On Not Being an Expert
You’ve been told to position yourself as an expert, yes or… yes?
Quick snag: what if you’re not an expert?
I’m not talking about impostor syndrome, I’m talking about — we all have to start somewhere, no? And sometimes that somewhere is not automatically expert status, yes?
I mean, I’m just a girl. Sitting in front of her computer. Trying things out.
Which, I think, is pretty much business in general, no? Starting with what we’ve got, learning along the way, and getting better while we’re at it.
And while I am a forever fan of lifelong learning, I also believe we can always start wherever we are. There’s always something in there we can package and offer to someone who might be looking for just that!
For example: I’m not a developer; I learned my HTML and CSS by messing around with my Xanga and Livejournal in computer class. But a decade of tweaking blogs later, I’m able to take that stock knowledge and turn them into Convertkit email templates!
Can I make you an entire website from code alone? Prooobably definitely not. But I can offer you this ^ , if you want not-so-plain text emails. It’s a little thing, but if it’s a little thing that you’ll find delightful and useful, I’m happy!
The thinking behind positioning yourself as an expert is usually: get people to see you as The Authority On The Thing, so that they’ll trust you, so that they’ll buy from you, so that dollah dollah bills.
If you’ve got the skills, experience, or credentials to back yourself up, then that’s legitimately great!
But if you don’t? I for one would feel a little icky claiming to be an expert if I genuinely weren’t. If you can’t or don’t want to position yourself as an expert, my argument is: that’s totally okay.
1. Be honest about it.
Crazy thing: people totally understand if you’re just starting out.
Everyone at one point or another began as a beginner. The this-doesn’t-feel-right thing about expert culture is, it’s almost as if you’re not allowed to be.
This bullet point — being honest — is not about apologizing, or being self-deprecating, or devaluing yourself. It’s about being transparent and communicating with integrity.
You know how in your thesis, there’s a Scope and Limitations section — My study covers a, b, and c, but excludes x, y, and z — so that people know how to correctly apply what you’re saying? So there are no misinterpretations and misunderstandings?
Honesty takes the pressure off of you to do everything and be everything, and gives your clients clear expectations so they know what they can come to you with.
Honesty without apologies can come in the form of being ultra-specific. So instead of saying something like, “I do web design,” you can say, “I can layout a simple landing page for you using Squarespace, and then hook up your sign-up sheet to Convertkit.”
You get to do the work you’re good at. Your clients get receive the good work you’re able to do. Nobody’s frustrated, nobody’s or disappointed or guilty.
2. Be yourself.
Wow, okay, very Miss Universe, but humor me for a sec.
If there really were only space for people who were “the best” at what they did, then that means the world only gets one ever business coach, or personal trainer, or neurosurgeon, or author.
Which is totally not the case.
Many times, we decide to work with people not just because of their technical knowledge and skills. We might say, hey, yeah, I like this person, because of:
Their — and our — situation and circumstances
I received an inquiry from a potential client for my virtual assistant services. She told me she was so glad she found me in one of the Facebook groups we were both a member of, as she’d been looking to hire a VA for a while but couldn’t afford one. “I saw your reply on Facebook and thought, this is someone who knows what she’s doing! So I checked out your site, looked at your rates … and decided to reach out!”
The going rates for the VAs she’d come across were too far out of her budget. This client is doing such wonderful advocacy work, and I felt… thankful? That she could afford me? Like, I’m glad this amazing lady now has access to the support she needs.
On my end, I’m happy with what I’m charging; I don’t currently feel like I need to raise my rates. I know what I can do and do well. At the same time, I acknowledge that I’m still learning, and finding my footing when it comes to working with clients.
So my rates are what feels fair for me at this point in time and in my career.
And it just so happens to be something that’s fair for her and her point in her career.
And that’s how we got to talking!
Relating to their story on a personal level
In my quest to Not Be a Potato, I know I need to be a little more upright than my present position of lying in bed. I don’t want to, it doesn’t sound appealing, and watching CrossFit videos online scares me from beginning.
But. If you’re a busy mom? Who can tell me how you snuck in micro-workouts in between PTA meetings and client calls? With tips like sitting your kid on on your shoulders to use as squat weights?
Hit me up, would you please. (No seriously, here’s my contact form.)
Getting along with them
There really are just some people who are, Hey, you and me? We vibes.
Right? Your personalities mesh well together, or think in the same weird ways, or you value the same things. Whenever you guys interact, you’re on the same wavelength.
If there’s anything doing group projects in high school taught me:
- I hate group projects
- Things just progress so much better when you get along with the people you’re working with, because you actually get to, you know, work together. (A-hem)
Don’t underestimate the bigness of the deal it is to simply be someone people like being with.
3. It’s not about being the best — but about being the best fit.
I truly and honestly believe there’s room for everyone.
Like: it only takes one clothes shopping trip to know that one-size-fits-all is mankind’s greatest practical joke. You don’t know me! You don’t know my life! You don’t know my butt circumference! Would you just please make things in my size instead of pretending this one thing works for everyone?
Just the same.
Expert or not, there's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to people you naturally fit with and gravitate toward.
I’ve totally been intimidated when I’d see, oh, this person is doing what I wanted to do, except a gazillion times better oh well I’m done bye.
But then I flip the scenario and realize, wait a minute, I myself gravitate toward some online businesspeople more than others. And if you were to ask me why, it’d be because of things like,
- “I love the way her brain works, ‘cause she’s able to see and connect things in a way people usually don’t”, or,
- “His blog entries are so short and easy to read, but after each one, I’m like oh right,” or,
- “I really admire her approach to business, because I totally feel the same way!”
Psst. None of these reasons were necessarily: Because they’re The Best and The Most Successful and The Expertest. I mean, they could be, but I promise I don’t know — I didn’t think of crunching the numbers before I decided that these are people I liked and looked up to.
No one else is going to have your exact life experiences + your exact POV + your exact thinking process + your exact way of relating people + your exact way of expressing yourself + your exact skillset + your exact knowledge base + the exact things you’ve learned along the way.
And all of these + all the things I forgot to mention make you a very specific person, who will be relatable to also very specific people. Put this out into the world, and you’ll find your audience, and your audience will find you, and you’ll both be all the happier for it ‘cause you guys are each other's people!
There's room for you.
Share what you do know, in the way that only you can, and I promise someone out there will appreciate that you did.
4. Enjoy it.
Ever feel scared? Of getting something wrong, or failing publicly, or not knowing something? Or, of not being ready and not having things all figured out just yet?
I’ve found that a lot of my own clarity has come from just getting down and dirty — I end up figuring things out after doing something, not before.
Sure, easier said than done. But admittedly much easier done when you’re just beginning and there are no expectations and no pressure to perform to Expert Status.
It’s the most wonderful time of the entrepreneurial journey!
Now is the time to learn all the things! Try all the things! Experiment all the things!
So says the incomparable Miss Frizzle: