What makes someone an expert? The letters P, H and D come to mind, but lets not get too hasty. You hardly have to spend $120,000 and seven years of your life in order to be an expert in your field.
The secret of becoming an expert
Many years ago I met a man who told me a secret of becoming an expert. The secret was to pick a very specific field (a niche). If your field is specific enough, you can spend 3 hours a day reading, researching and studying on that subject and within two years you will be an undeniable expert in that field.
Sounds cheesy doesn't it? Yet this friend was speaking from experience. With no degree and no formal training, this man was giving lectures to medical doctors on the temporomandibular joint, better known as the TMJ, within a couple of years of personal study. I don't recall why the man had an interest in the TMJ to begin with. Perhaps someone in his family or even he, himself had a problem with the joint. The point is that he chose a very specific field and then did his homework.
One story inspires another
A little over a year after hearing this story of becoming an expert, I happened to be hitchhiking from Houston to Dallas (on my way home to Vermont!) when a businessman in a rental car picked me up for the four hour drive. As it turned out, he was an 'expert' in his field which was teaching a program called Lotus Notes. He told me he was one of the top 50 instructors in the country and had just finished a class with Motorolla in Houston. He also told me his income which was substantial.
Eventually, I asked him what his background was? Did he have a computer science degree? Did he work for Lotus (I think this was before IBM bought Lotus)? The answers to both questions was 'no.'
Then how did he get the job? He told me he answered an ad in the newspaper. Huh? He was making a solid 6-figure income from a newspaper ad? He sure was, and he went from knowing nothing about the program to being certified to teach it within six months. With further certifications, he became one of the most highly sought-after instructors in the country.
And finally, my story
A couple of years later, these stories inspired me to start using Photoshop. I happened to be working at a newspaper at the time and had constant access to the program. Every night, after I was finished writing stories, I would sit with the program and try to figure out something new. Within six months I was offered a job in the production department, and within a year I was leading that department.
But that was just the beginning. When I no longer found it easy to live off a newspaper salary, I inquired about teaching at a computer learning center. I was asked what programs I knew, and I said I was an 'expert' in Photoshop. It just so happened that one of the graphic design instructors had recently left the company and I had walked in at the right time. I was hired and taught my first class on Photoshop within a month.
But...I was hardly the 'expert' I thought I was. It turns out, Adobe, the company that makes Photoshop, actually grants the title 'expert' to those people that manage to pass a test on the software. I wasn't able to pass this test for another six months, but once I did, it meant a substantial raise and it allowed my training center to become an "Adobe Certified Training Center" which was worth thousands in sales. Within two years, I went from someone who had never touched the program to being an expert on it, placing me in the top 1% of users in knowledge and performance.
I don't know about being an expert on any given subject, but I do believe anyone can become one of the top experts in the country on any piece of software within two years. Part of the reason I believe this is because most every program substantially changes about every two years.
My new 'expertise'
Over the past couple of years I have been doing two things: 1) writing this blog, and 2) playing poker. While poker playing eventually failed, this blog has given me some notoriety. Because of the blog, I have been mentioned in the USA Today, Fortune Small Business Magazine, and MSNBC.com, and have been interviewed for Entrepreneur Magazine. All of this without a degree in marketing, without a degree in anything, only because I chose a niche and kept learning about it for weeks and weeks, eventually months and months.
My niche was small business blogging. A couple dozen people were writing about business blogging, but no one was specifically targetting small businesses when I started this blog. As a result, members of the media have emailed me and called me to ask my opinion on blogging because they see me as an 'expert.' This has had the direct result of my blog reaching thousands of people that wouldn't have seen it.
If I had been another blogger writing about business blogging, I would have been hopelessly lost in the noise of the other bloggers who were already established. Choosing a subset of this general subject allowed me to leapfrog over many of these writers when it came time for a reporter to look for an 'expert.'
Find your niche. Read about it. Write about it. Become an expert in no time.
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