Tuesday, December 23, 2003

The Virtual Consulting Company

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from an outfit that wanted to "sign me up" as an "as needed" paid consultant. I would fill out a form giving them the segments, companies and products I was an expert in, and when they had a client that needed to pick my brain, I would be contacted to set up a phone consultation. After the call, I would fill out on-line forms to get paid based on the time I spent on the phone, and sometimes for any prep work. (They contacted me via Monster, which has my resume, but not my name, so they knew my specialties, but not who I was).

I was a bit skeptical, figuring this was some sort of scam, sham, or spam, but I decided to fill out their form and see what happened. Worst case they would have my name and email, and lots of Nigerians already have that.

Turns out they're legit. The company is Gerson Lehrman Group and their virtual consulting practice is called The Councils of Advisors (which I will shorten to COA). COA uses the power of the web to create a pool of talent in various segments: tech, healthcare, energy and other segments. When a client needs information on a segment, COA acts as marriage broker, linking the two parties together. The "consultant" tells COA what their hourly rate is, and I assume COA bills the consultant out at "rate+$100" or something along those lines.

This is a clever business plan that creates a win-win-win situation for everyone. The "consultant" is typically doing some other full-time job, so this is a way to pull in a few hundred bucks on the side by allowing someone to pick his brain on stuff he already knows. The client gets the information he is looking for, so he's happy. And COA creates a low overhead consulting company since they don't have a full time "staff", but people who just manage the consultants. They have been around since 1999, so I assume they are doing well after being in business for four years.

Obviously there are a few caveats and ethical considerations for people doing the consulting: don't give out any information about your current employer (if employed), don't release any information that is covered by non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and other common sense measures.

I have already been contacted for two consultations. The first one I had to turn down since the segment was outside my areas of specialty, but the second one is right up my alley. COA gave the client my name and email, and he contacted me to set up a consultation next week. I hit HIS web site, and it is a mutual fund company, so everything seems kosher at that end as well.

I'll update here on how the whole billing/payment process goes.

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