Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s twice-monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists. Send us your questions!

Help! I Need SMEs to Make Our Content Shine!

Dear Content Therapist: I’m essentially a content marketing team of one for a startup. I’m tasked with creating engaging high-level content that also shows off our products and staff’s technical expertise. I’m starting to build a rapport with our internal subject matter experts (SMEs), but I’m also expected to bring in other voices, research, etc. My background is in marketing, not in this startup’s technology, and I feel like I’m playing catch-up with the technical details and trying to build a network all at once. How can I build ‌a network of thought leaders to make our content — and me — more authoritative? — THE NONTECHNICAL MARKETER

Paul Chaney: Connecting with SMEs is something I have a lot of experience with, especially in tech areas where I lack expertise. It appears you’ve started in the right place — building rapport. The better you get to know the various SMEs in your company, the more likely you are to get their cooperation. 

Be mindful that some will be more open to interviews or writing than others based on their personalities and skill sets. For example, I once interviewed an AI engineer for a blog post. We spent over an hour not only discussing the topic at hand but non-work-related subjects, as well. He was friendly, cordial and more than willing to conduct a follow-up interview if needed. 

On the other hand, I’ve had interviews with SMEs whose responses resembled the Joaquin Phoenix interview with David Letterman some years ago. Those were much less informative than the articulate SME referenced above. (If you’re unfamiliar, Phoenix replied to Letterman’s questions with short, often one-word answers. Although it was most likely staged, the interview felt extremely awkward.) 

You also mentioned needing to reach out to SMEs outside your company. Here are three options you might consider: 

  • Ask for references from those within your company, especially SMEs you’ve already built a rapport with. They are your best sources and can make additional introductions.
  • Use LinkedIn to connect with people in the particular field you’re writing about. There’s no harm in sending an invitation coupled with an interview request. 
  • Find SMEs on Qwoted, which has a database of verified experts. It’s a valuable resource that I have used many times. (You will need to vet those who reply to your request to ensure they meet your criteria.)

Another consideration is whether you carry the byline and will be including SME comments within the copy (i.e., reported stories) or whether you’re asking experts to put their name to the content. Again, some are more willing than others. For some content types, such as white papers or e-books, you may only need their input as background. If you’re asking SMEs to take a byline, here are two good steps to take:

  • Go to your content calendar and schedule what you expect them to write. Give them a few weeks’ notice and check on their progress as the deadline draws near. 
  • Alternately, schedule a  20- to 30-minute interview with each person and ghostwrite the content. It’s more work for you but takes the onus off them. However, if you’re lucky, you will get a few willing to oblige your writing requests and put pen to paper themselves. 

Sometimes, it may feel like herding cats, but that’s the reality.

Lastly, you mentioned the need to research. You will have to own that task, even if just to ask intelligent interview questions. The more you know about the technical aspects, the more weight your questions will carry and the greater the gravity of their responses. The result will be much more substantive and authoritative content. 

Freelance Is Great, Except for the Task Management

Dear Content Therapist: As a freelance content marketer, I often find it challenging to stay organized and manage multiple clients and projects simultaneously. While I enjoy the flexibility and autonomy that freelancing offers, I sometimes struggle to maintain a structured workflow and meet deadlines without feeling overwhelmed. The upcoming holidays are the worst, as I feel like everyone wants to squeeze in more work before the year ends. I want to improve my productivity without sacrificing my own well-being. I am open to any suggestions that can help me better manage my freelance projects and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Do you have any practical tips or recommended tools to help me streamline my workflow, prioritize tasks effectively, and stay on top of my commitments? — STRUGGLING WITH FREELANCE PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Paul Chaney: Your question is one that every freelancer has asked at one time or another. Task management is easier for some than others, but it’s necessary, especially when juggling multiple clients and projects. 

My first thought is to use project management software like, Trello or Asana. They offer the best chance you have to manage time and tasks effectively. 

Another option is to use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. You can create your own template or access pre-made templates for Excel and for Google Sheets

My approach is more streamlined. I rely on my iCloud calendar to schedule project timelines color-coded for each client. I plan ahead and look at the calendar daily to see what’s on the agenda.. 

Regardless of your modus operandi, planning is the key to successful task management. That’s why I said it’s easier for some than others. Not everyone is predisposed to planning. 

I find that, as creatives, we are less enthused about the administrative aspects of running our freelance business than digging into the project itself. Nonetheless, even if you are a solo entrepreneur, you run a business requiring planning. 

Here are a few more ideas that may help: 

Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations

Communicate your availability and working hours to clients. Establish realistic deadlines and ensure clients understand your time constraints — then adhere to those yourself! 

Prioritize Tasks

Not all tasks are created equal; some are more important than others. Determine which are the most urgent or have the nearest deadlines. But don’t get caught up in the “tyranny of the urgent,” or you’ll always be putting out fires. 

Block Out Time 

I use this method. I devote time on my calendar to a particular client project or task and focus on accomplishing the goal for that period. It helps me stay focused. 

Communicate Progress

Underline this tip, because it is super-important. Give your clients regular updates about project progress. Ideally, set up a weekly call or email. It’s a way to manage expectations and build trust. Even if you’re not where you hoped to be by a given date, communicate that with the client first; don’t make them come to you asking. 

Automate and Outsource When Possible

Automate repetitive tasks with tools like Zapier or IFTTT. Also, consider outsourcing tasks not in your core skill set, such as administrative or specific technical duties. 

Keep a Centralized File System

Organize all your files and documents systematically using systems including Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud. For example, I have folders for each client organized by project, tasks and assignment. 

Track Your Time

Use a time-tracking tool to record time spent on each client, project and task, even if you’re not charging by the hour. It helps you analyze your productivity. (If you are charging by the hour, time-tracking is a must for billing purposes.) Tools like Toggl and Harvest are ideal for this, although I use the time-tracker in Freshbooks, my invoicing software. 

Set Aside Time for Administration

Allocate specific time slots each week for administrative tasks like invoicing, replying to emails and planning for the next week. 

Evaluate Regularly

Periodically review your workload and processes to assess what’s working well and what you can improve. 

Take Care of Your Well-Being

Managing multiple clients can be stressful, so take breaks, maintain a healthy work-life balance and don’t overcommit. That will lead to burnout. 

Be Kind to Yourself

You’re a human being, not a human doing. Not everything will go according to plan 100% of the time, so be kind to yourself and give yourself grace. 

Implement these strategies, and you may be amazed at how well you maintain control over your workload, keep your clients happy and sustain a successful freelance career.

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.