15 Steps to Define, Establish and Promote Your Expertise
By Stephen Dupont, APR
Do you desire to be recognized as an expert in your field?
To be onstage at a conference speaking alongside other industry experts?
To be sought out by the news media for expert opinion about a news story?
To be honored by your peers for your professionalism, leadership and expert knowledge of your industry?
To be sought out by clients or executive recruiters because of your expertise?
Being recognized as an expert authority can bring many advantages, from the respect of your colleagues, peers and clients, to attracting more business (consulting arrangements, speaking opportunities, book deals, etc.) for yourself or your organization.
What many don’t realize is it’s the rare person who becomes instantly recognized as an expert. Based on my 25 years of experience in public relations, marketing and branding, the process actually involves a number of steps taken over weeks, months and even years. And, even after someone is recognized as a leading expert, that reputation must continuously be maintained through ongoing investments in personal brand building for an expert authority to remain relevant in our fast-changing business world.
In other words, expertise is something that is cultivated and nurtured over time between a person or organization and an audience or fanbase (including customers, employees and other stakeholders).
The process begins with intention – the decision to focus on a specific niche or market by placing one’s talents, skills and insight into the service of that specific niche. This isn’t just a matter of picking a specific market and saying “I’m going to be an expert at this.” What’s it’s actually about is finding your “why” — that axis between what you’re really good at and your passion. We’ve often heard people say, “I can only sell what I believe in.” So, what do you believe in yourself? Because the process of establishing yourself as an expert starts in believing you are so good at something that others will want the expertise that you have to better themselves or their organization.
For example, about five years ago I was contacted by a communications professional seeking advice on how to cultivate his expertise in marketing funeral homes throughout Florida and the Deep South. This person not only recognized an unmet need (funeral homes need marketing, too!) but he realized that his skills combined with his purpose in life could make the difference in the lives of funeral home owners and directors, and thus, those who need the services of funeral homes.
This applies to just about any profession – lawyers, doctors, plumbers, janitors, clergy, accountants, landscapers, truck drivers, or venture capitalists. Where people hire others based on their knowledge and insight, there are experts. And you could be one of them.
Here are 15 steps on how to define, establish and promote your own expertise or the expertise of another person, such as a business leader within an organization for whom you work or a client:
What is your expertise?
1.) Identify your professional expertise/specialty – If you went to school to study a specific field of interest (e.g., business management, chemistry, neuroscience) and/or have worked within a specific profession for a number of years, you could say that you’re an expert in that field. However, whether you’re an electrician or a lawyer, within most professions, there are areas of specialties that further define expertise. In the world of communications, for example, you may be good at many things, but what you might be exceptional at corporate communications (e.g., working directly with the C-suite). As a roofer, you may be good at installing many types of roofs, but you stand out as an installer of flat roofs. So, start here: What are the three to five specialties within your profession at which you excel? Of these, are you more knowledgeable about a specific area or practice than your peers?
2.) Identify your industry expertise – In my career, I’ve worked with clients representing at least a dozen different industries, from financial services and transportation to packaged consumer goods and software automation, however the majority of my clients have been focused in just a handful of industries. Some of my peers have worked almost their entire careers in just one industry, such as health care or financial services. What about for you? Is there a specific industry where you have a great deal of experience? Also, are you an expert in working with organizations of specific sizes (small businesses, mid-sized companies, Fortune 500 companies)? For example, my neighbor, who is a CPA by training, is an expert controller for small- and medium-sized trucking companies.
3.) Identify your geographic market – Expertise can transcend geographic markets. For example, if you’re a corporate lawyer who is an expert in pre-IPO digital ventures, that’s an expertise that can be taken just about anywhere in the world. However, you may choose to be an expert serving a specific area, such as my friend, J.C., who is an expert in HVAC systems serving customers along the Outer Banks islands of North Carolina. Because J.C. is recognized as the go-to guy, he does very little if any advertising – all of his work comes through word-of-mouth, and it’s allowed him to own a nice home alongside that of a Boston neurosurgeon who comes down for just a few weeks every year. Or, you may live and work in a smaller market, such as Duluth, Minnesota, and after realizing that there are only so many healthcare institutions in your city/region to support your healthcare IT practice, you look to expand your expertise to other nearby markets in Wisconsin and North Dakota. The key here is to identify a potential base of customers that will allow you to make a living. Keep in mind, some professions have limitations, such as the requirement of a license to practice in a specific state.
4.) Identify your experiential expertise — Not all expertise is to be gained by following the traditional script of going to college and establishing a white-collar career. Look at Bill Sandy, owner of Sandy’s Blackhawk Island, who has established himself as one of the preeminent experts on muskie fishing in the U.S. and Canada, or Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, one of the world’s most well-known extreme skiers. In the book, The Third Door, author Alex Banayan explains, through face-to-face interviews with well-known experts and business leaders such as Bill Gates, Qi Lu, Lady Gaga, Quincy Jones, and Jane Goodall, that many of the most successful people we know did not follow a traditional path to success. So, you may be a very good CPA or a really great nurse, but maybe you should look beyond that to experiences such as flying drones, hiking up Colorado’s 14 mountains topping 14,000 feet, or collecting 2,000 comic books as an expertise that can be shared with others.
5.) Claiming your expertise – Here’s the one thing about expertise that you should know – it’s not determined by how many years you’ve worked in a specific profession or an industry. Rather, it’s based on how many miles you’ve traveled and how many different roads you’ve taken in the journey. So yes, a 23-year-old can be considered an expert on a particular subject (such as social media) based on his or her experiences and can be taken as seriously as a 50-year-old who has worked in that particular area for the last 25 years. Certainly we have seen over the past 15 years with the rise of various blogs, people who have become experts over time, even though they publicly stated when they started their blog that they knew little to nothing about their subject (e.g., weight loss, running, digital photography, cooking, etc.). Part of claiming your expertise is earning the respect you deserve. That comes when not just your followers adore you, but when your peers come to respect you as well. Often times, that’s tested in public when giving a talk, sitting on a panel discussion, or during a live interview with a media outlet – it becomes clear whether you know what you’re talking about or not.
6.) Sharing your expertise – Another aspect of being respected as an expert is your openness to sharing your knowledge and wisdom. There are many people whom we would consider experts, but who are not, because they withhold their knowledge and/or refuse to collaborate with others. The whole point of seeking to position yourself as an expert is your willingness to be a leader in your field, and that means leading by bringing others together to continue advancing the field’s pool of knowledge. In other words, experts give. They create value within their field of expertise by seeking others (not just new customers) to share their wisdom and insights. They think not just about today, but of the legacy they want to leave for the next generation.
Establish Your Expertise
7.) Build social credibility – To be recognized as an expert, you need to have social credibility (or social proof) – those authoritative factors or elements linked to your personal brand that are recognized by your peers, customers and other influencers. This may vary based on your profession or field of expertise. For a corporate attorney, social cred may be earned by representing blue chip clients, or having litigated a high profile case. For other professions, it might be obtaining an MBA or a Ph.D. from a well-known school such as Harvard, Cambridge or McGill, or having publishing an article or research paper based on original research conducted by you in a peer-reviewed journal. For advertising professionals, it might be winning a major advertising award for an ad campaign. For political advisors, it often requires working on a major political campaign. Other professionals, such as an HVAC professional I know, built his social cred with HVAC training videos on YouTube. A financial counselor built her social cred by writing a book and appearing on a local radio program taking questions from listeners. Look closely at how other experts in your field obtained the social cred they needed to speak as an authority figure.
8.) Identify other experts in your field or market – Within the spectrum of experts will be those who are well known, those who are not and many in-between. Identify where you stand among existing experts and start to cultivate relationships with them. While you may compete with some of these people for customers or in thought leadership (marketplace acceptance of ideas and concepts), the reality is that you and other experts in your field all have something in common — the desire to lift your profession or industry up. And that comes through collaboration, the sharing of information, and the setting of new standards.
9.) Understand what’s next – The top experts in your field don’t just think of today, they’re thinking of tomorrow, or possibly, way into the future. They apply a futurist mindset to their knowledge. They search for patterns and trends that will have far-reaching impact on future developments on their area of expertise. They push the edges of curiosity, and they’re continuous learners. For example, the expert intellectual property attorney may be curious enough to wonder about the legalities of an invention developed by an artificial intelligence-powered robot sometime in the future, or whether the intellectual property laws of the U.S. apply to an invention developed by an American living on the Moon or Mars.
10.) Build a platform – With so many experts out there, you need to distinguish yourself from the pack. How? By developing a unique point-of-view, or platform, from which to express your expertise. Take a close look at your industry or profession. What do you see that no one else sees? Notice any patterns? What would you change if you had the power, influence and resources? Where does the danger lurk? Should the alarms be sounded? Take some time to literally write out your views and compare them to what other experts in your field are saying. If you need to, do your own research to validate your thinking and your unique approach to your field.
11.) Take on leadership roles — Experts take on leadership roles within their profession, their industry and their communities. They serve as advocates for their industry, their community or the causes they believe in. They serve on boards, they participate on committees, and they mentor. It’s in leading that they build personal relationships that allow them to share their expertise and collaborate with their peers.
Promote Your Expertise
12.) Express your thinking – After you’ve developed your unique points of view (POVs), begin expressing those POVs with your existing customers, potential customers and your peers. One of the easiest places to start doing this is through LinkedIn, which allows users to publish articles through LinkedIn Pulse. Also consider: publishing articles on your company’s blog or on Medium, or posting shorter messages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. At some point, you may want to create your own blog to share your ideas and expertise, seek opportunities to speak at industry meetings and conferences, and offer webinars or seminars, which allow you to share your expertise.
Note: Don’t confuse being recognized as an expert with the modern day definition of being an influencer (someone with a large social media following). You can be a highly sought-after expert without a large social media following.
13.) Write a book – Many experts write and publish books to cement their expertise (their thinking or special point of view) while building out their marketing platform. Being an author and having a book to your credit is still perceived as a strong sign of social credibility. A book allows you to claim your expertise while creating a foundation of content that can be turned into other types of content (videos, articles, white papers), which can be used to attract new fans. In addition, a book offers an opportunity to generate editorial coverage, speaking engagements, and social media posts.
14.) Seek third-party editorial coverage – In his book, Endless Referrals, author and sales expert Bob Burg notes, “all things being equal, people do business with those they know, like and trust.” Let’s pay attention to that first word — “know.” If people don’t know about you and your expertise, then they’ll never come to like and trust you, and ultimately do business with you. That’s why experts need to put themselves out there and share their expertise. One of the most proven ways of doing this is making yourself available to media outlets, including bloggers, who are seeking expert sources for information, insights and informed opinion for the stories they share with their audiences. This means developing relationships with reporters, editors and bloggers and making yourself available for interviews or writing articles for a magazine or a blog.
15.) Build a community – As you become known, liked and trusted for your expertise, you will build your own community of followers, with whom you can communicate directly through “owned” media (a blog, social media pages, or an e-newsletter whose content you control). To accelerate this process, focus your efforts on building an opt-in email list of people who have an interest in receiving information and insights directly from you (vs. through a third party). If you’re not sure how to start, begin by creating a short list of people with whom you have business relationships and start by sharing articles or videos created by yourself that you believe can add value to their lives. Eventually, this list may grow into a formal, opt-in email list that you can use for a daily, weekly or monthly e-newsletter or alerts (e.g., corporate attorney sends alerts to people on her email list about about new SEC regulations). Building a blog also is an efficient way to stay in touch with your growing fanbase by sharing free content about important issues and topics.
Your Expertise = Your Personal Brand
Building your expertise is the first step in a longer journey involving the building of your personal brand. It’s the foundation of your personal brand – the bricks, so to speak – that will help you attract and retain a growing following of people who trust you for your thinking and wisdom, and who are open to sharing that thinking with their network. After all, you become known by the company you keep and the ideas you share.
Did you find this article helpful? Check out other articles about branding, marketing and communications by Stephen Dupont at his blog, stephendupont.co.
Stephen Dupont, APR, is VP of Public Relations and Branded Content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a creative brand powerhouse based in Minneapolis. He is a frequent contributor to PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics and Forbes.com. Contact Stephen Dupont at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.stephendupont.co.
© Stephen Dupont, 2018