Do you have a skill or extensive experience in a certain trade? Did you previously start a company, teach in an educational field, or conduct research?
If yes, then you needn’t retire your knowledge simply because you left your old job and/or took up a new profession. Indeed, many freelancers, stay-at-home moms/dads and other work at home folks make a good income by hiring themselves out as online consultants.
How to Start as an Online Consultant
To become an online consultant, you typically sign up with a third-party service (although you could just do it yourself) and create your expert profile on its site. Niche and specialty skills like SEO, App development, grant writing, web design, law, content creation, project management and quality control are heavily represented.
Many of the listed specialties would be considered white collar; however, there are also experts needed on blue collar industries such as construction, retail, hospitality, manufacturing and auto repair. I found a lot of unexpected expert requests, including the following:
I would like to speak to someone who is familiar with the Canadian coffee quick-service restaurant (QSR) space. In particular, I am looking to learn more about Tim Hortons and any strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of their organization. Overall, I would like to discuss the competitive environment for coffee QSRs in Canada and any general trends in the Canadian market.
I would to learn more about Textile Manufacturing. Specifically, I would like to speak to professionals knowledgeable about sustainable manufacturing practices, the costs associated with sustainable manufacturing, and the current competitive landscape of the sustainable manufacturing industry.
I am interested in speaking with someone who is familiar with Pandora, a company that designs, manufactures and markets hand-finished and modern jewelry. In particular, I would like to get a better sense of the global market for Pandora products, especially in Europe and Australia, as well as a big picture look of US regional markets.
Once your expert profile is set up, clients who are looking for a given area of expertise either post their requests on the site or reach out to you directly. If you are just starting out as an online consultant, you won’t get too many direct “hits” from clients; however, you will be able to look through and answer advice requests posted on the site itself- assuming, of course, you can accurately answer those questions.
My Personal Experience with Online Consulting
I set up my profile as a biotech freelance writer on several online consulting sites including Clarity, Maven and Zintro. It was rather easy, as well as free, for me to get on board; in many cases all I had to do was download my information from LinkedIn. On some of these sites, I could also find individual clients and what they were looking for regarding professional advice.
In the space of 2 months and between my 3 consulting profiles, I received 4 direct requests for advice that went to my regular email. On my actual site inboxes and general request areas, I was included on at least 75 expert requests, many of which I missed out on because I wasn’t checking those accounts on a daily basis. So, in a way, these online consulting sites work as job boards that you need to check regularly. Because of this oversight and/or because my expertise level did not cover what was directly requested, I ended up helping zero clients. However, had I referred other experts that I personally know for these requests, I would at least have made some hefty referral commissions.
I also learned that you need to market your services through social media (e.g., LinkedIn) and the consulting sites themselves in order to attract a greater number of customers. In fact, one of the ways that many of these sites make their money is through expert listing fees, where for a set amount of money an expert is featured on the site’s front page or as the first result of a site search. Since I wasn’t willing to pay these listing fees, my profile was probably being buried during the site searches.
Top-Paying Online Consulting Sites
The following online consulting sites, which are listed below, range widely in how much consultants can charge. Some online consultants charge a reasonable $20-$25 per hour for their advice. Meanwhile, big names such as Mark Cuban (owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks) charge as much as $166 per minute! The sites also vary widely in how they take their own cut, with some sites asking for a substantial up-front fee from either the client or the consultant and others focusing more on providing services like advertising.
This newer site, launched publicly just one year ago, is geared more towards start-up and budding entrepreneurs in need of mentorship from experts who have “been there and done that”. The mentors set up their profiles on the site and state their hourly rate.
With the minimum hourly rate being $60, Clarity is geared more towards higher-end, seasoned experts like angel investor Dave McClure or billionaire businessman Mark Cuban. Clarity charges the expert a 15% fee for each completed consultation call. Experts can also set their rate to $0/hour if they are looking to donate
Calling itself the “Global Knowledge Marketplace,” Maven has a variety of industry and subject matter experts on hand including venture capitalists, lawyers, business coaches and even surgeons. The absolute lowest hourly rate for a “Maven” (i.e., expert) is $25/hour.
One can also earn 10% on all referral earnings. Consultations are usually done over the phone using Maven’s “integrated scheduling system and automated conferencing system,” but can also include electronic surveys as well as extended consulting engagements that may include face-to-face time (i.e., actual employment) and are not strictly limited to phone calls. Extended consultations do require some pre-screening and written interviewing.
Much like Maven, Zintro also connects knowledge seekers (i.e., customers) with experts via its site and software platform and charges those seekers the hourly or by-the-minute fee of the expert. Knowledge requests come in through a site inbox, which needs to be checked almost daily for possible leads.
A basic membership is free on the site but comes with a $99.95 initial connect fee that must be paid by either the customer or the expert. Zintro also offers premium membership packages for experts who want to be better advertised on the site and not worry about that $99.95 initial connect fee. A 1 month premium membership fee is priced at $149.95, a 6-month fee is $239.70, and a yearly membership is $359.40. Paying the membership fee might be worthwhile if you’re getting a bunch of clients and don’t want to be paying a hundred bucks each time you take a call.
People are always in need of experts. If you have the requested talent or experience, you can make a good online income by marketing your expertise. It’s kind of like having a LinkedIn profile that pays you money.