How to Own Your Expertise

In a recent episode of my podcast, The Courageous Entrepreneur, I interviewed Andy Falco Jimenez. He’s a top expert in dog training and as appeared on TV with Cesar Milan.

Andy developed his expertise through his career as a K9 unit officer with the Anaheim (CA) police department and traveled the country sharing his knowledge with other departments.

We talked about his journey as an accidental entrepreneur from being forced to retire after a second head injury sustained in an accident while on duty to building a full time dog training business.

One of the things he shared was how he nearly lost his house because he wasn’t good at managing the business end of the business.

He really struggled with two things that are deeply connected – owning his expertise and pricing his services to reflect that expertise.

I don’t know anyone – especially a coach or consultant who considers themselves “mission-driven” – who finds those two things easy.

In this week’s episode of my podcast’s “After Show”, I discussed the issue of owning our expertise:

  • What does that mean
  • What does it look like
  • How do we look at someone else and decide they’re an expert (and what can we learn from that)

The After Show is done as a Facebook Live event. You can watch the video of that posted here or you can read the more organized and detailed post below it.

In our recent interview, successful dog trainer Andy Falco Jimenez, shared his entrepreneur’s journey. One of the things we talked about was the struggle to fully own his expertise. That struggle led him to undercharge for his services and cave in to any pushback from potential clients.

That caused his revenue and cash flow to suffer so much he nearly lost his house.

A meeting with a local SCORE volunteer helped him to recognize the problem and take immediate action to fix it.

As I edited Andy’s episode in preparation to air it this issue of “owning your expertise” kept rolling around in my head and I could see it was a big problem I’ve struggled with and those I’ve worked with have struggled with.

Andy nailed it when he talked about how none of us wants to sound like an arrogant jerk and he believed that by saying he was an expert he’d repel people rather than attract them.

Because no one wants to work with an arrogant jerk.

And yet, each of us is working to become the go-to expert in our field for our best clients; right?

And we all know that we want to work with an expert to solve whatever problem we have, whether it’s a plumbing problem at our home or a business problem we’re trying to solve.

We understand the value of being seen as an expert. We just don’t want to call ourselves one.

At least not in public and not in conversation.

So what do you do? And how to you “own” your expertise?

Let’s start by defining the concept.

When I asked my Facebook connections, Cindy Arledge of The Legacy Family Planners Association, responded that “For me, it has been staying true to a topic…”

I loved that response and I do think it’s part of it. Even when we can feel like the voice crying in the wilderness sometimes.

Part of owning your expertise is consistently getting your message out and embracing your point of view (POV).

Let’s address the issue of calling yourself an expert and being seen as arrogant.

If you’ve ever worked with someone who constantly bored you with stories of their achievements you understand very well how the person who does this sounds like an arrogant jerk.

Since you don’t want to be thought of as an arrogant jerk, your brain is going to actively hold you back from taking any action that fits its definition of “arrogant jerk” behavior.

Unfortunately, our brains tend to go to the extreme; meaning, it will hold you back from doing anything that in its wisdom it believes could lead you to thinking you’re an arrogant jerk.

This is called Cognitive Dissonance and it’s a psychological concept that says the brain can’t hold conflicting thoughts about the same thing at the same time.

The downside is you end up taking outrageous steps to prove to yourself that you’re not in any danger of being seen as an arrogant jerk.

But it ends up keeping you from fully positioning yourself as the expert and go-to professional you want to be.

Owning your expertise means acting in a way that’s consistent with the way experts act.

Each of us has a slightly different definition of what that means.

How you act is a demonstration of your beliefs (one of what I cal the 6 Pillars of Success btw).

Most of us have been raised hearing that it was wrong to toot our own horn…that we shouldn’t celebrate our successes because it makes others feel bad…

Some of us were raised hearing even worse things:  that we’re stupid….that we’ll never amount to anything.

Hearing those things long enough – especially as children – they become beliefs.

These beliefs will eat away at us, even as we see external evidence of our intelligence and expertise we won’t believe and fully own it until we can recognize those statements are not true and they’re not even our statements. They’re statements from our past that continue to haunt us.

The answer is to owning your expertise is to connect your mind and beliefs with external evidence of your expertise.

So you’re going to DEMONSTRATE your expertise so OTHERS are able to point to you and label you the expert…the go-to person.

Here are 7 ways to own your expertise.

Narrow your focus. When you’re trying to do too many things and serve too many people, it’s almost impossible to be a true expert. People can’t see you as the go-to expert for one thing and when it’s too hard for them to fit you in a bucket or in a file folder in their head, they just dismiss you. It’s easy to let your fear of missing out or fear of making a mistake keep you from narrowing your focus. But as soon as you say “I work exclusively with..” or “I specialize in…” people will start to see you as an expert.

Organize your work and elements of your POV into a system and brand it and the pieces. Doing this alone helps you stand out but it helps make you memorable. This is really why we work hard to create a brand – to position ourselves in the mind of others and make it easy for them to remember us.

Create and brand packages of your services. This again, makes it easy to remember you but it also helps people get their head around what they’re buying when they work with you. It helps turn your offerings into “things” without commoditizing your offerings. This also makes it easier for you to talk about your “thing” and takes the spotlight away from you as a person.

Demonstrate your expertise. When I was in high school, the prevailing message around team sports and activities was no trash-talking. You were to demonstrate your greatness on the field or on the stage, you didn’t proclaim your greatness. So that’s the same mindset to embrace here. How you demonstrate that expertise can vary but the focus should be on things that:

  • use your time efficiently
  • generate a great return on investment for that time
  • and get the message out in a way that people want to and easily can consume it

Leverage Past Success. We all started learning and honing our KSAs somewhere. You’ve gotten praise and compliments from others. You’ve had clients – or past employers – who you’ve done “it” for and who have achieved a range of results. You can create case studies, use testimonials. This is the sort of social proof that shows someone you can produce results. One key here is to leverage past successes that allow your ideal clients see themselves in your past successes. Sharing past successes is a great way to demonstrate your expertise.

Manage your boundaries. This can be tricky because we’ve all been taught to be service-oriented and kind to others.

For years you worked at places that in all likelihood encouraged team work.

The places where I worked seemed to define teamwork as stopping what you’re doing to help the person who came to your door (because of course we had an open-door policy).

But experts are often not easy to get an appointment with.

I know you want to be helpful but if you’re already working 12-hour days, then dropping whatever you’re working on to take time for a meeting is only going to force you to work longer hours.

Reflect on this and see if you’re being too accommodating in your scheduling. (this might require you to confront lots of things about your schedule).

Pricing and Packaging. Andy talked quite a bit about pricing and admitted this caused him a lot of problems early on. It was a big part of why he was facing foreclosure.

I could go on for pages about pricing (you’ll be glad to know I’m not going to though). But the big points we made in the interview were that you have to price in a way that supports your business and your life.

You got into business to create a great “whole” life for yourself, didn’t you?

I know I did.

I dreamed of being able to give my siblings great gifts and treating them to special experiences I wanted to have with them.

I dream(ed) of starting a scholarship at the high school I graduated from to support students who want additional education but who had lost a parent and were struggling financially.

I dream of fully supporting my family  — husband and 3 cats – so my husband can stop working or cut back as soon as he decides he wants to.

That takes charging in a way that fully covers the costs of my business, pays for continued professional development and business development, but that also funds my private life including savings, insurance, and services I’d like to have (like getting a massage a few times a month, having a personal assistant and other things).

Another point Andy made was that he went into business to do “it” – in his case training dogs. But he only spent a very small amount of time doing “it.”

He spent more time with all the stuff that he didn’t enjoy that he really didn’t like, wasn’t good at, was never going to get good at, and had no interest in doing.

That means you’ve got to price in a way that allows you to hire help.

When I interviewed Mike Michalowicz he said the most important thing for a solo professional who wants to build an expert brand needs to do is hire help as fast as possible. (Check out that great interview at this link) In a recent live event, personal development legend Jack Canfield said the same thing – get help as fast as you can.

That list might seem overwhelming but the biggest obstacle preventing you from owning your expertise is you and your beliefs.

You are an expert. It’s time to believe it. To acknowledge the evidence that proves it. To fully own it.

Did I miss something? What do you believe helps you own your expertise?

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