At first glance, this probably feels like a bit of an oxymoron. Aren’t all entrepreneurs experts? Well the answer is no—not at all. By definition, entrepreneur means: a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses. While expert means: a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area. To be fair quite a few entrepreneurs are experts (at least the ones I know). However, there are definitely a whole lot that are not, and I’ll tell you why.
These days the barrier to entry for starting a business is relatively low. Anyone with a few dollars and a clever idea for a domain name, can get some business cards printed and start sliding into your DMs trying to sell you something. I’m simplifying that a bit, but you get my drift. Now, in some ways this is a good thing. I love the fact that we have moved passed the time when you needed a business plan, an investor, 3 years of financial statements, and a PhD to be taken seriously. I think it’s fantastic that so many people (especially women) have the opportunity to share their gifts with the world---and get paid for it. So, shout out to opportunities.
On the other hand, low barriers are easy to breach. And that means, for every serious, focused, professional and talented entrepreneur/expert, there are 5 more that are simply capitalizing on an opportunity. Beyond that, lately a whole new genre of entrepreneurs has arisen, whose only business is to help you build yours. Now here’s the rub with that. If a person has built their business on helping others build their business, you would expect that they had built a business of their own. And that’s where things get sticky. Overwhelmingly, I am noticing the exact opposite. A lot…and I mean-- a whole lot of people who make their living coaching other business (especially in social media and branding) have never built any other business besides that one.
So what does that mean?
In practicality, it means that while they may be amazing sales people, they often have little to no experience doing the thing they are telling you to do---for anyone but YOU. They are not marketing experts they are marketing sales people. Make sense? You see, a good sales person can sell anything—even products they know nothing about. All they have to do is know what you need and tell you that they can provide it. Most of us will never ask for proof. Experts on the other hand, are professionals in their field of practice. They have experience doing the things that they teach-- for others and themselves. They may or may not be great sales people. They may or may not have amazing Instagram pages, but these are the people who have the capacity to add significant and tangible value to your business. Instead of telling you what to do—these people have the ability to show you how to do it ---because they have actually done it themselves (and been successful at it).
Ok, let me give you an example. Say we are dealing with branding and marketing since that’s a popular industry these days:
A marketing expert will have experience building marketing campaigns for organizations and people. They will likely have a portfolio that demonstrates their experience building said campaigns. They will know multiple tenets of marketing strategy.
A marketing entrepreneur will have no outside experience building professional marketing campaigns. They will sell you the exact same system that they used to attract you. They will show you how they position themselves to get customers like you--and how you can position yourself to get more customers like you. Do you see the difference?
In one example, you are being sold a service-a product--an actual thing. In the other example, you are being sold an idea or a sales strategy.
There is a third distinction, the entrepreneur/expert. If we were looking at the above example, I would describe it like this.
A marketing entrepreneur/expert will have the experience of the first example and have built their own business providing both tangible services and advice to other people.
|So How Do you Tell the Difference?|
Ask: It’s ok to ask someone who else they have worked with and for examples of their work. It's also ok to ask them about the industry they are a part of. For example, I have a friend who has her own essential oil company. She is also a microbiolist. If you ask her about the essential oils that she sells, she can answer questions (on the spot) about their benefits, side effects, and origin. Talking to her makes me trust her advice because I can tell that she knows both the business and the product.
Research: Look into the background of the person. For example, I am a speaker coach. I help people prepare for large keynote addresses, workshops etc. This year, I am one of the coaches for TedxPeachtree. When a new client “googles” me, one of the first things that will come up is my Ted talk. Seeing this helps my clients feel at ease with me, because there is evidence that I have already done what I am helping them do.
Pay Attention: Be aware of what this person says, posts, and talks about. For example, I have a friend who is fitness coach. Her page is all about fitness, but beyond just posting pictures of food and smoothies, she also shows you her actual workouts. She posts pictures of her at actual races. When I pay attention to her, I know that she walks her talk.
If you are not an expert, that’s ok. Plenty of people run successful business and are not experts in their fields. For instance, I'm sure the President of Coca Cola has no idea how to actually make soda. But, chances are, he’s a great sales person, public speaker, and financial manager. So, truly there is a time and a place for each. It’s important though, that when you are looking to purchase a service for yourself or for your business that you take stock in what type of person you need. Also, know that in many cases, experts may not be the flashiest—so do your research before making a final decision.