Posted 16th January 2011.
In my posts about Authority Marketing I talk about the power of establishing yourself as authority in your field.
It's common sense really: when you're viewed as an authority, you're the default “go to” person for the difficult, challenging problems your clients have. You're the benchmark. And you'll command the high fees that being the leader in your field delivers.
One of the key components (along with enhancing your influence) of Authority Marketing is positioning yourself as an expert.
But being recognised as an expert is no easy task.
Please don't believe all the “how to instantly become an expert in your field” hype you might read on the internet.
Doing a handful of interviews with real experts doesn't make you one yourself. That gives you a valuable product to sell and some useful knowledge. But it doesn't make you an expert. Not yet at least.
Nor does endless self promotion and chatter on social media sites.
According to Professor Anders Ericsson – probably the worlds leading researcher on expertise and elite performance – becoming a true expert in a field takes around 10,000 hours of deliberate (goal-directed, feedback guided) practice.
Wow. That's 5 hours of practice every working day for 10 years.
Is that really necessary to become an expert in your specialism in consulting, coaching or other profession.
The answer is both yes and no.
Ericsson's definition of expertise is based on elite performance. An international-level concert violinist, a chess grandmaster, or one of the top athletes in a sport.
If you want to achieve those levels of expertise in your own field then yes – you do have to put in 10,000 hours of practice.
But if you're not “competing” at that level. If you're a marketing consultant who wants to be seen as the go-to expert for retail businesses in California, for example. Or you're a leadership coach focused on the public sector in the UK. In those cases, the level of expertise needed is not quite so high.
Selecting The Right Niche is One of the Keys to Becoming an Expert Quickly
By focusing on a very specific sector, geographic area or other factor, you don't have to be the leader in your field globally. What you need as a minimum is to have the expertise needed to provide significant help to your clients. And expertise at a level which puts you well above your competitors.
If you focus on leadership in the public sector in the UK, you'll rarely be competing for work against a Warren Bennis or John Kotter, for example.
So by focusing on a very specific niche, it's easier to become the recognised expert. Of course, you have to find a niche where there is still strong demand for your services. There's no point in being the recognised expert in a field where no one is buying.
It's also easier to become the recognised expert in a relatively new field. Where few people have any expertise at all, you can steal a march and become a recognised expert fairly quickly. Rather than standing on the sidelines waiting to see if the new technology or trend becomes mainstream, taking a gamble and investing your time to learn and experience the field can put you well ahead of others. Of course, the risk is that the new field doesn't become mainstream and your investment is wasted.
And selecting a niche where you already have considerable expertise helps too. If you look below the surface of the sort of work you've done, you can often find common themes and threads which you can use as a foundation for your niche.
When I initially looked at professional services marketing and sales as a potential niche, for example, at first I thought I hadn't done that much work in the field. But then I realised that for over a decade I'd been marketing and selling my professional services and the services of the consulting firms I'd been working for. So do look beyond the obvious.
Finally, and in my view, most importantly of all, find a niche you're passionate about.
If you choose a niche that you're not really interested in – then no matter how lucrative it initially looks – you'll struggle to build the enthusiasm to really “get into” it.
If you're going to invest thousands of hours into continually building your expertise over the years and strengthening your expert positioning – then you really need to love what you do.
Think of the best and highest paid sportspeople and performers in their field. How often have we heard them say that they'd do what they do for free, they love it so much?
Time and time again.
Ironically, it's that love of their subject, that willingness to “do it for free”, that drives them do the hours and hours of practice when others fall by the wayside. And that's what's given them such a high degree of skill and has earnt them so much money.
Now sure, it's certainly possible to become an expert in a field you don't love. But it ain't easy. And it's certainly not a life I'd want to condemn myself to.
So in summary – if you want to accelerate your path to expertise – find a niche that you love, that you already have some experience in, and that isn't already filled with experts.
And stay tuned for the next article on Accelerating Expertise where I'm going to take a look at the practical steps you can take to build your expertise once you've defined your niche.