3 Tech Benefits and 1 Threat for Guru Businesses

By guru business I mean the expert business, and particularly the one-person expert business. I mean consultant, coach, adviser, researcher, business hired gun, life coach, trainer, and so on.  I mean a person who makes a living by selling (real or imagined) expertise, experience, and knowledge.

magnifying glassI was a business planning consultant for most of the 1980s and early 1990s, working almost always alone, just myself, no company. So that’s an example of an expert business. And I’ve been thinking lately about how much social media has changed that business model for the better. In this case – but with one notable exception – change is good.

Benefit 1: Marketing your expertise is way easier

There is a new way of marketing that is so much better than the old way. Call it the Web, social media, blogs, Twitter, or the combination; it means way more reach, automatically, if you do it right.

Consider the comparison, now vs. then: I lit out on my own as a business planning and market research expert in 1983. I had my credentials, of course, including academic degrees and a fancy title with a brand-name consulting company, plus some published works. But how did I make myself known? Word of mouth from clients who’d worked with me as an employee, yes. But from there it was a struggle to get my articles into magazines, my self onto the podium at the big trade shows (such as Comdex), and to finish a couple of published books on my main subject matter.

Today, in comparison, successful experts build their business by a combination of useful blog posts, active mini-blogging on Twitter, ebooks, and work with Facebook and LinkedIn. Do you see the pattern there? The gatekeepers are gone.

Where it used to be important to validate your expertise by getting through the gatekeepers in corporate branding and publishing, nowadays can’t you validate your expertise by making good sense on your blog? Believe me, that’s so much easier than the old way of publishing, speaking, and giving seminars.

Benefit 2: Acceptance is based on expertise more than setting

I posted this related thought on this blog Tuesday, about how clients can get better value from a one-person business with no overhead. Who does the work? The client is much more likely today, compared to 20 years ago, to accept and even approve of the fact that you’re on your own. Not having a company around you is no longer cause to wonder what’s wrong with you.

Benefit 3: With gatekeepers devalued, it’s the work that matters

And then there’s this last thought, which I hope is true: today we judge experts by their work, meaning their writing and speaking (and tweeting), much more than we used to. Today an expert’s work is more immediately available, and with less distortion through gatekeeper filters, than ever before. Isn’t it?

How do you evaluate a guru ahead of time? Usually the about page and the content of the blog. There’s less interference there. Back when I started, it took getting through magazine editors to get published, or event managers to get a podium, or joining or creating a company.

Do you frown on an ebook because it wasn’t published by a name-brand publisher? Do you mistrust a blog because it isn’t in a major business publication? Not so much. Am I right?

And the warning?

The bad news is the other side of the good news: It’s the work that matters. Today you have to either do good work or settle for clients you can fool. It was easier back then to hide mediocre work with a company around you, or an editor of a magazine to rewrite it. Today, if you claim to be an expert, you’d better create some content to back that up. Transparency is cool when it’s a bright and beautiful looking glass that highlights and spotlights you. It’s not so nice when it’s a magnifying glass that’s going to burn you like an ant in the backyard on a hot summer day.

(Image: Freshpaint/Shutterstock)

4 thoughts on “3 Tech Benefits and 1 Threat for Guru Businesses

  1. Dear Tim:
    Very, very strong ideas. Things certainly have changed.

    I like your term, “Guru Business,” which is descriptive, appropriate, yet sort of tongue-in-cheek.

    Thanks for sharing perspectives like these with all of us.


  2. It definitely is a double edged sword Tim. On one hand it is easier to get your message across, on the other hand if your message is poor, people can quickly identify and burn you for it.

    The gatekeepers… in my opinion it is great that there is less of a minority picking and choosing who can be heard or has something important to say.

    “Settle for clients you can fool” – This is the downside of no gatekeepers because unfortunately people are swindled by the minority with smooth selling skills but have nothing of value to sell.

    In some ways do you think it is difficult for new businesses to get going? Considering “It’s the work that matters” and to show that you do good work, you need the clients. But the clients won’t choose you unless you can show the good work you have done in the past.

  3. Well,.. I think you can still fool people today, but it’s much harder than ever.

    The way of searching can bring up almost anything about a company; let alone social media, I can take a quick look at Twitter search and pull up real life vouches for their product / services.

    Hey Tim, off topic, but also curious, I just got done reading a blog post advocating against business plans, and immediately thought of you. QuickSprout blog.

  4. I like your thoughts. It certainly makes sense.

    I do think because it lowered the barriers to entry, it also brought in a lot of the loons, con-men, and hacks. That generates noise, which means you have to work harder to cut through the noise. To some degree, that means going back to personal relationships and the value they provide.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

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