The Surprising Key to Becoming an Authority

Police Badge - Authority Blog
Photo credit: Scott Davidson (Creative Commons)

When I started this blog, I was nervous.

I had never written a book. I had never made it as a full-time freelance writer. I didn’t have any experience in publishing.

Why was I qualified to write a blog on writing? (I wasn’t.)

I questioned doing it at all, wondering if I should do something less risky or wait until I knew more before speaking as an authority.

But then I read about Darren Rowse and how he started one of the largest authority blogs on the Internet: Problogger.

Portrait of an authority blogger

When Darren began, he had no idea what he was doing. All he had was a question and some natural curiosity. Then, he started exploring the answers, sharing what he learned while he was learning it.

Darren started to see a community grow until he became one of the world’s leading authorities in the subject.

Reading about this, I realized it was possible to set out to do something, not knowing exactly how to do it — and actually succeed.

As I’ve learned how others have become authorities in their respective disciplines, I’ve been surprised at the less-than-mystical process. I hope it encourages you to start something that you’ve been procrastinating. Here goes…

The key to becoming an authority is this:

Fake it till you make it

Some of the leading authorities on the web had no idea how to do what they were doing when they set out to teach people.

Somehow, though, this method of faking it works. Here are a few reasons why the Internet helps you become an authority:

  • Because it’s instant, the Internet allows you to start now while others wait.
  • Because sharing online is free, it provides an affordable space for you to experiment — to try out different ideas, to test out new ways of solving problems, and to find ways to succeed without breaking the bank.
  • Because the web is interactive, it allows you to learn and apply concepts in real-time. If you are transparent about your process, you can attract a lot of people, becoming a curator of the lessons you learn.

How to become an authority

So, how do you do this? Here are five ways to begin:

  1. Pick a unique, interesting topic. Make it something you care about and that not a lot of other people are talking about. Don’t try to be the next Chris Brogan or Brian Clark or Sonia Simone. We already have them. We need you.
  2. Become an avid student. Commit to learning as much as possible. Nobody wants to learn from a teacher who doesn’t do the homework. You have access to amazing resources: open-source encyclopedias and libraries full of information, all available for free. But you have to use them.
  3. Be generous. Don’t hoard new ideas. Cultivate content, make it easy to understand, and share it. This is why people will follow you. Because you give away your best stuff for free. Wait. You’ve worked so hard to learn all this stuff and now you’re just supposed to give it away? Yep. Your audience will thank you.
  4. Speak with authority. Cut weak words and phrases like “I think” or “it seems” or “I believe” out of your vocabulary. They make you sound unsure of yourself. Even if you are, don’t let your audience know. Speak with confidence. Talk like the expert now. Pretty soon, you’ll become one.
  5. Be honest. Don’t pretend you know something you don’t. Don’t be a wannabe. In other words, don’t fake it. Be humble. Let your audience know you’re learning with them. If you don’t know the answer, say so. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. Your audience will follow you if you’re occasionally wrong, precisely because you’re willing to admit it.

You have an opportunity

If you’re passionate about a particular topic, you have the chance to become the authority on it. With free online resources, a blog, and a humble but willing spirit, you have everything you need to get started.

But the trick is to start now, to begin before you think you’re ready and invite others along for the ride.

Don’t wait to feel like an expert. Start faking it today so that one day you won’t have to.

What do you think? Can you become an authority on a subject by simply faking it? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Scott Davidson (Creative Commons)

112 thoughts on “The Surprising Key to Becoming an Authority

  1. For some reason your “fake it until you make it” made me think of becoming a parent.  I was clueless and learned from trial and error and by learning from others.  Anything we want to become an “expert” at takes time and perseverance.    And, I also THINK  it’s sometimes a challenge to find the balance between #4 and #5

    1. You’re right, Eileen. There’s a tension between 4 & 5. Thanks for the parenting parallel. That’s another “first” that I’m pretty nervous about.

  2. So good, Jeff. You just described my journey 🙂 I started drafting a post this morning with “I feel like giving up everyday” as an opening line. There’s something about ‘faking it till you make it’ that’s scary and makes you want to cower. It’s vulnerable. But it’s worth doing.

    1. Totally. You’re doing great, David. Keep up the great work. 

      By the way, I don’t think you’re faking it anymore. You’re really DOING it.

      1. Why thank you. I still feel the insecurity all the time though. Maybe it means I’m doing something right 🙂

        I even heard Jon Acuff say that he feels like his blog is going to die every day. Crazy.

  3. Thank you Jeff for this post.  I have been “Doing the work” for quite some time.  It is now time for me to set aside fear, and go for it.  So.  On September 1, I’ll be launching my new blog.  The title is “Significant Encounters”.  The topic?  How to be free from the symptoms of poverty, neglect, abandonment, incest, rape and a whole plethora things that manage to keep people enslaved.  I have no formal education, and some of my family believe I should have some schooling (Three years or so) before I begin.  My sense is that my voice needs to be heard now, not three years from now.  Life experience is what I bring to the table, and after all, I’m still standing!  Your words encourage me daily.  The “Authority” that you carry cannot be downplayed.

  4. Every time I am struggling with a concept or hurdle in my new creative idea factory, you’ve got a blog for it! You must be a mind-reader on the side. I have so many ideas, but no experience in any of it, afraid no one will take me seriously. But not afraid enough to stop.

  5. Good post Jeff. I think faking it will eventually come back to haunt you unless you are learning and growing in your niche. As I write about worship and creativity, I am the one who is growing the most. I find that blogging as an authority, has sharpened me and allowed me to simply share what I’m learning (or needing to learn!)

  6. Great post, Jeff. When you say, “Don’t try to be the next Chris Brogan or Brian Clark. We already have those guys,” it reminds me of what Bill Gates told one guy who asked how to do what he did. He said something to the effect of “For heaven’s sake, don’t do what I did! I already made that money.”

  7. I’ve used that phrase as a punchline for the past two years, but there is some real truth behind it. Glad you included being authentic in your list too; it’s exciting to see people willing to follow, help, and learn together before we become “experts.”

  8. If you’ll allow me, I think I can extrapolate this further. Your suggestions are not just about becoming an authority, but about nurturing trust and building credibility. That applies to a professional setting or workplace, let alone in Social Media. 

    BTW, I also love how learn and share are right up front. Well done!At your service,Michael

          1. “Words lose their meaning when we use them carelessly.” I love it. Sort of like – if you haven’t taken time to think about what you’re saying, it’s worthless.

  9. Ah, the wisdom of the ages and advice from the sages: “Fake it till you make it” – this pretty much sums up two careers and most of my life 🙂 I look at it as another way of saying, “I’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. I learn by doing, and as long as it’s legal and moral…I’m you’re gal.” 😀

  10. Interesting tips, and I have experienced some of them, still trying to narrow my field of expertise and become an expert. Who knew it would be so difficult with a critical care and critical pediatric care background to find a unique slant to be successful?

  11. i use the terms “i think,” “i believe,” and “it seems” all the time. i don’t find this to be incompatible at all.

    also, i think you run a fine line between this statement: 

    “And even if you are unsure, don’t let your audience know. Speak with confidence. Talk like the expert now.”

    and then the very next one:

    “The only catch to all of this is to not pretend to know something you don’t.”

    how can you be completely honest when you’re talking about stuff you’re unsure of?

    1. Thanks, John. You’re right — there’s a bit of intentional tension there. Here’s my attempt at a clarification:

      1) You don’t need to say “I think” or” it seems” too much (although using it some can be good, because it can sound colloquial/conversational), because we KNOW you think those things. You’re writing them; of course, you believe them. You should speak with authority for the sake of clarity and brevity. Oftentimes, those words take up unnecessary space.

      2) You can learn along with your community (without sounding like you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about). It’s okay to use phrases like “I think” when you really aren’t unsure, but in my experience, those are overused expressions that can be cut 80% of the time. You can speak with confidence and boldness on subjects, because you believe what you are saying is the truth, insofar as you understand it. If you happen to be wrong, then just admit it.

      The precursor to this is to find something that you’re passionate about and have some semblance of inherent authority on. I would never start a blog or write a book on brain surgery. I have no experience nor passion on the subject.

      The rub is that you can’t be timid. If you talk about a subject boldly and you end up being wrong 90% of the time, the solution isn’t to inject words like “I think” or “it seems” back into your vernacular. It’s to change subjects.

      I appreciate the feedback and your calling me on a contradiction; maybe I need to reword what I wrote above.

        1. I appreciate the push back. It’s good accountability. And if you’re taking the time to read, I owe you a response. Thanks again for the discussion.

    2. Very interesting dialogue here. I think the two of you have very different writing styles, but both very good. It think (crap I said it) it depends on personality too. John’s personality comes through very strong in his writing and bloggers love him for it. I guess it’s worth saying that “rules” can be broken and made to work for certain people. I personally don’t find Tim Ferris’ blog all that helpful and well written. His posts are like books; however, no one can argue that he’s successful. Sorry to ramble 🙂

      1. Though I’m writing 6 months after you posted this comment, I would like to add to your  comment that “rules” can be broken.  But first I must say, I LOVE this post to ‘just-go-for-it!’, Jeff, without yet being an- official- EXPERT.  Becoming an expert along the path of discovery and sharing with your audience, your journey of learning- this is the BOMB and should be advocated 24 hours a day.  Thank you, Jeff!  So very encouraging and clearly the new Educational Paradigm, of which I am a firm advocate. 

        I did have a reaction to your post about Weak words- it was intriguing and made sense but then it felt like a ‘formula’ that felt restrictive and mental- like, “I better memorize these words not to use, or I’ll sound boring.”  But what I get is that you are offering both sides- yes, these words are overused and vague and point to a lack of precision and commitment in the writing AND your’e also saying that they can be used well if intentionally done so, i.e. you’re connected to what you’re saying & the choice of using those words fits the feeling of what you’re wanting to communicate.  I did enjoy your use of how to avoid those words and say the same thing more descriptively- very helpful, rather than “just-don’t-use-these-words.”

        Now I’m ready to go cultivate my learning journey and blog about it!  Thanks for the inspiration.

  12. Jeff, brilliant post.  It all makes sense b/c I’ve been exposed to this mentality for a couple years now, but this is very well written.  Very encouraging.  It’s still intimidating to “ship” and hit publish.  But I’m on it!  Thanks.

    1. the intimidation is good. it makes you really consider what you’re saying. you NEED to make a decision to commit to what you’ve written, and you can’t do that if you’re writing phrases like “i think.”

  13. Nice piece.  This was an aspect of Jesus’ brilliance as a teacher, practitioner, mentor: he deeply immersed his followers immediately in “doing.”  It accelerates the development curve in a big way.

  14. Really great post, Jeff. I appreciate your encouragement to not simply mimic those that are already successful. We each have a voice and perspective that is unique and valuable in its own way. And I agree with your statement about becoming an avid student – that is so important.

    Thanks for the encouraging post and for sharing your blogging knowledge with us!

  15. I’ve been an authority blogger without even knowing it! I was an authority in a tiny niche and worked at it for 10 years. I began by looking for people who were interested in the same thing I was (being a contemporary musician in the Catholic Church, and performing outside of Sunday mass). I immediately found someone who had already begun a list of other Catholic artists and I took that list over when he wanted to move on. I grew that list into an loose organization (CCAN) that an established organization (CAM, founded by John Michael Talbot) emulated. In 2000 I started an online magazine which I wrote and designed and gave away via PDF. That magazine (called Grapevine) was eventually self-published through (4 issues – here’s what they look like and I added a podcast for which I recorded 100 episodes.

    That little venture turned into an ADventure! I traveled around the country meeting performers, covering stories and I earned enough money through selling ads to buy tools I needed (computers, camera, digital voice recorder, etc.). I became known as THE go-to person for Catholic music. I had no idea that’s what authority blogging was!

    I did all these things because a)I wanted to connect with others like myself,  b) I enjoy encouraging others to grow, and c) I love bringing people together, and people and ideas together. 

    When my mom became ill and it became impossible to continue, I gave away the whole thing to a good friend who has kept it going.

    My mom passed away last year and I started reading. I then embarked on a new venture, blogging about my favorite author, Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women). I call it Louisa May Alcott is My Passion ( As popular as Little Women is, nobody else is doing this. Coming off a reading binge, I was dying to connect with other fans of LMA. In a year’s time I’ve already met some wonderful people (including several published authors) and I was invited to cover a symposium sponsored by the American Library Association. And people have started approaching me with questions, like I’m an authority! 🙂 I am hardly an intellectual yet people treat me like one. This blog is tons of fun and keeps me reading. I use the same principals I did with Grapevine and it’s been steadily growing. All this blogging is teaching me how to write as well.

    Jeff, when you say “fake it,” it’s really all about perception. How do people see you? If you are passionate about your particular niche and are willing to learn, you can definitely come off like an authority and eventually, BE an authority.

  16. isn’t anything done in a subjective field sort of ‘faking it’.  how can someone be an authority when beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  it believe in the arts we are all fakers, novices, and experts at the same time.

    1. I think being a lifetime learner is different than being a faker and an expert at the same time. Experience gives us insight that others might not yet have. Relative to one another– and the internet makes us precisely that– there is a vast spectrum of novices and experts, though even the experts are still learning.

  17. From all of those points being honest is the one that marks me the most.

    We need to stand for our core values, have integrity, that will stand out and make you unique, make you, you.Thanks!

      1. You know, the more I think about this post, the more I see how true it is:

        If you wait to become an expert to start leading, you may indeed one day become an expert, but you will not be a leader.

  18. I avidly subscribe to this method in almost every area of life (almost…).

    One of the reasons people struggle with this concept is because they misunderstand the reason for faking. You don’t fake it to manipulate the other (person, reader, customer, friend, mentor, mentee, and so on); you fake it to manipulate yourself into becoming what you put on.

  19. Great post Jeff. One thing I have learned from 10+ years working with many who are now considered “authorities” in their fields is that they are often no different (in skill or intelect) than most others. They just GO and DO and they are not afraid to jump in. They ACT when others say “I had that idea!” or “I could have done that.” The difference is in the effort.

  20. This is exactly what I’m doing right now on a few topics at once 🙂 You’ve done an excellent job putting this system to words; this is extremely useful and accurate.

    I’ve adopted Nike’s motto as my own for life, so now if I approach something with hesitation, such as taking an authoritative position on something I’m only passionate about, I go with the motto and just do it.

    Life’s too short to worry about whether or not things will work out. It’s best to just do it and see how it goes…

    Your action steps are an excellent place to start for building authority.

  21. I wish I read this a year ago. You described exactly how I felt before I started blogging. I’ve learned so much in my short time as a blogger and I love every moment of it. 

    Everyone has to start somewhere. The mistake is waiting until you’re “ready,” because if you wait for that, chances are it’ll never come. 

    Brilliant post, brilliant blog. Keep up the fantastic content. 🙂

  22. Jeff,
    Your blog is definitely getting my attention. I’ve been an writer for more than forty years. For the past ten years I’ve made a living as technical writer, but I long ago punted the artsy stuff as unmarketable. Mine essays and fiction are too faith oriented for the mainstream markets and too realistic for the religious publishers. This post of yours and others are are giving me a new perspective on the prospects.

      1. The blogging phenomenon has changed writing for the better.  It is going in the direction that George Gilder predicted fifteen years ago in a book called “Microcosm”.  Anybody can publish any kind of writing now, including the stuff that religious publishers still won’t touch, that deals with faith as it is lived “on the street”.  I started blogging six years ago while I was embroiled in controversy about church-music styles and feeling alienated in church.  The trends were against me there too, but blogging I found others who understood me.  I still correspond with those folks.

  23. I love the idea of putting yourself out there and starting to write even before your are an “expert.” I believe we can learn a lot and help others even without years of experience in whatever topic we are writing about. In that way I love what you are saying.

     But I do think there is a danger in the “fake it till you make it” concept.  If someone acts like they are something they are not that person will lose credibility and if they are a follower of Christ this attitude dishonors God.  Scripture says in Romans 12:3 ” For by grace given me I say to everyone of you: Don’t think of yourself more highly that you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Humility is being who you are.  No more and no less.  There are many people who out of false humility or fear hold back from sharing what can help others. This is another danger. You can be humble and give away content and grow into an expert.  I just wanted to write this as a obvious warning to all writers because prideful self promotion with often backfire on us. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” Proverbs 27:2  I am a big fan of your writing Jeff and believe your heart is to help others. I just wanted to make sure to communicate this warning as a heads up when considering “faking it till they make it” that is not about actually “faking” but developing their gifts. 

  24. I have been thinking about this for quite some time now. Does Fake it till you make it work? Perhaps it does to a certain extent but that is really over simplification of things. People are more aware now.

    They can smell BS thousands of miles away. The ones that have made it are in the category of 1. If you know about something what the rest of the world is catching up to. For example : New technology, new research, new processes

    2. Soft skills : things like meditation, happiness, productivity. You dont need to be extremely educated about it yourself. Just need to be able to express yourself persuasively.

    But it is a sure way to fail if you try and fake it in things such as Making money online, internet marketing and such where your audience wants to follow you only if you are producing results.

    For example, I don’t make a million dollars, so I cannot blog about it. What I can blog about to build credibility is about making sufficient money online which is possible.

    You have to be very careful about the audience you are trying to convince.

  25. Thank you for your transparency and generosity of knowledge, Jeff. I’ve had an inspirational blog for about a year, and I feel that my “tribe” is a uniquely small world. (But I love doing it just the same!) However, just this morning, I was thinking, “Who am I that people outside this current “tribe” would stop to listen? Additionally, I just added a blog to my business site and understand that it might take a very long time to earn the right to be heard—so is it really worth it? Let’s just say that your post was a salve to an aching spirit this morning. Thank you.

  26. I am glad, somehow, I am led to this post. I am starting a blog on working and leading people and although I have 40 years working with people, I keep worrying whether I will be as good as the academics. Now I just share what worked for me and working to be an authority on practical people management. Thanks Jeff. This is indeed a very encourgaing post.

  27. Hey Jeff, I’m commenting on this post because I’ve seen you share a different post recently warning of the dangers of “fake it till you make it” and yet it is one of your central points in this article. I wonder if your views have changed over time or if you see those two ideas as possible to hold together.

    All the best


  28. My question is ‘how to become an authority blogger’ in Google search,( I want to become an authority blogger and I am trying too… ) and I have found your article’s link in the top of the SERP . After reading full artcile I din’t want to read any other article ,very satisfieng article …. Thank for guiding me…

Comments are closed.