Let me ask you a question.
Here you are… the words I’ve written in plain view. Maybe you’re learning something new; maybe you’re being reminded of something you knew but forgot. Either way, and this is the question, “How do you know if any of what I am telling you is true?”
When I say relationship building is critical, or package pricing is best, or desperate prospects are always trouble, how do you know that’s good advice?
The answer, I hate to break it to you, is you don’t!
Rather, you assume I know what I’m talking about based on a bunch of subjective, biased, far-from-scientific factors:
Maybe my bio inspires confidence
Maybe the testimonials on my website are compelling
Maybe the way I write feels experty to you
Maybe (most likely) you’ve seen my photo and figure there’s no way this guy is getting by on looks alone
Whatever it is, all these things are symptoms – not proof – of expertise. And yet here you are, reading – and sometimes acting upon – advice from someone who, for all you know, is just making stuff up as he types.
Baby elephant signage is the best way to attract high-paying professional service clients. See what I mean?
The point is, and unlike a select few fields such as pole vaulting, stand-up comedy and competitive eating, which are true meritocracies, expert positioning in business has less to do with what you know and more to do with how you look.
Do you look like an expert?
In business, experts are the people who look like experts. And given that experts can charge higher fees, attract better clients and benefit in any number of other ways, this suggests taking several steps regarding your marketing (he said, expertly):
1. Remove the red flags
Nobody gets hired based on having shown up for a job interview wearing shiny shoes and a clean shirt (okay, other than members of Congress). That said, if you arrive without those things, the interview is as good as over.
Likewise, the first step in looking experty is getting rid of “red flags.” A website that looks like it was built by your nephew in 2002. A LinkedIn profile with no photo and a couple of dozen contacts. A company blog whose last post occurred during the Bush Administration. All that stuff is in your experty way. Fix them.
2. Grow an opinion (or two)
Experts have strongly held beliefs. Running shoes are harmful. Tax increases are bad. Tall people are scary. Whatever it is, experts believe in things and they are not afraid to share them.
Does that mean some people will disagree with you? I can guarantee it. But it’s either that or fall back into the pack with all the other equally hard-working, equally capable, equally experienced entrepreneurs in your field.
3. Don’t hedge
Having opinions is important. How you express them matters too. I’m not suggesting you become arrogant or closed-minded. But I am suggesting that you speak and write with confidence.
Remember, if what you’re selling is advice (and if you’re not selling advice, you’re probably selling the wrong thing), your clients want to believe that you know what you’re talking about. (Nobody likes a wishy-washy heart surgeon.)
One more thing…
Many times, when I talk about expert positioning, people think what I’m saying is, “fake it until you make it.” In fact, I’m saying the exact opposite.
You’ve already “made it” technically. You’re a perfectly capable and qualified coach, writer, financial planner, recruiter, consultant, or whatever.
If there’s something holding you back, it’s not your intelligence, ability or experience. You’re way over the bar on all of those. More likely, the limiting factor is your presentation.
Of course, it’s quite possible I just made that up.
Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service providers talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.