These days, anyone and everyone are calling themselves an “expert” and there are tons of business “coaches” who are promoting the idea that you don’t need experience, education, or training to be an expert. So…what is an expert, anyway?

Let’s start with the dictionary definition:

a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority.
adjective. possessing special skill or knowledge; trained by practice; skillful or skilled (often fol. by in or at).

Okay, that gives us a lot to go on.

To be an expert, you must have special skill or knowledge in some particular field.
How do you acquire special skill or knowledge in a particular field? First and foremost, I recommend reading. I’ve read over 3,000 books on small business, marketing, branding, personal growth, success, and profitability. But believe me, it’s not enough just to read. You have to read with a critical mind. You can’t read every single book and think they all contain The Answers. In fact, many books I’ve read contain one or two great thoughts, and the rest of the book simply builds on the theme. Other books have so many gems and wisdom, they tend to look like they’ve been through a war, with all the underlining and dog-eared pages. You have to learn to discern quality and substance, more than anything else.

Second, I recommend training. Take classes and courses in your area of study. I started my career as a web developer and I took tons of classes to acquire the skills I needed to be successful. Later, I taught classes in web development, and believe me, you become an expert very quickly when you teach! When I got carpal tunnel syndrome and had to change careers, I took a ton of training to be a coach. I didn’t take one course and call myself a coach. I took several courses and relied heavily on my Master’s degree in social psychology as well. And when I transitioned in to business consulting, I studied marketing and branding, startup and growth, and worked with mentors who taught me what they knew as well.

And that leads me to the third recommendation: study with the masters. Study with people who have vast amounts of experience in your field. Ask them to mentor you, as I did, and see if they’ll teach you or allow you to apprentice.

To be an expert, you must be trained by practice.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he shares a number that many of us know: 10,000. 10,000 hours is the number of hours it takes to become a master at something, to be truly proficient. So if you’re a chef, it takes 10,000 hours (or 10 years) to become a master chef. If you’re a violinist, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become truly proficient. Likewise, if you’re a coach, it’ll take you 10,000 hours or 10 years to be a master (not in title, but in practice). I didn’t call myself an expert in small business until I had 10 years under my own belt. You just need time in the field and lots of practice to get beyond theory and to really know what you’re doing.

To be an expert, you must be an authority.
You know, there are lots of ways to become an authority. People all over the net are showing you how to become an “authority” or achieve “expert status” by marketing articles and using strategic PR…but you become a true authority when you have studied and trained and practiced, and achieved credibility and legitimacy. Ultimately, you achieve authority status when you achieve the respect of your peers and of those who have less experience and practice than you.

At the end of the day, anybody can call themselves an “expert.” But authentically, are you really one?

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