The rise of the self-proclaimed expert

There comes a time in every business owner’s life where it’s easier to outsource certain tasks to an expert. Whether you have a full team or operate solo, there are areas within your business that don’t require enough time for an employee, but which you don’t want to – or can’t – do yourself. Take social media, for example. If you run a small business, you need a solid marketing strategy in order to attract new customers and build up brand awareness. But you can comfortably achieve this with the help of an expert for a few hours a week. Once you’ve decided on the areas you’d like to outsource or hire an expert to look at, you’re met with a critical question: how do I know who to hire?

Everyone’s an expert
The internet has revolutionised small businesses, and given entrepreneurs the ability to work from anywhere on the globe. The downside, however, is that it’s very easy to position yourself however you’d like to online, without much – if any – vetting. What does this mean in practice? Open LinkedIn or Instagram, and you’ll be met with hundreds of profiles of ‘social media experts’ or ‘small business specialist’, without any consensus as to what constitutes an expert. According to author and researcher Malcom Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in your field. This amounts to 1,250 eight hour workdays in just the topic you’re claiming to be an expert in, minus all of the time spent on other elements of your job. Realistically, very few of us are expert by Gladwell’s definition, unless you’ve got a 20 year career behind you.

The murky world of online businesses, which has exploded due to the pandemic-fuelled rise of digitalisation, is particularly rife with ‘experts’. Without any due diligence, online business coaches are charging upwards of €2000 per month to offer advice that will supercharge your business. The issue? The majority of these coaches aren’t accredited, haven’t received any relevant education, and aren’t held accountable by any central body. Essentially, they’re free to convince whoever will listen that they hold the secret knowledge needed to turn you into an overnight millionaire. It’s not only the hyper vulnerable, and dare I say it naive, who fall victim to these ‘experts’. Over the past year, hundreds of business owners – predominantly women – have been sucked into schemes by these ‘experts’, losing thousands of euros. The biggest issue of all is that when they finally realise that it was all a ruse, there’s nowhere for them to turn.

This isn’t to say that you should never hire an expert or consultant to help your business grow. On the contrary – if you feel your business has plateaued in a certain area, hiring an expert to overhaul that part of your business can be the deciding factor in your success. There are also plenty of talented, qualified consultants and coaches out there, whose reputations are being damaged by the rise of the Insta-experts. It’s in the interests of everybody to clean up the industry and help weed out the imposters.

Dos and don’ts
If you’re considering hiring an expert or consultant for your business, there are plenty of ways to ensure you don’t get involved with a rotten egg. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll find the perfect match for you and your business.

Consider their professional and educational background. A Master’s degree in marketing doesn’t guarantee your consultant will be able to help your brand go viral, but it does ensure a certain degree of understanding. Likewise, if your consultant has completed short courses and professional certifications in your field, it’s a good sign. Education isn’t everything – solid professional experience is a good substitute for a relevant degree, as long as it’s longer than a couple of years.

Next, seek out references. Testimonials on the expert’s website and social media channels are a good start, but do your due diligence too. Speak to people they’ve worked with before, and find out about their working style and why the former client approached them. Someone might be a talented consultant for one type of business, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to help yours.

Don’t forget to look at numbers and concrete data. Maybe they helped their former client increase sales by 128%, or perhaps they helped their client gain 10k followers on social media. Also consider the former client’s starting point. Did they already have a successful business? Was their audience already a certain size? If so, they might not be best placed to help someone who’s starting out.

Finally, try out their free resources to get a feel for their style. If they don’t offer eBooks or downloads on their site, consider setting up multiple calls to get to know them and figure out whether they’re the right person for the job.

Written by Phoebe Dodds