Recently we held a great live Ask Me Anything (AMA) event with Articulate Community Manager Trina Rimmer where she answered questions about project management for e-learning and working with subject matter experts. Thanks to all of our amazing community members who participated in the event. You can check out the full discussion here, but I’ve pulled together the most juicy tidbits into this handy recap article for you.

Montse Posner Anderson: How do you set customer expectations as relates to realistic timelines? Very often clients want rather complex courses completed in a short time. How do you communicate to them it isn't possible without 1) losing the contract and 2) disappointing the client because you weren’t able to meet your deadline?

Trina Rimmer: I try to be very clear with folks about what it takes to do the work. And overall, I like showing work samples instead of talking about what I can do. This gives people something more concrete. I’ll show them something I’ve created under a more aggressive timeline (or lower budget) and then compare that with what I can do with a more realistic timeline (or budget) and then letting the client choose what works best for them.

Danika Clark: Can you offer any insight into development ratios; for example, how many hours to develop different levels of e-learning? Do you have any advice or information to offer on that front?

Trina Rimmer: The closest thing I think our industry has to a “standard” for development ratios is probably the Chapman Alliance data. In practice, I found that it was easier to keep track of my hours on every project. The nice thing about tracking your time for projects is that, after a while, you end up with some nice benchmarking data that speaks to how long it takes YOU to create different levels of e-learning.

Ashley Chiasson: How do you streamline your process for optimal efficiency?

Trina Rimmer: It all starts with coffee. Everything. But seriously, I’ve found that I can’t be too married to a process. I’ve found it’s better to have some ways to creatively “flex” my processes so I can adjust on the fly to fit the client’s needs/schedules.

Jeff Kortenbosch: Do you have any tips regarding renegade SMEs? The noncooperative type, allocated to the project but unwilling or unable to put in the required time and not completing their assigned actions. What would you do to get them back on board?

Trina Rimmer: When I’m getting my project started, I try to get a sense of the hierarchy of decision-makers so I know who to turn to when I need to move things forward and my SME is being unresponsive. Who are my decision-makers? Who can act as my muscle when my SMEs bail on me? Sometimes these people aren’t all one and the same, but knowing who you can go to for what is really helpful.

Steffanie Hobelman: What would you say is the best way to get started when designing a course? Once I have the project documentation and figure out what really needs to be in the course, I struggle with the “after.” Figuring out what I should do next … should I script out the course … should I design the slides … should I design the interaction?

Trina Rimmer: I would say that your next steps really depend on the project. For instance, if you’re working on a complex scenario-based course, I think it’s a good idea to start with scripting out those scenarios and how the conversations between the characters will flow since that’s where your SMEs are probably going to spend the most time going back and forth on your design.

If you’re creating something more linear but with a brand-new user interface, I’d suggest working on a prototype of that design so you can get your SMEs to agree on the visuals first.

Tom Kuhlmann: I get a lot of questions about freelancers just getting started who struggle with how to price out their projects. Any advice?

Trina Rimmer: The first thing I learned when I started out was that I was too focused on trying to look like a bargain-priced option. This worked for awhile, but the business I was getting was very one-off and transactional and I had to do a TON of work to make ends meet. I wanted clients that would give me repeat business so I learned pretty quickly to price myself much higher. I did the math and took the annual salary I wanted to make, the hours I wanted to work per week, and adjusted that pricing to account for health insurance, savings, taxes, etc. until I arrived at an hourly rate. Even if clients wanted a flat-rate quote from me, I would still use that hourly rate to compute my fees.

We hope you gleaned some helpful insights from Trina’s tips and advice. Feel free to head on over to the discussion to have a look at all of the questions and answers that were posted! And don’t forget to tune in next month, April, for another live AMA about video and audio production questions with Articulate pro Mike Enders.

If you have feedback or questions, we’d love to hear them in the comments below. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for the latest e-learning advice, tips, and tricks.