Friday, September 12, 2008

How to Be an Expert… Without Looking Like an Idiot

So much of your work and your time on the web is spent writing. You may write content pages for your site. You might write articles for posting in directories. You have a blog to start and maintain. It can all get overwhelming

There are a lot of reasons why people don’t like to write. For some it’s tedious. Doing things with words is boring. For others it’s intimidating. Maybe they still have memories of getting their high school term papers back from their teachers dripping red with ink (that looks strangely like blood).

For others, I find the fear goes even deeper than worrying about sentence structure and punctuation mistakes. These people fear that they don’t have anything of value to say. “I’m not an expert! What could I possibly write or say that would be of any use to anyone?”

1. Everyone’s an expert on something.

Everyone has some part of their life that they are very knowledgeable about. A hobby, a task, a routine, even life itself could be an area of expertise. If you’ve lived at all, you’ve had experiences, and those experiences are valuable.

2. You don’t have to be “an expert” to be an expert.

Too often we ascribe “Expert-ness” to people with college degrees, or years of success in business. Let’s give these people their due. They do have some special knowledge and skills, and they have the papers to prove it. Still, that doesn’t mean that we have to define our abilities by their standards. Like the Wizard of Oz said to the Scarecrow: “Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got: a diploma.”

The reality is that as long as you can present information that’s valuable in a way that people can accept and apply, you become an expert in that information.

3. Don’t claim to be an expert

What makes phony experts look like idiots more than anything else is when they claim to be more than they are. Inevitably, they will be discovered and when they are, it crumbles.

No one knows it all. Don’t claim to, and you won’t let anyone down.

4. You’ve learned a lot in life, draw on that

I once worked with a lady who was establishing a website targeted to single moms. Her husband had left her when their children were young, and she had worked, struggled, and raised her family. When she was creating her website, she felt like she couldn’t write articles about it because she had no credentials.

No credentials? She had lived it! She had been through it. As long as she told the story of her life and her experiences and didn’t claim any more authority than that, then that would be all the authority she would ever need.

5. Teach from your mistakes as well as your successes.

Sometimes I do something and it blows up in my face. Sometimes I do something and it just messes me up a little, or slows me down. Rather than hide those errors, profit from them. Share what went wrong, what you learned from it, and how to prevent it, so others don’t make the same mistake.

Sometimes, reading about mistakes is more fun, too!

6. Quote other experts. Synthesize.

The word “Synthesize” means to combine elements of different sources into something new. One way to be an expert is to read a lot of what other experts have to say, then combine them into your own ideas. Make sure that when you do this, you give due citation to the original author: “So-and-so from says such-and-such, but Whats-Her-Name from says This-and-so. I think that the real answer is to do This-thing…”

7. “Make your words soft and sweet. You might have to eat them someday”

Always remember that nobody knows everything, and facts that you’re certain of today could come into question tomorrow. Advice that is clear this month could be bad advice six months from now. Be aware that you could be wrong, and choose your words carefully.

8. You’re an expert when people value your information and opinions.

As you share your information, your experiences, and your thoughts, other people will find value in it. They will come to recognize your expertise. When that happens, you will be an expert.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

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