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Freelance consulting gigs offer high pay for niche expertise

Medical laboratory scientist Mallory O'Malley.
Lots of people have a wealth of knowledge in at least one topic, whether it’s science, business development, sales or something else.
(Erika Schultz / Seattle Times)

Are you a recent retiree looking for an attractive side hustle? Your years of work experience may make you an ideal consultant, able to earn high pay for sharing your expertise.

Although consulting gigs are often found through word of mouth, there are a number of online platforms that can match you with companies willing to pay for expertise.

Of course, you don’t need to be a retiree to qualify. But having deep and detailed experience is a must. The pay is commensurate with your skills, but it’s almost always generous.

Consider Maven, a “microconsulting” platform that encourages everyone to think of themselves as an expert in something. The platform, formed in 2008, signs up subject matter experts in a wide variety of topics, including science, business development and sales.

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Gerson Lehrman Group is an international consulting firm that enlists freelancers to provide paid advice on a wide array of topics, including finance and marketing.

Prospective consultants create a profile and set their hourly rates. Maven suggests setting your rate at two to four times what you would normally earn. Consulting firm Gerson Lehrman Group, better known as GLG, which similarly connects freelancers with clients, suggests you set pay lower — closer to what you’d typically earn in an hour. But you make the final call.

Either way, if you have deep knowledge in a technical field, you can potentially make hundreds of dollars an hour.

What’s the catch?

Consulting is sporadic work. Even the best sites will probably send just one or two jobs your way each month. Moreover, consultants say they often bid on far more work than they receive. And at some consulting sites, such as Zintro, there’s little feedback on why you didn’t get the job.

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That said, you can boost your chances of getting work if you strategize. Some things you can do:

Claim your niche

Your big-picture experience may be in, say, manufacturing. However, textile manufacturing is dramatically different from microchip manufacturing. It’s smart to differentiate your profile by diving deep. Talk about the specific type of manufacturing process you have experience with and how your experience is unique.

Mention the type of machinery or process you used; whether you’re able to troubleshoot problems with that type of machinery or process; and the types of problems you’ve dealt with and solved.

This will screen out many prospective clients. But that means you’re not wasting time with customers less likely to hire you.

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Keeping on top of the latest trends in your industry also makes you a more attractive candidate. An online advertising executive who can discuss how companies can pivot to cope with COVID-19, for instance, would be far more in demand than someone who simply talks about revenue per impression or click.

Respond thoughtfully

Many companies hire outside consultants because they’re dealing with an immediate problem that needs a quick solution. So responding to inquiries in a timely way is important. However, there will probably be multiple consultants responding to the same inquiries. Make sure your response has enough heft to stand out.

Don’t give away the store

Distinguishing yourself doesn’t mean you should provide a solution in your response. Consultants sometimes complain that prospective clients appear to be crowd-sourcing solutions without any real intention to hire. When you respond to a blind query, make it clear that you have the experience to address the problem, without providing a road map that the company can follow without you.

Cast a wide net

Consultants cannot work for direct competitors of the company that employs them. Nor can they disclose proprietary information of current or former employers. However, there are few other restrictions on the number of companies you can consult for or how broadly you can throw your net to find them.

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If you want regular work, look widely. Sign up with multiple consulting platforms, make your availability known through trade groups, set alerts on job boards, and register with sites that find temporary and part-time work for professionals.

Some sites to consider: Gerson Lehrman Group, Maven, Zintro, FlexProfessionals, OnwardSearch and WAHVE. You may also want to check out the Sidehusl blog post titled “How to find part-time professional work.”

Kathy Kristof is the editor of SideHusl.com, an independent site that reviews hundreds of money-making opportunities in the gig economy.


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