Every freelance writer has felt the thump thump of the heart as the deadline approached. Writing feverishly to get that piece finished and turned in on time is fine, but what if you can’t even get to the writing because you don’t have the source you need? That’s cause for palpitations.
I responded to a forum question on LinkedIn the other day where the writer wanted to know how to find sources for articles. As a former journalist and the author of the forthcoming Connect and Conquer: Grow Your Business, Organization, and Career Through Online and Offline Relationships, I have lots of insight in this area. Finding sources for articles, blog posts, shows, and other types of content where you often rely on the expertise and information of others can be a daunting task. You don’t want to get stuck going to the same people over and over again, but you can get overwhelmed looking for new voices.
No editor wants to hear that you missed your deadline because you couldn’t find someone to interview.
What to do?
The answer to finding great sources is looking for multiple ways to connect — before you need the sources. You see, if you waste time looking for sources but coming up empty or interviewing the wrong source, then you lose productivity and your work suffers. Yep, you could even miss your deadline. But you can become more efficient with your sourcing process and better prepared for your work with a few tweaks to your process.
Seven ways to find incredibly useful sources for your interviews, articles, and content creation projects
1. Target your profile
Add appropriate, targeted keywords to your social media headings and profiles. This allows people to find you. That way, people who are looking for writers in that specialty area can locate and contact you. You may get a story idea from one of these contacts or even a new business lead. Or you might be able to add them to your source file so you can call on them when you need them.
2. Follow people in your specialty area
Social media gives us the ability to have access to contacts we never would have been able to reach before social networks arrived. So take advantage! On Twitter, for example, follow industry leaders, thought leaders, and other fascinating people who may turn out to be great sources. Some may even follow you back. Tweet their content, reply to their tweets, etc. This can help you begin a conversation so you connect.
3. Join mailing lists
Research top people in your field, or those you find who produce interesting information. Join their mailing lists. Check out the newsletters that drop into your inbox and hit reply with a thoughtful comment. Keep it brief, but make it meaningful. Comment on how the article helped you, what you thought of it, or even ask a question that may be fodder for a future newsletter or blog post. Sure, some won’t reply, but you may be surprised at those who do. Again, this reply can be the start of a relationship that allows you to approach the source later for an article you are writing.
4. Talk with your own network
It’s easy to look to others, but often, your own network has the information you need. Sure, you may not know a source for that piece you’re doing on the future of biofuel research, but someone in your network may just know the perfect person. So put a request out to your network. Tweet out a call for help. Post the question to your Facebook page. Drop your mailing list an email. You may just be surprised at the helpful information that turns up! Your network includes your friends, family, contacts on your social networks, your mailing list, etc. Don’t be shy about tapping into the wonderful resource that is your network.
5. Go the PR route
When I was a reporter, sometimes it was convenient to enlist the help of the public information officer for an organization. This isn’t always the approach you want to take, but if you are looking for a source who has knowledge about a specific area or fits a specific profile, then getting the help of a PR person can enable you to find a higher quality source. Schools, chambers of commerce, tourist bureaus, law enforcement agencies, and other organizations often have public information officers.
6. Ask the source for a source
One move I sometimes used when I was a reporter was to ask the source for a source. “Do you know anyone else who can add to this conversation or who can discuss XYZ topic in-depth?” is a good question to ask at the end of an interview with a specialist source. The person most likely will be able to refer you to another person or two. Add the new contact to your source file for later, or in a bind, call them for the current story.
7. Check out the association
If you are writing on a hot topic or area, chances are, there is an association for it. Actually, even if it’s an obscure topic, there is a good chance there is an association for it. (Had no idea there was something called the National Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, but there it is. Ready for all your questions about the fat pet epidemic.)
If you use these seven tips for finding sources, you’ll realize that you are more well-connected than you thought! The work you do now to build a strong source file or list will help you work smarter and produce better stories tomorrow.