If someone says she’s a small business coach or an ADHD coach, you’d probably assume she’s an expert in building small businesses or working with people who have ADHD.
And, much of the time, that assumption would be incorrect.
Though the coach probably has some knowledge about her area, she’s doesn’t necessarily have the deep expertise you may expect her to have.
In this article, we’ll look at the widespread phenomenon of coaches who specialize without being experts, including why it happens and how you can deal with the situation productively as a client. Let’s start with the fundamental question:
What is expertise?
In my view, an expert has extensive experience in her field. She has a wealth of information about it, including extensive knowledge of the relevant resources and options available. She has a deep, gut sense of how it works. It’s in her bones. She understands the long-term consequences of different choices. She knows where the typical traps and pitfalls are, how to avoid them, and how to get out of them. She has her own theories about the field, her own understanding of it. She doesn’t just repeat what other people say — she has her own perspective.
How we relate to experts
Consciously or unconsciously, we defer to experts to some degree. We give their opinions and judgments more weight. We give them extra trust.
We feel more inclined to follow their advice and more uncomfortable if we don’t. Of course, even a true expert can be wrong. And even a true expert doesn’t know what’s best for each of us as individuals.
What about coaches?
From my observations, many coaches who specialize don’t have the insight, depth of understanding, and extensive experience in their fields to be considered experts (at least, according to my definition of expertise).
But they generally know something about the field. They generally have personal experience with it. They know many of the resources in it.
And they generally care about helping people succeed in it, often with a passion. A stay-at-home mom creates a small business for herself, and it changes her life. She feels deeply inspired to help other stay-at-home moms do the same thing.
How can you deal with this situation productively?
In many cases, you don’t really need an expert. The coach, with her familiarity with the subject and enthusiasm for it, may be all you need.
You just want to be smart about how you relate to her. You probably don’t want to pay her high fees for expertise she doesn’t have. And you probably don’t want to give her advice and judgments the extra respect you’d give to an expert.
If you do want or need an expert, they’re out there.
You just have to be willing to do some searching and use your perception and intuitive sense to sort out who they are.
Even if you don’t know a subject well (which is why you’re seeking an expert in the first place), you can get a sense of how deeply a person knows it by the way she talks about it. Experts have a sense of confidence and ease when they’re talking about their subjects. They describe how they’ll help you with specifics and can answer your questions in a concrete way. They use a wealth of examples to illustrate their points. They have their own perspectives and philosophies.
Why is this happening?
Why are there so many coaches specializing in areas where they’re not experts? One word — marketing. (Or another word – money.)
In an extremely crowded marketplace, coaches feel they need to stand out and connect to clients by choosing a specialty or niche. Marketing “experts” tell coaches they must specialize or they won’t be able to get clients. Remaining a generalist is painted as business suicide, so coaches choose niches, even if they don’t want to.
Standards coaches are given for choosing a niche
To help you understand the dynamics of the situation, let’s take a look reassurances I’ve heard marketing “experts” give new coaches when the new coaches express concern about specializing when they don’t feel they’re experts:
- You don’t need specialized knowledge to specialize.
General coaching skills work for everything. Just choose an area where people have money and are willing to pay it for coaching, then use your general coaching skills to help your clients succeed.
- You don’t need to know everything about an area to coach someone on it. You just have to be a step ahead of your clients/ have some experience with it/have done it once yourself.
- Read three good books in the field. Most people don’t read, so three good books will put you ahead of your clients.
Taking charge of your experience as a client
Since you understand that many coaches aren’t experts in their specialties, you can move through world of coaching in an informed, empowered way. You can use your intuition and perception to find a real expert, if that’s what you want. Or you can enjoy the many benefits of working with a non-expert without falling into the trap of relying too much on her judgment.