A long, long time ago, there were no such things as schools or credentials. Your reputation in the community was your certification. Your diploma came from the school of real-world, hands-on practice.
Institutionalized training and schooling has changed that. You can now get a degree or certification in just about anything. And there are certain professions where this is a necessity (doctor, dentist, therapist, etc).
But this isn’t the only way you can build authority. Where there is a traditional, obvious path, there is always a less obvious, hidden path.
So, you can get someone to qualify you (degree, certification), or you can qualify yourself.
Qualifying yourself is what I like to call the backdoor method.
A lot of people will never take this approach, because it’s unconventional; it’s unorthodox. Not only that, it’s messy and requires a lot of self-initiative. Not that the conventional path doesn’t require self-initiative, because it does. It’s just that the unconventional path is not so neatly laid out. Without such a clear road map it can be hard not to get frustrated and give up.
I’ve pretty much taken the “self-qualified” or unqualified path my entire life. I’ve always been self-taught. I dropped out of high school. I went to college and didn’t follow a set course (I only took classes I was interested in). I’ve found ways to establish credibility and authority that don’t involve a set of credentials or transcripts.
Backdoor strategies for self-qualified success
- Find someone who’s done it. Seems obvious, right? If you want to learn how to write for magazines… contact some editors. If you want to learn how to be a firefighter, make a trip to your local fire station. Whatever you want to do or become, there’s a pretty good chance if you ask enough people, you can find someone who’ll be willing to answer some of your dumb questions. This is not necessarily done with the intention of being apprenticed, but to get a road map from someone who’s been there. Once you know what it takes, the mystery and scariness of the unknown diminishes.
- Get a mentor. After you’ve found someone to bug, the next step is to find someone that will actually take you under their wing. I personally found several mentors when I wanted to get into coaching. Finding someone to teach you can be as easy as being in the right place at the right time, or doing a lot of leg work emailing, calling, or showing up at events. The best way to find a mentor is to be where they always hang out.
- Get a library card. Books can’t teach you everything, but they’re a good way to go from not knowing your ass from a hole in the ground, to having a decent grasp of a subject. Books are great supplementary education. They’re essential for refining and exploring different approaches, and they’ll help you get started. They won’t take you completely to competency, but they’re a good, obvious place to start.
- Have conversations. Did I mention that this is a messy path? “Having conversations” sounds awfully ambiguous and imprecise. However, it can be highly effective. Simply starting conversations about the topic that you’d like to become an expert in will often lead you to unexpected insights. The more conversations you have and the more diverse group of people you talk to, the more you’re likely to learn. They will lead to gaining new insights, building relationships and making new connections.
- Tap into your tribe. Find out where the people in your industry hang out. Then go there. A lot. Go to meet-ups, conferences, summits, special events, workshops, parties, or whatever other kind of group meet-up you can find that relates to your pursuit. You can do this online as well, by hanging out in social media circles.
- Give yourself away. Once you’ve got a decent handle on whatever you’re trying to establish yourself in, try giving yourself away. Create a service and offer it for free. Whip up a mockup product and give it away. Hold a contest where the prize is consulting time with you. This serves two purposes: a) You get more experience and b) If you do things right, you’ll get free testimonials.
Once you’ve started to gain a foothold as a budding expert, you’ll need to find a way to demonstrate that authority to others. That’s how you’re going to build trust, create relationships, and ultimately… make money.
So, here are some “renegade” methods for creating social proof
- Create a blog. The word “authority” comes from the root word “to author.” By demonstrating knowledge and giving away content for free, you demonstrate your authority. Pretty simple, right?
- Borrow someone else’s authority. Authors do this all the time. They write a book and cite a bunch of other established authors. And in doing so, they borrow the credibility of others. You can do this, too. Write for other established blogs, get reviews by a-listers (or even b-listers to start out), hang out with leaders, write for a well-known magazine or website. There are plenty of ways to do this.
- Get recognized. This will eventually happen in some way or another. Someone might talk about you in an article, newspaper, website, or an event. You can then (with permission) use what they’ve said as an endorsement. This isn’t something you can directly control, but you can indirectly control it by putting yourself out there a lot. The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you are to be recognized.
- Give yourself away again. I know I mentioned this previously, but it’s worth saying again. Do something to give yourself away. Hold a contest and give the winner a consulting package in exchange for a case study or testimonial.
- Help others. The best way to generate social proof is to be a good person. The more you help others, the more generous you are, the more value you provide, the more people will talk about you. Word of mouth is the best credibility, because you don’t have to do any convincing; someone else is doing it for you.
This is a quick-start guide. The more you follow this course, the more you’ll discover ways to qualify yourself and create authority.
This route isn’t for everyone, though. For those who prefer a more established, secure approach, the conventional path may be the right choice. For those that prefer a more messy, self-taught path, this will work incredibly well for you. Of course, you can also create your own mix of both.