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Research and the Journey to Authority with Alastair McDermott

January 17, 2022
Episode 48
The Recognized Authority Podcast Cover

The podcast that helps experts & consultants on the journey to becoming a recognized authority in your field, so you can increase your impact, command premium fees, work less hours, and never have to suffer a bad-fit client again!.

Last week, David C. Baker talked about the importance of research. In this week’s solo episode, Alastair McDermott speaks about how research fits in with the Journey to Authority, and explains the Authority Maturity Model. If you are interested in growing your expert business and becoming an authority, this is for you.

On Thursday Alastair will be running a live webinar for consultants and experts on the topics covered in this episode, learn more at

Show Notes

Here’s the Journey to Authority Illustration

The Journey to Authority - from Novice to Generalist to Specialist to Authority



Here’s the Authority Maturity Model as mentioned from the episode.



➡️ Learn more about Alastair here:

➡️ Learn more about Authority Labs:

➡️ Learn more about the webinars:

Guest Bio

Alastair helps independent consultants to get more clients without having to beg for referrals or make soul-destroying cold calls. He does this by helping you create and execute a simple, effective marketing strategy that works for your business and client base.

He is a former software engineer who has converted to “The Dark Side” – becoming a marketing consultant. He built his first website in the before-time of 1996, and left a safe corporate job in early 2007 to start and grow his website & marketing business  during the worst recession in modern history. Along the way he co-founded several start-ups, some of which were mildly successful, and wrote a book called “Running a Website with WordPress: A Quick Guide for Business Owners”.



maturity model, generalist, authority, research, journey, inbound, expert, novice, referrals, specialized, talking, typically, maturity levels, website, mountain range, specialization, type, calls, consultants, show notes


Alastair McDermott, David C. Baker


Alastair McDermott  00:00

Hello, and welcome to The Recognized Authority. This is episode number 48. And this week, I’m going to do something a little bit different. It’s going to be a solo episode. And in this episode, I want to talk about research and about what I’m calling for now I’m calling the authority maturity model. But I want to play a clip from last week’s episode where I interviewed David C. Baker. And during that we were talking a little bit about research. And so here’s what David had to say about research.


David C. Baker  00:30

I think research is a huge part of differentiation, the only thing I know of that cannot be replicated easily is doing proprietary research, and then only making that available to your client.


Alastair McDermott  00:46

Okay, so we’ll come back to that second part, the only making it available to your client part, I think that warrants a discussion, maybe an episode all of its own. But I do want to talk about the importance of research. And I’m going to get a little bit meta in this episode.  So what I want to talk to you about here is I want to talk to you first off about a thing that I call the journey to authority. And this is like a visualization. This is literally like a journey that I’ve drawn out. And my friend, George, who’s an artist has drawn into kind of a more human friendly version of this. And I’ll link to that in the show notes seeking, you can actually see it. But I’ve visualized this journey of authority, that experts that consultants that the people go through on this journey to authority. I see people starting out as this novice, I think everybody starts here, people who are in that novice role, what they need to do is they need to go and get broad experience. So the journey is it’s a bit of a winding path at this point, because you are doing lots of different things, trying lots of different things and kind of getting a broad base of experience.  So after the novice role, the kind of the the end state of that is this generalist expert. So at this point in the journey to authority, if you’re a generalist experts, typically you are very, very good at what you do, you have a broad base of experience. But you tend to work with different types of clients on different projects. Also, you tend to be fairly low visibility, like to say you’re wearing a cloak of invisibility, you’re getting most of your business through word of mouth and referrals and networking. And that is a really typical place for consultants to be. And in fact, I think the vast majority of consultants are there, based on the research that I did, you can be really successful at this point, it’s not a reflection on the amount of money that you’re earning. It’s just about the level of specialization and authority that you have.  On this journey to authority, I would see that if you’re at that generalist expert position, the next step is actually to specialize, to niche down. And so I see this, I actually visualize this as a mountain range. If you’re in that generalist expert position, it’s this foreboding mountain range called specialization, having to go through that it seems fraught with peril, it seems very risky. And a lot of people choose not to do that. But for me, it’s a stage that you must go through. If you don’t go through that specialization stage, you don’t get to go on to be an authority. Because you don’t have a field, if you want to be a recognized authority in a field. That’s how the phrase goes.  So if you don’t choose a field, if you don’t specialize, then you don’t get to go on to be an authority. And it’s okay, a lot of people choose not to do that, that’s fine. But for those people who do want to do that, then you do have to niche down, you do have to specialize, you’ve got to go through this mountain range. That’s the next step on this journey, going from novice to this generalist expert, then to this specialist expert.  And again, you can stop at this point if you want to. And at this point on the journey, a lot of things are going for you now you have a much better market position. And usually you’re more profitable, because you’re doing the same type of work over and over again, working with the same types of clients over and over again. You’re reaping the rewards of being a specialist. And having that tighter niche, your business processes are better, you have SOPs, maybe you’re able to do prototype services and things. There’s a lot of a lot of advantages to being in that specialist, expert position.  The next stage on this journey to being a recognized authority is to go through a process– haven’t got a good name for this, but it’s this kind of bundle of things that are all associated with authority. And one of those is research, and another is publishing and speaking. And so you’ve got to go through this process of doing some research that you have something to talk about, and then talking about that. So you’re talking about something that’s unique to you, rather than just saying the same things as everybody else. And so you’ve got this point of view. You’ve got something to say and you’re out there talking about earning enough visibility. And if you do that, and if you do enough of that, you will get to that next step on the journey, which is the final stage, which is you will be recognized already in your field.  So that’s how I visualize this journey, you are going from being a novice to a generalist expert to this specialized expert after going through this process of specialization, this kind of mountain range that you have to navigate through, maybe you need some, some guidance, some help getting through that range. And then you’re going into this process of where you’re a specialized expert, and you are kind of pattern matching, because you’re specializing now, you’re seeing the same problems coming up over and over again, you’re starting to develop IP, you’re seeing these patterns, maybe you’re doing some research, and you’re publishing and speaking about the things that you’re learning. And that takes you to that final step. For me that that is the journey to authority.  When I was thinking about this journey to authority, I was also thinking about it in terms of being a maturity model. So for those of you who are not familiar with a maturity model, there’s lots of different maturity models out there. It’s just a tool or a way of expressing different levels or stages that an organization or an individual might be asked. I will link the more well known ones in the show notes here, the Capability Maturity Model, things like that. This is just like a table in the spreadsheet. And I have the different stages of novice generalist expert, specialist experts, recognized expert, these are the different maturity levels that I think that somebody can be at.  This is still working progress for me, in developing this maturity model is still something that I’m working on. But even at this point, I have found it useful in sales calls. And in talking to people about this. So I would see certain things at each of those levels, in terms of maturity level. So for example, if you are at novice level, your new business coming from outbound and referrals, if you’re at that generalist expert area, a lot of it’s coming first from referrals, and then a little bit from outbound. And then as you go into specialized experts, less of the app, and again, and maybe a little bit of inbound. And then as you get to recognized authority, a lot of businesses going to inbound and less from referrals.  I’m going to link to this maturity model, we’re going to put a diagram or put a table in the show notes, your lead flow will typically increase as you go up the maturity levels, your level of specialization obviously increases as you go up the maturity levels. The amount of– and I’m looking for a good word here– that the fluctuation or the variety of work that you do, you’re doing a lot of different types of projects, when you’re at that novice level. As you go up the maturity levels, that tends to change, you start doing the same thing for different clients over and over again, as some people may see that as a negative, but typically it’s not typically at the positive.  Your pricing tends to increase as you go to maturity levels, you’re able to command a premium when you’re a specialist. And when you’re in authority and the type of pricing that you do. Usually you’re you’re doing hourly rates when you’re low, lower down the maturity model. And that becomes productized services and value based pricing as you go up.  So this is useful, because when you can chart your position on the maturity levels onto this, you can also see what your next step is. And so typically, if you are at the lowest level at the novice level that the next thing that you need to do to move up to the next level is you got to get more experience. Whereas if you’re at that generalist expert level, the next thing you need to do is to specialize and to niche down. If you’re one step above that you’re already specialized, but you’re not yet an authority, then what you need to do is you need to do research and publishing and speaking. And so you can identify where you are, and then say, Okay, well, this is what I need to do to get to the next level.  There are some other aspects like for example, the type of website that you need. If you are at novice or generalist level, the first two levels, typically you will have a trust building website, because you’re getting so much for your business from referrals, you don’t really need to have a very active website. And in fact, you probably can’t, because you probably don’t have a lot of content to publish, or at least you don’t have a lot of really unique, distinct voice, distinct point of view type content. Whereas if you were at the top two levels, where you are the specialized experts or the authority, then typically you will be publishing a lot more content. And so you will need a kind of a content heavy type website. Usually with some sort of inbound lead generation elements.  You will need to have a website that is a bit more than just the kind of trust building Haiti’s the term brochure site because it sounds a bit derogatory, but the brochure site concept is sufficient when you’re at the lower levels, because most of your business is coming through referrals. Whereas when you’re at the higher levels, most of your business or a lot of your business is going to start to come from inbound. And when business comes through inbound, people are finding it through Inbound methods, they don’t have the trust that comes with a personal referral. And so they will look to your content to your website in order to build that trust to feel that trust with you. And so that’s where it’s really important to have lots of content, lots of distinct point of view. That’s where the things like the research come into play.  So it’s all kind of interlinked. But I think that having this charted out, is really useful for me, because I’m able to show people, when I’m talking to them and say, Look, I think that you’re here, I think the next step for you is to do this, or I think that you’re here. That’s why I think that you don’t need to invest in your website right now, that is useful as a conversation starter.  This whole concept, everything that I’m talking to you about now has come from me doing research, it’s actually would not exist, if I hadn’t done the research, surveying over 1000 consultants, having I think, at this point, have had well over 100 calls with experts and consultants and people very high level in their fields. All of this is actually coming from my research, which makes this a conversation a little bit meta, it’s talking about the benefits of research being based on research. But I think that this is just demonstrating how research is really important, and also really valuable. I think, also this this goes back, I mean, I can start to use this as the basis of other types of content, I might be able to use this in some kind of book, I could make videos about this. I’m talking to you here in a podcast episode.  So there’s so much that you can use this for you can use it in sales calls. So I hope that you see the benefit of this research and how it can be really useful to you. I think that you can’t do that research. If you’re not at that level three, if you’re not already specialized. Because if you’re a generalist, what do you research? That’s the problem.  If you’re not yet specialized, then I think you have to make that specialization decision. If you need some help with that. I am going to be doing a webinar this Thursday and next Thursday on the following Thursday. So next three Thursdays in a row. It’s going to be at 4pm UK, Ireland. It’s going to be at 11am, Eastern, so please come along. I’d love to see you there this link in the show notes.