Have you been to Charleston, South Carolina?
My wife Linda and I were there recently, in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary (I know, I don’t know how she’s lasted this long either).
It’s a beautiful place and we had a terrific time eating, drinking, biking, strolling, kayaking, beaching and more.
We even took one of those 90-minute horse-drawn carriage tours where they tell you interesting local facts, such as, “The salamander is the official state amphibian” and, “In Charleston, it’s illegal to eat shrimp on Tuesdays.” (It’s possible I made that second one up.)
One thing we didn’t do, however, was stay in a hotel.
Nope, we stayed at the home of a complete and total stranger, thanks to Airbnb. If you’re not familiar with this newish concept, Airbnb is an online service that matches travelers with local hosts who rent out an entire home, private room or shared room in their homes.
In our case, we rented a private spare bedroom from Josephine and Shawn, an energetic, friendly young couple with a sweet dog and a cute house, just a few miles from the center of town.
This is the third time we’ve travelled this way and while we really like it, I acknowledge, it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot of variation from situation to situation.
For example, if you rent a private and/or shared room (instead of the entire home) you need to be willing to interact with your hosts; and you can pretty much count on at least one awkward moment during your stay. (I think the dog may have eaten my deodorant.)
But, if you can live with the roll of the dice that is a stay in the home of a stranger, you get one big benefit: Local insight.
Josephine and Shawn knew everything worth knowing about Charleston. And I don’t just mean restaurant recommendations (although they had some great ones). I mean things like:
“Don’t take the bridge before 10am; they’re doing construction on the north side.”
“When you get to the beach, you can more or less park anywhere you can find room, provided all four of your tires are completely off the paved part of the road.”
“If you want to rent bikes, go out to one of the islands. Trying to ride in the historic district is a nightmare.”
We asked all kinds of questions throughout the course of our stay – some specific, some general – and they always had an opinion and/or useful suggestions.
So here’s my question for you – one that relates directly to your business as a solopreneur: Are Josephine and Shawn Charleston experts?
After all, neither has a degree or even a certification in local happenings; lots and lots of other locals (not to mention online sites and apps) know just as much as they do; and the two of them have been living there for fewer than 10 years.
Given all that, it may seem like a pretty big stretch to think of them as experts. And yet (pay attention, this is the key idea), to Linda and me – blindly wandering Charleston novices – their knowledge and insights were priceless.
This is a critical concept for your business.
When I encourage people like us to think of themselves as “likable experts,” many cringe at the expert part. They say:
“Other people in my field know more than I do.”
“I haven’t been doing it for very long.”
“Lots of the things I would recommend are already out there – for free – on the Internet.”
But you know what? None of that really matters. Because to the visiting strangers in your land (i.e., your prospects and clients), you know several lifetimes more than they’ll ever want or need to know about whatever it is you do.
To them, the decision of whom to hire isn’t based so much on who’s the best of the best of the best, as it is on more easily discernible and subjective measures:
- Who do they feel most comfortable with?
- Who was referred by somebody else that they already trust?
- Who comes to mind first when faced with a particular problem?
Here’s the bottom line. Stop worrying about whether you’re good enough, smart enough or experienced enough to think of yourself as an expert in your field.
To the Michael and Linda’s of your world, you’re way, way over the bar. When it comes to standing out and getting hired, ramping up your presence and likability is where all the action is.
This article has been edited.
Michael Katz is the founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in developing email newsletters for professional service firms. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here. Connect with @MichaelJKatz on Twitter.