Want to create a money-and-client generating machine? Just being good isn’t always good enough. Whether you’re a start-up, or have been in business for years, growing your authority is critical. Incorporating it into your business and marketing strategies will increase your lead volume, allow you to be more selective in the work you take, and ensure that your star continues to shine. Who wouldn’t want that?

Why authority?

The reason authority matters so much is that it’s a primary driver for trust. And people won’t buy from you if they don’t trust you. 

Authority is “the power to influence others, especially because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognized knowledge about something.” 

When you have authority, you stand out from competitors who don’t. Being an authority makes your prospective customers feel confident buying from you. In short: people are simply more likely to accept your proposals, take your advice and pay your prices if you’re an authority in your market.

Command your destiny

When I worked at J. Walter Thompson (one of the global advertising powerhouses), a client’s investment in creating a single ad might run well into 5 figures, but even so, you couldn’t hire us to do just one. The agency had developed such a high level of authority (and, of course, overhead), that it could be selective and only work with clients on a grand scale. 

By contrast, the agency I’d come from, a boutique agency with an amazing track record for results in its narrow niche, survived almost exclusively project-by-project. While we had big time publishing clients like Better Homes & Gardens and did okay financially, we just didn’t have the same level of authority to command our space, fees and contracts. 

Authority is one of those high-value business strategies that puts you in the driver’s seat. Consistent attention to it pays off in exponential growth over time, helping to draw customers to you. Having it gives you the power to command your business, prices, and terms.

But if you’re thinking “Great; I’ll just go out and declare myself an expert,” get ready for a surprise. 

It’s not that confidence and credentials don’t matter, (they do), but the tricky thing about authority is that it is bestowed, not claimed. Even digital authority–say, for your website–must be earned over time, not bought.

How do you go about growing your authority?

Your aim is to become a trusted and relied-upon choice, in an area that’s relevant to your business, and for the types of concerns your audience has. This isn’t just a marketing strategy; it should be a core business strategy for us all.

So how do you begin? Here’s a short-list of 7 areas to weave into your business:

Make it easier for others to be open to you, through clarity and credibility

Be strategic, focusing on one area of expertise at a time: it’s easier to grow your authority and credibility once you’ve established some in one aspect of your work. Whether you’re in your first year or 20th, if your authority in a space is wobbly, choose one area of expertise to focus on first. 

Once you have traction there, grow it by letting existing clients in on your secret: how you can help with other, related, areas of expertise.

Ensure your credentials are visible: if you’ve received awards, recognition or certifications, show them on your website and celebrate them in social media. If you have valuable affiliations, highlight them and the value they extend to your customers. And definitely spread the word as you have reviews and earn stars.

Here’s an example from a local business I love:  local expert NC Water Heaters took an approach similar to this, spending several years establishing themselves as the leader in this specialty area; since plumbing was a closely connected service, they were easily able to respond to customer needs and add this new specialty area.

Rave reviews from happy customers added more authority as they started to publicize it–and the same approach helped them successfully expand into remodeling and electric services.

Grow visibility and value through your networking and marketing

Increase your visibility in areas where your prospects and referral partners are active. And not just according to overall geography. Consider which online platforms and groups they frequent; the offline civic and/or business associations where your prospects and referral partners are. Participate in online conversations in your industry where you can associate with other authorities. Seek out opportunities to guest post or contribute to other credible sites. If you’re comfortable doing so, apply to be a guest on podcasts or other interviews.

Increase your value: be a generous helper, problem-solver and contributor. Comment helpfully on others’ posts. And post frequently yourself, sharing your expertise for solving specific problems that your audience is up against. Reference your own experience when it advances understanding, but remember to keep your audience’s wants and goals the main focus. When someone’s ready for your services, they’ll be more willing to pay for your help one-on-one because of all the value you’ve offered. 

Establish your expertise by publishing problem-solving, informative guidance: think both social posting and longer-form content: white papers, e-books, pillar content and long blog posts, checklists and tips sheets; videos, webinars or podcasts can also be effective. In general, creating original content that shares your expertise, outlook, or approach puts you in a position of higher authority than those who haven’t.

If you’re like I was — bashful of being in the public eye, leery of the dark side of social media and cautious of overpromising — you may be uncomfortable with the idea of growing your visibility. 

But the reality is that people will always have an opinion. What matters more is the people you can serve, your family, and staff (or future staff). If your business and/or team has any talent and experience whatsoever, there are people who need what you offer.

Let your light shine — it’s how you were put on this Earth to be. So grab a mentor (join our community and find a whole mess of them, including me!), pull your pals together, and do it!

Grow your brand’s consistency and support

Associate yourself with others in your market: no man (or woman), as they say, is an island; being an active part of the community you hope to serve includes being seen as someone of value by those who already have influence. Look for the people you admire, trust and who represent the type of business values you share, then:.

  • Share their content and elevate them in your sphere of influence; contribute valuably to the conversations.
  • If relevant, send them leads.
  • Apply to guest post, submit articles to targeted or local publications, or industry websites or publications; make podcast appearances.
  • Some with authority will be willing to be interviewed by you, if your audience is a good fit for their goals.
  • If a direct approach seems intimidating, ask a mutual acquaintance for an introduction.

Your goal isn’t to impress, it’s to be REAL as you grow the know, like and trust factor between the two of you.

Align your brand with the level of authority you aspire to have: While you can’t give yourself authority there are, as the steps above demonstrate, plenty of ways to enhance it. And it’s equally possible for your branding to help or hurt your cause.

The most common issue is a mismatch: branding that’s out of alignment with expectations causes doubt or confusion. Your branding should support you in the process of growing your authority, but many small businesses are more capable then the story their branding conveys.

  • Certainly you want your logo and graphic elements (photos, icons, fonts etc) to be professional. The same logo first created 50 years ago could be an asset (longevity, experience, trusted friend), or a liability (behind-the-times, passive, lazy), depending on the elements that surround it.
  • How are the customer experience, company values (in practice, not on paper), and processes you use reinforcing or fighting with the position you want to have in the market?
  • Also assess your brand personality, marketing content and messaging to make sure they’re conveying the level of authority you seek to have as well as the level your audience wants. This is one way that branding both is, and is not, about you!

How do you use authority to support your goals?

When your authority is high, you’re the go-to person in your market. “Market” might mean sphere of influence, geography, niche, discipline or (or a little of all of those). Let’s say you’re the go-to person for help on a subject among a segment of small business owners in your immediate geographic area. If you have the volume of work you want, but want to grow your revenue, you might raise your prices, and/or only accept more lucrative jobs. 

Or, you might grow revenue by expanding your:

  • sphere of influence by connecting with leaders in a new group.
  • geography by aiming to spread your network into the bigger city;
  • niche by serving a new customer segment in town;
  • discipline by offering a new, related, service in town.

The key is that you have more options because you’re building on a solid base of authority. And while authority tends to have lasting value, it will fall off without steady, high-value deposits and staying in tune with your audience’s needs and wants. So if you’ve been in business for a while and you feel your position slipping, or competition getting tighter, look to grow your business and brand by growing your authority.

What’s you view? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about authority: what’s helped you gain it, what’s eroded it, what’s necessary for you to support it in others… share your comment below!