The Proven Path to Building Authority: Getting Started
There's no doubt in my mind (and my experience) that being seen as an authority in your field is the best way for people in expert businesses like consultants, coaches, trainers and other professionals to win more high-paying clients without having to become marketing geniuses or spend all their time on sales.
But of course, becoming seen as an authority is easier said than done.
Late last year I ran a survey asking what your biggest challenge in the area of building authority was. There were a huge number of answers which I then used to help me shape my Authority Breakthrough Program. But overall, three big challenges came out well ahead of the others:
- Getting visible and getting your message in front of the target clients you want to build authority with.
- Standing out and differentiating from your competitors in a crowded market.
- Getting focused and finding the time to do the actions necessary to build authority on a consistent basis.
So let's talk about the big issue of visibility first (I'll return to the other topics in upcoming articles).
In other words, if you're a genuine expert in your field but you're not part of a big firm and you haven't published a best-selling book or already have a well-known name, how do you get your ideal clients to notice you enough for them to realise you're an expert?
Well, the first step is to understand who your ideal clients really are, and where you need to be visible to get their attention.
Sounds obvious, but you won't believe how many people make the mistake of going where it's easy and comfortable for them to go, rather than going to the places where they're really going to connect with their ideal clients.
Case in point: I knew a consultant once who was a leading expert in marketing and sales for large manufacturing firms, but who was trying to drum up business by going to those local business networking breakfasts so many small businesses go to.
His friends had all told him it worked for them, and he bought into the “you never know who knows who” line and the remote hope that someone he met over breakfast in a chain hotel at an ungodly hour in rural Cheshire would just happen to know the head of marketing at a major international manufacturing firm.
And, truth be told, it was comfortable for him too. There were always friendly faces, nice conversations. People impressed by his expertise and who promised to introduce him to any big business marketing people they met.
It never happened.
He was kidding himself to think that the people he met at local networking events – lovely though they were – were likely to introduce him to the sort of people he wanted to meet. But the alternative seemed much more daunting.
That consultant was me, by the way, a decade ago before I found much better ways of connecting with potential clients and eventually transitioned to helping others like me do the same.
I see the same problem repeated with online marketing today. Consultants who target large corporates writing guest blog posts for small business websites. Or vice-versa: experts on a big topic with global interest trying to cold email a handful of prospects to talk to them face to face.
Realism Is Your Best Friend
If you want to get visible to your ideal clients, you need to know where they hang out (both virtually and physically).
And the best way to do that is to ask them.
Now, if you find yourself thinking “but I don’t know enough of them to ask”, you have a problem: you're not being realistic.
If you don't know anyone in your target market well enough to ask a few questions to set you on the right path, what are the chances that they'll be ready to work with you if you do manage to eventually connect with them? And what are the chances you'll understand them and their problems well enough to be able to communicate in ways that resonate with them?
There's a concept in biology called “the adjacent possible”. It means that, for example, in the primordial soup before life evolved, the basic chemicals like methane, ammonia, water and carbon dioxide might well combine to make something more complex like formaldehyde. But they're not going to instantly spark a living, breathing creature even though all the fundamental components are there. It's too big a leap.
But once you have formaldehyde, there are now more targets in the adjacent possible and it can combine to make something more complex. Then more complex still. And eventually, you get what we have today.
In the case of marketing and getting visible, you're most likely to be able to get visible to people in your own “adjacent possible”. People one-step removed from your current circle of visibility.
If you've worked in senior roles in IT organisations all your life and have now moved into executive coaching, who do you think you're more likely to be able to find connections with? Senior IT executives, or executives in Advertising Agencies or the Public Sector?
And if you got your message in front of them, who would your stories and examples most resonate with?
Now I know that for some people reading this, that message might disappoint you.
Perhaps you've spent all your life working in one field and you're bored with it and want a change. Or you're looking at a new area and find it immensely exciting even though it's completely new to you.
I'm not ruling out the possibility it'll be a huge success for you leaping from one field to a new one that's completely different. It's been done before. But it's the exception rather than the rule.
And when it's been done it's usually because there's some common thread that gives credibility in the new field. “I used to be an actor, now I work with senior executives who need to improve their speaking skills and presence”, for example.
If you do want to make a big leap from where you are to somewhere completely new, you're much better off plotting a series of incremental and achievable steps to get there. Build up your visibility and network as you go, rather than trying to make a leap to a completely new field from scratch.
It's what I did when I set up.
After I came to the realisation that trying to find a ready supply of major manufacturing firms based close enough to me so that I wouldn't have to travel wasn't really on, I looked at other markets to focus on.
And I realised that although my consulting clients had all been major international manufacturers, what I'd learned to do as well as the work I did for them was market and sell consulting services to them.
And a huge number of the contacts I had were consultants or ex-consultants who had moved into coaching or training or similar roles.
So while working in exciting and fast-growing local sectors like the media and high-tech looked appealing, the reality was I had very few contacts in those areas, no relevant experience to show them, and I didn’t really speak their language. My “adjacent possible” was consultants and related fields.
In an upcoming article, I'll show you a method for quickly breaking into a completely new field if you do decide that it's what you want to do. But it's far easier to go somewhere in your “adjacent possible” – and that's what I did.
And since you have contacts in your adjacent possible, you can ask them questions that will help you understand how to get more visible and how to stand out.
The best way to do this is over the phone or face to face over a coffee. Tell them you're looking to publish some of your ideas and share approaches that have been successful, and that you're looking to find out where best to publish to reach people like them.
If you've got any sort of relationship with them (or you can get an introduction from someone else who has) then many of them will be willing to give you 10-15 minutes to answer a few questions.
Let Your Clients Tell You Where To Go
Ask them an open question first about where they get new information in their field. They might jump straight to something you can use directly, or they might mention something you hadn't thought about at all.
Next, ask about what websites they visit and any blogs or newsletters they read. Or any podcasts or video channels they subscribe to.
Ask about any print magazines they read or events they attend to get information relevant to their role. And what social media they use on a regular basis.
Ask them about what type of information is the most useful to them (e.g. case studies, new research). And finally ask them what the biggest challenges they face are that they look for new information and ideas about (this is quite an intrusive question, so ask it last after you've built up rapport).
If you can get half a dozen or more answers to those questions you'll have a brilliant idea of what will get you more visible to these people.
If you already have an email list you can send a short survey to get more data. Or post the survey in groups on Linkedin or Facebook or private forums (with the permission of the group owners). The nice thing is that you're not pitching for business in any way so the survey will be viewed as non-threatening.
If you do go down the survey route, I'd still do the personal interviews first: you get more in-depth, quality information and that personal touch will also enhance your relationship with the person you interview.
Knowing where your ideal clients go to get the information they rely on and the sort of information they look for will save you hours and hours of wasted effort. It'll allow you to take an 80:20 approach to produce the kind of material that will make your audience sit up and take notice, and get it in the places they're most likely to see it.
Of course, you might not be able to jump straight to communicating with them in all the channels they mention. If Harvard Business Review is their print magazine of choice you're not going to get an article published from a standing start anytime soon.
But it's something you can work towards if you want. And their other sources of information like blogs, podcasts and social media will give you something more immediate to shoot for.
So for now, I want you to start taking action to build this picture of the best places to be visible for your “adjacent possible” clients.
And as soon as you know what some of these media are, make sure you're looking at them yourself. You can't expect to get published on blogs or in magazines you’ve never read, or to appear on podcasts you don't listen to. So start building up your familiarity now.
And check out my next post which is an interview with copywriter and research expert Chris Laub where we dive into how to research your ideal clients to get real insights into who they are and what will get them to buy.