much extra money can I make? Naturally, this depends on many factors, especially your area or expertise. My friend Nancy with the broad HR background makes a $200-300 a month, and some Council Members refer to it as “vacation money.” Still, it’s easy work with no commute!
For more information about working as a consultant on longer GLG consulting projects, click here.