Position Yourself as an Expert

Last Updated Apr 26, 2011 2:35 PM EDT

How do you get to be considered an expert? Most people tend to think of experts as bestselling authors who promote their books and brand on national television, or university professors who have studied their subject for decades.

But there is another kind of expert, someone who hasn't spent years getting a doctorate or writing a treatise. This person may not be a household name, yet they are well-known and respected within their industry, frequently delivering key notes at conferences and winning plum consulting gigs. Becoming this kind of expert is not only doable--but it is much easier than people think.

Having spent much of my career working in media, either as a journalist or as a communications consultant, I've concluded that anyone can brand themselves as an expert by following these five steps.

1. Develop a relationship with reporters who cover your subject area. The key here is to get to know the people who write about your field. Read your industry trade journals, local business weekly, and the business section of your metro newspaper regularly, and you'll quickly figure out who those reporters are. Their email addresses often are listed at the end of their stories. Reach out, explain your expertise, briefly, and let them know that if they ever need a source in your industry, you'd be glad to help. Don't forget to give them your cell number; you want to be easily reachable, especially to reporters on deadline.

2. Pitch yourself as a speaker. Reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce or regional trade association and offer to speak on a specific topic. It's not immodest to suggest yourself - their program committees are often desperate for good speakers. If your topic is of interest, they'll grab you.

3. Align with a high-profile client. As the saying goes, you're known by the company you keep. That means if you have well-known clients or associations, be sure to use them. Guy Kawasaki, a prolific business speaker and writer, has been riding high for years thanks, in part, to his early role as "chief evangelist" for Apple. If you started your career at McKinsey or worked on a successful project at Microsoft, make sure people know about it (former - and possibly current - presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the Massachusetts governorship in part by branding himself a "turnaround artist" who saved the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Like City).

4. Create your own content. There's no better way to showcase your expertise than creating content others can read, review, and learn from. A blog requires an on-going commitment. If you don't feel you have the time (or energy), then write an occasional article for an in-house newsletter or trade association publication. Looking for an even quicker solution? Use Twitter to demonstrate your expertise with pithy insights and links to relevant articles in your field. (Make sure to build up your fan base by engaging with other Twitter users through following them, retweeting their messages, and making insightful comments about their posts.)

5. Teach. It doesn't require a doctorate - many colleges and universities are hungry for skilled professionals to teach adjunct courses. (I've taught marketing and communications at three major universities, and my master's degree is in theology.) The pay is very modest, but it'll sharpen your knowledge, enhance your presentation skills, and provide you with an added dose of prestige in your industry (many clients will assume if you're enough of an expert for XYZ University, you'll certainly be able to help them).

What strategies have you used successfully? What would you add to my list?


Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user, photographerpandora