How To Claim Your Own Expertise

You see it everywhere: become an authority, share your expertise, dominate your niche and so on. The problem that I have – and many others I talk to – is acknowledging the fact that I do actually know enough about something to be considered an expert.

 

It’s an old problem. The more you know, the more you see how much you don’t know.

 

If you study anything, you will probably read books and articles written by super smart people whom you admire. You will listen to speakers, sit in on teleseminars and webinars, have email exchanges and do research. It is natural to think of those people who write, present and speak as experts and of yourself as someone who is learning from them.

 

But at some point, you know far more than the average person knows.  You gain the ability to teach others what you have learned and to share your knowledge. If you are thinking about how much more you’d like to know about x, though, you may not realize that you know more than most people. You might be too worried about how much there still is for you to learn.

 

Chris Brogan addressed this tangentially in his post titled “You Always Have Something To Give“, and  of course, Brian Clark addresses the question in his famous report Authority Rules. No matter how many really smart people tell you that you need to market yourself as an authority, or even that you need to be sharing your knowledge so that people can decide you’re an authority for themselves, it’s hard to do.

 

The reason it’s hard to do is feels risky. You know how much you don’t know. You know the questions people could ask that would reveal your ignorance for the whole world to see. It’s uncomfortable.

 

Here are a few ways you can begin to recognize your own authority and gain confidence:

Make a list of what you know. When I taught Spanish, I relentlessly studied the everything I could find about the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. In fact, I learned all I could about the Aztec civilization so that I could tell my students stories. One week, I moved a book shelf and noticed just how many books about the Aztecs I owned. That got me to thinking about how little I knew about the topic when I started teaching, and it dawned on me: I was something of an expert. It was a stunning revelation.

Take a look at a few blogs in your niche. Not the recognized, top-shelf blogs, but the ones with smaller readerships. When I visit blogs of other writers, I am sometimes left gaping at the elementary nature of the information presented. The reality is not that those folks are unqualified to write about writing, but that I know much more than I give myself credit for.

Visit forums and read some of the questions people are asking. How many of them could you answer off the top of your head? How many of the answers others have posted do you know are flat out wrong? Expertise is relative, but if you know more than most of the other people posting in a reputable forum, you have at least some measure of authority.

Start sharing. Sometimes I will recommend to my Facebook friends that they change their passwords. The suggestion is always met with a flurry of questions. The people I “hang out” with online know that it is a good idea to change your passwords frequently, and they know the dangers of getting hacked. It’s easy to think that everybody knows that stuff. But they don’t. So, while I would never consider myself an authority regarding personal security on the Internet, I do have knowledge that would be beneficial to lots of other people.

 

Have you ever realized that you have unwittingly gained expertise in a particular area? Or, have you ever hesitated to claim authority about a topic when you had every right to do so? Is there some way you “test” to decide if you should share your knowledge or not?

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Excitement, Exhaustion & Losing – The Story of a Great Weekend

Last weekend, I did something out of character that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that it was almost laughable. I participated in a weekend startup event called 48 Hour Launch. I pitched an idea, put together a team and then did everything I could do to get a company ready to launch over the course of one weekend.

Now, thinking up an idea is not the part that is out of character because I’m a veritable fountain of ideas. Telling people about them, acting on them, doing something with them – now that’s a different story. Usually, I just voice these ideas, do a little research and discard them pretty quickly.

Here’s what my idea was: an online bookstore that only sells books by independent authors. I love to support small businesses, and to me, an author that self-publishes is basically running a small business around her book. Besides writing the book, the author has to handle all the marketing and selling that is involved in getting it in front of the eyes of readers. I applaud the entrepreneurship involved, and besides, there are some really good self published books out there.

My teammate, the incomparable Chanté Newcomb, and I created a plan, put together a site through a store front template, scrapped it, built an ecommerce site on WordPress, contacted some authors, and found out…writers probably wouldn’t want to list their books in a self-published only store.

What we learned is that there are plenty of places to buy self-published books online, and that writers still fear the stigma of self publication. Plus, writers make more money through direct sales on their own sites.

At this point I had faced two potentially idea-killing blows: Chanté and I were the only two working on this project and the people I wanted to help didn’t like my plan.

Instead of quitting – which was tempting – I decided to change it a little and turn it into something that would appeal to writers and that would help them make more direct sales of their books. While authors may not need another outlet for sales, what they do need is help in marketing their work.

Writers need information about where people who view their pages and sites are coming from so that they can make informed decisions about how they will market. They need a way of separating themselves from the crowded slush pile that (in some ways) the Internet has become. They need assistance in getting in front of the eyes of people who would read their work – if they knew about it.

So, my idea went from building an online bookstore to creating a directory of independent writers, where readers could also purchase books if they wanted. Each writer would be given an author’s page, where they could blog, or host contests, or present trivia, and generally promote their work. Most importantly, readers would be encouraged to click through to authors’ sites to make direct purchases.

Besides giving the author access to and control of his or her own space in the directory, we would also do interviews, produce pod casts and feature different writers on the home page and the Facebook page. We would send the authors statistics about their traffic on our site – how many visitors, where they were referred from and so on, so that they would have an additional tool for finding their target audience.

All of these changes came about on Saturday night, approximately half way into the 48 hours. Right about the same time Chanté decided a storefront template wouldn’t work for our project.

If you ever want to work with someone who will dig into your project and be committed to making it work, get in touch with Chanté. She worked throughout the night Saturday night (I know this because she was posting on Twitter at 6am Sunday morning) to put together the WordPress site, making sure we would have something to demonstrate Sunday evening.

Although we didn’t win in the most traditional sense of the word, we did come away with a viable plan to pursue, a site that we will continue to polish and build, and a really amazing feeling of accomplishment. Every project presented was a potential viable business. Some, like ours, will need more work to get there, but certainly success is foreseeable for all nine projects that made it through to the Sunday night presentations.

 

There are lots of people I’d like to thank for helping me (in no particular order):

Chanté Newcomb of The Mane Scene – I wouldn’t have even attempted the project without Chanté’s input and invaluable assistance.

The Company Lab – Sheldon  and Enoch lead an amazing resource for Chattanooga in general and people here who are interested in starting businesses specifically.

Jon Moss of Moss Media Labs – Jon’s amazing networking abilities certainly came through in a pinch, not to mention several excellent, practical suggestions he offered over the course of the weekend.

Carlos Aleman, independent writer of As Happy As Ling – Carlos let us put his book up for sale on the site and offered extremely useful critical feedback from an author’s perspective.

Josh Davis of Churchsurfer – Josh brainstormed with us for several hours on Friday night and his suggestions and thoughts helped spur the project forward.

Lauren & Wade Honeycutt of TripRaiser – We shared a “station” with this lovely couple, who could have viewed us as competitors but instead consistently listened to problems, made suggestions and helped us over hurdles. They drove all the way from Nashville to be there and I’m so glad they did.

Yosef Hamadeh of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel – Yosef was there to offer legal advice and listened to my plan at a critical moment on Sunday, gave great feedback and made me feel much better about the presentation in general. Plus, he told me what sort of legal documents we would need to be in place down the road.

David Niall Wilson, Jenn Mattern, and Evelyn Lafont who are all experienced in writing and publishing and who took the time to evaluate our idea and identified pitfalls and obstacles and issues we were sure to encounter. Constructive criticism is the best kind and all three of these people went over and above by taking the time to help.

There were so many others who dropped by and made suggestions, listened to my presentation and offered feedback, reached out to people they knew who could help and much more. I don’t know everyone’s name, but thanks to every person who even put in an appearance over the weekend. And, definitely a huge thanks to all of the restaurants, individuals, Velo Coffee Roasters and Chattanooga Brewing for keeping us supplied with food, coffee and excellent beer.

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Being a Slacker

Do you ever let yourself be a total slacker?  I know a few people who never do this. They are going all the time, every minute of every day scheduled and carefully accounted for. I admire those folks, sort of. They appear to be productive.

They do not appear to be creative, though, and creativity is essential to me – it is the first word I use when describing myself. One of the reasons I love running my own business and working from home is that I can build in that time for slacking – because, of course, it’s not really slacking. It’s time to let my brain wander and do it’s best work.

Sometimes I worry about being slack a little too often or that I am only avoiding real work when I am sitting around with what feels like a mushy brain. But, if I relax and stop worrying, I always get back to work with a vengeance – eventually. Ideas take time to form and coalesce into something worth doing, but once they do it’s hard to ignore them.

If you don’t make time to be flexible in your business and you don’t let new ideas take hold and grow, how will you adapt? Things are always evolving and changing and your business should be as well.

I’ve heard salespeople say that in order to make a sale, you must relieve a prospect’s pain. The painful spots change with time, the emergence of new technologies, growth and countless other circumstances. You need a certain amount of creativity to figure out how you fit into an ever-changing picture, and in order to help your creativity blossom, you must have time when you are not going and doing.

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Do You Love Your Customers?

Every now and then, I’ll talk to one of my clients and think “This is why she is my favorite client.” Then the voices in my head start arguing, and I will remember conversations with other clients on other days and think, “Well, maybe he is my favorite.” At that (crazy) point, I remember that I like all of my clients. There is not a single one of them that I wouldn’t be happy to see, or any that I feel uncomfortable with.

But I know other business owners who have clients that they just can’t stand. They say things like, “I wish she would just start going somewhere else,” or “People are just so stupid! I’ve told him over and over again that’s not how it works!”

Any time you are dealing with people you are going to encounter moments of frustration, misunderstandings, annoyance and even anger. So it’s completely understandable to just let loose in a moment of frustration. But when you find yourself feeling annoyed daily and dreading even having to talk to your customers, something is wrong.

I’ve been working on some copy for a dog grooming shop recently and came across this quote: “I went to beauty school but decided to do dog grooming instead because dogs don’t pressure you for conversation.”

This person is brilliant. She could have spent years listening to people complain about their lives while she fixed their hair, but she realized early on that it was the hair she loved and not the people. She found a way to continue doing what she liked without the part she didn’t like.

People start businesses for all sorts of good reasons. Personally, I needed income and desperately wanted some autonomy and flexibility. I never expected to genuinely like all of my customers, but am steadily becoming more and more particular about who I pitch my services to and who I accept work from.

I have no idea who coined the phrase “finding your Right People” but I learned about it from Havi, Sonia and Naomi and am only now recognizing the power of their advice. Sure, there are a million businesses that fit the description of my ideal client, but only a small fraction of them are my Right People.

If you are running a business and finding yourself miserable, maybe you are accepting the wrong customers.  If that is the case, figure out what you are looking for in a client. Who makes you happy to be in business? Then, start cultivating relationships with other people who will make you happy. You’ll be so glad you did!

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Outside the Normal

Recently I took a part time job (about 5 hours a week) working in a grant-funded program for high school juniors taking courses through a local community college. It is a really neat program where an adjunct professor comes to the high school twice a week to teach RI-100, which is basically a freshman survey type of class. My job is to go to the school the other 3 days a week and coach the students, help them with the work, present lessons and keep them generally occupied. It’s very much like teaching only I don’t write lesson plans or have to grade anything.

Freelancing is an awesome way to earn a living. There is freedom to choose for whom you will work, when you will work, how you will be dressed while working and on and on.  Having control of your own fate is pretty nice, too. Like any other job, though, it can get to be a little stale.

One of the reasons I took the part time job was  to prevent myself from looking for another 9-5 when my unemployment benefits stop. (Unfortunately, taking the job caused that cessation even though the salary is only half the amount of the weekly benefit, which in itself was half of my old salary! Time to get to marketing!)

Another, and equally important reason, for taking the part time job was to get out of my normal routine and thought patterns. I think about newsletters for hours everyday. Sometimes templates even show up in my dreams. But for those 5 hours or so a week that I am in the classroom, I’m not thinking about newsletters at all. Instead I am talking to a group of people who are still excited about life and the possibilities available.

No matter what you are doing, whether it is a “regular” job, freelancing work, taking care of a home or some combination of activities, it can get to be a grind. All sorts of stuff has been written about doing something you love so that it doesn’t feel like work. The truth is, no matter what you do it will feel like work at least sometimes.

If you can add something totally out of the ordinary for you, it reminds you how much you like the ordinary routine. When I was a teacher, this part time job wouldn’t have been half as much fun as it is now, but a side project writing would have been fabulous.

Being stuck in a job or position that feels stifling and makes you unhappy is totally different, but oddly enough, the cure is the same. Find something interesting and fun, and start doing it. You can work as a volunteer or take an hour or two a week to pursue a hobby. Just adding something a little different to the day in, day out stuff can really help.

Besides reminding me how much I enjoy writing and giving me some much needed time around kids, the part time job also stimulates creativity. Taking that mental break three times a week helps me be more focused when I sit down to write. On the days I teach in the morning, I’m more productive in the afternoon.

How do you keep yourself interested in your day to day work? Do you find that you are more creative or attuned or ready to work if you add some unrelated activity to your weekly routine?

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A Comparison of Neighboring Restaurants

There are two restaurants operating in the same shopping plaza in my community. Both are well-established and are run by families and both stay busy. They both serve great food, although have different styles and much different menus. I eat at both places regularly, and have been closely acquainted with people who have worked in them.

Based on my relationships with employees of the two places, I have observed sharp differences between the attitudes of the owners. Former employees of one restaurant describe the owner as “a jerk,” while the other is called “a really nice lady.” These two descriptions have been repeated in various forms, through years, by employees young and old.

The business owner that former employees call a jerk is really a nice guy. He’s been in business for over 20 years and nearly all of his customers have been coming there to eat for many years. He is, in fact, a charming and funny guy and his wife is pleasant and interesting, too. They both handle customer complaints gracefully. He’s had some employees for years even though once they leave they say negative things about the business.

The difference between the two employers is that which occurs when a business is  operated from a position of abundance versus a position of scarcity.

You see, the entrepreneur described as a jerk operates from the perspective that customers, and therefore money, are scarce. He worries about competition. He worries about employees stealing from him. He worries about customers trying to get something for free. He worries about paying taxes and the cost of rent. He imagines he is on the verge of going out of business every minute. He worries about all of this despite having successfully supported himself and his family for so long with his business, despite having a lovely home, taking vacations and so on.

Obviously, I don’t know everything about his personal life, but he has discussed some of these worries with me and we are not particularly close. I’ve been a customer for years, and we would speak to each other outside his restaurant but really, we are just acquaintances.

The other restaurant owner appears to operate from a perspective of abundance. Employees are invited to eat whatever they want, and even to take food home if they would like. Customer complaints are handled not just with grace but with over-the-top service. Left over food is donated regularly to homeless shelters. Children who want cookies but don’t have enough money are given cookies.

Although I am close to several of the current employees, I’ve never heard anyone mention worries about payroll, taxes, rent or any of the other costs of doing business. Of course, this business owner may just be better at hiding her worries.  And, again, I don’t know any details about this person’s situation, only what is apparent on the surface.

Interestingly, the person who seems to operate from a position of abundance is planning to open another restaurant. Expansion – in this economy!

It’s easy to think about what you do not have. It’s easy to worry. It takes a little more discipline and work to take note of what you do have, and to believe that what you need is there if you will work for it takes an enormous amount of faith. There may be a few lucky souls who naturally see the abundance in the world, but most of us have to work at it.

While I have always attempted to view my life as full of wonder and beauty, until I considered these two restaurants, I never thought about it from a business perspective. Certainly I gravitate towards people and companies that believe in collaboration over competition, and of course most people would rather do business with companies that seem stable.

Can you think of other examples of businesses that operate from either perspective? These two may be extreme examples, and it’s possible that I am only drawing the abundance/scarcity line due to close association with both restaurants. I’m curious about whether other people see the same things at work in other businesses.

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