The Entrepreneurial Expert: Lessons from The Business of Expertise

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What makes your expertise valuable to your clients and target market?

How can you effectively market and sell your expertise?

Which ways can you position your expertise to create more value for both your business and your clients?

These questions are critical to independent consultants and small firms — whose expertise is their product.

Independent consultants and small firms are at the center of the small overlap between entrepreneurs and experts.

Your expertise is at the core of what makes you valuable. Your prospective clients won’t hire you unless they’re convinced your expertise is what will help solve their problem. And you cannot effectively sell your expertise without sufficient entrepreneurial skills.

In The Business of Expertise, David C. Baker teaches you how you can leverage your expertise to run a thriving and successful firm.

Your only real control is to withhold your expertise. And although withholding expertise is the only leverage real experts have, it can be a powerful one, indeed.

In this post, I’m sharing what I’ve learned and my thoughts on what David teaches in this book.

By the end of this post, you will learn…

  • What effective positioning is and the process behind it
  • How an expert becomes an expert in both their appearance — and doing the work
  • The role that your expertise plays in your website and digital presence

Making a living through your expertise is not easy. This book will help you do it, and do it better.

Vertical and Horizontal Expertise

How you position your expertise is critical to your success in marketing and selling it.

Vertical expertise is expertise specific to a particular industry. Think “Credit Unions.”

Horizontal expertise is expertise specific to a broader context — like a demographic or practice area. Think “Millenials.”

There can be a lot of overlap between the two.

David writes about the four advantages of vertical expertise:

  • It’s easy to find your prospective clients
  • Your best clients take you with them to their next job
  • The word spreads organically as clients and prospects mingle around vertical water coolers
  • Vertically pinned expertise is more highly compensated

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

When you can get clients easier, get more referrals, and make more money, then why doesn’t everyone develop this expertise and a consistent marketing message around it?

It’s not an easy process. It’s scary, challenging, and can take 6-12 months to see any results from your specialization.

Simply choosing a target vertical is one of the hardest parts. Here’s a tool that demonstrates what that can feel like: Nick’s NAICS Selector.

The Process of Positioning

As Blair Enns says, positioning is an exercise in irrelevance. As you become more irrelevant to prospects by turning your positioning away from them, you become even more relevant to your chosen target. It requires courage and discipline.

Your prospective clients like to believe they are special. When they read marketing material that doesn’t address them, their industry, or the problem they face, their eyes glaze over, they skip over the page, and they don’t take action.

This changes when you make deliberately make yourself irrelevant to anyone but them. When you name the industry or the problem that your target audience faces consistently, they’re hooked. They start becoming interested in you and your expertise.

Good positioning is an exercise in “pigeonholing” yourself.

The process of positioning is very painful. It requires introspection, outside advice, a little bit of consensus building, and quite a bit of time and maybe even some money. Don’t put yourself through this every couple of years.

Positioning requires changes throughout many aspects of your business, especially your marketing. After going through a positioning change, you’re very likely going to have to change your branding, your website, your messaging, and your tactics.

Not only that, but there is a fear you must overcome to make a public (good positioning is public) positioning change. You want to be able to run with your positioning for years, so take the time and get it right. Don’t rush into it so you don’t need to rush out of it.

Drop and Give Me 20

The harks back to a Marine sergeant telling a private to give him a quick 20 pushups on the spot, or maybe a high school football coach doling out punishment for a bad 40-yard time. The idea is that at a moment’s notice, without any preparation, you can give me 20. 

 

In this case, what I want you to give me is 20 insights that emerge from your expertise as applied to a particular focus.

If you think you’ve developed solid, well-positioned expertise, then try this exercise:

Consider your reader to have a decent knowledge of your field. Could you write 20 specialized insights that would make them think: “Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve never thought of that before.”

Publish these insights as an article on your website. Share it with all of your previous and potential clients. Use it as a piece of thought-leadership to educate your prospective and current clients.

Call it “20 Insights on X for Z” — with X being your skills (strategy consulting, management, organizational) and Z being the target vertical (A/G manufacturers, Supply Chain, etc), or some variation of the above. This will make the post more relevant to your target audience as well as demonstrate what you do. Again, positioning.

This is a fantastic exercise not only for positioning yourself as a thought-leader — but clarifying your own thinking as well.

Every time you set off one of these “lightbulb moments” in the heads of your prospective clients, you’re building trust with them. They’re starting to see you as more of a trusted advisor.

Developing relationships and selling your services to qualified leads who see you as the qualified expert is easy, enjoyable, and profitable for both parties.

You should always have a list with getting to “know” topics on it. Quit protecting what you learned in the past and spend that energy on new things right now.  

Having a list of “getting to know” topics — and writing publicly about your experience in learning them — helps you grow. Create AND document.

Like David says in this talk — you don’t achieve clarity and then write. It’s through the process of articulating, in your writing, that you gain clarity.

Experts Look The Part (And Do The Work)

Like it or not, being an expert means carrying yourself a certain way. It means writing. It means speaking. It means not making yourself too available.

Experts are not too busy to articulate thought leadership. There are many reasons why experts don’t write and speak, but none of them are legitimate. If you don’t have the time you aren’t making enough money. If you don’t know what to say, you arent’ an expert. If you don’t know how to say it, you haven’t practiced enough. If you find too many audiences when directing your writing, you haven’t focused enough. Aside from the content itself, having the time to write itself sends just as powerful a message. Developing and sharing insights not only implies that you make enough money to engage in this activty that doesn’t generate immediate cash, it also positions you as someone who wants to help.   

In my opinion, this is the most important paragraph in the entire book.

If you don’t have the time, raise your prices. Create new offerings. Double your hourly rate. Create packaged versions of your expertise, and sell those.

If you don’t know what to say, ask. Call one of your clients. Ask them what they are working on. Ask them what they are struggling with.

If you don’t know how to say it, start practicing. Use Quora, follow topics in your industry, and start answering questions. Answer 1 question a day. Build a writing habit.

If you find too many audiences, narrow your focus. Apply the 80/20 to your current clients. Who are the small number of clients who are the most profitable to your business? What industries are they in? What types of businesses have an expensive problem that your expertise can help solve?

If you haven’t started producing thought-leadership consistently yet, then the passage above should light a fire underneath you.

Experts don’t beg for opportunities to aply their expertise. Sociolgically, our understanding is that experts are so good that they are always in demand. In fact, it might take weks to get an appointment with them, but it’s worth it. So it’s hard to reconcile this notion we have with seeing an expert beg for work to play the part of supplicant. Begging for work screams one thing: There aren’t many people who want my opinion or want my advice. How about you? Anything I can help you with?

The harder you are to work with, the more your clients want to work with you.

You can’t fake this. It’s a real thing. When it takes effort to access your expertise, your prospective clients will make the effort. When it’s too easy, or if you’re too available, your expertise is not as attractive. It’s a function of our psyche.

I see that “Robert somebody published five new posts…”

 

I don’t find that I need content, what I really need is brief, well-written insights that changes my personal or business life in significant ways. In this mass of content, I’ll gravitate to a dozen key thought-leaders who have consistently delivered on that promise and the rest of you are, well, you’re just too much.   

This paragraph should help guide your content marketing strategy: well-written insights that change your client’s business life in significant ways. If you can consistently become this valuable thought-leader to your prospects, you’ll never run out of business.

If you can consistently become this valuable thought-leader to your prospects, you’ll never run out of business.

What are the insights that you can provide that has the potential to benefit the business lives of your target audience? Write those down, and publish them through your website.

Don’t think of it as “content marketing” — teach what you’ve learned, and share what you know. What’s in your head is valuable to your prospective clients and makes up some of your most effective marketing material.

Your Website and Expertise

Yesterday, I saw this on the landing page of a major advisory firm:

 

WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?

 

We never met a challenge we couldn’t solve.

 

Bullshit. Either they haven’t had many complicated challenges, or their definition of a solution needs adjustment. Experts are very relevant in only some situations, and you should exercise the power of saying “no” frequently so that your “yes” means anything at all.

If you claim to solve 100 problems for 100 different industries, then the effectiveness of your website and your digital presence is greatly diminished. An expert’s website is such a powerful tool because you’re addressing your target vertical (or problem area) consistently, drawing your target audience deeper in and shutting out anyone whom your expertise doesn’t apply to (who wouldn’t make good leads or clients anyway).

The test for this is always comes from what you’re willing to say on your website because of one thing: You can’t control who sees it. The waffling expert wants a more generalized positioning on the website so they don’t risk turning away any opportunity before they get a chance to compromise.

Do not use your website to try and appeal to everyone. When you narrow your lens and focus on a market vertical, make it clearer on your website than anywhere else.   

Specialized expertise makes your website at least twice as effective. Your designer and copywriter will have an easier time creating an effective piece of marketing material because they will know who they are creating it for — not “businesses”, but “businesses in the X industry or looking to solve problem X”

Action Steps: Read The Book!

For independent professionals and consultants, The Business of Expertise is a must read.

You can find the book here on David’s website.

It will challenge you, ask hard questions, and help you get clear on turning your expertise into something your prospective clients are willing to pay more for.

Have you read The Business of Expertise? What were some of your main takeaways?

Leave your thoughts and insights in the comment section below.

Without pattern matching, there is no intelligence. Without similar scenarios, there is no pattern matching. Without a tight positioning, there are no similar scenarios. Time and time again, you’ll come back to this realization and it will form the basis of everything you do.