(Credit: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net)
(Credit: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net)

Everyone wants to be an “expert.” It makes business sense: When you’re a sought-after authority in your field, your marketing becomes easier. Clients and customers turn to you for your valuable insight, products or services.

But how do you become an expert?

In this day and age, especially on social media, a lot of people claim to have expertise in various fields, that’s for sure. For instance, in the fashion world, I have dealt with people who have never been a designer, never suffered the headaches of having products fall apart en route to the store, and never had a meltdown when their suppliers sell their materials to someone else. But amazingly enough, these folks claim to be experts in creating a product and taking it to market.

To be a “real” expert, you need more than a degree. You need years. Yes, I said years. You need to have been in the trenches, lost money, earned money, had notoriety and suffered losses in your field. Why do I say this? Because if you can’t speak to personal experiences, then why should I trust you? Why should I believe you? Doing something that you are passionate about means dealing with day-to-day issues that change constantly.

I used to think, after having my own handbag line for two years, that I was most definitely an expert; that I had gone through every good and bad thing a person could, and that by no means could anything else happen that would throw me. Then in year three, I had a record year for sales — and year four was even bigger. But in year five, people stopped being interested, and in year six, I knew my brand would die a slow death if I didn’t do something to save it. In year seven, I had a licensing deal, and in year eight, I was on QVC. Then in year nine, both were gone. Who knew?

The irony of becoming an expert is that your pitfalls are what people want to hear about most. How did you handle it when you lost everything? What did you do when the buyers said ‘no thanks’ to you for the fourth time? How did you pick yourself back up? Your ability to find the solution in the challenge is where the creativity and trust come from.

So if you want to become a real expert, realize that you need to be in the trenches for a long time. If you are enjoying success, make sure you keep working on staying relevant. All of this will separate you from those who still have bed-head and decide they are in a position to dole out advice.

See how our entire “Secrets of Growth” panel answered this question: How to Be an Expert

Read more Emily Blumenthal: Stop Whining and Build Your Brand