The IT Consultant's Guide to Building Clout and Credibility
I’m a bona fide career expert... Just ask me.
When it comes to being considered an expert, you need to believe, at some level, that it’s true. It is much more powerful when others use that moniker when describing you.
To be considered a subject matter expert, there are strategies you can enact and actions you can do to build your credibility. In the world of consulting sales, to grow your consulting business, recognized expertise builds credibility, credibility builds trust, and trust is one step away from a prospect becoming a client.
I’m going to outline some ideas to help you build clout and credibility. In short, we are going to discuss how to get others to view you as a subject matter expert or trusted advisor.
Your Own Recognition
First, you need to recognize that you are an expert.
It is safe to say that you are an expert at something. In fact, part of the reason you are consulting or considering consulting is because you have been asked, repeatedly, to help with specific tasks.
Being an expert does not mean you are “the best” at what you do. There are all sorts of nuances at being “the best.” This is particularly true for technology consultants. Even the people you consider “the best” are only the best in relation to some of the possible areas of expertise.
Being an expert simply means you know more, to greater or lesser degrees, than the bulk of the population. This means you can offer meaningful advice or input on one or more subjects. In relation to consulting, you can help clients by advising them on their technology and helping them implement that technology.
Your realization and understanding that you are, in fact, an expert is the first step in gaining that recognition from others. Your simplest way to gain that recognition from others is by building a platform.
A platform is simply the various media and mechanisms you use to advance the idea that you are an expert. These can take the form of publishing, speaking, blogging, and social media.
For instance, talk show radio hosts use their radio shows as their platform. Through that they sell books, win speaking opportunities, and get introduced to other business ideas.
For the consultant, the following tools and strategies can help you develop your platform.
Articles and Other Publishing
“Publish or die” was the common refrain in academia. It may still be true. In the world of consulting and building your platform, it could be stated as, “publish and thrive!”
Articles and tutorials, published in print and online magazines, or even popular websites, provide an excellent way to establish yourself as an expert. By sharing your expertise with others and helping them advance their skills and understanding, you become the (or a) go-to person for that type of information. That is the epitome of being an expert.
The other benefit of articles is that you might actually get paid for that expertise.
Obvious clue: I am a paid writer for informIT.com. I am, as you read this, building my platform and establishing my street cred as a career expert and business and executive level coach.
How Do I Get Published?
Traditional publishing takes a little bit of work. Step 1 is to be a good writer. I’ll recommend a couple books to get you started: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
But most important in being a good writer is, as Mr. King points out, “Read a lot and write a lot.”
After that you should look online at how to write a query letter to pitch your article idea. You can go to WritersMarket.com for articles on writing query letters but there are numerous good blogs and articles on the topic.
After that, the following is a summary of the steps you need to take. Getting published is a topic for a full article, so I offer you this condensed version of the steps you need to take.
Determine a subject you feel qualified to write about. Find a website or publication where that type of article has been published before. Look for the masthead or the names of the editors for that publication. Write a brief and polite query letter to the acquisitions editor.
A word of advice: Start with a small local publication. It is likely you won’t get paid but the experience is invaluable.
Public Speaking: Workshops and Presentations
“The podium imparts credibility!”
That is a phrase I tell many of my coaching clients. A great presentation can lend a tremendous amount of credence to your efforts to be considered an expert.
I am fond of saying that it is hard to go wrong if you are on the stage. If you tell the audience things they know, you are considered an expert because you are reinforcing what they know. If you tell them something brand new, you are an expert because you educated them.
The only thing you cannot be is boring. Even great information is largely dismissed if delivered in a boring style.
How to Give a Great Presentation
Much of the advice for articles is relevant here as well. Certainly know your subject. Also, start local with a smaller organization. Don’t worry about pay to start. Instead, focus on experience and exposure.
If you are new to speaking, consider attending a speech and communication class or Toastermasters - a speaker training organization.
Also, get on YouTube and watch a few presentations. Ted Talks are often great presentations and you can learn a lot from watching them.
A few simple tips to help your presentations educate and entertain your audience:
- Tell them less, not more. Three main ideas are all people can generally absorb.
- Start with a story. An anecdote that relates to your primary message is a powerful way to connect with your audience.
- Shorten your presentation. I’m guilty of going too long at time. Allow time for questions, and don’t force people to stay longer than they are able.
- Take videos your presentations. It is a great learning tool.
Blogging, Podcasting, and Social Media
One way to start writing (and even speaking) is to blog on your subject. This can lead to both establishing you as a subject matter expert and also traditional publishing opportunities.
Some of the same rules apply to blogging or podcasting as to speaking.
First, don’t cover everything! It’s better to write a two or three part blog than a blog that is thousands of words long. Remember, we live in a 140-character world with 8-second vine videos.
When it comes to blogging, 300 to 1,000 words is more than enough. Of course, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve broken this rule on numerous occasions.
Getting Started with Blogging
I use a self-hosted WordPress setup for all my websites. WordPress is a powerful open source blogging platform and content management system. It has a large and active community of developers and bloggers who can help you with special features or just learning the basics.
There are numerous tutorials on getting started and I have a nine video tutorial at http://www.itcareertoolkit.com/tutorial-getting-started-with-wordpress/.
Podcasting and Videocasting
With a little more effort, WordPress also allows you to podcast (audio blog) or videocast. To better understand how this can be used, simply do a search for podcast or videocast on a subject of your choice.
Search Benefits to Blogging
Besides building a body of work that demonstrates your expertise, blogging has a direct search engine benefit. Google, Bing, and other search engines (by that we mean Google) likes to index new educational content.
A blog, with specific technical instruction, can be indexed within hours of being published. I’ve even seen blog entries I’ve published show up on the first page of Google searches within 24 hours of publishing them.
And Finally, Social Media
I included social media in the blogging section, mostly because I believe that you garner more attention as an expert if you are publishing articles and blogs. Social media and even newsletters can then be used to link back to your blog and ultimately to other content you find helpful to those who are following you.
This is a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your sphere of influence. Over time, that influence can grow. As you share your expertise and others share it to their network, you gain a tremendous amount of credibility.
Get Started Now
When working with coaching clients, I offer advice that my father gave me.
“Do something! Most people don’t!”
Half the battle is initiating action in a timely manner. The other half is consistency.
The steps you need to take to establish yourself as an expert take time to pay off. This often causes professionals to put off starting at all but the price of procrastinating can be hefty.
Action Beats Analysis
You’ll learn more in one week of action than you will in months of analysis. There is no way to outsmart the effect on learning of putting a plan into place, so get started with your clout and credibility plan immediately.
Of course, as time goes by, you’ll modify any plan you put into place. That is why getting started with something is the critical first step. Over time and based on feedback, your message and strategies will evolve and become more optimized to your message.
This will result in a greater degree of credibility and recognition as a subject matter expert.