It’s tough to stand out as a professional services firm these days, especially in a field like accounting. You’re not selling a physical product that clients can easily compare and contrast with what your competitors offer. There’s nothing they can experience to tell them that what you’re selling is better made, more colorful, smoother, sharper, quieter or any one of a host of other physical attributes that can help prospects come to a decision more easily on a tangible product.

Instead, you’re selling intangibles — the knowledge, experience and expertise trapped inside the heads of your firm’s employees and you. So how do you do that? By making your experts more visible to the marketplace and demonstrating their value.

Becoming a high-visibility expert provides a wide range of benefits for you and your firm. The media turns to industry experts for insights, commentary and perspective on accounting-related news stories. That kind of publicity generates even more visibility and reinforces your status as an accounting expert. As a result, trade conference producers come knocking, looking for a high-profile expert keynote speaker, panel moderator and roundtable participant. Organizations looking for the right accounting professional to help with a critical decision or to provide expertise in a niche market will turn to a high-visibility expert with that specific knowledge. All of this visibility enables high-profile accounting experts to attract more business, earn higher fees and build stronger, more successful and more valuable brands.

That’s great, you’re thinking, but that’s not me. I see all these other guys attracting all the attention, grabbing the industry headlines and making the big bucks. They must be smarter, sharper and more charismatic than me. But guess what? They’re not.

Instead, they’re just a little better at marketing themselves and becoming a high-profile expert. It doesn’t mean they’re more knowledgeable or experienced than you — they’re just more visible.

Fortunately, there’s a proven process for becoming what we call a Visible Expert. It’s not about blatant self-promotion, or a big “look at me!” campaign. No. It’s about demonstrating your expertise where prospects can see it — in blog posts, guest articles, speeches, webinars and social media. It involves giving away bits of your expertise to people in search of what you have to offer. Once prospects benefit from your knowledge they begin to recognize your mastery of the subject. Your visibility — and value — start to grow.

7 steps to becoming a Visible Expert:

1. Commit to the process. Becoming a Visible Expert takes some time and effort, but the results are well worth it. Set a pace that works for you and be patient. Measure progress over business quarters not weekly. The key is to keep at it. Think marathon, not sprint.

2. Develop an expertise niche. Becoming a Visible Expert requires expertise in something. This expertise niche should be a combination of what you know (your expertise area) and what the marketplace niche needs. It’s a lot easier and faster to become a Visible Expert in a niche with little competition and high unmet need. Oftentimes this is best accomplished by focusing on a new or emerging area of practice or an industry niche that competitors have ignored.

3. Begin building visibility. Once you’ve established your area of expertise and a target market, go after it. Develop an online presence by publishing posts to your firm’s blog (or start a blog if one doesn’t exist) and post to appropriate, related third-party blogs. Produce articles, videos and webinars about topics of interest to your target market. Make them substantive pieces of value to prospects, not obviously self-promotional marketing tools. The goal is to establish thought leadership and demonstrate your expertise and industry insight.

4. Strengthen your expertise. As your visibility grows, so does the need to stay current and make sure you can rightly claim expert status. That means keeping abreast of the latest industry trends and news, brushing up your skills, and filling in any gaps in your knowledge that could trip you up. Get to know other experts working in related areas so you feel comfortable making and receiving referrals from them.

5. Sharpen your communications skills. All the visibility in the world won’t help you if you can’t communicate clearly. Work at developing your skills. Join a local business networking group to practice speaking in front of a crowd. Take a course to improve your writing. Get mentored in social media to learn the ins and outs of posting to and interacting on the various platforms.

6. Use your expertise to educate others. This is a cornerstone of the Visible Expert process — demonstrating your knowledge to others in ways that make complicated topics easy to understand. Educating others earns their respect, loyalty and business.

7. Ask for help. Know your limitations and don’t be afraid to ask for help with particular skills or tasks. If you don’t know something or can’t do something, go find someone who does or can. We all need help sometimes.

Many Visible Experts do not consider themselves the smartest or the most original minds in their fields. Instead, they are strategic and hardworking, focusing on a specialized topic and niche market and then promoting themselves consistently within that niche. They are also excellent communicators, able to distill complex ideas and subject matter into easily digestible nuggets that makes them valuable to their audience and highly sought-after. If you follow the seven steps outlined here, that could be you.

7 steps to becoming a Visible Expert
Lee Frederiksen

Lee Frederiksen

Lee Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner of Hinge, a branding and marketing firm for professional services.