Business Plan Toolbox: What Makes High-Expertise Companies So Special?

High-expertise businesses are a special breed of business. They depend on high levels of expertise and talent in their field to provide their services, products or innovations.

Part 1 Business Tool Box

The environments in these companies are different from other businesses. Many of the team members are well educated and/or trained. With that may come a multitude of opinions and inputs on many subjects. Examples are effective methods for running projects, business planning, growing sales … and strategies for every facet of the business. These inputs are great. Yet, coming to a consensus and establishing accountability that works can be challenging.

This article series is about effective business planning for high-expertise companies. In this first article (first of eight), I am giving an introduction into high-expertise companies, what they are and what makes them special. In part 2, we will go deeper into Brilliance Extraction™, a process that pulls thoughts, visions, ideas and goals out of the minds of key people in your company.  In high-expertise companies, Brilliance Extraction is vital. In part 3, I give you some examples of short and powerful business plans. In part 4, I talk about the importance of “fresh eyes.”

Part 5 is about implementing your business plan. It includes accountability that works in high-expertise companies. Part 6 reveals another element that is important for implementing your plan. It is about defining “success behaviors.” Do it with your team to get buy-in to your plan and make it work.

In part 7, I will talk about special opportunities for high-expertise companies that are employee-owned. Finally, the article series will conclude with part 8 about how the original owner/s can use business planning to move on and leave a legacy.

Now, let’s start with this question:

What Are “High-Expertise Companies?”

First, before we go on, let’s define  the term “high-expertise companies.” Here are some examples:

  • A company creating specialized spectroscopic optical methods serving advanced needs of the military
  • A company engaged in offering high-end construction services
  • An insurance company providing all types of personal, business and financial insurances
  • A software company revolutionizing the way we can store, publish, edit, view and search huge amounts of data, e.g., the entire law of any modern country
  • An innovative company inventing new widgets
  • A company offering private money to real estate investors
  • An innovative growth agency that is helping its customers get online leads and convert them into actual sales
  • An employee-owned company engaged in creating professional credentialing tests and IT certifications
  • An architecture company creating a unique and scalable model for health care facilities across the country
  • A scientific company, revolutionizing the success of organ transplantations

These example companies are quite different, yet they have one important characteristic in common: They all operate with considerable expertise and technical talent. Most of the owners, leaders, and staff have amassed significant expertise in their respective disciplines or craft and are great at what they do.



What Common Challenges Do High-Expertise Companies Face?

Challenge 1: There is a significant gap between the company’s core expertise and the ability to convert that expertise into money

High-expertise companies often do not fully mine the immense value they offer. What is missing? There are so much smarts and expertise, and so much hard, dedicated work. The result may be good. Yet, is it at the level where it could be? Do you want more?

We are convinced that the challenge of converting high-expertise into impact and money has a root cause. The failure of our education system is that it prepares us as an expert in a subject, but we are woefully unprepared for business. Colleges, universities and training institutions are quite focused on the subject at hand. That is true for physics, chemistry, engineering, construction, architecture and lots of other areas. At the end of the educational process, the person is a subject expert. Yet, he/she has learned very little about how to lead, manage, run a business, and exercise accountability. This gap in skills also includes networking, marketing, sales and finance.

You may be an expert yourself. Or you may be the leader of a company that is employing many such experts. Either way, you are quite familiar with the challenges we are talking about here.

As high-expertise experts we do our best to fill the gap in skills our discipline-focused education didn’t give us.

  • We strive to learn these skills on the job over time and/or we take more classes. This is inefficient, costly and time-consuming, slowing us from delivering our real value to the world.
  • We hire people with complementary skills. Then these people still need to understand us and our expertise. For example, have you ever hired an expert for business development or marketing? Did you find out that their eyes were glazing over when trying to come to grips with your company’s expertise?
  • Or, if you are an expert in business, marketing or finance, have you felt frustrated with your colleagues who are “technical” experts? Did you think they do not have your sense or even appreciation for good business practices?

Challenge 1 is about the gap between “technical” knowledge that comes in many flavors and knowledge in business and leadership. For business success to increase we need to become more effective in bridging that gap.

Challenge 2: Many visionary founders can’t build or run a team

Some high-expertise businesses are founded by a visionary who has an immense ability to convey his/her vision and attract partners and customers. Yet, growing a team around that vision is hard for them.  They need a nuts and bolts person (a “conductor” as I call it) who can do that part while staying true to the vision.  Without that, the company cannot scale up.

For example, take a brilliant visionary who through a lot of his own work gets a company going. As the endeavor begins to take off, he adds new team members. Soon, challenges appear because the visionary gives little to no guidance to his team. He simply expects that they know what to do. Everyone on the team makes their own assumptions on what is expected for good performance. Furthermore, the visionary is at a loss when it comes to setting up systems. Part of the challenge is that h does not like to use them himself, and hence getting the team unified in using systems that allow the company to scale up proves challenging.

The solution to these challenges is bring in a conductor who can fill in that gap. Of course, it is important that the conductor is fully in alignment with vision.

Challenge 3: The core expertise of the company lives only in the brain/s of one or a few key people

High-expertise companies often have one or several key people. Without them the business cannot operate. There are two serious consequences:

  1. The key person/s can hardly ever get away from the business. They are “hand-cuffed” to it.
  2. The business is at serious risk. What would happen if that person or group of key people got sick or left for any reason?

Challenge 4: High-expertise leaders often prefer to do the work themselves instead of delegating it to to others

Leaders and managers at high-expertise companies got into their leading/managing positions because of their subject expertise.  It is often difficult for them to let go of doing some of that work themselves because of two reasons:

  • They enjoy doing this work, and
  • They feel they are better at doing it than the person to whom they could delegate.

Consequently, little time is left for the tasks that a leader or manager is ideally in charge of, including forming overall strategies, mentoring the team and establishing accountability.

Challenge 5: Raising funding is difficult because investors know that high-expertise companies do not scale well as a rule

High-expertise companies rarely scale well for all the reasons discussed in Challenges 1-4. If your company needs to raise funding, it is important to know what investors are looking for:

1. A strong, well-balanced team that keeps company growth on track

2. A marketable, in demand product or service with unique value

3. Scalability to maximize their investment

4. A trustworthy CEO or Founder

Without a least these four components, investment dollars are unlikely to come from any source other than family and friends. However, if that same company mastered Challenges 1-3, their opportunities for funding would increase greatly.

In summary, high-expertise companies face five common challenges.

The company’s level of expertise is often much greater than its ability to convert that expertise into business success. That is because:

  1. There is a significant skill gap between the company’s core expertise and the ability to convert that expertise into money
  2. Many visionary founders find building and running a team challenging
  3. The core expertise lives only in the brain/s of one or a few key people
  4. High-expertise leaders often prefer to do the work themselves instead of delegating it to to others
  5. Investment monies are difficult to impossible to get due to lack of scalability

So, how can high-expertise companies overcome these challenges and speed up their growth?

Conclusion: How Successful High-Expertise Companies Leverage Business Planning To Increase Sales

First off, it is important to recognize that you are a high-expertise company. Once you do, you will realize that some of what you need to do to grow is to teach others. 

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  1. Subject experts and business experts need to build a bridge across the skill gap between core expertise and business. Learn to speak each other’s languages, i.e., the language of your craft, and the language of business and leadership.
  2. Share more of what is in your brain with your team, i.e., thoughts, ideas and plans (I will talk about Brilliance Extraction in my next article). This will create leverage for what you know.
  3. Educate clients and prospects about how your services and/or products help them solve their problems. Learn how to say complex things more simply so others understand it.
  4. Establish a strong communication link between visionary and “conductor” (i.e., the person orchestrating the team).
  5. Capture your high-expertise knowledge into packaged, productized form in order to increase sales and scale your business.

Your biggest asset is knowledge and expertise. Now, we want to make even more use of it.

That’s where business planning comes in. In high-expertise companies, it rarely works for a business leader to write a business plan without the input of the team. Brilliance Extraction and fresh perspective are both keys to success. You must involve the team, get their input and keep your mind open and then bring it back to concise goals, strategies and game plans. Long traditional business plans don’t work well for that. Your subject experts will either not have the patience for them or get lost in the detail. The plan will not be completed and will not be implemented.

In the next article, we will talk about beginning the process of Brilliance Extraction while working on business planning.  Business planning for high-expertise companies is actually business power planning. That means the process is refreshingly fast.

In part 3, I will show you examples of business plans that work well for growing high-expertise companies.

Dr. Stephie Althouse is the founder of Top-Notch CEO and Top-Notch CEO Academy ( She has a Ph.D. in chemistry and has worked with many high-expertise companies, first as award-winning innovator herself and then as executive, turnaround authority, growth expert and executive coach. Her success in helping high-expertise companies get more from their expertise is based on her ability to bridge the languages of their craft with that of leadership and business.

Dr. Stephie