I have never liked the term “expert”, and I’ve not been shy about it. So when a friend recommended The Business of Expertise I bristled a little. Still, the reviews were great and moving past the term, using my experience and the knowledge I’ve gained to help organizations is how I make a living so there was no denying the topic was relevant.
The book started off a bit slow. The first several chapters are pretty foundational and while there were a few nuggets there that were interesting, nothing was really blowing me away. Combine that with a few anecdotes that rubbed me the wrong way and I nearly put the book down.
But once Baker gets into the meat of positioning (starting around chapter 6), the book really takes off. There was so much valuable information here, and some of those most actionable and concrete advice I’ve ever seen on the subject. Baker talked about how to find your positioning, the pros and cons of positioning vertically versus horizontally and how to test your positioning (now and later) to make sure you’re on the right track.
Baker also provides plenty of excellent advice around identifying what it is that you do that provides the most value and whether you’re doing a good job (through positioning and the way you interact) of communicating that to prospective clients. Among the tips there, two stood out in particular. One was to stop and think about what part of your process you most often shorten when the client is pressed on time. If it’s the research and analysis phase, it’s time to rethink your approach a bit. That’s both a critical step and the ability to do it well separates the wheat from the chaff (so to speak).
Another rock solid tip that I’m going to start doing immediately is to record your side of a conversation by setting a phone on your desk when you talk to a client. Baker advises listening back, without hearing what the client is saying, to zero in on how you are presenting yourself: Are you doing too much talking? Are you asking enough questions? Are you agreeing with everything the client says or are you pushing back when appropriate?
As I mentioned before, a few of his analogies and anecdotes rubbed me the wrong way, though as I’ve acknowledged before, that’s a frequent occurrence anytime I’m reading anything around “business” so that could just be me. Ultimately the helpful, actionable insights in the latter parts of the book more than made up for the slow start.