10/25/2011 01:29 pm ET | Updated Dec 25, 2011

Becoming an Expert in Any Field

Marketing to the Affluent, a 1988 book by Dr. Thomas Stanley was a ground breaking book based on Stanley's academic research. He studied why high sales producers made more money than others in the same field.

Stanley determined that high producers had the courage to approach prospects and were not afraid to have someone turn them down. He also found that top producers had "narrow and deep" expertise in their professions.

According to Stanley, people who master an area of knowledge usually develop great confidence in their ability to perform tasks related to the field. That confidence normally projects an aura of trust which makes people inclined to do business with them.

You see the traits of courage, expertise and confidence in people who run billion dollar businesses, like the late Steve Jobs. I've seen the same traits in a man who fixes cars, a woman who does catering work, and the guy who fixed my septic system. They are good at what they do and know it.

Stanley asks a rhetorical question "is an expert an expert if no one knows?" In other words, if someone is talented but no one knows about them, the expertise is going to waste.

If you trace the history of almost any successful business, you'll find that getting recognized in the media contributed to the company's growth. There is a delicate balance between communicating expertise to a larger public and not being consumed by the quest of chasing publicity.

I've seen people with tremendous expertise who are poor communicators. They don't get as much business as they should. I've seen others who are great at communicating, but really don't know what they are talking about. The lack of expertise eventually catches up to them and stunts their careers.

Then, there is sometimes that magic moment when an expert meets a talented journalist who wants to tell their story. Good things happen because of it.

In his autobiography, Grinding it Out, (A must-read for anyone who wants to a start a business.) McDonald's founder Ray Kroc wrote about the impact his interview with Associated Press columnist Hal Boyle had on the company's early growth.

My own business had a similar growth spurt because of positive media attention. I was 23 when I started my structured settlement and financial consulting business. For a few years, we grew by word of mouth but were completely unknown outside of Kentucky.

That all changed because of a 1989 story in the Lexington Herald Leader. We went from being a local business to a national one as a result of seven hundred well-written words by Jordan.

About the same time, I wrote a number of highly technical articles for publications like Trial Magazine, Claims Magazine, Trial Diplomacy Journal, Best's Review and National Underwriter. My thoughts were of little concern to the general public but of avid interest to the readers of those niche publications. Writing for those periodicals allowed me to establish myself as an expert.

There is a misconception by some business people that one media appearance can make a business an "overnight sensation." I've seen people spend too much time pursuing that "lucky break."

Boyle's story brought attention to McDonalds, but Kroc had assembled an excellent company and product. The journalist shined attention on what Kroc had built.

The concept of being an "overnight sensation" probably comes from the entertainment business. The television show American Idol (along with imitators like America's Got Talent) is based on the concept of plucking someone from obscurity and giving them the media spotlight and support system to become a star. Many 'overnight sensations" experience an overnight rise and fall, like the characters in the 1996 Tom Hanks movie, That Thing You Do.

Stanley recommended that business people focus on the trade publications in their respective fields.

Stanley's book was written before the internet came into vogue. The internet makes it much easier to communicate and find people interested in their niche. Someone can write a blog about an area of expertise and use social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to communicate that expertise to people who are interested. I frequently read blogs about obscure and arcane financial topics.

Stanley's book is 23 years old, but it remains an excellent read for anyone who is self-employed. He took his academic research and turned into the practical advice that can help any business rise to the top.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the bestselling author of the book Wealth Without Wall Street: McNay, who lives in Richmond Kentucky, an award-winning financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor. You can learn more about him at

He is the Chairman of the Board for the McNay Settlement Group ( which provides structured settlement consulting for injury victims, lottery winners, and the families of special needs children.

McNay founded Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC, which assists attorneys in as conservators and setting up guardianship's. It is nationally recognized as an administrator of Qualified Settlement (468b) funds.