What makes an expert?

By: Karl R. Lapan, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center

What makes you an expert? Today, there is a really low threshold for self-proclaiming your awesomeness in any field, especially on the web. By blogging, I might be considered a journalist. By taking an online, DIY course in drywalling, I might be construed as a home renovation expert. By obtaining a state license in the use of pesticides, I can open and promote my own pest control company. However, most people can discern an expert from someone who is not because they commit themselves to some principles of excellence.

Today, people won’t take you seriously unless they perceive you as someone who knows their stuff. But how do you become an expert in the first place? The short answer: It’s an ongoing process that requires intense focus, dedication and a variety of market-smart strategies, including:

  1. Build and establish credibility by writing for industry publications. It’s now easier than ever to find publications looking for new content. Content is king, after all. A good launching pad is to secure a spot as a guest author in niche industry blogs. This will help you build some momentum and confidence so you can later pitch to larger publications. Make sure your articles are timely, relevant and on point for the subject matter.
  2. Publish a book. The Internet is the great democratizer when it comes to publishing. Self-publishing is easier now than ever. Writing a book (or e-book) can give you the leverage you need to impress clients, vendors and others. It is a terrific tool for differentiating yourself.
  3. Speak at industry events/Offer workshops. Do your homework by seeking out the types of events your ideal clients would attend. Make it a point to hone your public speaking skills so your ‘story-telling’ can connect deeply with your audiences. If this isn’t second nature to you, you might consider joining a Toastmaster International club to build confidence and gain feedback in a non-threatening setting.
  4. Focus on the details/Carve your niche. Autograph your work with excellence. Produce good work consistently (go above and beyond in delivering value) and on time and people will want to keep working with you. Your reputation will proceed you, in a good way. Lee Cockerell, former EVP for Walt Disney World, once said, “Every leader is telling a personal story about him or herself by his/her actions, what story are you telling?” Be sure to know what you want to be known for, and what you believe you and your company do better than anyone else (your secret sauce). His new book coming out in a few weeks Career Magic I am sure will have a lot of executive development insights whether you work for a large corporation, a start-up or yourself.
  5. Land high-profile clients. It only takes one big name company to change your company’s trajectory. Don’t be afraid to think big and approach a company outside your comfort zone. The ‘right reference’ clients can make all the difference in your success and failure in an industry segment or in a niche area of expertise. Sometimes you have to leave a 60 mile radius of where you live to be considered an expert.

These ideas are a good start. Remember, the best type of expert is one who:

  • is self-aware;
  • is a continuous learner (there is no greater learner gift than to be intellectually curious);
  • is generous with sharing his/her knowledge;
  • stays relevant and hungry; and
  • becomes a trusted advisor to his/her client (going above and beyond the ‘love them and leave them’ consultant who is not there to implement the recommendations) to leave them better than he/she found the organization.

If you are disciplined, consistent and committed, the rest will follow.


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