How do you become an “expert” in your field?
The term “expert” is defined as anyone who has a special skill or knowledge in a particular field. By this definition alone many reading this interview will find that they are, in fact, “experts” in one subject or another. The trick is of course to own your expertise, find ways to establish it in your industry, and create a profitable business around it. So how can you create a brand of expertise and let it make the money for you?
Dorie Clark has been called by The New York Times; “an expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” She's a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, an adjunct professor at Duke University's School of Business, and she consults for Google, Microsoft and The World Bank, among others. She is a best selling author of, Reinventing You and Stand Out. Her new book is Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive.
I recently interviewed Dorie for the LEADx Podcast where she discussed her tips on how to establish yourself as an expert and make money doing it. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kruse: You talk about monetizing content, and a good example would be online courses for niche topics.
Clark: Yeah, that's exactly right. My mother actually just took her first online course. It's really hysterical. My mother somehow, I think she bought it off of a Facebook ad, she doesn't even know. I'm like “How did you find out about it?” She's like “I don't really know.” I think she must have clicked through a Facebook ad but thank God, it was a class that she really liked. It was on iPhone photography. She was just extolling it's virtues to me, about how amazing this was. The truth is, my mom actually kind of was a rubbish photographer, she needed this course. She's been digging it so much. My mom just turned 80. If she's doing online courses for the first time and she's really loving it, I feel like there's a lot of room for this to grow.
Kruse: People believe they have to be an expert, but you aren’t trying to reach other experts, you’re trying to reach newbies, right?
Clark: Absolutely. You certainly don't need to be the world's expert. If that were the case then literally one person in the world could teach every subject. That's not really a feasible model. They might not even speak your language. There is room for a lot of people. I think the question is, are you credible enough? That's really the key. You're not necessarily going to take an iPhone photography class from random Joe down the street. As long as they have some credibility, as long as they have enough of a claim to fame, that they can say “Oh, okay. I can see that, I can get it, that he would the one to do this course,” that's good enough.
This goes to the second principle that I actually teach in my Recognized Expert course, which is social proof. This is a term borrowed from psychology. It basically just means, what is your credibility? What is the reason why people should listen to you? If you take that with content creation, those two are a very powerful combination. If you're putting out good content so people could see with their own eyes like, “Oh yeah, she really knows what she's talking about, this makes sense.”
Then, the person sees, in addition to you making sense, you are credible because–insert any of a variety of things. Maybe like Kevin Kruse, you blog for Forbes. Maybe you have written a book. Maybe you used to work for a company that everyone respects. Maybe you have had freelance clients that people know the names of and can say “Oh wow, they hired him? That's incredible.” Maybe you are the leader of a professional association. Any of those things could form as forms of social proof to give people enough confidence to say “Oh okay, my gut was the Kevin is pretty credible. Now that I see this, I know he's credible so I feel comfortable buying from him.”
Kruse: What would be a practical first step to get closer to monetizing this expertise?
Clark: When it comes to a practical first step, I am a really big fan of literally just getting started. I feel like there is power in momentum. One of the people that I profile in Entrepreneurial You is a guy named Michael Parrish DuDell, who actually wrote the book based on the television show Shark Tank.
I love his story, which I feel is kind of an inspirational one for a lot of people. He actually set himself a deadline. He was interested in becoming an entrepreneur and starting his own business. He realized that the essence of it, he knew he could do the work that he wanted to do for people, but he had never sold anything. He never actually made sales. He knew that to be an entrepreneur, you had to do that. He set himself a deadline. He said, “You know what? In a month, I'm going to give myself a month, if I do not land a client within a month, I'm just going to quit.” I'm just going to go back to having a day job, or whatever. That's kind of harsh, it's kind of spartan. In a lot of ways, I think it's so powerful.
A lot of people just talk about it for years and years and years and they never do it. He's like, “Nope, put up or shut up Michael, you've got to get this.” Let's go back to lean startup principles, whatever your minimum viable product is, do that. It can be literally just as simple as selling an hour of coaching time to your friend for 25 bucks, it doesn’t even matter. What matters is that you start the process and that you get money in your pocket for something. When you get money in your pocket, even if it's $25, you are an entrepreneur.
An easy starting point, I'm a fan of this, this is how I started with coaching, with consulting, something like that. That requires zero setup, it requires zero infrastructure, it's just sharing your knowledge with people that want your knowledge. I think that's often a really good starting point, to just mention to your friends, “Hey, I'm starting a business doing coaching around blah, blah, blah, would you be interested?” Sell it to them at a discount. It doesn't matter, you don't have to have these princely sums to begin with. What you need is practice and what you need is testimonials. If you could get some beta testers, essentially, to agree to do something cheap in exchange for testimonials, if they like it, that is how you build a foundation for a business. Especially if you give yourself a deadline about, “All right, I'm going to do this. Within a month I'm going to land my first client, boom.”
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.