How to Get Your SME to Work for Free and Love Doing It

Through a series of guest blog posts, Julie Stelter, president Walden Group, takes a closer look at who is instrumental in launching an eLearning program. This post introduces the Subject-Matter Expert.

Subject Matter Experts

Do you reward your subject-matter experts?

You’re an association. You’re a non-profit. You’re heavily invested in eLearning. You’re broke. OK, maybe it’s not that bad. There is no extra money though to provide a stipend to your subject-matter experts (SMEs) much less to hire them. But you need them…

You have signed the LMS contract. You hired the instructional designer. Your marketing team is ready to go. Your board is on-board. Your members are clamoring. But you need content…

Not just any content, you need the content that people will pay for. You identified this content in your market research and learner needs analysis. You also found that there are only a handful of Subject-Matter Experts (SME) who have this knowledge and are willing to share it with you. So you need the content only they can provide…

So why wouldn’t an SME work for free? You’re only asking them to tell their industry, their competitors, their world, some of their professional secrets. It’s not like you are asking them for their first-born.

You’re in luck though, in fact, many SMEs will work for free, handing over industry knowledge only gained through years of experiences.

Why do they do this?

The reasons are as plentiful as the number of SMEs. Simply, they receive something else that is meaningful in return for their intellectual capital.  Meaningful is key to your success and it is often unique to the individual. So ask yourself, “What else besides money can our association reward SMEs with?” Here are eight ideas to get you thinking.

Award fellowship.

This works particularly well if the course is associated with a certification. Formal recognition can be valuable to anyone, no matter where they are on their career path.

Lavish public praise.

I don’t just mean an Acknowledgement page or a slide between the objectives and introduction. I mean the kind-of “stand-up and clap at the annual meeting” praise.

Coordinate PR.

Allow your SME to release pre-course publicity on his own blog and other publicity channels. Perhaps even help her with a marketing strategy and execution. And even better, provide access to the membership database to send out his recent blog post, company newsletter or e-brochure.

Comp the comp.

Is there an extra room at the annual meeting? Can you comp the annual meeting fee? Webinar fees for a year? Membership fee? OK these cost money but probably not nearly what it could have cost if you paid the SME for her time.

Reuse content.

Multiply the investment of the SME by reusing the content. This strategy works for both the association and the SME. The SME has already freely given content, why not repackage it into smaller micro-videos, an industry-specific app or a webinar. Each time, be sure to credit the SME for his contribution.

Provide royalties.

So maybe you don’t have money up front to pay for the SME’s involvement, but you do when the webinar sells, when the eLearning course takes off and when the eBook becomes a must-read. Consider tapping into the SME’s entrepreneurial spirit to see what happens.

Increase business.

This is a perfect strategy if the SME is also the instructor in a blended learning scenario. Suppose the association develops a course on a new federal regulation, complex documentation procedure or anything that requires reporting. When the individual or company is ready to take the next step beyond the basics, who do you think they are going to call to consult? That’s right the SME who they already have a relationship with as an instructor.

Position SME as a consultant.

Related to this, many SMEs are business owners, independent consultants or headed in that direction. Help your SME further her business interests by making introductions, inviting her to the right meetings, and giving public credit to the SME wherever appropriate.

It is common for SMEs to give a wealth of information free to their association. In return you can reward them for their time and knowledge. Your for-profit competitors are paying SMEs for this same content so you must be prepared. Armed with this list of suggestions, engage your SME by asking them directly “What else besides money can our association reward you with?” The answer may happily surprise you.

The first post of the series introduced, Who is Your Association’s eLearning Champion?

Julie Steltner Walden GroupGuest contributor: Julie Stelter is the President of Walden Group, where we believe that education is a life-long journey. Julie works with association clients to design and develop meaningful and profitable education programs.

If you liked this blog, visit waldengroup.net for more great information and to find out how we can help your organization.

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