How to be an Online Expert and be Authentic at the Same Time

If you feel called to a career as a blogger, writer, speaker, or consultant, you probably face this struggle.

Authenticity vs Authority

By authority, I mean Authority Marketing, although you may call it platform building or tribe building. The idea is to establish your authority and expertise so that people will believe you, read what you have to say, follow you, and/or buy from you. With the shrinking of the world due to the growth of the internet, we all have to fight for our space in people’s minds and newsfeeds. Thus the need for that authority. If you couple that need with the fact that all of us feel like we really have no idea what we’re doing, you have quite the internal dilemma. For me, that internal dialogue looks like this:

Monday: Get a reader thank you email. “Huzzah! I don’t care about numbers I just want to change the world one person at a time. I will share a few honest tweets today about how I am just a beginner myself.”

Tuesday: Someone unsubscribes from my Almighty List. “Oh no! No one believes that I know my stuff. Must tweet some of my podcast interviews and drop ‘Entrepreneur.com contributor’ at least three times today!”

Wednesday: Have a great writing session in the morning where I feel like God is dropping some gold nuggets of wisdom through my laptop. Decide to share everything I’ve ever created for free because PEOPLE MUST HEAR!

Thursday: Wake up to a few mentions on twitter, get excited and face what I’ve been trying to deny: All I really want in life is to be verified on twitter.

The Struggle Is Real
Obviously, we have to be checking ourselves. I think it’s unethical to ride the authenticity train all the way to the top, omitting how all of that free content led to thousands of dollars in sales. Constantly writing about authenticity and failure is appealing to the masses, but it seems a little fishy to me when the author is actually a smashing success. It’s just as bad to fudge experience or inflate our statistics as an “expert”.

So how can we be open and honest about our failures, or admit that we are just starting out, and yet also position ourselves as a writer worth reading or a consultant worth hiring?

Is it so bad to try and be an expert for the sake of the message we feel called to spread? Is it bad to filter our professional lives to appear a bit bigger and better than we are?

I think when it comes to platform, and many other things in life, the answer lies somewhere in the gray. Gray means you’re wrestling with the issue and seeking wisdom. It means switching between feeling like a self-promoting fraud, and a selfless friend, giving away your best ideas. You MUST do both to succeed as a small business owner, especially at the beginning.

My conclusion is that if you’re wrestling with the issue, you’re probably on the right track. (If you get to the point where you think you’ve got it all figured out. Consult your spouse or your mother. They will set you straight.)

When to Be the Authority

I think there are a few areas in which you truly are a leader. It’s what we feel called to create/write/teach/coach/speak about. Those are the things we need to own. Rock it like it’s the calling we were given.

Charge the industry standard, boldy join conversations, and yes, promote what we’re doing. I repeat: promote what you’re doing!   

Yes, Please Filter Your Life
This part of this post is a bit controversial because everyone in the motivational space is very pro-authenticity right now. As am I. But you need to realize that as a small business owner using social media, your clients come from your friends list or friends of those friends. Their feeds are negative enough as it is, so do you really need to share that you feel like a failure this week? or that you’ve had a rough day? Or that you’re stuck in traffic?

Don’t focus too much on the before part of your before-and-after story. I see this a lot. Share your struggles, yes, but let’s share our victories more! If we don’t, we’re doing a disservice to ourselves and to those who take time out of their busy lives to read our content instead of 4 million other posts they could have read that day.

There are days when I have gotten 10 rejection emails and feel like bawling and I post on my professional page and personal profile a motivational quote. Does it feel forced? Yes, but I don’t want to unload my baggage onto people desperately scrolling for something positive, and definitely not to those who came to my page to be uplifted.

Remember you ARE your brand so there’s no real separation between personal and professional social accounts. Using an instagram-filtered version of your life 80% of the time, and only showing vulnerability 20% of the time, will probably lead to more people listening, reading and purchasing. 

People want to relate to you, yes, but more than that they want the result. They want the benefit. They want the AFTER - which is great, because you went through the trenches of your industry and you know how to guide them!

God gives us a few places to shine, and shine we should.

When to Let Go of Authority

Let’s face another cold hard truth: As much as we try to instagram our way to seeming like a big player, most of us are still small players. Want to be interviewed on TV? Want to have millions of followers? Want to make tons of money? Great! Get to work! Write that book! Do 100 podcast episodes! Live minimally and invest your money in your dream! I am preaching to myself here too! Buck up, Humphreys!

I love what Gary Vaynerchuk recently said about building a personal brand: “There is no football coach that comes out of nowhere at twenty-three and wins Super Bowls.” You know what it takes to be the next Gary Vee? Work at it for fifteen years like there’s no other option.

Another quote from Ben Arment was a great point too: “It's easier to become a public speaker by doing interesting things than by trying to become a public speaker”

Start doing something worth speaking about, answering podcasters about, and writing about!

Get Specific

Beyond personal branding is another aspect that’s hard for aspiring experts: we have to get specific and let go of the facade that we know everything surrounding our “sweet spot”. You do not have to create something awesome and then create an ebook on how to create that awesome thing and then build a course for creating awesome things and then be an expert at passive income. You can, but you really don’t have to, I promise. Even though it’s something everyone else in my space seems to be doing (Keyword: seems), I dropped “coach” from my byline recently. I am not supposed to be a life coach. I will not touch the idea of a “membership site” with a ten thousand foot pole right now. Maybe when I hire that elusive first full-time assistant. Hopefully, that’ll be right around the time I get verified on twitter.

I can hear you and yes, we should be more of an expert the longer we spread our message. But that just means our sweet spot gets a little larger, there is still a great big world out there that we know little about.
And that’s okay.
Here’s a perfect example: If someone asks me about business plans, I send them a link to someone else’s answer. Even though I am an entrepreneurship “authority”! I tell them to come back to me when their plan is done and they want a wow-worthy, memorable brand identity and position statement. It is SO LIBERATING. Like I recently wrote on Entrepreneur.com, the more specific you get about your expertise, the more your clients are perfect for you. The more you get to do your best work and your most fun work!

So, to sum up this incredibly-too-long post:

Whatever message you feel called to spread, spread with confidence and clarity. Let yourself be an authority in that. Pray about it. Wrestle with it. “Instagram” 80% of it. Then, work hard at being the best in that space. Do interesting things, take risks! Lastly, be authentic about not knowing the rest, remembering that none of us know what we’re doing either.  

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