There may be no “I” in “Team”, but there is an “I” in “Firm”. In a professional services firm there are individual practitioners providing advice based on their individual knowledge and expertise. Practitioners are professionally qualified and develop particularly close client relationships, depending on the service they provide. When the stakes are especially high, like the success of a large project or the sustainability of a client’s financial livelihood, the client needs to implicitly trust the professional service provider. The relationship is still with the individual practitioner, even when supported by a large team.
In a professional services business, clients pay for your technical expertise, experience and advice. What makes a client choose your expertise over someone else’s? You also need visibility. The goal is to be known for your expertise and be highly regarded in that area of expertise. In Hinge Marketing’s latest edition of Inside the Buyer’s Brain:
“Be visible wherever your target audience is looking for help. Whether that is in the increasingly dominant digital space or in more traditional channels, you cannot afford to be a no- or low-show. Educate prospects on how your expertise can help address their high-priority issues.”
So, if building your business means building trusted relationships, but also standing out from the crowd, it means you need to be building your personal brand and developing your relationship building skills. Hinge calls it becoming a Visible Expert®.
What is visible expertise?
Visible expertise is about being known in the market for your specific knowledge, skills and experience. In today’s highly competitive environment, where clients have a great deal of choice available to them, you need to differentiate yourself and your firm. Prospective clients are making purchasing decisions based on their perceptions of your expertise. You need to establish trust and credibility more quickly than ever before and it doesn’t happen as organically as it used to.
The correlation between knowledge and visibility is illustrated below. If you have an adequate level of knowledge, and are only known within your immediate professional circle, you are probably a ‘good operator’. If you have adequate knowledge, but a high level of visibility, you might actually be ‘overrated’! You also don’t want to be a ‘best kept secret’.
Ideally, you want to have a high level of knowledge and be known for it. By becoming a visible expert, you can start to attract higher-yielding client work.
In this highly competitive marketplace, how do you make sure that your expertise is visible?
According to Aaron Taylor from Hinge Marketing in his article “The Visible Expert®: How Ordinary Professionals Become Thought Leaders“:
“Visible Experts are teachers. That’s how they build their reputations. They willingly and openly share their expert knowledge without any jealousy or fear of revealing their secrets. In today’s Internet-fuelled world, information on virtually any topic is a few keystrokes away. If you aren’t sharing valuable knowledge, then someone else will.”
Becoming a visible expert
- Specialise and segment your market
Becoming a visible expert involves specialising in a sector of the market or providing a niche service. Clients want the comfort of knowing that you have a solid track record in their industry or in providing a particular service. By specialising, you can develop clear criteria to identify clients who want you for what you do best. Once you have identified your target audience, you can target your marketing messages accordingly.
- Develop thought leadership content
After identifying your target market, you need to develop content (articles, white papers, books, etc.) that demonstrates your expertise in this area. Well-positioned content, including thought leadership content, can help you ‘cut through’ and become recognised as an expert people will seek advice from.
- Develop your emotional intelligence
This includes how you build rapport with clients and prospective clients. Develop your own interpersonal skills and train everyone in the firm to make better emotional connections.
In her book Trusted: The Human Approach to Building Outstanding Client Relationships in a Digitised World, Lyn Bromley talks about the five building blocks to building trusted relationships.
These five areas are:
- Mindset: You can manage your mindset to be more confident, positive and set you up to be more successful.
- Communication: Active listening and knowing when to allow the other person to talk about their goals and objectives, issues and concerns, is one of the most valuable skills you can learn.
- Interaction: Dedication, energy, and thought are needed to create strong, lasting business relationships. Interactions with colleagues and partners are as important as those with clients and prospects.
- Behaviour: In professional services, behaviour is one of the most important differentiators of a business.
- Professional image: How we dress not only affects how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves.
The “I” and the “Team”
While the personal brand of the individual practitioner is particularly important in a professional services firm, the individuals still need to work as a team. They still need to combine forces and move the firm forward. One of the most common branding misconceptions is that the personal brand and the corporate brand compete (rather than cooperate). William Aruda says:
“The most successful companies help employees understand their personal brands, capitalizing on the integration of these individual traits with the broader corporate objectives. When employees are clear about who they are and what makes them exceptional (a process that you can easily implement by promoting self-discovery), and they have been educated with an understanding of the corporate brand objectives, they can apply their unique skills and expertise to activate the corporate goals.”
Reach out if you’d like to discuss any of these ideas further.