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When the Expert Isn’t — Tips for Business Owners Who Need Skepticism

Written by: Jennifer Jank, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Unless you’re living under a rock that doesn’t happen to carry a wi-fi signal, chances are you’re swamped with info - and disinformation too. They’re both blasted out every day like a firehose, even if you’re careful to manage your exposure to media. And frankly, most people aren’t. (Do you still have media notifications on your phone?)

It’s not at all expensive to put up a web page that looks reasonably professional. It’s easy for people to claim any results they want and dummy up graphs and charts to make the results look real. Pure scam artists, as always, are plentiful on the ground.


Sometimes the scam artists are obvious. Do you really need to investigate the Nigerian prince's bona fides who want you to hold his billions of dollars in your humble bank account? Others aren’t because they’re faking results that look authentic. Either way, scam artists are a waste of your money and time.


However, businesses exist that are not based on scams or run by grifters and could still waste your money. Authors may sincerely believe what they’re writing about. Books can have blurbs on the back cover from trusted experts that are misleading at best. People may genuinely believe that they’re clairvoyant, or good tarot card readers, or horoscope advisors.


Looking for a new service provider? Or someone who’s going to help you level up somehow, either personally or in your business? You need a way to tell if they’re legitimate. Even if they are, can they actually help you? Granted, there’s no guarantee that you’ll never waste money (or time) again. But you can make better decisions on who you choose to support you.


Expertise is key


Want to get better at something? Or delegate some aspect of your business, so you don’t have to do it? You need someone proficient in the subject. Of course, everyone claims to be an expert, so how can you tell who’s who?


Many online business owners are told to write a book to demonstrate their competency. Unfortunately, not everyone who writes a book on a specific topic is an expert on it. They may have hired a ghostwriter to write the actual book.


Or the author is an expert in a very narrow definition of the subject. Maybe you want to train your pet fish Eric to swim through an obstacle course. You find a book called The Ultimate Guide to Training Your Pet, but it turns out the author has only trained poodles for the circus.


Outsourcing things like administrative tasks, or bookkeeping, or marketing is a little easier. You can ask for referrals and check credentials, in addition to interviewing to see if their personality is a good fit. Because admin varies from business to business, a quick review of a prospect’s resume or CV will tell you if they’ve done the jobs you need them to do.


Hiring a coach or trainer is harder. A service provider like a bookkeeper or VA (virtual assistant) needs to know their area of expertise. But a coach not only needs to be proficient in that subject matter but also in helping other people translate it into results.


Many business owners find they need to DIY some aspect of the work. When you need information about a topic, it’s critical to know whether the person you’re getting the info from is legitimate. A web page and/or a book (and yes, I have both) still doesn’t necessarily qualify someone as an expert in that topic.


How do you expertly judge the expert’s expertise?


Ideally, you’d investigate the background and bona fides for your source, whether it’s a coach, author, or whatever. What are their qualifications? How do they know what they know? In certain fields, you might look for a particular certification.


Another point to research is whether their qualifications are in the field in which they claim to have mastered. Just because someone has a doctorate in one branch of science doesn’t mean they’re at all qualified to speak in another.


Being a contrarian often confers benefits and makes people stand out in a crowded field. Depending on the industry, it doesn’t even matter whether the person actually understands the topic or not. Simply taking an opposite position makes them look like a serious thinker.


Only a very small percentage of scientists deny that human-caused global climate change is a problem. What you might not know is that they’re not in the climate science field. They’re often in unrelated branches of physics, biology, or something else.


It’s a bit like sports. A major American basketball player, considered one of the greatest players of all time, decided to change to baseball, where he failed miserably. Expertise in one subject does not confer proficiency in another.


I saw an online article about the dangers of the coronavirus vaccine, authored by someone who had a Ph.D. and published by a journal. I’m a skeptic, so I dug a little deeper. The “journal” is dedicated to the anti-vaccine cause. The author had a Ph.D. in machine learning, and the coauthor was a naturopathic oculist.


In other words, neither of them had any experience with vaccines, or messenger RNA, or epidemiology. Or anything else actually related to the development and manufacture of vaccines.


Another key fact is when the expert achieved their expertise. There are many gurus out there who were early to the online game and made a lot of money when no one else was in the space.


Sure, they’re experts, but on the internet, as it was 10 or 15 years ago, not as it is today. When Facebook groups were new, someone who understood them could monetize pretty easily. Now everyone and their brothers have groups for their business.


In earlier times, you could be visible just by existing in a new arena. Not anymore. The information space is extremely crowded, and you must stand out to be visible. That doesn’t mean that you can’t become visible, just that you can’t use the same tactics that worked 10 years ago.


If you’re looking for a coach, similar rules apply. Some people have genuinely made money from creating their business the way they did, but just because it worked for them doesn’t mean it will work for anyone else. These coaches are often genuine and not trying to scam you, but a flash in the pan isn’t always repeatable.


What does all that mean for you, the business owner? You want someone whose qualifications are a match for what they provide. They’ve used or developed their method, whatever it is, on a number of clients. And their experience is recent, within the past couple of years or so.


Great! You say. But how do I have time to figure out if someone who has a doctorate or even a master’s is in the right field? How would I even know enough to know what to ask? How much time will all this digging take? I need to get my business going fast, and I don’t have time for all this.


If that’s you, here are some quick tips on how to figure out whether you should entrust a person with your time and/or money.


In general


If there is a personal source you trust, you can ask them. For example, if you have a friend who’s a financial planner or accountant, they can probably tell you how to look for financial advice, from planning to CPA to bookkeeping to a business plan.


If you have a friend who’s a successful business owner and they’re working with a service provider (like a consultant or marketing agency), you can ask them for recommendations. Find out what you should be looking for in a similar provider.


Unfortunately, you can’t trust the blurbs written on the backs of books. Sometimes they’re paid for. Other times the blurb writer is just lending their name as a favor and hasn’t actually read the thing. Also, as much as I admire Oprah as a businesswoman, you can’t trust her medical experts. Hey, doctors succumb to the lures of fame and fortune just like many of us regular mortals.


If there’s an author or speaker that you follow and find inspirational, bear in mind that following them doesn’t mean you will get results. People often need more hands-on coaching.


For the most part, you get what you pay for. Unless you’ve found an expert who isn’t well known yet, they'll usually be making plenty of money or attracting a lot of speaking and/or writing gigs.


Why would someone making millions of dollars want to sell a $27 swipe file online? Why would someone offer a free download to get their name out there when their schedule is already full of speaking engagements?


Just because someone has a high price point doesn’t mean they’re an expert. But you can be pretty sure that entry-level pricing comes with entry-level advice.


Online


Many entrepreneurs offer free webinars or other ways to introduce you to their services, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be a good way to see how they work online and what their style is like.


You should expect an upsell during a free event, whether it’s online or not. That’s just how it works. And a good businessperson will tell you upfront that they’ll be making an offer at the end of the event. But if the upsell is to a $50 item, well, you’re getting some entry-level advice.


Coaches online often discovered they could be successful by doing something in a specific way, so they’re selling their method. Again, in and of itself, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But if your situation doesn’t match their situation, it’s probably not going to work for you.


You need to look for someone who’s been exactly where you are. Or someone similar to you. For example, many diet coaches adhere to a specific plan, like keto or plant-based, or whatever. But what helped them lose weight doesn’t mean it will help you lose weight.


Offline


Events and retreats can be fun, though they may not have a lasting impact. Sometimes, concentrating on just one thing in a beautiful location is enough. But most of the time, it makes sense to check out the featured speakers, so you don’t waste time and money.


Buying a book and you’re not familiar with the author? Don’t do what I did and buy based on the blurbs on the back cover! I was at the bookstore and saw a book about the brain, and I love learning more about the brain! The author had a Ph.D. in what appeared to be a related field, and the blurb authors were ones whose writing I enjoyed. So I bought it.


It turned out to be the most amazing combo of science-based facts and complete and utter horsesh*t. At first, I thought I might be able to take what I could and leave the rest, which is often good advice—unfortunately, the amount of sheer ridiculousness I had to wade through got to be too high.


What did I miss? I didn’t thoroughly read the author’s bio or even the inside flap copy. Had I done so, I would have put the book right back on the shelf. The copy discussed Jungian analysis, which is, well, problematic.


Although Jung (and Freud) were influential thinkers, they got a lot wrong. Not to mention that they didn’t exactly follow the scientific method. Relying on either one for solid information about the human brain isn’t going to get you (or me) anywhere.


So read the bio and the inside flap! If you see red flags, reconsider whether you want to waste time and money on it. There are plenty of books out there. Don’t let titles and blurbs and so forth mislead you.


When it comes to your business, a little detective work on your part can help you weed out the people who can’t help you grow. We only have so many hours available. Don’t waste too many of them on people who don’t support you and your business.


Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter for more info!


 

Jennifer Jank, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Jennifer “JJ” Jank works with those who want to be more productive and spend more time on the life side of the work-life balance. She trains high-growth teams so they can deploy high-performance strategies to work smarter. JJ holds a BA in Physics from Rutgers University and an MBA in Finance from New York University. She is a Certified Financial Planner ™ professional. Currently, she’s the President for the Women Leaders Forum in Coachella Valley and the webmistress and Fundraising Chair for the Palm Springs chapter of AAUW. She is also a speaker on various topics, including productivity, personal finance, and entrepreneurship. JJ has been published in Journal for Divorce Financial Analysts and Coachella Valley Weekly, among others. Her current books, From Zero to $avvy: A Quick Guide to Investing, Get What You De$erve: The Ultimate Guide to Divorce Finance, and Make the Leap From Employee to Entrepreneur: Your Easy and Effective Handbook to Unlock the Secrets of $avvy Business Owners are all currently available on Amazon. She can be found at the Productivity Injection website and LinkedIn at @JenniferJank.

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