The Proven Path To Building Authority

- Part 4: Five Criteria for Increasing Your Visibility -

Ian Brodie
Hi - Ian Brodie here...

I've been banging the drum about the importance of focusing on a receptive audience and having a Distinctive Point of View in my last couple of articles.

So I'm guessing that by now you're probably chomping at the bit waiting for me to share the practical methods you can use to get yourself and your point of view visible to that audience to start building your authority.

But I do want to stress again before we start - there's no point in trying to get visible unless you have something remarkable and different to say. Without that, you get visible, but ignored. You're like the TV ads we fast-forward through on TiVo or Sky+, or the flashy banners our brains have trained themselves to ignore on websites.  

But, proselytising over, once you have that distinctive point of view, how do you make sure the right people get to see it and you begin to build relationships with them?

Should you write a book? Should you be active on social media and if so, which ones? What about podcasts, or even TV?

The truth is that any method can work, the big question is which method is going to work best for you, in what conditions, and at what cost in time and money?

When you're thinking about which approach to use and what will work best for you, the first place to start is of course, the knowledge you’ve built up about your ideal clients. What sort of media do they consume? What are their common characteristics that would allow you to find them? 

Based on that knowledge you can rate each media on a set of criteria which will indicate whether they’re a good choice to reach and influence those ideal clients.

Evaluating Approaches To Visibility

Here are the things you should be looking for in any media or approach to get visible with your idea clients:

  • Will this approach allow you to target and reach a high number of your ideal clients? For example, if your clients are in the supermarket trade in the UK you're far more likely to reach them through an article in The Grocer magazine than The Economist.
  • Will this approach allow you to make a big impact on potential clients? For example someone reading a book will take on more of your ideas than someone reading a short article.
  • Does this approach have inherent prestige? For example, appearing on a panel at an event alongside other well-known experts in your field.
  • Does this approach play to your communication strengths? Are you better at writing, speaking, answering questions, etc.
  • Does this approach take significant time and money? For example, a short interview on a podcast can be done in an hour and will likely appear in a few days. Writing a book can take over a year or longer before it reaches the market.

Using these criteria and you knowledge of your ideal clients, you can evaluate any potential approach and come up with a reasonable idea of whether it will work well for you.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is, ultimately, in the eating. but this can give you a big headstart and rule out a number of dead-ends which you might end up wasting a ton of time exploring.

You don’t need to do anything fancy with the rating system. A simple High/Medium/Low or 1-5 scale will work fine. In fact I find that when you work through criteria like this the best approaches usually leap off the page at you.

So let's look at a few examples...

Writing a Book. Writing a book is often seen as the ne plus ultra of methods for becoming seen as an authority, but in my experience it's not the place I would start.

A book scores very highly on our criteria for impact and for prestige (even today when everyone and their poodle seems to have written a book). And writing is a learnable skill, particularly with the aid of a good editor.

But where a book falls down is two-fold. Firstly, it takes time. I managed to get my book Email Persuasion written and published in about 5 months. But I don’t know many people who've done it as fast as that. Typically a book takes 9 months or more for most people to write. And if you're being published commercially it can take up to a year by the time it hits the bookshelves.

More importantly, if you're not already an established name in your field it can be very difficult to reach a large number of your ideal clients with your book.

There are over 2 million new books published a year nowadays. About a third by traditional publishers and two thirds self published. The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime. And that average includes the blockbusters that sell 10s or 100s of thousands, so the typical book usually just sells a few hundred or maybe a thousand copies.

If you go on to Amazon and search for any topic you'll find tens of thousands of books on that topic. I just searched for "Business Strategy" this morning and 66,149 books showed up. The authors of the top 10 or 100 books are certainly benefitting and are seen as authorities. Maybe even the top 1,000. But the rest?

Speak to any of the major publishers about an idea you have for a book and the first thing they’ll ask you about is your "platform". In other words, how big a following do you already have. They know that without an established platform, the vast majority of books are doomed to live in the lower reaches of Amazon search and to only appear on the bookshelves of you, your Mum and the people you post a copy to.

Now don't get me wrong. Writing a book is perhaps the very best way of cementing and enhancing your authority once you've built up a solid audience. But it's not the place to start (unless you get very, very lucky).

What about Social Media?

Well, the first thing to remember is that Social Media or even Facebook or Linkedin isn't a channel or approach in it's own right. You need to get more specific about what you're going to do because the results will vary hugely. Using a Facebook page, or sharing in relevant Facebook groups, or using Facebook advertising - those are methods.​

So let's say you're considering being active in a Linkedin group answering questions as a method for becoming visible as an expert. let's go through the criteria.

Will this approach allow you to target and reach a high number of your ideal clients? That's very much dependent on whether your ideal clients are members of the group and how active they are at using the group. Unfortunately, Linkedin has removed most of the data on groups in it's latest update - but you can at least see the number of members underneath the group name:

Look at the recent discussions on the group. Are they one-way dumps of sales pitches or links to blog posts with do discussion or interaction? Or are many members getting involved and discussing things? Obviously you want the latter rather than the former.

How about the impact you can make with potential clients? Well, if the group is highly active with potential clients asking real questions and if they're not being flooded with answers from other experts like yourself then you might well be able to. Answering specific questions with detailed answers including examples can go a long way to establishing expertise.

Does the approach have inherent prestige? Not really. Not unless, perhaps, it's a group you've started and you're seen as the leader.

Does it play to your communications strengths? Are you good at interacting in a friendly way on social media and answering questions? If so it could well work.

Does this approach take significant time and money? Money no. Time yes - a lot.

Because you're answering questions from individuals rather than publishing something to a broad group,  you're essentially establishing authority one person at a time (or at best, the handful of people who read that discussion). You can increase the return on investment of your time by focusing on questions you think have general appeal and that many people seem to be interested in. And you can republish your answers in a blog or email. But overall, this approach is pretty time consuming.

You can use this method to evaluate any approach or media for its suitability to help position you as an authority. As you'll have noticed, one thing the method highlights is that there's no "one best method" that works for everyone - one more reason why you shouldn't listen to all those folks pitching their solution-du-jour as the answer to all your problems.

What works for you won't necessarily work for someone else. That guru may have built a huge audience using Facebook posts and a Youtube channel, but that doesn't mean the same thing will work for your ideal clients or that your skills are well suited for it. Make sure you properly think through whether the latest method everyone is getting excited about will work for you.

Some additional notes on the criteria:

  • Pay particular notice to the size and value of your audience. If you target senior executives in major corporations you're much more likely to benefit from a highly targeted direct and personal approach to reaching them (e.g. referrals or even direct mail) rather than blasting out a message to a huge audience and hoping they'll see it. You can afford to spend more time and money per person too.
  • When you're evaluating whether you can reach your target audience with an approach, pay more attention to the absolute number you can reach rather than the percentage. For example, maybe only 5% of your audience would ever watch live online video, but that doesn't mean you should immediately rule it out. If the audience size is 200,000 and you only need a dozen or so clients a year then the 10,000 people who do watch live video is easily enough to build authority with.

    I know from my own experience that I initially discounted Facebook Advertising as an approach to get my ideas more visible with potential clients because I knew that most of them weren't big Facebook users at the time. What I missed was that plenty were - easily enough to build a significant following once I started using it - and of course, it was growing fast.
  • Don't forget that the approach you use to get visible is only the start. You don’t build authority from one interaction only. That's why I always value approaches that allow follow-up communications more that those that are just one-off (e.g. if someone signs up to your email list from you blog vs someone who reads an article from you in a magazine with no link to your website). More on this in a few article's time.

That's it for now. In the next article I'll talk about what I think is the best approach to get visible and start building authority from scratch.

You can read that article here. Enjoy!