Every business owner wants their company to be successful, but what if your business was so successful that people were constantly clamboring for your expertise? What if the way you operated was so innovative that other leaders wanted to steal your secrets? What if your insight into your field was so extensive that your inbox was always flooded with offers to give TedTalks?
What if you were considered an industry authority?
Sound too good to be true? Well, the good news is that it’s possible. But what does it take to put yourself in that place? You’ll need three things: education, consistency, and innovation.
In order to be considered an authority, you’ll have to know your industry and know it well. You’ll need to make education a priority from the beginning and you’ll need to keep it a priority for the rest of your time (or as long as you’re in business, anyway). “Never stop learning” has to be your motto if you want to be an expert. And make no mistake, if you want to reach authority status, you’ll need to be an expert.
So what does it take to become an expert? Knowledge and practice (and lots of time).
You’ll need to consider the technical aspects of your field and study them thoroughly: read books, take online courses, watch how-to videos, attend seminars, and learn from other experts. After that, it’s all about practice. By activating your knowledge in practical ways, you’ll not only gain a deeper understanding of the tasks at hand but you’ll build a strong foundation of trust. Trust that comes from years of practice is essential when it comes to being seen as an authority.
Take the heart surgeon, for example. He or she may spend hours and hours reading about how to perform open heart surgery, but they’ll never be fully trusted until they’ve actually performed open heart surgery (and it will probably have to be a lot of surgeries at that).
If you want to be a leader in your industry, you’ll have to practice your craft as much as humanly possible — work out the kinks, investigate, and problem solve. It may take time, but in the end you’ll be able to answer any question thrown your way, because you’ll have already lived the answer several times over.
Of course, being educated about your industry isn’t only about knowing the technical aspects of your field, it’s also about knowing the right people (and being known by them). Networking and promotion are both vital components to being an expert — after all, if no one knows who you are, why would they trust you?
If you’re knowledgeable in what you do, make sure people know where to find you. It’s not always about attending networking events, either. Let people find you by putting your work out there for the public to see: promote your expertise with a blog or journal, offer to speak at conferences about your experiences, or teach an online course targeted to certain industry leaders. If you feel like you’ve mastered your field, don’t keep it to yourself — put yourself out there and see where it takes you.
And while you’re busy getting your name out there, make sure the message people are hearing about you is consistent across every channel. Even if you’re an expert in several different areas of your industry, focus on one particular area and craft a single message for it that you can share with your customers.
Do you really understand the ins-and-outs of WordPress, for example? Then brand yourself as a WordPress expert and talk about nothing else. Sure, you might understand Joomla and other content management systems, but don’t market yourself as a “CMS expert”, market yourself as a WordPress expert. Even if it feels boring or limiting to focus on one topic, it will help distinguish your brand from thousands of others that may be similar to it.
Think of it like this: If someone needs advice on how to paint a picture, they can probably go to any artist. But, if they need advice on how to paint a surrealist landscape, their choice of experts is automatically limited. Basically, being niche will make marketing your expertise a lot easier. Once you’re the go-to expert in one area, your only job is to market that niche as consistently as possible.
Marketing experts call it “integrated marketing” — taking a unified message and communicating it consistently throughout all channels to give your customers a seamless experience. Whether you’re networking in person, sending out a Tweet, or creating videos or commercials, stick to your brand.
If you’ve decided that you’re the WordPress guru, make sure you put that on everything from your business cards to your website (and everywhere inbetween). Your followers should know you for the one or two things you do really, really well.
A good rule of thumb is to give your business a one-liner (like a slogan) that focuses on your niche. Take DeBeers as an example. While they sell every type of jewelry and are essentially a jewelry company, they’re known for their diamonds. Even their slogan focuses on their specific niche: “Diamonds are forever.”
What’s your company’s “diamond”? Find out what you do well, build your brand around it, and don’t stray from the message.
It’s also important to note that industry authorities aren’t just experts, they’re also pioneers for their industry — they find new and creative ways of solving problems. You’ll need to dedicate a portion of your time to finding solutions to common industry problems (and include those solutions as an integral part of your marketing).
Joe Randolph, CEO of the Innovation Institute, encourages business owners to innovate new solutions instead of simply learning how it was done in the past. He believes that innovation is about solving problems for the future, not just for today. “Problems do create the necessary urgency to innovate,” he says. “In my experience, more than 90% of employees are fixated on dealing with day-to-day workload and emergencies, rather than looking toward the future.”
If you want to be a leader in the industry, you’ll need to look beyond current issues facing your company and take the time to consider what’s possible.
When trying to innovate solutions, it’s all about asking the right questions. Tina Seelig, author of Insight Out: Get Ideas Out of Your Head And Into the World, suggests reframing the questions that surround the problem. For example, instead of asking, “How should we plan a birthday party for this person?” she recommends reframing the question as, “How can we make this person’s day memorable?” The first question assumes that there will (or should) be a party, while the second question creates opportunity for a myriad of possibilities. (Find more tips about reframing here.)
You can also reframe solutions that already exist. Take the makers of the ButterUp knife, for example. They found a creative approach to solving the age-old dilemma of how to get cold butter onto bread without ruining it in the process. The obvious solution is to heat the butter, but the ButterUp inventors found an alternate solution for the tool itself — a knife that adjusts the butter’s structure to help it spread evenly, even if it’s cold.
By addressing industry issues with innovative solutions like this, you’ll prove to the world that you have the industry’s best interests at heart and aren’t afraid of taking risks. You’ll immediately be seen as a go-to authority because people will know that you’ve taken the time to understand the issues, put solutions into practice, and develop better ways of doing business.
Even though becoming well respected in your industry takes time, effort, and a lot of determination, in the end it’s worth it. By focusing on learning as much as you can about your industry as possible and narrowing down your focus to a few specific areas, you’ll step out into the spotlight and step apart from your competition. Through additional time spent applying what you know by testing new ideas and innovating creative solutions, you’ll also become a highly-trusted expert able to answer any tough question faced by your customers.