To say we are living in a digital age packed with information is something of an understatement. There are free courses and paid courses and podcasts and webinars and ebooks and Facebook groups– all rich with content. Whether you are a food blogger or working in direct sales or creating handmade items or writing books or teaching courses, you can find a plethora of advice on how to do it well.
Maybe TOO much advice.
On one hand, the sheer volume of information makes it easier than ever before to build a brand or business. But in the same way, that volume of information can overwhelm and even potentially misdirect you.
So how can you know which authorities or experts to trust and which pieces of advice we should apply?
Here are a few points to keep in mind as you wade through the sea of expert opinions.
The Social Proof Is in the Pudding
Before you fully trust someone as an expert or authority, do a little vetting. Social media follow counts can be a great place to start, but they don’t always paint a full picture. An example of this might be someone who doesn’t have a huge social media presence, but who manages accounts for large brands. On the flip side, when I get an email from someone selling a Twitter course and I have more followers than they do, I’m going to click delete pretty quickly.
Takeaway: Definitely start with the social media numbers and engagement, but also take into consideration relevant information you may find in her bio. Look for: degrees, certifications, awards, titles, and experience that might add to or trump the numbers.
I love to learn from a diverse set of people. It keeps me on my toes and exposes me to ideas that might never cross my mind. But more often than not, the information that has the most impact comes from the people who have a similar style. I tend to have a really high sensitivity to sales tactics that feel smarmy to me. I’ve learned about a lot of successful sales tactics that simply aren’t a great fit for me, even though they work well for everyone else.
Takeaway: Learn from diverse sources, but keep a short list of experts whose style suits your own.
Know Thy Peeps
Just as you need to know your own style to see what fits, you need to be familiar with your own audience to see what works for them. I’ve heard so many people teach that online courses should be priced high to show value. I see how this is true, but if your audience is made up of people just starting out without a lot of money to invest, it doesn’t matter how valuable your course is. They can’t afford it. The end.
Takeaway: Consider information in the context of your own people. Other experts are not experts in your audience; YOU are. Apply what makes sense for your specific audience. [For more on how to identify and target your audience, check out this series on finding your perfect audience.]
A Healthy Gut
There is nothing scientific about a gut feeling. Or is there? Scientific studies have shown that our body’s physiological responses can often be a great help in decision-making, despite the popular belief that we should rely on logic, not our instincts. This is especially true for women, whose “brains therefore evolved to have a larger composition and ability to organize chunks of environmental information at a time, giving them an edge to read people.” [Medical Daily] There is often a valid reason that some advice simply doesn’t sit well with you.
Takeaway: Don’t discount your gut feelings about information, even if it comes from valid authorities. If it doesn’t feel right when you hear it, don’t expect that it will feel right to apply it. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong for everyone, but if it feels wrong to you, trust that gut feeling.
U Turns Allowed
As you grow and learn, your brand and business will also grow with you. Most likely you will need to change your course at least once or twice along the way. Perhaps drastically. This is often referred to as a pivot. Don’t be afraid to switch directions, rebrand, or change your mind about something. This happens even to the biggest names. Sometimes we change, sometimes our audience changes, and sometimes outside factors lead to change. Don’t run from it. Embrace the pivot as needed.
Takeaway: At some point you WILL need to change directions in a big or small way. Be up front with your audience about it and know that it’s totally okay.
Pants on Fire
The ugly side of this online world is that some people are unethical. People lie. We can be nice and say that they exaggerate, which would also be true. But some do flat-out lie. The hard part is that you can’t always tell from the surface who is fudging numbers for their 6-figure launch or who might be using terrible ethical practices. I’ve been around long enough to get glimpses I wish I hadn’t seen of people who built their business by crushing other people or stealing content or simply lying. But seeing this helped me be a little more discriminating with where I place my trust.
Takeaway: You won’t always know who is lying, but it’s good to know that some people DO. Keep this in mind and take advice (and especially number claims) with a grain of salt. Or maybe a big old salt lick.
One Size Fits Some
The biggest piece of overarching advice I have when it comes to dealing with all the advice out there is nothing is really one-size-fits-all. When you encounter someone peddling advice that smacks of this, beware. This is really the overarching umbrella for all the other points here. The exact formula that worked for someone else may not work for you. Or for your audience. Or it may work but feel TERRIBLE to your gut. There are few (or maybe no) absolutes.
Takeaway: Be wary of any information that swears that certain exact strategies and five-step programs will work for anyone. Try the strategies on and then adapt them in a way that works for you and your audience.
And lastly, let me leave you with this gem. I come back to this one almost as much as I do reminding myself that one size does not, in fact, fit all.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
With all the great resources out there, you can sometimes lose your time, lose your money, or lose your own distinct voice. You have to know when it’s time to step away from the online information highway. Balance the learning with doing and with time away from the experts.
Takeaway: Take breaks from listening to other people. Listen to yourself and your audience.
Despite the many pitfalls and the shady “experts” fudging their numbers and peddling their exact 7-step formulas, I’m thankful that we have the ability to learn so much while in pajamas on the couch. Be open to learning, but be wary of not trusting yourself enough as you apply what you learn. Someone else may have more business expertise, but you are the best expert on your own strengths and on your audience.
Don’t drown in the sea of expert opinions. Just keep swimming.