The key to online success is authority. The key to authority is knowing what the heck you’re talking about and being able to express it well.
So, what’s the key to knowing what the heck you’re talking about?
One of the things that holds people back from creating content-driven websites is the insecurity that they’ll never be able to learn enough to be an expert.
Here are four unexpected ways to become insanely knowledgeable about nearly any subject under the sun.
1. If you’re a one-eyed man, work with that
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
You’re not going to get to Nobel-prize-winning authority status using what you read in this blog post. (Although if you think you are, kudos to you for thinking big.)
There will always be people who are smarter, more skilled, and more knowledgeable than you are. Don’t let that get you down.
Sure, you want to be the “best in the world.” But to be the best in your world, you don’t have to be the entire planet’s foremost authority on your topic.
You could be the foremost expert in a particular online forum. You might be the biggest expert in your town. If you’re the best in the place where your customers hang out, you’re the best.
Don’t turn your nose up at being a big fish in a small pond. There’s a lot of success, satisfaction, and wealth to be found in small ponds.
And all of those folks who truly are wiser about your topic than you are? Those are your teachers and mentors, whether or not you ever meet them face to face.
Study what they’ve written. Synthesize their work into your own. Give them ample credit for educating you. Openly acknowledging your debt to them doesn’t diminish your authority — in fact, it enhances it.
2. Make complicated topics easy to understand
You might not be the planet’s greatest authority on your topic. But it’s possible for you to become the most accessible authority.
Make life better for your customers by taking something hard and making it easy.
Take boring scholarly articles and turn them into interesting audio recordings. Take complicated diagrams and turn them into good stories. Take books written 40 or 50 years ago, update the language and the examples, and turn them into Camtasia videos.
3. In order to learn, teach
There’s no better way to become a master than to find some fellow apprentices and start teaching them.
You start by teaching the folks who know absolutely nothing and don’t know how to find the basics for themselves. (Or who just don’t want to.) Teach the tried-and-true.
It doesn’t matter how many other people are doing it. Do it well, put your own personality into it, and you’ll find students.
As you teach, you’ll find that the “simple stuff” gains a new depth and richness. You’ll start to see things about your topic that you never did before. And as you keep learning, you’ll be able to teach more and more sophisticated students.
Before you know it, you’re an authority.
You can study for decades and not learn what you can by teaching for a month or two. Just remember to be honest about your skill and experience level, and you’ll find the right students for you.
4. Commit to a sincere desire to help
Your goal in becoming an expert isn’t to look and feel like a giant smartypants. It’s to help your readers and customers.
You might want to neatly letter this on a card and stick it somewhere you can see every time you use your computer:
It’s not about you.
Blowhards and know-it-alls have a tough time online. The “social” nature of social media means there’s always someone with a pin looking to deflate that bloated ego. When you try to position yourself as “the smartest guy in the room,” you’ll find yourself ducking constant potshots.
On the other hand, serious students are rewarded. (They still get potshots, but they have a community to help deflect them.) When you approach your subject with curiosity, modesty, and a sincere desire to help, you’ll find raving fans.
As long as you always keep your audience and their needs at the forefront, you can’t lose.
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Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on January 23, 2009.