The most critical part of marketing a service-based business is to create huge authority around your brand. You must be positioned as the most trustworthy, experienced and desirable player in your industry.
Without that positioning, you’re going to have to scrape together clients with every bit of strength you have. You’ll have to justify your prices and provide lots of samples or case studies before you get started.
In short, you’ll have to hustle way too hard to close the deal, before the work has even started… and then you’ll have to deal with them second-guessing you throughout the whole process.
Being positioned as an authority prevents all that from ever happening. You want people to know that you’re serious about your craft, that you will brook no interference from amateurs, and that they will either get on board with your terms or get out of the way, so someone else can.
That’s not to say that being an authority allows you to be a dick to your potential customers – not at all. No matter how much authority you develop, treating people with courtesy and patience is always good business sense.
However, having authority gives you gravitas – it firmly communicates to people that your time is valuable, that you deserve to be listened to, and that they will be well served to take you seriously.
Building authority also allows you to charge much, much higher rates than you can when you’re unknown.
Authority creates trust. People almost instinctively trust authority figures, and trust is what leads to sales. People buy from people they trust to do the right thing with their money, to deliver what they promise and to ultimately make their lives better.
So how do you establish that powerful, profitable authority? The first step is distinguish authority from expertise.
The Difference Between Authority and Expertise
Many consultants and service-based entrepreneurs spend years developing their expertise. They hone their craft, and become one of the best in the business… they do exceptional work, but no one knows about it.
You see, expertise is what gets the job done. Authority is what gets you the job.
No one pays for expertise, even if they think they do. People pay for authority. They pay for the confidence your experience and positioning gives them.
That’s why you often see people with huge authority in an industry… who have no idea what they’re talking about. Dr Phil and Vani Hari (aka the Food Babe) are great examples of this.
Sure, actual therapists and nutritionists have aneurysms every time Phil and Vani open their mouths, but it’s Phil and Vani who have built the authority necessary to make millions of people pay attention.
All those poor therapists and nutritionists might be world-class experts, but no one knows who they are. They don’t have the kind of authority that would allow them to really make a difference.
If you want to get lots of clients, and keep them, you need to be an authority and an expert. Expertise without authority is ineffective, and authority without expertise burns out quickly.
How To Build Your Authority
Building expertise is simple. You get educated in your field, you build up some experience, and you keep up to date with what’s happening in your industry. Becoming an expert is not that hard as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
But building an authority requires a completely different approach. Where expertise is about what you know about your craft, authority is about what other people know about you.
This is where educational marketing comes in. This is a phrase I picked up from my mentor, Joe Polish. Joe believes that the most powerful way to build your authority is to educate the marketplace, for a few reasons:
- Educational marketing proves beyond a doubt that you know what you’re talking about.
- It demonstrates your expertise to potential clients: you understand their problem, and know how to fix it.
- It builds more trust between you and your audience. Most people won’t use the information you share with them, since it’s easier just to pay you to do it for them, but seeing your transparency helps them to feel confident in your integrity and skills.
Educational marketing goes far beyond just creating shallow content. Anyone with a laptop can do that. What I’m talking about here is building really valuable, insightful material that empowers your potential customer to solve their problem.
You don’t need to get on a content-creation treadmill, either. While regular content is great, you want to be building really powerful assets that demonstrate how firmly you have a grasp on the issue you’re addressing.
When you build powerful pieces of content (such as white papers, in-depth case studies, or books), you are building your authority while simultaneously helping your audience.
It’s better to create fewer of these high-quality assets – that you can use forever – than to churn out half-baked blog posts every week. Service-based businesses rely on regular sales, so you have to make the content work for you.
That’s what Taylor Pearson did.
He was an intern at the Portable Bar Company, run by Dan Andrews and Ian Schoen (who run the Dynamite Circle, a forum for entrepreneurs). In 2014, he wrote a case study about how he helped grow that business by over 500% in 18 months.
He spent 20 hours writing the case study, honing it with an insane amount of detail. It’s an incredibly valuable post, and really demonstrated how clearly he understands business operations. After publishing the post, he did a single podcast appearance with Dan and Ian… and proceeded to close $30,000 in consulting fees.
That post is still making him money today, even after he went on to become a best-selling author with his book The End of Jobs.
Before this post, Taylor was basically unknown. He had a couple of years of experience, and was known only to a very small circle of people. His case study – a perfect example of educational marketing – was a stepping stone to becoming an authority in entrepreneurial business development.
These days, Taylor is quoted all over the place – from Forbes to Business Insider. He’s been on TV and radio; and is now personally connected to some very successful marketers and entrepreneurs. His educational marketing was a little hinge that has opened some very large doors: Taylor is now a real authority and people pay him well for it.
Telling people that you’re amazing is fun. I love doing it. It’s a nice little boost to my own self-perception to be able to say “yeah, I’m awesome”… and mean it. It makes people laugh, but it doesn’t make much money.
But when other people tell my clients that I’m amazing, then we’re on the money.
Happy customers are a key element in creating ‘big door’ authority. Collecting testimonials and success stories from the people you’ve worked with is a powerful way to hook new customers.
Testimonials work for two reasons: firstly, it’s social proof. Other people have given you money and benefited from it. It’s reassuring to a potential customer when they’re not the first one to hand over their cash. Secondly, it demonstrates that you have the expertise necessary to actually deliver.
As I said earlier, expertise is what gets the job done. You need to be able to deliver on what you’re selling in order to get great testimonials, so do make sure you know what you’re doing. Your authority will fall through very quickly if customers aren’t happy with the work you do, so make sure you are actually doing great work.
Once you know you’re really delivering the goods, start collecting as many testimonials as you can. Get them in written form and video. Put them up on your website. Add them to your email funnels. Send them out to prospective clients. Again, make the asset work for you.
Referrals go hand in hand with testimonials. In fact, they’re a kind of ‘living testimonial’: the testimonial is inherent in the recommendation, because they wouldn’t recommend you unless they thought you’d done a great job.
This is a little authority-building hinge that Taylor capitalized on early in his growth: Dan and Ian have authority in the circles he wanted to work with, and they vouched for him. This lent a lot of weight to his work, and helped him build momentum he couldn’t have created on his own.
When you can get a previous client to recommend you, the authority you’ve built with them automatically transfers to your relationship with the new person. You come to the table ‘pre-sold’ – they already view you in a positive light, as an authority and expert they can trust.
This is incredibly powerful. Getting a referral can often guarantee you the work. Prospects won’t even bother checking out other providers if they’ve been referred to you, because they know you can solve the problem and trust you because their friend trusted you.
Make sure, then, that you are delivering exceptional service, so that clients want to refer you, and have a referral program in place, so it’s easy for them to refer you.
As you wrap up projects, or once you’ve had a few wins together, ask your clients: “Who do you know that would also need this kind of work? What’s their best contact?” (Note: Ask who they know, not if they know anyone – make it clear from your phrasing that you expect an answer. People are lazy, so this also stops them from just saying they don’t know anyone else.)
When you’re new in your market, it can be tough to generate testimonials and referrals, because you don’t have many clients yet. To get around this, then, organize an expert panel. I did this when I was starting out and it was extremely successful.
Now, this doesn’t have to be a traditional panel, where you put on an in-person event and interview multiple people at once. You can do it like that if it’s easy to arrange, but you can do podcasts, webinars, video interviews for your YouTube channel, a blog interview series, or contribute to a multi-author book.
Whatever format you choose, you just need to interview the most well-known people in your market. You want your face and name to be up next to theirs, because this creates an authority transfer. They automatically confer authority on you, just because now you’re in their circle. This is one of the fastest and most powerful ways of creating authority out of thin air.
However you do it, make sure your conversations are high quality, digging into the depths of what your industry is about, and that the interviews are recorded. You want to be able to package them up and sell them as a high-end product, to keep capitalizing on the connection.
Interviews make exceptional, evergreen knowledge products, which we talked about in Part 2 of this Guide. You can use them as a tripwire, to get people used to buying from you, as an upsell to a core product, or as a joint venture product with the people you interviewed (which in turn, creates even more authority).
Building your authority is the most powerful door you can open for your business.
Yes, you need expertise. It’s critical that you’re able to deliver on what you’re selling. But you can build out your expertise on the way down if you need to… authority is the door you need to focus on.
Developing your authority allows you to leverage your 3 Little Hinges effectively, which in turn allows you to create the time and income freedom you are ultimately looking for from your business. Everything comes down to authority, so prioritize it above all else.
Was this series insightful? Feeling more confident about building your B2B service business? Share this Guide with your entrepreneurial friends. And if you need a hand developing your authority and Little Hinges, click here to apply for my Executive Entrepreneur Coaching program.