Independent consultants face the constant challenge of finding their next project. My last article discussed working with consulting agencies to supplement your business development efforts. This article offers tips for finding work through online platforms or marketplaces like Catalant, SpareHire, and TalMix.
Consulting agencies and online platforms are similar in that they exist to bring consultants and clients together, but they go about it in different ways and charge different fees. Agencies involve people in the matching process and, typically, to oversee projects and “manage the client relationship.” (I roll my eyes at the last phrase because good consultants can do this on their own.) Agencies usually charge about 30-35%, which nearly always comes out of your pay. Online platforms, on the other hand, charge 20-25%, which may or may not come out of your pay, and they don’t involve people as middlemen. Instead they rely on their technology to match consultants to client projects.
While there are distinct pros and cons to working with consulting agencies, there is little downside to using a platform because (a) it’s work you’ve found with little effort, (b) you manage the client relationship, and (c) the platforms charge less than agencies.
These online marketplaces are gaining traction with clients and consultants. I suggest signing up with one or two and being active on their platforms by checking for opportunities once or twice a week. (Like Google searches, the platform’s analytics track everything.)
“Catalant connects the world’s leading companies with over 40,000 experts and firms to meet on-demand business needs.” Formerly HourlyNerd, the company claims to have 650 client companies in 120 countries. It’s a marketplace where consultants set their rate and submit “pitches” on projects (more on that in FAQs below). Catalant's agency fee is around 20%. The company prefers to pay on a 1099 tax basis, although some clients still insist on a W-2 payment to the consultant. (Catalant is trying to change that misperception, which is one of the reasons I like them. See my article “Friends Don’t Let Friends W-2”®.) Consultants are screened before getting access to the marketplace; 90% of them have an MBA or Ph.D. from a Top 40 graduate school and an average of 10+ years of work experience. A variety of work is available, from very quick tactical projects to longer strategic roles. Some are fixed price, some by the hour. Sample projects include company valuation, workshop development, competitive analysis, financial projections, go-to-market plans, performance measurement, and pricing.
“SpareHire is an online work marketplace for finance and consulting projects.” The company claims to have 4,000 professionals in its network, all paid on a 1099 tax basis. Rates to the client (not to you) range from $75-200 per hour. SpareHire’s fee is 25% of the total project value. In other words, they pay you 75% of what they receive from the client. The company specializes in consulting jobs for investment bankers, management consultants, and private equity, venture capital, and corporate development specialists. Although it’s a marketplace, consultants don’t bid on projects because SpareHire believes that leads to “price-first, quality-second” outcomes. Instead clients provide a non-binding budget estimate when posting a project so that they can quickly attract the right professionals. Pricing may be hourly or fixed and may be renegotiated after identifying potential consultants.
“The home of independent business talent.” Formerly MBA & Co, TalMix is based in London, and I get the impression that most of their projects are in the European Union, but that may not be the case. The company claims to have 30,000 users in 150 countries. TalMix is a bidding marketplace, offering consulting opportunities in strategy, market research, due diligence, competitive intelligence, operations, and program management. Consultants are screened before gaining to access the platform, including for communication skills and through a variety of technical exams specific to the applicant’s area of expertise. (Sounds intimidating. If you have experience with TalMix, please tell others about it in the comments.)
“TopTal is a network of the world’s top 3% of software engineering, design, and finance talent — available on demand to help companies accelerate, adapt, and scale.” It’s a bidding marketplace with $100 million in annual revenue, operating in over 100 countries. The company description on LinkedIn says it hand-matches “leading companies and startups with experts in fundraising, financial modeling, forecasting, pricing, and more,” so I’m not sure how automated it really is or what the fees are. With a little digging I discovered that rates for developers and designers range from $60-$95+ per hour, and finance talent makes $100-$200+ per hour. It sounds to me like staff augmentation instead of consulting. More investigation required.
“The marketplace for top-tier business talent. We provide a diverse selection of talent that can help drive your business forward.” Hillgate, based in the United Kingdom, says its mission is to provide companies of any size with one-click access to the world’s brightest business minds. The majority of its consultants have MBAs, four to eight years of experience, and have worked at top-tier consultancies and companies. Seventy-five percent of its projects are with Fortune 500 companies. The average engagement is two to three months. Listed specialties include strategic planning, marketing, corporate development, market research, and competitive intelligence. I clicked through their featured projects and found opportunities in San Francisco, London, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, and Canada. I don’t know its fees are or how consultants are paid. Please comment below or send me an email if you have any info and I’ll update this article.
Clearly addressing corporate clients, the company website states: “Take control of your contingent & consulting workforce. 1000s of companies are using Expert360 to flex teams on demand, reduce costs and manage their contingent and consulting spend and activity.” Founded by Bain & Company alumni and with offices in Australia and San Francisco, the platform gives clients access to over 15,000 vetted independent consultants, freelancers, and firms. Service areas include strategy, human resources, marketing, sales and operations, deal advisory, accounting, and finance. Payments are handled directly by the client. The 15-20% placement fee is paid by the client and not deducted from your pay, which can be anywhere from $500-$5,000 per day depending on your expertise.
Q: Does it cost anything to sign up? No.
Q: How will I be paid? As far as I know, you are paid through the platform company (except for Expert360). The client pays the platform company, then it pays you. Usually this is on a 1099 tax basis, but not always. It may depend on the clients’ preferences. Some unsavvy clients still insist on paying all outside talent on a temporary W-2 basis. (See my related article, “Paying a Consultant as a Temp Worker is a Costly Mistake!”) Of course, a 1099 tax basis is better for you as a self-employed professional, but then you are responsible for paying your own estimated taxes quarterly.
Q: What are the fees? The platforms usually charge 20-25%, but this often does not affect you. In other words, you set a price and the client agrees to pay the platform the service fee on top of your rate.
Q: What does it mean to submit a pitch or bid? From what I can tell, this sounds more intimidating than it is. For example, on Catalant’s platform, a pitch is simply completing some prompts about why you think you are a good fit for the project. This is your chance to highlight relevant work experience, demonstrate sincere interest, and upload a targeted résumé and related samples. (Recommended reading: my article “Use Samples to Seal the Deal.”) Similarly, a bid is a ballpark estimate of what your billing rate is likely to be for the work. It doesn’t sound like this bid is binding; it can be refined later as you learn more about the project. Many consultants from large firms shy away from anything that sounds like a proposal (for example, a 60-page detailed PowerPoint deck), but the platforms are nothing like that. It’s just a way for clients to get an idea of why you may be a good fit and about how much you charge for your expertise.
Q: How much time does it take? Depending on the platform, it probably takes about 30 minutes to register (assuming your consulting résumé is in good shape), and it may take about an hour to respond to a client opportunity. This is a particularly small investment, considering you can do it in your comfy clothes at home without having to get dressed for and commute to an interview.
Q: Once I’m working on a project, what sort of oversight or administration is required? As far as I can tell, none.
Finding work through online platforms is relatively new. I’ve spoken with a few consultants who have had success doing this, but I’m sure we all have more to learn about how to capitalize on this trend. Please share your experiences by commenting below so other independent consultants can learn from you. Together we can change the way corporations find and hire professional talent.