One of the most important things you can do for your speaking career is to find out how to position yourself as an expert. Positioning yourself an authority is a surefire way to be featured in major media outlets and open doors that would otherwise be closed. But how do you do it? How long does it take to become an expert? Put another way, how many hours does it take to become an expert?
When it comes to developing expertise, some have proposed a “10,000 hour rule”: that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of deliberate practice – or about 5 years’ worth of full-time work – to master a particular cognitive skill or task. Others have pushed back, arguing that genetics and good teaching matter as much if not more than practice. But it is generally safe to say that time and deliberate effort are essential to many realms of expertise; similar to sports or chess, understanding the finer points of medical practice and financial markets takes time.
How, then, can you become an expert in your field? Keeping in mind that time spent will be essential, there are several steps and hacks you can use to stand out in your area of expertise.
6 steps to become an expert in your field
Want to learn how to become an expert? Read on for 6 steps to become an expert in your field.
1. Choose your niche
The first step to becoming an expert is to pick a target area of expertise. Pick an audience. The audience you want to speak to may change over time but start by picking an audience.
Your niche and your area of expertise should ideally be determined by something in your background that gives you an edge over others interested in that area, or at the very least a strong desire to learn and know more about your niche topic. (For more on finding your niche for a given audience, check out our podcast on just that.)
As you determine your niche, it may be helpful to go narrower than you think, while maintaining a balance of finding an area enough people are interested in. Jeff Rose, a certified financial planner, joined the Speaker Lab podcast to talk about how he positioned himself as an expert and became a regular contributor to Forbes.
According to Rose, who started out as a personal finance expert, he could have gained a lot more traction as an expert sooner if he had developed a more specific niche. Rose started out writing about numerous different niches within personal finance, from investing for newbies to social security to pensions. “I didn’t have a really clear strategy,” Rose said.
But as he developed his niche, Rose started to find success by honing in on a niche of life insurance. After publishing a couple hundred blog posts, a couple dozen YouTube videos, and a podcast on life insurance over 9 months, Rose found a lot more traction.
“It got more traction in probably one fifth a time,” Rose said. And “the revenue and the opportunities that came along with that came so much faster, because all I talked about was life insurance for about nine months straight.”
2. Start a blog, Youtube channel, or podcast
If you want to speak on your area of expertise, have a solid personal website. If you don’t have a website, you don’t exist. A website is the most common way for clients to find and research you. And no, we’re not talking about a Facebook page or a LinkedIn profile. An actual website on a domain you own. (for more on doing speaker websites, check out this episode of The Speaker Lab podcast)
If you want to have a second site for more niche material, it may make sense to have a separate name and URL for that page. On it, you can host your blog and share other material from a Youtube channel or podcast.
Make sure your site looks sharp. Whether we like it or not, please judge books by their cover, so if your website looks like it was designed by your 2nd grade child, they’ll assume you suck as a speaker.
According to Jeff Rose, the certified financial planner and Forbes contributor, his blog was the best place to start, as he posted client case studies and showcases of different projects he had worked on over the years. He bolstered his blog posts with Youtube videos, podcast episodes, and a social media presence.
Even after you’ve built a site and posted some initial material, don’t expect to receive major publicity. It may take years of consistent churning out posts to see substantial returns. But that can come sooner through networking – read on.
So you’ve found your niche, started your blog, and cranked out some Youtube videos and podcasts. Now what? One way to give yourself a megaphone for greater reach is to connect with journalists and media that are in your area of expertise. Jeff Rose used the free site HARO (Help A Reporter Out) to connect with reporters in the finance space. Up to three times a day, they would email a list of journalists and bloggers who were looking for quotes for different categories.
Once you have a sense of who the writers in your space are, look them up. They’re often on Twitter or LinkedIn, and after you start following them and sharing their content, you can more confidently engage with them online. With you fresh in their mind, a response to their request for a quote can be more likely to be received.
Another good move can be to attend conferences for whatever niche that you’re in. But make sure that you’re attending these conferences with the mentality of “How can I help you?” to those you meet.
One final method of networking can be to use your site to create a warm introduction with someone you’d like to connect with. For example, you can create a list of the top 10 influencers in your area of expertise and list one or two people you’d like to reach out to. This may put you on their radar without even emailing them yet. If you are able to name them on a major site such as Forbes, CNN, or The Washington Post, you build their brand and increase their credibility as well as your own. This can help you make a cold email much warmer.
4. Publish articles and get quoted in the media
When you publish a piece on your area of expertise on your blog, you might reach a few hundred readers. If you publish the exact same article in a national newspaper or magazine, you can reach thousands. Not only that, you cement your credibility with a brand name known to your target audience such as Forbes, Fortune, or CNBC.
But how do you do it? Once you’ve got a website with some good content and you’ve warmed up a few writers who are in your area of interest, a good on-ramp to publishing content in a major media outlet is responding to request for quotes.
According to Jeff Rose, Twitter can be a great place to start connecting with the media, in addition to HARO. The number of requests that they have on a daily basis can be high, Rose said. There may be as many as a hundred opportunities per day to give a quote to a reporter. But by sifting through those requests and choosing those that best satisfy your niche criteria and give you a good-size exposure, you can build a reputation as the standout voice in your field.
How to respond to a reporter
When responding to a request from a reporter, “give anything and everything in the kitchen sink,” Rose recommends. “Whatever you think will help them in that article that will get you more responses.” Don’t just drop a quick message saying you’re willing to help – that forces them to do all the work to get your name out there, when they have many other sources that are trying to give them what they need more quickly.
Once you’ve build a relationship with a journalist or two this way, you might reach out to them to see if you can publish a piece for the outlet they work for. Ideally such a piece will be one that the outlet hasn’t written about yet, and which you can provide an expert opinion on.
Keep in mind that the most valuable thing when publishing for an outlet is exposure. You’re not going to make much if anything from guest posting or being a contributor to most outlets. But the opportunity to write can be a win-win because you can both get your name out, and also link to your blog (which will increase its own rankings in search results, meaning even more people find you!).
6. Consider publishing a book
A final method in addition to those recommended can be writing a book on your area of expertise. According to personal branding expert Chris Drucker, who himself has authored the book, Rise of the Youpreneur, writing a book “legitimizes everything about you and your expertise.”
Even if you self-publish a book, writing one is an incredible way to amplify a message, maximize your impact, and make your expertise accessible for public consumption. Your name is on the book! And if you have a bunch of positive reviews on Amazon, it can boost you even further. Your title could appear on best-seller lists and in window displays at major retailers. Your name will gain a level of credibility and “expert status” that few other endeavors guarantee.
That said, publishing a book can be a daunting experience. We’ve broken down how to get a book deal into three fundamental stages. If you are excited to get your book idea into print with a publishing house but aren’t sure where to turn, let this be your guide! (If you’re not quite sure about how you want to publish, we have a piece on different paths to becoming an author here.)
5. Be patient
Stop looking for a shortcut. Becoming an expert takes time. This is not an overnight thing. The foremost experts on the planet and those who have had the most successful careers didn’t get lucky. They didn’t find a magical shortcut that is hidden from you. They worked their butt off on their craft and their area of expertise. There’s no shortcut here. Just do the work.
Whether it takes you 10,000 hours, hundreds of blog posts and Youtube videos, scores of quotes to reporters, a podcast, or a book, defining your niche of expertise is core to becoming an expert in it. If you’re still not sure what your niche is, or you’d like to learn more about how to find your niche, you may be interested in our podcast with Jill Christensen on finding it here. Check it out!