If you are a subject matter expert hoping to build a consulting brand and grow consulting as part of your business, you’ve probably already noticed that simply adding a “Consulting” page to your Web site is not enough.
I did that many years ago when I first launched into consulting and – you guessed it – I got no business from it.
On the other hand, these days, even as I am actively reducing the amount of consulting I do, I get contacted by prospects daily.
It’s not just because time has passed – it’s what I did with that time. Namely, I focused, more or less consciously, on developing and communicating my expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
Not at all coincidentally, Google has focused more and more on the same thing in recent years, and increasingly you will see the acronym “EAT” – for expertise, authority, and trustworthiness – in content focused on search engine optimization (SEO).
Regardless of whether you are focused on SEO (though my strong opinion is that you should be), EAT is an invaluable concept to keep in mind as you work to build you consulting business. Indeed, it is really the only thing that is going to cause people to seek you out and actually become consulting clients.
So, let’s take a letter-by-letter look at using EAT to build a consulting brand.
Obviously, no one is going to pay you money for consulting services if they don’t believe you have the expertise they are seeking. So the equally obvious question to ask is: how do people know you have that expertise?
The easiest answer to that question is you tell them.
Your About Page
You tell them through a well-written “About” page on your Web site that highlights your most relevant experience and credentials and makes crystal clear the types of value you create and for what types of customers. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I routinely come across consultant Web sites where the owner has not really put effort into the about page. At the same time, that page is usually one of the most visited pages on the site.
So, if you don’t have an “About” page (or something similar, regardless of whether it is actually called “About”), make creating one and getting it into your web site navigation a high priority. If you do have one, review it thoroughly to make sure it is really doing the job it should for you. You may want to see this SmartBlogger post for some inspiration and ideas.
Once you have done that, review the profile pages on any social media channels you use and make sure that those, too, are really communicating your expertise – and consider linking these back to your web site About page.
A solid “About” page along with strong social media profiles is an easy and important step, but it will only get you so far.
Over the longer term, the content you produce to demonstrate your expertise will be much more important. That’s why I put so much emphasis on content marketing here at Learning Revolution. Whether your aim is to build a consulting brand, sell online courses, build you speaking business, or any other business that depends on your expertise, there are two main ways you can show you’ve got the goods: in the actual delivery of services and in the various types of content that you publish or that is published about you.
There are any number of ways to approach generating content that features your expertise. You might:
- Consistently blog on your own site about topics that are important to your audience
- Same as above, but as a guest blogger/writer on sites your audience is likely to visit
- Create a curated e-mail newsletter that comments on and links to resources your audience will find valuable
- Get interviewed on podcasts that your target audience is likely to listen to
- Host or co-host free Webinars on topics that will attract your audience
- Create a series of brief videos that help your audience
- Conduct surveys or other research and publish reports that analyze the results
The list goes on and I’ve used every one of these and more over the years. The important thing is to be truly useful and valuable to your audience, to bring a distinctive perspective and voice to your work, and to be as consistent as possible in continuing to generate content over time.
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to generate a ton of content. Indeed, these days, quality tends to be much more important that quantity. Experts like Brian Dean at Backlinko, for example, have established a strong presence in very competitive fields (SEO, in his case), by writing a relatively small number of very thorough, very useful blog posts on topics that really resonate with his prospective audience.
What it does mean is that you need to be thoughtful and strategic about the content that you put the time into generating and that it has a logical connection back to engaging with you as a consultant.
Finally, one of the most effective ways to establish your expertise is for others to talk about. You get some of this effect whenever you can get interviewed for a podcast or publication, but a more direct source is your customers.
We’ll crafted and articulated testimonials from customers are one of the most powerful forms of “social proof” you can get for your expertise. Make it a consistent habit from day one of starting your own business of asking for testimonials that speak very clearly to your expertise and to the value you are capable of creating. Give your customers clear guidance on the aspects of your expertise you would like for them to highlight or craft a draft testimonial for them to revise as they see fit.
Even if you don’t yet have clients, you almost certainly have professional colleagues who can speak to your expertise. Regardless of who provides the testimonial, do your best to always publish a photo, full name, title, and company name with your testimonials, and take advantage of using video to capture testimonials whenever possible. These details help make testimonials much more believable.
So, while there are many other ways to elevate your expertise, the above areas – basically, you, your content, your customers – are the foundation. Focus on those, and you will be off to a great start in your efforts to build a consulting brand.
But – and you were probably expecting this – expertise alone is not enough. You can swing a cat and hit an “expert” these days. So, you have to go further, and that means establishing authority.
I view authority as a combination of recognition – how widely recognized and valued is your expertise – and presence – to what extent do those who encounter you see and sense your expertise.
Again, there are some fundamental areas to focus on.
I’ll start with one that can easily be overlooked. Never forget that how you say something can be just as important as what you say.
So, watch your language. And, on video or in still photos, be conscious of how you might be perceived visually.
This doesn’t mean your wardrobe and hair need to be perfect – in fact, being authentically casual can convey confidence. It does mean speaking confidently to the camera – or to your readers – as if you are speaking to an actual person right in front of you, maintaining eye contact, and using clear, crisp language. (I’d also run screaming from those “chin in hand” stock headshots that so many people seem to use in their promotional materials!)
And consider being contrarian whenever you legitimately can. If you are just regurgitating the same information and perspectives that your audience has heard a thousand times, you won’t be perceived as an authority. In most cases, you don’t want to be obnoxious, but don’t shy away from stating your point of view strongly and going against the grain.
Another key aspect of authority is evidence that others – particularly other respected experts or influential media outlets – recognize and value you as an authority. Although it is becoming a somewhat worn out practice, this is why you see so many “As seen in/on” proclamations on the web sites of experts seeking to establish their authority. The stamp of “Forbes” or “Harvard Business Review” or “CNN” conveys a sense of authority.
This is another area where testimonials can play a role, but in this case the testimonials are from recognized experts in the field you serve or other influential figures. When I published my first book, for example, my co-author and I managed to get a testimonial from bestselling author Dan Pink. This was like instant validation of our authority.
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When people go looking for a consultant in your area of expertise, how quickly does your name come up? Not just in the search engines – though that is certainly useful – but in the conversations that naturally happen out in the field or industry you serve. At events. In online forums. Between your customers and your prospects.
Do people know you or your business by name? Do they consider you as one of a range of choices, or do they consider you the default option?
Ultimately, achieving this level of authority – in fact, achieving everything I cover here – is a matter of intentionally cultivating your brand. The ideal situation for any consultant is that you don’t have sell a prospect who contacts you. Rather, you simply need to surface the connection between your expertise and authority and the prospect’s situation – and then create an agreement that reflects the value you can produce for the prospect.
Of course, there is still a key element that makes the type of agreement I just referenced possible: trust.
Even as I write this post I am considering engaging with a consultant who clearly has expertise and authority. The question in my mind is: do I trust that he will reply them effectively to my benefit and achieve the results I need?
There are three key factors that I think contribute the most to trust when you are trying to build a consulting brand.
One of the most obvious contributors to trust is the level of professionalism you convey. And these days, one of the most obvious tools for conveying professionalism is your web site.
I often talk about web sites as a “home base,” and that applies whether your offering is consulting, online courses, speaking, or a combination of products and services. It’s just a basic truth that if you want to appear professional (and convey your expertise and authority effectively) you need a web site that looks and functions professionally.
For most people, that means using an all-in-one platform like Kajabi that has solid, attractive, templated approaches to creating a strong Web presence, or using a mature content management system like WordPress in combination with a professional theme and top notch hosting.
It means potentially investing in some design help to develop consistent branding materials and ensure your site has a compelling look and feel.
But, of course, professionalism doesn’t stop (or even start) there. Simple things like a concise, helpful voicemail message, returning calls and e-mails promptly, and not overreacting to the inevitable “difficult” prospects and customers go a long way.
The yang to professionalism’s yin is being appropriately personal. This doesn’t mean you aim to become BFF’s with your prospects and clients, but it does mean you strive to really understand and relate to their situation. And it means a willingness to share at least a bit of what makes you unique not just as an expert, but also as a human being.
At the level of mass communication – through your web site (including the About page), your e-mails, your social channels – tone is once again a factor as are testimonials. The more you can send a “people like me work with and like this person” signal, the better.
At the individual prospect and client level appropriately incorporating what you know about the person and/or organization you are dealing with helps greatly to establish a personal connection. For example, every proposal I submit to a prospective client starts with a “Current Situation” section in which I am very careful to reference and even repeat verbatim key elements of what the prospect has told me about their challenges and the result that are seeking to achieve. This may seem very simple and obvious, but it makes huge difference and I see it ignored all the time.
Finally, just as you saying “I am an expert” is less believable than someone else saying it, trust is much more effectively established through other people. Again, testimonials help – notice how often they keep coming up! – but the next step beyond testimonials is referrals.
I’ve learned the hard way over the years that actively asking for referrals is by far the best way to build a strong book of consulting business. There are basically three types of referrals you want to go for.
- Proactive Current: These are referrals you ask for from existing client by actively reaching out to them and saying, “Who do you know who would benefit from the types of services I provide?” Ideally, you want the client you ask to contact the referral prospect directly and loop you in. If that won’t work, for whatever reason, get the client’s permission to use their name and reach out to the referral prospect yourself.
- Proactive Future: While you are still doing work for a client, or very shortly after finishing, ask permission to provide their name and contact information to any prospects who ask for references in the future. You will, of course, want to be careful about not over-using any individual reference, so it helps greatly to have a list of them that you can rotate through.
- Word of Mouth: This is the type of referral already referenced above under Authority > Ranking. Obviously, you have only so much control over this one, but you don’t want to just leave it completely to chance. Periodically, you can reach out to all of your clients by e-mail to let them know that you appreciate referrals and provide them with specific language they can use when talking about you. This helps ensure that when an appropriate situation arises, you will be in the client’s mind and they will be better prepared to represent you.
You really can’t start early enough to cultivate each type of referral above. So, no matter where you are in your efforts to build your consulting brand, make a plan to start gathering and managing referrals.
A Word about EAT, SEO, and Consulting
This is not an article about SEO, and you will likely encounter people who say that SEO is not important for marketing and selling consulting services.
While I think there are approaches that are equally or more important – for example, referrals and speaking – there is no denying that we live in a search-driven world. When people have a challenge they want to address it is highly likely that the first thing they will do is run a few searches. If you don’t come up anywhere in those searches then you are leaving opportunities – and money – on the table.
It’s that simple.
The great thing about an EAT approach, though, is that even if the thought of search engine optimization gives you heart palpitations or makes your eyes glaze over, taking the steps I have described here pretty much guarantee a significant improvement in your search traffic.
So, take some time to audit what you are doing right now, use the information above to plan out steps you will take for improvement, and EAT to build a consulting brand.