How To Position Yourself As An Expert

Are you an expert?Are you an expert?

If you’ve been freelancing for a while, odds are good that you have developed a level of expertise in one or more specialized areas. Since expert freelancers are usually paid more than generalists, it is a good idea to identify and promote any specialized knowledge that you might have.

You can’t be paid for your expertise if no one knows that you have it, so it’s important to position yourself carefully and present your expertise. In this article, we’ll look at a few ways to do that.


Finding Your Area of Expertise

Before you can promote your expertise, you must know what it is. Surprising though it may be, many freelancers do not take the time to identify the areas in which they specialize.

To figure out your own expertise, I suggest that you ask yourself at least two questions:

  • Does the majority of my freelancing work fit into a particular area?
  • Do I have any specific training that pertains to my freelancing work?

As you examine the freelancing work that you are doing, you may find that you discover a pattern. This pattern could be an indication of your area of expertise.

Perhaps you do most your work for clients in a particular industry. On the other hand, perhaps you do mostly one type of work. For example, a web designer may discover that they do most of their web design work for nonprofit organizations. Or, they might find that most of their work consists of designing logos. Could this focus equal an area of expertise? It very well could.

You should also examine your formal and informal training to determine whether you have an area of expertise. Simply having a degree does not mean that you are an expert. Many people never actually work in the field in which they receive a degree. However, if you do have training AND if you’ve used it extensively, then you may have found an area of expertise.

Positioning Yourself as an Expert Through Blogging

Merely having an area of expertise doesn’t help your freelancing business if no one knows about it.

One of the easiest ways to position yourself as an expert is through blogging. Blogs are inexpensive and relatively simple to set up, so if you’re a freelancer there is really no excuse for not having one.

Once you’ve started your blog, be sure to create posts that demonstrate your expertise. Blogging solely about your personal life will not position you as an expert. One way to write a post about your area of expertise is to answer common questions about your subject matter.

After your own blog is established, you can branch out to writing on other blogs. Visit other blogs that also deal with your area of expertise. Leave well thought out comments the address the blogger’s topic.

After you have developed a relationship with another blogger, don’t be afraid to contact that blogger to see if you can write a guest post for their blog. Posting on other blogs can enhance your positioning as an expert in your subject matter.

Positioning Yourself as an Expert Through Speaking

You can also position yourself as an expert through speaking engagements and through teaching seminars on your topic.

To get started, look for a list of professional groups in your area and contact each one to find out if they are interested in learning more about your specialty. If there is an interest, offer to give a talk about your area of expertise.

Avoid a “hard sell” of your services during your presentation, but do include a handout with your business information on it. For example, if you specialize in creating online marketing materials then a presentation to your local chamber of commerce should give a general overview of the ways that a business can be promoted online rather than a discussion of what your business does.

You can also teach to establish your positioning as an expert. Offer a short series of seminars on your topic or contact a local educational institution to find out if you would be qualified to teach a class in your field. Often, community colleges will hire instructors from the working world.

Positioning Yourself as an Expert Through Your Portfolio

Many freelancers neglect their portfolios. Yet, having updated samples and links to your newest work can be vital to your positioning as an expert. Often, your very first projects as a freelancer do not really reflect your current level of expertise.

If you’ve recently started to specialize in a particular field, make sure that your portfolio reflects your most recent work.

Positioning Yourself as an Expert Through Other Writing

There are many other writing opportunities, offline and online, that can help you to position yourself as an expert. Examine your favorite publications in your field to see if they have submission guidelines. If there are submission guidelines, follow them carefully.

Even if there are no submission guidelines, you can still contact the publisher to see if they are interested in publishing a unique article about their topic.

(Note: if writing is not your specialty, it would be wise to have a professional writer look over your materials before you submit them.)

Do you consider yourself an expert?

If you consider yourself an expert, then tell us about your specialty? How have you positioned yourself as an expert? What benefits have you gained because of it?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Comments

  1. says

    Spot on, Laura! I tell my clients (none of them freelancers, by the way) that the best way to increase their business is to prove their expertise through all of the ways mentioned above, as well as media formats like podcasting and web video. That’s my expertise, by the way. Thanks for the validation!

  2. says

    When I first started freelancing I was trying to be a jack of all trades and I was getting low paying clients and working tons of hours since I was taking on projects in areas that I was not proficient in or not good at all (designing is not what I do). The about 2 years ago I decided to focus on catering to restaurants and business in the hospitality field. I have formed relationships with a 2 designers and a windows and mac software developer so now I offer complete solutions to help small restaurants grow and connect with their customers.

    @Laura this is a great post and is something that I see a lot of freelancers overlooking.

  3. says

    Some great ideas there. The only ones that I’ve tried so far are the blogging and portfolio method to promote my HTML/CSS knowledge which has worked great over the last few years and has landed me plenty of freelance work which I’m sure I wouldn’t have got without the blog to demonstrate my knowledge in much more depth.

    Maybe it’s about time that I thought about the public speaking department and writing articles for other people so that I’m not so reliant on Google and word of mouth for promotion.

  4. says

    I specialize in software development and most frequently end up doing web applications, but am trying to avoid being considered an expert specifically in “web development” because a) there are a zillion “web developers” out there already, so why put myself in competition with them? and b) it seems to me that “web development” usually means something more like “web design with a little PHP and JavaScript mixed in” to most people, which isn’t a good use of my skills – I’m a hardcore programmer with little or no design skill to speak of.

    As I’m sure you can guess, the hardest part for me tends to be simply explaining to people what it is that I do, since it’s not something that you can see directly on your screen.

  5. says

    Thanks for your comments all!

    Dave Sherohman – I can see that you do indeed face a challenge. You don’t want to specialize in the work that you do most often. I think what you’re facing is the need to reposition yourself into something that you actually do want to do. You may have to work a little harder to reposition yourself. Have you tried writing about programming or speaking to groups about how your programming can benefit them?

    In terms of explaining what you do – I’ve heard that everybody should have an elevator speech. This is a way to tell about your business in just a minute or two. If I were you, I’d pre-write one and practice it so that it came out naturally when I needed it.

    Great comment though! I hope that you find the types of positions that you are looking for soon.

  6. says

    I’m not particularly good at public speaking so I “shy” away from that area of self promotion. However, I use weblogs and static web pages to promote my work which have resulted in me snagging a pair of higher visible regional magazine gigs as an automotive columnist.

    Among my many different sites, I have two automotive blogs which I frequently update.

  7. says

    These are all excellent pointers, often overlooked, even by some of the most renowned freelance experts, Laura.

    For example, my portfolio is very good, but I never managed to put it together online – so each time a client asks for “samples” of my work and testimonials I see myself forced to write a long email, or to put together some links. I often forget important mentions and articles.

    Strange thing, I put together portfolios for my clients, but never my own. How would you call that? Personally I have a very harsh term for myself. ;)

  8. says

    Thanks Mihaela and Matt!

    Mihaela, I’m basically in the same position. My own site has been somewhat neglected as of late and I’m slowly trying to update it around my project schedule. So, whatever word you thought of probably applies to me too.

    However, I WILL get it updated and then it will be more of an asset to my business.

  9. says

    Mihaela:
    I’m not sure what your word is but for the fun of it I’ll play my hunch. If I miss it I trust I won’t get tossed out.
    The concept I have for failing to provide my Self with what I need for my success is the “Barefoot Cobbler” or, for those who haven’t read Mother Goose or the Nursery Rhyme classics, perhaps the “Starving Chef” is more up to date. Either concept captures the tendency we have be better at providing others with the vary things we neglect to give our Self. We often leave out the most vital part of the equation of our success, our Self. To this end I think it is very important to be gentle with our short comings as we work on improving them. A little “Love thy Self” can be very powerful; for “Love is Good Business” even for the business of Self development.
    So what does this have to do with positioning our expertise? Here’s how I see it; it is hard as hell for me to position my expertise with anyone else if I haven’t already done so with my Self. The effectiveness of our tactics and methods is directly dependent on the internal conversation we’re having with our Self while we doing them. For better or worse, Self talk is one of the most powerful things we do. I think it is important to be mindful of what we say about our short comings because it can undermine our sense of expertise at the very moment we are try to convey it to others.
    This is just exploration of what came up for me as I read your comment. If it is a bit disjointed, I trust you can connect the dots and find its relevance. Let me know what you think.
    The Elder Dude

  10. says

    One thing I did was put up flyers at a big university (I did this at Stanford), about me giving a talk on The Principles of Graphic Design. It cost me like $5 bucks for the flyers, and 6 students showed up to listen to me talk for about 30 minutes.

    Now I can tell people “I spoke at Stanford University on the Principles of Graphic Design”. That really helps in letting people know your an expert. There are a bunch of other good tips similar to that over at the graphic design twist blog.

    Cheers!

  11. says

    Hi Laura

    You raise an interesting point and dilemma!
    Would be experts in big design agencies and in teams of experts who are not actually adhering to any standards or the standards they are adhering to are not current, the issue I have with those kind of agencies is they tout themselves as being number 1 in their field but yet if you look at their standards they do not deserve to be in that position.
    As a freelancer myself showing your an expert through your own business is one of the main ways you can get recognition, however, it seems as though it is commonly acceptable for big businesses to not take high standards on board, therefore how can you position yourself to them when they cannot see the error of their ways?

    Sorry, little bit of a rant there heheh, but I’m sure you have seen it too and others who also feel the same way, especially when you feel the experts should be experts but are just not pulling their weight.

  12. says

    Wow! Great examples.

    Chase, I’m glad to hear that your talk went well. You never now, some of those students may wind up being clients.

    Kev – you raise an interesting point, but I’ve always found that I can’t control what others do. The best way to compete with those “Would be experts” is to become a true expert yourself. Never forget to deliver quality and service.

  13. says

    Some really good points made. It’s in the same vein as a lot of business trust issues – establishing yourself convincingly as an expert is hard.

    Portfolio and Testimonials are powerful tools – show what you have done, and what the customer thinks of your service – but keep them believable. Nothing is more of a turn-off than a gushingly over enthusiastic testimonial!

    Qualifications are great, but also difficult to verify and often not understood by the end customer – especially in technical fields – so when you describe them don’t be afraid to generalise (e.g. Microsoft Certified instead of “MCITP”).

  14. says

    @Arlin – LOL, those are some funny terms, which apply. But my term is so harsh… I am afraid I cannot use it online. :P Just kidding. The saying “a king in beggars clothes” applies too. :)

    @Laura – I am also updating pamil-visions.com now, but the site will not include my own portfolio, just the company portfolio. I will keep the personal portfolio for mihaelalica.com – which is still in work (and not online yet) I cannot say when it will be, but I think soon.

  15. says

    Great post and exactly right people should be specialising, not only because it gives them the opportunity to make money and also because you can learn more information about your specialism than general information about everything.

  16. says

    Great advice. Will definitely start looking to implement your suggestions quickly. Time wasted in not marketing and advertising is revenue lost and never recovered. Thanks for sharing your expertise about this subject. Well thought out!

  17. says

    Mihaela:

    The “King in beggar’s clothes” is an even better image. I like the classic image the “cobbler” gives; however, I have found that many younger folks often confuse it with mom’s cobbler pie. The “King in beggar’s clothes” is more recognizable and has the connotation I want. I can use it instead of the “cobbler”.
    There are several other powerful connotations captured by the image of a “King in beggar’s clothes”. In fact, in my engaging your comments I am stepping out of the beggar’s clothes of silence into the philosophy of the king’s garb.
    Now there are some interesting images. There is a poem in here some where.
    Thanks for your feed back.

    On the Self talk side of things, I think it’s worth mentioning that the most important thing isn’t just what we say – think – but why we say it. Love, at its source, is an attitude before it becomes an action or, in this case, a thought. To me the harshness you referred to is more a matter of the underlying attitude behind the thought than the thought its self. Reminding our Self when we are being “A king in beggar’s clothes” can be a very Loving or condemning comment. The difference is whether or not our attitude intents to supports our Well-Being or not.
    Once again it is that old finesse thing, the art of; it’s not just what we do – think – as much as it is the way we do it that determines the impact.

    The Elder Dude.

  18. says

    Great article!

    I specialise in crafts. I am a freelance creative designer writing articles and creating crafting projects for many of my favourite specialist publications. I have been doing this for quite a number of years and find it very satisfying and rewarding. {Unknown to popular belief} it can be quite hard work too, expecially to keep coming up with new and inspiring ideas constantly and to very tight deadlines. I am passonate about what I do and I’m lucky enough to have my regular columns and projects in UK publications. I have created my own blog to help promote myself, although I find that the hardest thing to do with freelancing. I’m not one of these people to ‘blow my own trumpet’ about my work and achievements.

    Alongside this, I have also specialised in writing for theatre publications, as that is another passion I have.

    Both are extremely competitive fields to be in, but it’s great to be freelancing in an industry that I love.

    I shall ‘take on board’ some of your suggestions. Thanks for the article.

  19. says

    Thanks for this really good post. One of the wonders of easy-to-use blogs is that they can be a great showcase for niche knowledge and writing and I think you are spot on re the opportunities and importance that a continually updated portfolio can provide. My blog’s getting me work in and anyone can do the same so long as they spend a bit of thime marketing themselves creatively …

    8-)

  20. says

    Thanks for a good article.
    I am a freelance creative designer creating crafts projects for magazines here in the UK. I have written articles and designed projects for many craft publications and even have my own column in some. I am passionate about what I do, although I find it quite difficult to ‘blow my own trumpet’ about myself. In general I hope my work speaks for itself.

    I’m working on developing my blog/ website to continue highlighting my work and build further contacts within the industry by going to trade shows, being on Twitter and the like. In this industry contacts are always changing.

    {I also write articles for theatre and travel publications}

    Your article has some great suggestions. Thanks.

  21. says

    Good stuff. I’m currently going through a process of gathering together all the widely-scattered evidence to position myself as an expert in convergent technology, in particular in defining and developing products and markets which use a blend of web, mobile, media and location technology.

    I have found that it is relatively easy to produce and assemble my own writings, video etc. What’s harder is engaging at the next level and building or joining a community of experts related to my field. Something which really helps this is interviews (written, audio, video etc.) Mixing these media and presenting them on the web is surprisingly easy, and presently a great way to stand out among less “savvy” peers.

    So, if anyone reading this would like to be interviewed, or would like to interview me, or even just to swap links, please get in touch!

  22. says

    What an excellent article Laura!

    I do not consider myself yet as an expert but I am definitely heading in that direction :) Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I found your suggestions very interesting and I will try to implement some of your advices very soon.

    Thank you very much!

  23. says

    I concentrate my business on Small Business Technology specializing in Telecommunications Services. For the layman that’s telephones, land line and cellular.

    Am I an expert?

    I know more than some and not afraid to listen to those who know more than me. I believe I’m an expert. But as I said I am always willing to learn for those who know more than me and I try not to make those who know less feel as if I’m talking down to them. I just try to put it in their terms.

    It also feeds the ego some when others come to you out of the blue for your opinions.

  24. says

    Excellent advice! I’m trying to “own my expertise,” to acknowledge that yes, I am pretty darn good at this organizational thing and I know a lot about it. I’m going to start putting together a presentation that showcases that expertise. Thanks!

  25. says

    I’ve done very well by positioning myself as an Expert CSS/XHTML developer instead of trying to do design, css, html, php, javascript, print and more. My business has actually increased because of it.

  26. Stella says

    Nice post! I can be a very good living example for your blog. I used to work as a freelance writer but I have some technical knowledge of website designing as well. I always wanted to try my hands on it and finally I decided to give it try. One day I was browsing through a freelance job website and they had a design marketplace where budding designers like me can come and submit their design entries, I tried it and the design community voted my design as the best design. See I tried my luck and now I earn from one more freelance career.

  27. says

    Im becoming an ‘expert’ at annoying other people in the SEO industry, mainly because i hate it when people say one thing and do another thing… its really annoying especially when theyre ‘top in the field’ and when you actually take a project off them, theyre really crap at what they do and just arent delivering!

  28. says

    Dave Sherohman’s problem got me to thinking about areas of expertise, and not just our own. We don’t necessarily need to be perceived as an expert by everybody, just the folks we want to work with.

    So Dave, for example, doesn’t need to figure out how to sell himself as an expert programmer in general, just how to sell himself as an expert programmer for the pharmaceutical quality control industry, say (and I totally just made that up as an example). Then he doesn’t write/blog/speak/whatever about good programming in general; he writes writes/blogs/speaks/whatevers about programming issues in pharmaceutical quality control. He makes sure his blog posts include the phrases “pharmaceutical quality control software” and “pharmaceutical quality control programming” so the people who google those terms looking for a programmer find him straightaway.

    For example, google “education technology copywriter” and you’ll find me in the top 3 results, because I make it a focus of my work.

    Niche marketing, long-tail marketing, whatever you call it…it’ll make for more of the actual work you want to do. It’s not just what you know and who you know, but who you want to know what you know for. If that makes sense. It sounded a lot better in my head.

  29. says

    Rockin’ subject Laura. The interesting thing about being an expert is that nobody is born an expert! The old-fashioned view is that experts are some how drawn into the role and have all their ‘stripes’ before infamy begins. The modern age of Web2.0 has diminished that. Today, experts are self-proclaimed and become experts *after* they have proclaimed it! Being an expert requires experience – not in the subject matter – but in being in the role of an expert itself.
    Some of the folks I work with have emerged as experts, but became as such when they learned how to promote themselves and build a profile. Before then, I guess they could have best been described as anonymous people with loads of domain knowledge. Some of the folks were not even the best in their class, but have risen to the rank of expert after becoming *known* as the authority in the subject.
    Is expertise a matter of marketing now? I guess so. And the methods you describe are the most effective tools to go about it.

  30. says

    Simon:
    Your point about having expertise in “being in the role of an expert itself” is well made. Additionally, as you briefly referred to, it seems to me there is more to positioning ourselves as an expert than just the impression or sentiment in the hearts and minds of the folks in the market place. Would you share your thoughts on how authenticity fits into your perspective on all this?
    Your comments would be appreciated.
    Have fun and rewarding day, Elder-Dude

  31. says

    Hi Elder-Dude – good question. I believe that authenticity is measured by social proof, which is why establishing expertise using a blog is so effective; your social proof is there for all to see, normally measured by the number of comments made and the scale of readership. Social proof isn’t something that can normally be generated overnight (well there are cheats to fake these numbers, but these tend to create only a temporary effect). The most effective measure is in the number of inbound links to your blog, particularly from those authored by folks with proven social proof. This is why Google’s Page Rank is, in most cases, a great measure.

    This fits into my last assertion – until you air your voice and stand up to be counted, you can’t expect social proof. Only when your voice is heard, and then referred to by other experts, can your authenticity emerge.

  32. says

    Hi Laura,
    It’s so timely for me as I’ve started writing on my blog regularly. I was in a dilemma and suffer writer’s block on what to write and how to project myself. I later thought I’ll write my personal stuff and at last by quirk of luck I started sharing my copywriting experiences.
    The points you covered in your post are vital. I need now to ask some blogs now to allow me to write a guest post for them.
    Solomon

  33. says

    I’ve done very well by positioning myself as an Expert CSS/XHTML developer instead of trying to do design, css, html, php, javascript, print and more. My business has actually increased because of it

  34. says

    Excellent article. I would like to suggest a brand new website specifically geared for positioning experts called Sourceables (www.sourceables.com) You can create a free profile and post your comments on your particular area of expertise as well as share links to your blog, website, work, projects, etc. The idea is to build a community of experts who not only can follow and discuss their work, but also can be contacted by the media looking for sources.

    Hope some of you find it valuable.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] How To Position Yourself As An Expert. Another of Laura’s articles I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with. Don’t be coy when trying to identify your expertise either. You’ll find you have skills that go beyond the obvious, just think of all the tasks you perform as a blogger… [...]

  2. [...] tweetmeme_source = 'FreelanceFolder'; Dacă, Äôre un freelancer, tu, probabil deja un Äôre expert în ceea ce faci. Fie că este vorba, AOS freelance web design, scris independent, independent de programare, obţinute independent, sau unele de specialitate alte freelancing, Äìyou, Äôre deja bun la asta. De fapt, tu, Äôre probabil oarecum de un expert [...]

  3. [...] If you’re a freelancer, you’re probably already an expert in what you do. Whether it’s freelance web design, freelance writing, freelance programming, freelance translation, or some other freelancing specialty–you’re already good at it. In fact, you’re probably somewhat of an expert. [...]

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