How companies find subject matter experts… and how to get them to find YOU

Last updated Jan 23, 2021 | Published on Jan 25, 2021

Many doctors have an area of expertise. This can help us take care of our patients and be effective in our jobs within the healthcare field. You can make use of this expertise outside of your day job, though. When you do so, there’s a good chance that you’re functioning as a subject matter expert.

Doing work as an SME can be a great way to earn income, get exposure, and feed your passions.

A subject matter expert (often referred to as an SME) is an individual who has a deep and thorough understanding of a particular topic, process, technology, or functional area. They are considered an authority in a field, generally after gaining substantial experience in an industry segment.

SMEs are used in every industry in a variety of ways. They can contribute key information to an organization, improve workflows, and solve tough problems that businesses are facing.

An investment firm might work with an SME to get a better understanding of the market outlook for a potential investment deal they’re analyzing.

A lawyer might consult with an SME to understand the facts of a case he’s defending.

A news outlet might speak with an SME to provide insight into a story on a deeper level than can be gleaned by just the reporters.

Depending on the exact situation, the best SME for each of these examples could be a physician. It could be you.

How to be identified as a subject matter expert

The reasons for which an SME is consulted or brought in to a team or project are many. As a result, doctors and medical professionals of all types who have expertise on a topic can benefit from acting as an SME – whether it’s done as occasional, short consulting gigs or an ongoing full-time job or engagement.

But, unless you’re very well known, you can’t sit back and be inundated with high-paying opportunities to consult as an SME. You need to seeking out opportunities (ie, look for zebras). The rest of this article covers 8 of the most common ways in which SMEs are sought out. By having a presence in the places they’re looking, you’ll greatly increase your chances of being identified as an SME.

Expert consulting panels

Management consulting firms, investment firms, and other companies who use SMEs regularly for a broad range of topic expertise often prefer to skip the work of directly identifying an SME every time they need one. They often use the services of an expert network to the work for them.

Expert networks maintain large databases of SMEs as well as have staff trained on how to find new SMEs when needed. Most are free to join for SMEs. The large expert consulting platforms Guidepoint Global, GLG, and M3 Global Research allow anyone with an area of expertise to sign up and make a profile explaining their experience.

The expert network will contact you if they have a client in need of an SME that matches your profile. Then, they’ll pay you for your time in speaking with the client.

Industry and academic publications

Companies look for names of potential SMEs in publications. The names can appear as authors, quoted sources, and references. They may already subscribe to relevant publications, but also might locate a publication for the sole purpose of identifying an SME.

The best way to benefit in this case is to publish. Many types of publications and writing can be effective, depending on your area of expertise. These include:

  • Scientific journals
  • Industry journals
  • Academic publications
  • Online news outlets and even blogs

The expectation for publishing goes beyond academia. Publications are widely viewed as evidence of expertise.

So, start writing and get your work published!

Professional associations

Medical societies and other professional associations can be avenues to getting work as an SME. When someone is in need of an SME, they naturally look where the professionals in the field of interest congregate – their professional society.

Some associations have processes for assisting individuals and businesses in search of SMEs. Others take requests on a case by case basis. Regardless, you’re most likely to be identified if you are active in your society and the leadership is aware of your expertise.

Google

Just as doctors sometimes google how to manage a patient’s diagnosis, companies in search of an SME often use Google to find one. To benefit from this, your name needs to appear in searches related to your areas of expertise. This can be difficult to accomplish, depending on the field and competition. But it can be done and it can definitely be worthwhile.

There are a few ways to position yourself to be identified as an SME with internet searches. The easiest and quickest approach is to use a journalist-expert “connector” service to be notified of journalists and reporters looking for experts for their stories. HARO (which stands for Help a Reporter Out) is the most popular. It’s free to use. Others include SourceBottle (based in Australia) and ProfNet.

The most time-consuming (but potentially most rewarding) way to make an appearance in Google is to have your own website or blog with information about your area of expertise. If you’re not up for that, you can write articles on your area of knowledge for online publications.

Linkedin and other social media platforms

SMEs are found on social media through both active searches and passively through feeds. Linkedin lends itself best to making SME connections due to its business orientation. But other platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, can still be helpful.

The most important thing you can do to set yourself up for SME success on Linkedin is to be sure you have a complete, well-written profile. To take it one step further, you can:

  • Write posts
  • Comment on, reply to, and share others’ posts
  • Grow your network by connecting with other users
  • Join and participate in groups

Be sure to actually read and reply to messages and connection requests. Unless you make your email address public, this may be the only way that others are able to contact you about working as an SME for them.

Job postings

SME consulting gigs sometimes get publicly advertised. These opportunities are most likely to be long-term relationships with an organization that has an ongoing need for an SME on a certain topic. For example, a science publisher might hire a physician consultant to work as an SME whenever they have content on a particular medical subject that they’re publishing.

Niche job boards are a great place to look. Look for Zebras’ job board is a good place to start for SMEs in the medical field. Look for job boards run by professional associations in your field, as well.

Word of mouth

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have a love-hate relationship with anything “word of mouth.” I’m an introvert, and networking is difficult. About 50% of you will agree with me on this. But word of mouth is important when it comes to finding gigs as an SME.

Word of mouth connections will happen naturally over time if you have clients who are pleased with your work as an SME. You can be deliberate in moving this process along by doing the following:

  • Make sure your clients are aware that you’re looking for opportunities to act as an SME
  • Ask clients to pass along your name and contact information
  • Don’t hesitate to let people know about your area of expertise at events and networking sessions (it is possible to do this in a classy manner)

In-house talent

Finally, organizations often want to use their existing talent to meet their needs and solve their problems. They may be willing to expend resources to turn an employee into an SME.

If you see the need for an expert at your company, consider whether you’d be able to provide the necessary expertise if you had some additional training or a shift in your schedule or responsibilities that permitted you to learn about a topic.

Let your employer know if you have an interest in a certain area. If you’ve been going above and beyond your usual job duties to learn about a subject, be sure your employer is aware of your efforts. When possible, explain what the ROI would be for them if they expended some resources on helping you become an in-house SME.

Don’t let your subject matter expertise go unnoticed

You can drastically increase your chances of being identified as an SME by having a presence in at least one or two of the places described above. From there, you can land lucrative, fulfilling engagements that can often be done on a flexible schedule from your own home.

Your own goals as an SME will help determine which platforms and methods you should dedicate effort to. For instance, if you’re looking for extra income, signing up for expert consulting platforms is a good place to start. On the other hand, if you want additional exposure and to get your name or business on the radar of potential customers, HARO is an low-effort way to quickly get yourself quoted on a topic.

Regardless of what you hope to get out of working as an SME, the best way to get started is to make sure that potential clients can actually find you.

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