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Don’t Be An Expert – Do This Instead

“Be an expert.”

How many times have you received this advice, and how many times have you advised people to do this?

Come on, admit it: you have, haven’t you?

I have received this professional advice from pretty much every expert, ninja, guru, and maven I know.

When I am invited to speak somewhere, people want to know my expertise. When I tell them I am not an expert, their jaws drop. Their expressions remind me of my businessman father’s when I told him I want to study literature and be an artist.

They are shocked; they want to help me. They feel more sorry for me when they find out I am a certified filmmaker from New York University and a master’s degree holder from Columbia University.

“Really?” some ask in disbelief.

I don’t blame them.

We are so entrenched in this be-an-expert business that we fail to realize that what we think of as our USP (unique selling proposition) is the common denominator between us and our competitors.

In Today’s Age, Everybody is an Expert

Charles Pierce in his book Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, writes:

“…if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.”

Who is an expert, really?

Someone with the highest grade of knowledge or skill of a subject – mostly acquired through experience and education.

Because the online world is so competitive and intense, the “expert” status is seen as a mark of credibility and a source of recognition.

The Problem is That Anybody Can Become an Expert

In his book The Four Hour Chef, author Tim Ferriss breaks down the entire process of becoming an expert at anything in a very short period of time.

What you know, anybody can learn. Who you are, anybody can become – if expertise is your only selling point.

Besides, let me break some news to you: people go after “perceptions of confidence—not true expertise,” writes Wray Herbert in a Psychological Science article based on an experiment and a subsequent study by Daniel Oppenheimer and other scientists at UCLA.

All they care about is whether or not you appear to be competent.

So really, it’s your image that matters: how and what people think about you based on the impact of your message.

What Is Your Message?

It is your ideology: the crux behind your inspiration to create or start what you have. Simply put, it is what you stand for, not what you are skilled at or have “expertise” in.

For instance, here are the messages I associate with the following people:

As you may already know, all the above-mentioned names are respected leaders in their fields. They have hundreds of thousands of followers.


Not just because they are experts, but because each one of them has a big idea that inspires action to achieve something. Their message is their identity, and they have the confidence to stand by it.

People Follow Voices, Not Experts

If you don’t stand for anything, nobody stands with you.

Vani Hari of is a food activist who wants to change the food industry. As part of her work, she regularly takes on companies like Starbucks, Subway, Kraft, Chipotle, and many others. Of course, her work attracts her share of haters, but she is unapologetic about what she does.

Similarly, we at The Glocul Group earn wrath because of our stance that creativity is a hobby, if not commercialized. We say it everywhere and take on clients who are looking to make money from their creative skills and works. Others, we regretfully decline.

The point here is to be clear about what you believe in, and embrace it. Don’t court scandal for the sake of it, but also don’t hold back just because it seems scary.

How to Discover What You Stand For

Start by writing down the answer to this question:

What do you most care about in your personal and professional life?

Don’t edit yourself at this point. Keep writing. When done, let it sit for a few days.

Come back to it and expand on it. The more revolutionary the idea, the better it is. But, don’t confuse revolutionary with scandalous.

Once you are ready with something, rehearse it in front of the mirror. Use action verbs and active voice.

Practice, and keep tweaking it until you want to pump your fists and exclaim, “Yes!”

The right one will make you feel great. You have to like it first before others resonate with it.

Once you’re comfortable and happy with it, start spreading it.

Be the Spokesperson, But Don’t be a Marketing Robot


1) Connect with your audience’s emotions.

People are not just interested in knowing who you are and what you do; they also want to feel what you feel. Neurological research has proven that humans have the ability to feel what others are feeling. Instead of “identifying” their pain points, try to be “in-tune” with them. Emotional perception is equally, if not more, important than data interpretation.

2) Make them feel good about themselves.

People are social creatures, and they feel good about you and your work when you make them feel good about themselves. The simplest way to do so is by asking them two questions: one about a specific aspect of their life where they are doing well and the other about their overall happiness. This strategy was recommended by a psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, on the basis of a study he performed. Eric Barker recounts this study in his post on how to make someone feel fantastic or awful about their entire life.

3) Connect with caution.

No matter how tempted you are to be seen everywhere and be friends with all the top names in your industry, you need to know who complements what you stand for. When you decide on who you want to guest post for or partner with, please make sure that it is in keeping with your ideology. Contradictions confuse.

Your goal should be to become and be seen as someone who is indispensable and a difference maker.  Someone who your customers are inspired by, can relate to, and are in awe of.

Over to You

Determine what’s unique about you. Don’t think along the lines of your next pitch or project; think legacy. That ONE thing you would like to pass on to others. What is that?

Share in the comments’ section below!

About Sharmeen Akbani Gangat

Sharmeen Akbani Gangat is the founder and CEO of The Glocul Group. She transforms service providers into rainmakers by teaching tools and techniques that traditional sales training programs don't. Sharmeen combines her filmmaking education and training in short story writing with her radio production and freelance writing experience in New York City to develop and deliver a business development training and coaching program that is audience-focused, captivating, and responsive. Besides running Glocul, she is also a corporate trainer with University of Houston's Small Business Development Center, and taught marketing and branding classes and workshops at Hunter College and New York University. Sharmeen is a certified filmmaker from New York University and has a master's degree from Columbia University.

65 thoughts on “Don’t Be An Expert – Do This Instead

  1. In this day and age where information is freely available, becoming an expert is getting easier and easier. You choose a topic and you start learning and implementing and before you know it you can call yourself an expert.
    Yet I agree that these days there are so many of these experts, but no one even knows them, because they don’t have their own unique voice.
    Not saying that being an expert is bad. Well, you need to become one before you find your unique voice for which you become well known.

  2. Sharmeen, I love this message. In a world of experts, who needs yet another? Marketing and branding is all about a unique proposition, that’s more unique than simple credentials that make a person an expert.

    When you’r invited to speak and don’t have ‘expert’ status, what DO you say to convince the company you’re a viable speaker?

    For me, the one message I pass on to my audience is: dare to be different. Not just yourself, but DIFFERENT to anyone else. Try wacky ideas and do crazy things. I work mostly with coaches, and they’re all swimming in a sea of sameness. My message resonates with those that want to make a difference, by being different.

    • Thank you for liking this, Razwana. I think it helps when they see the results and experiences I bring to the table. Besides, my message is such that they feel compelled to prove me wrong:-)

      I teach the same thing to my branding students (both at NYU and Hunter): that we shouldn’t discount our unique voices.

  3. Funny story: I thought I HAD that concept. In fact, I thought it was brilliant!

    My thing is stories. Stories help us see how we’re similar. Stories connect us. Stories sell. And so I wrote this tagline (that I also thought was BRILLIANT.):

    Tell your own story.

    And then a new mentor read it and said, “I know you’re trying to be clever, but I think you just told your audience and client list that they don’t need you.”

    Yep. Good point. Room for improvement.

    • Juli,

      As a certified filmmaker and trained short story writer, I can’t agree more with you regarding stories.

      Re. your mentor’s POV: I would take the liberty to slightly disagree on this. Scott Berkun, in his book Confessions of a Public Speaker, relates what he calls “The Sneaky Lessons of Dr. Fox.” The author is discussing an experiment conducted at the University of Southern California to test whether students’ feedback about their professors have any validity.

      It turns out the students’ opinions about the “professor” they listened to in this experiment fell a bit short of perceptive and insightful.

      To put much less of a fine point on it: the students were deceived. The professor in question was in fact an actor. And 90 percent of the imposter’s audience believed he gave a well-organized, expert talk on his subject.

      What’s more: the lecture’s attendees were not just college students but working professionals in their field.

      The critical point in this conclusion: the speaker was considered credible because he had made the effort to be perceived that way, not because he prepared to load his audience with information and data without regard to that audience’s response.

      Mundane and unsuccessful speakers remain inside the comfort zone of their topic expertise, giving little or no thought to how an audience will perceive them. Speakers of excellence, on the other hand, conceive and practice their presentations entirely based on what their audience needs and will retain from the talk.

  4. Being unapologetic about character is key to understanding your core story according to a storytelling expert I know. 🙂 Instead of hiding, revealing connects to a true audience, sharpening your ability to co-create with them. As you point out, the real trick is finding true voice with emotion something that often comes when you are “on the inside.” When you have gone through the same pain. There is so much unlearning to uncover that core. Note that most are swimming in content each day “branded” to be consistent which makes it easier to appreciate a refreshing bit of character alongside expertise. Use the Columbus joke as a way to find your core, just discover and claim what is already there. 🙂

  5. Very well said. You are absolutely right. We spend so much time proving and putting ourselves out there as an expert and perfecting our marketing that we forget the whole reason why we do what we do.

    Those that have this figured out are the ones that have the loudest voices because they have everything to lose if their message isn’t heard.

    Thank you for the “assignment.” I started writing mine out just now and discovered a few things about myself that I hadn’t even realized! Can’t wait to come back to it after a few days. 🙂

  6. Thanks so much for this great post, Sharmeen! It definitely put the idea of expert status in a different light for me. While I was reading I started thinking about all the so-called experts that I’ve followed online only to discover that I simply didn’t connect with them or their message. (You are SO correct that anyone can be an “expert” these days which results in no one being an expert at all.)

    On the other hand, people who have a message that I resonate with or that inspires me, I want to listen to no matter what their “status.” Although, I have to say, I consider that resonating message a form of implied expert status. At least it feels that way! 🙂

  7. Thank you for liking the post and for taking the time to share your thoughts, Stephanie!

    I think when people resonate with your message, they perceive you as an expert. And that’s the best kind of “expert” testimonial. Yeah?:-)

  8. I always laugh when I hear “expert”… and remember my two favorite definitions:

    1 – An ex is a has-been and a spurt is a drip under pressure.

    2 – An expert is anyone with a briefcase who is more than 10 miles from home.

    As long as you have competence you’re fine.

    If a prospect is overly worried about how “expert” you are just explain that the experts often don’t get the result.
    Competence is the real issue, so you’ll give them a guarantee to reverse their risk in going with you.
    Then ask them if the expert has a guarantee.

    • Lol. I appreciate your thoughts and words. How encouraging! Sometimes, in being an expert, we forget to be humane. Also, we don’t remember that expertise cannot be a substitute to competence, honesty, and reliability. We need more thinkers like yourself. Keep empowering…

  9. Hi Sharmeen! : )

    Thanks for such an insightful article. My favorite part is your words on ‘connect with caution.’ I’ve found that my competitors are my biggest assets and not really competition at all. They enhance my message, and I enhance theirs…because in reality, we have the same passion. Somewhere amongst learning how to make a living online, my focus became about how I can help or enhance other people. When I do this, somehow, I remain blessed over and over. In college, I was taught completely different, so this has been the most wonderful ‘epiphany’ about online business for me thus far. It truly is less about expertise and more about relationships.

    Again, thanks for a wonderful, empowering article.

  10. Heyyyy Lynn!!!

    Thanks to you for your kind words:-) You are bang on with your views regarding competition. People who are secure and confident about themselves and what they offer are never afraid about the competition. Besides, in the online world, it is all about colloboration, not competition. Love your approach and spirit. And more power to you, hun!

      • Oooops! I forgot something…

        To give a big thanks to Sharmeen for a truly great article.


        Your “competitors” can be some of the best people to do a joint venture with too.

        I know, sounds scary, but…

        The real meaning of joint venture being to arrange to mail your lists for each other, insert flyers, inserts or coupons in packages or mail, etc. etc.
        You just need to work out the details so everyone gets equal value.

        There are usually enough points of difference between you and your competition to pull this off based on those differences.

        If you haven’t thought about these differences, well, this is key.

        Start with the big one…what’s your one, main, Unique Selling Proposition?
        Often discovered by asking your current customers why they buy from you and not the competition.

        Take notes on the exact words/phrasing they use to describe this, particularly if any words/phrases repeat with different people.

        Use these verbatim in the USP if you can.

        These will also be very valuable notes if it comes time to advertise.

        A list of lesser ways you bring unique value to go with the USP isn’t a bad idea either.

        This will give you talking points when approaching a competitor for a joint venture.

        You also get a very clear definition of your business and what it can do for someone.

  11. There is one area in which we can, and need, to be an expert, and it is one of the hardest to conquer. There is no advice available for this niche that can be found online or by asking friends, peers or mentors. Bill Gates, Dr. Oz and Oprah would be useless in answering your questions in this area.

    The magic area? Being yourself. You are unique, and finding your own voice is hard enough; trusting it can take a lifetime. Now that I’m in my mid-fifties, life continues to open up as I continue to take my advice from within on who I really am and what I really have to say. Being your authentic self is something no one can coach you on, you need to go on a pilgrimage of sorts to discover your own truth.

  12. Thanks so much, Sharmeen!
    We once listened to a PhD who described that credential as meaning “piled higher and deeper”. He went on to give us a list of mind-opening clues to research on our own, later, to line our thinking up with reality. He did not bore, but shared true life cases from his, yes, professional life. But he was real. The PhD was considered a necessary evil to gain him entrance in the world he inhabits, but also a barrier if he took himself too seriously.
    We were “only” parents. His life as a parent spoke more to us and gave him more compassion for us, and was the real open door to communication for him and for us.
    Is that what you mean?

  13. Terrific info, Sharmeen. I just finished writing for about 20 min what I want personally/professionally and plan to come back to it in a few days. You’ve really got my wheels turning and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

  14. I recently stated that “I’m not an expert….” in a blog post and questioned whether I should write that. I decided to keep it partly because I’m not lol, but mostly because I wanted to encourage creativity from my readers with my own, non-expert, status. I think expert is overused and frequently a turn off. I believe that in most fields there are new and different ways to do things and being open to learning them would reduce that expert status for at least a day or two 🙂 I’d much rather hear that someone is awesome at what they do, seeking new challenges and ways to improve or explore other avenues. A very thought provoking post. Thank you.

  15. Thanks for such associate degree perceptive article. My favorite half is your words on ‘connect with caution.’ I’ve found that my competitors are my biggest assets and not extremely competition in the least. They enhance my message, and that i enhance theirs…because actually, we’ve constant passion. Somewhere amongst learning the way to build a living on-line, my focus became concerning however I will facilitate or enhance others.

  16. It’s very heart-warming to read this, Terri! I say this often (that I am no expert), and I don’t feel ashamed about it. I am glad that you, too, don’t hesitate to say so. Your competence doesn’t need expertise certification. As it is, I feel there are more experts than the combined population of the top 25 cities of the United States. Okay, may be not, but you know what I mean:-) Thank you for liking the post!

  17. I have decided to stop trying to become an expert and go straight to being a “guru”…
    The term expert is becoming a fleeting one. Change happens so quick and information is so rapid that building yourself up as an expert in one area means nothing if that expertise gets outdated.
    The key is to be a constant learner and share this with others. It is not becoming a master at something that brings fufillment but the pursuit of trying to master something.

  18. I absolutely loved this blog and all of the comments posted to it! When I retired almost 10 years ago, it was my plan to use my “expertise” and make a lucrative income as a consultant. That never happened. What has happened is that I have done a LOT of volunteer work, formed a non-profit organization, and found my true voice! Now, it is time to turn that into income. Thanks so much for affirming what I believe to be true! I can do what I love, and the money will follow!

  19. Thank you so much, Pat. When we recognize and use our voices, we seem to operate at higher levels of intuition and and can achieve anything we want. More power to you, and I hope you make a fortune with what you already know and love!

  20. After a long, long time, here’s a post about marketing that makes healthy sense. Congrats, Sharmeen!

    Webwrit is a writing and editing services firm that has exactly the kind of approach that you advocate.

    Thank you, for this post. I believe I will be sharing it around.

    Do keep ’em coming!

  21. Fantabulous article Sharmeen…thanks so much for putting into words something that has been bugging the crap out of me for ages. Because I love to learn, and have my entire life, it always felt “unnatural” to call myself an expert since every time I looked up something else, there was something I didn’t know!

    That said, I’m learning that I have a lot to share, can wrap it in my own voice and appeal to those who want an earthy, powerful, whackadoodle way of learning. I love that a client recently said “oh, I finally figured it out…you remind me of Mae West!” I consider that an awesome compliment and intend to remember it when I forget to “be myself!”

    Laugh lots, Love more!

      • Finding that balance is the key, isn’t it Sharmeen? I was so “into” not screaming it that people didn’t realize I have almost 30 years of consulting for big honkin’ companies…just didn’t occur to me that small companies would find that valuable!

        I like that you said “clients can sniff competence.” Nice wording!

        • You can incorporate this into your messaging. Let me give you my example. I teach freelancers, artists, and momprenuers to make a living without a 9-5 job. I do this because I myself have never worked a 9-5 job but managed to make a decent living. So, my message is that if I could move to America at age 26, from Pakistan; attend an Ivy League school, and build the career and lifestyle I desired, anybody can. They can, too. I don’t need to say I am an expert at it. That would be unnecessary and hype-y. Authority comes with honesty and authenticity, not hype and gloss!

  22. Thanks Sharmeen.

    I really like the sentiment of your article but I do also agree with the advice of the gurus.

    When they say become an expert, I take it to mean that it’s important to become knowledgable in your niche.

    The difference is between trying to pass yourself off as an expert and truly having helpful knowledge born out of experience.

    The first one has no value, while the second is the goal.

    So I agree, You don’t need to become an expert. What you need is to know what you are talking about and communicate it in a way that is compelling, easy to follow and offers real value.

    When you do this people will attribute expert status to you.

    • Alex, it goes without saying that we should be knowledgeable in our respective industries. But, positioning ourselves as experts takes away from our message. It’s one thing to say why you are the right person vs. you are the authority (the best there can ever be). The latter isolates and intimidates vs. former creates connection and communicates credibility. You see what I am saying???

  23. Sharmeen, this was very valuable at this time because someone asked me, “What is your message?” There are a lot of things that define me and what I do. However, I started writing down things that matter to me as I read this article. I will have a definitive answer in a couple days.

  24. I might suggest one specific message per business.

    That would be a unique selling proposition, as in what one exact benefit do you bring them (with specifics like percentages) that is available only by buying from you.

    You can find it by interviewing past, present and future customers, anyone who works with you. You want to be watching for the specific sets of words they use to describe the unique value you bring. Don’t settle for generic statements like best value, works better, etc. Dig for the benefit and by what margin it benefits them…as in created 30% greater profits.

    It’s often something you don’t expect.

    Then do research on your competition and be sure what you found is actually unique. It must be unique.

    Then test it by integrating it into all ways you sell.

    You may not hit it on the first try and you may need to change it later when/if the competition catches up.

    This is as old as marketing history.

    Claude Hopkins (Scientific Adveetising) did it for a beer company in the early 1900s by pointing out the elaborate purification process the company used. Everyone else used the same process but didn’t think to advertise it.
    Rosser Reeves gave it the USP title in the 1950s – 60s and made many famous ads based on it. Look up the story about rosser changing the blind man’s sign.
    Jay Abraham taught it all throught the 60s, 70s and 80s and still does.

    The interesting part is that to this day almost no one does it in spite of how effective it is.

    As far as second messages, use them as statements of the other values in what you do, secondary to the main Unique Selling Proposition.

    The second message can only confuse if presented in an equal light as another message. Confusion does not lead to sales.

    Think about how effective an ad would be if people had to make one of two choices from the ad. most will choose neither because it’s not clear which would be best.

    • Excellent advice, thank you Dave. I love your point about talking to clients.

      Too few people do it and yet these are the people that can give you all the juice you need to sell yourself effectively.

      When digging for your what makes you a valued partner I’d add that as well as understanding your impact on them professionally, e.g. The demonstrable value you’ve added to their business, you should also discern the impact you’ve had on them personally.

      Remember you are not selling to a company, you’re selling to people who have personal goals that branch off from their professional ones and in some ways their personal goals are more important.

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