The expertise to authority continuum can be quantified by how conversations happen.
- A level one expert has one conversation at a time at a one-to-one level (or one-to-a-few as with a small list or social following).
- A level two expert gets good at one-to-many conversations (speaking, bigger list receiving emails) and time independent one-to-one conversations (books, courses).
- A level three expert is able to have many one-to-many conversations at any given time.
Level one experts with content
People with lots of unorganized content on a given subject develop a keen ability to communicate points on a subject at any given time.
You’re a level one expert if you:
- have a rolodex of talking points you can easily pull from for podcast interviews
- can easily drop “answer bombs” in online forums and groups associated with your target market
- string points together cohesively into talks
- handle most objections with a prospect having seen and dealt with them before
The hallmark of level one experts is being good at one to one communication on your subject matter. A level one expert is ready for level two if they are improving their ability to have a one-to-many conversation one-conversation-at-a-time, which is the hallmark of a level two expert.
Level two experts with content and products
If expertise is being knowledgeable on a subject, paid content is the application of that knowledge. You’re a level two expert if you:
- have created paid products for organized versions of your thinking (writing books, creating online courses, selling info products)
- give workshops, speak at conferences
- have a meaningful audience (one that can filter and amplify your best content and effectively help validate direction on future content creation and expertise that is useful/relevant)
- people in your market generally know who you are (maybe 30% awareness)
Everyone agrees that the most organized version of your thinking on a subject is worth charging money for. This is the value of expertise.
For level two experts, money is the marker: you make a comfortable enough living because you are not beholden to selling, one to one client relationships, or “having to take work.”
At this point in the journey, you value creating a product that solves a problem for a group of people. This makes sense. You have an audience, they have a need, you have an ability to meet that need with a product. Everyone wins.
But rinse and repeat this for too long, and the inefficiencies compound, you get stuck in your talking points, your website content gets stale and silo’d behind archives, and your habit of focusing deeply on a given problem at any one time limits you to a one-at-a-time one to many conversation at any given moment.
For this reason, level two experts are good at one-to-many conversation one-conversation-at-a-time and one-to-one conversations many-conversations-at-a-time.
There is leverage, the leverage is good, but you are still limited by your finite ability to create more content and products, to get more speaking gigs or workshops, to have one conversation at any given moment.
Plenty of people can optimize for level two expertise and be happy. You can even reach a tipping point of ubiquity, of popularity, of being the best at a thing.
BUT the trappings of comfort and the lack of sophistication required to have level three expertise means this is the most dangerous place to be for too long. If you are here for five years or more your assets begin to depreciate at a higher rate than you can create appreciating assets. Issues compound and you risk content decay, loss of expertise relevance, and sap your potential for maximum impact.
This is where most get stuck. While you can stay relevant, maintain a strong enough pulse on key subset of your audience, become “time independent” with earning money, you are still limited to one at a time conversations: emails, social posts, podcasting.
Level three experts with authority
If your business is built on content for an audience, your ability to reach a maximum amount of impact hinges on the ability to have one-to-many conversations many-at-a-time.
To be fair, this can happen somewhat naturally with a level two approach. With enough interviews, video presentations, guest posts, or whatever, your thought leadership gets spread like breadcrumbs across the web and social, enough so that people can go from consuming your top of funnel content to buying a thing. But websites die, links break, social feeds bury content.
- You cannot grow an audience without being where that audience goes to find answers.
- You cannot be an authority on a topic and also be invisible in search for that topic.
- You cannot build a legacy on other people’s land.
- And you cannot maximize impact having conversations one at a time.
Effectiveness here is a function of how relevant the multiple asynchronous conversations are with different groups at different points in their journeys.
The pitfalls in moving up a level are really interesting to me and almost always a function of habits, processes, and systems or lack there of.
We can actually uncover a LOT of this with content audits.
For example, the amount of content you have on a topic is a good predictor of expertise and… a good predictor of how poorly your website will perform in search.
Unorganized content on a website no longer means users will have to fish through your posts to find relevant content or run searches on archaic default site search forms, it now means they’ll simply go somewhere else to find what they’re looking for.
The goals change at each level
At each level, work, communication patterns, and success (financial, impact, time freedom) looks different. To review:
- A level one expert has conversations one at a time and one to one or one to few. To reach a point of success at this level these days, a content creation approach needs to be supplemented by some form of amplification (e.g. outreach, social interaction, guest posting, podcasting, interviewing, webinar funnels, etc.). Most level one experts find something that works, and rinse and repeat. They do content (and audience building) one way.
- A level two expert still has conversations one at a time, but they’re able to expand from one-to-one to a one-to-many approach. Time independence is created through an ability to consistently leverage their content in the form of info products (courses, books, etc.). Reaching a point of success as a level two expert looks like freedom around time and money enabled by figuring out the systems necessary to support audience development and monetization around content.
- A level three expert is able to have many one-to-many conversations at any given time. They’ve figured out how to effectively leverage content in a way that supports and satisfies their growingly diverse audience. Success at level three looks like not just them having some freedom and time independence, or enough products, content, or a large audience, but control. Control in the sense that they have the ability to generate attention, interest, demand across more than one group, piece of content, or product at a time. They become most concerned with achieving content and product relevance with accuracy across a growing array of needs successful product launches.