Thought Leadership Resources

#15 Build your independent business through content: 4 steps

“So where do I start?” It’s a question I get asked a lot by business professionals who are just beginning their journey to being seen as a recognized expert in their field.


It’s simple. Not easy, mind you, but straightforward. It comes down to a four-part process: determine your audience, find out how to reach them, decide which of their problems you want to solve, and then generate content that shows your ability to help them with those problems. Let’s drill down into each of those four steps.

1. Pick your sweet spot: the people you want to serve

In a business-to-business (B2B) market, most potential clients wear several hats and labels. You need to pick those that meet your sweet spot. How do you define that? It’s all about developing your “avatar,” or “persona” – as I’ve discussed in another post, an image of your ideal client. Generally, you can think of your avatar in one of two ways: (1) Industry and (2) Profession/occupation.


Focus on an industry you love

Your experience: if you’ve been pushed out of a corporate job as I was in 2009 (here’s the full story), you likely gravitate toward serving the industry you’ve been in – unless you really want a break from all that, and unless the reason you were pushed out is because the market is tanking. I know you need to earn revenue right now, but don’t get tied to an industry you don’t want to serve, even if you do know it frontwards and backwards.

It’s fun, and you like the people: Maybe you just love a particular line of work. An enthusiastic golfer might decide to serve the golf industry, or a skier goes for ski resorts. Maybe you’ve had a lifelong fascination with the film industry. To quote one of my favorite singers, Kacey Musgraves: “Follow your arrow wherever it points.”

It’s rich: It helps if the sector is prosperous, but not necessary. Prosperity may bring with it a host of competitors for you. On the other hand, a declining industry may have a lot of entrenched service providers desperate to hang onto their remaining clients. It’s probably best to find an industry that could be consideredreasonably prosperous.” Just remember: even the smallest niche may be big enough for you to build a lucrative practice.

 

Focus on a profession/occupation whose members you enjoy

Some markets divide themselves not by industry, but by profession or occupation. For example – lawyers (of many different specialties), engineers (the same), Human Resources professionals, accountants, conference organizers, and fundraisers.

Maybe, focus on people of your own profession: You may be best able to build rapport with clients if you hold a professional designation they value. You share a mindset, and a professional vocabulary. But I’m living proof it’s possible to relate well to a wide range of professionals, and you can too – so don’t be tied to it.

Pick a profession that’s influential in your market: For example -- in the oil and gas sector, the leaders and decision-makers tend to be engineers and geologists by profession. Many insurance companies are run by people who have a professional background as actuaries.

But there are some surprises: In another post, I talked about a conversation with a friend who had been in charge of marketing for a document-shredding company. They’d found that while the signature on their contracts was often that of the office manager, the person who was most influential in the decision was the company’s legal counsel. The lawyers got involved because of the need to protect customer (or patient) confidentiality, and they wanted to be sure that documents were treated with verifiable due diligence.

2. Be sure that there’s an easy way to reach them

One “filter” I’ve learned the hard way is to be sure that the people in your target market are reasonably easy to reach. I’ve had clients who want to reach “high-net-worth individuals” or “CEOs of Fortune 500 companies” perhaps without thinking about the fact that such rare specimens are thoroughly guarded by a phalanx of admin assistants, voicemail and never-ending meetings.

So, think about how you’ll get your ideas, via your content, in front of them. Can you:

Publish content on the website of an association for the industry or profession?
Join forces with an association to provide webinars and online courses?
Give speeches and workshops for their conferences and local meetings?
Publish articles in their trade publications, in print or online?
Participate in their LinkedIn groups – commenting on posts, publishing your own content?
Reach them via trusted advisors, such as lawyers and accountants (for more on that, see here for a post on what I call “indirect content”)?

3. Determine their problems and concerns you want to help with

Don’t think of your service from your perspective: “I do energy audits” or “I set up sales automation systems.” Rather, look at it from the client’s point of view: “You can help me save money on my energy bill” or “You can help my salespeople spend more time in front of customers, and less time on paperwork.”

So, think of the concerns and issues, as well as opportunities in front of them. It could be a new regulation, law, technology or other development (click here to learn more about how to use “narrowcast newsjacking” – content that’s based on a new development that affects people in your market).

4. Show your abilities to meet your clients’ needs, through great content

The fourth and final step is to create content that shows your understanding of the needs of the people you want to serve. As the old sales proverb says: “Customers only listen to one radio station – WIIFM – “What’s in it for me?”.

If writing isn’t your best skill, you can still generate great content – with the help of a writing professional such as a ghost-writer who will interview you and write a first draft based on what you’ve said, for your review (see here for a more complete guide to working with external communication professionals).

The key to success: have a clear idea of the person you want to reach, and how your skill-set can provide solutions for them. Then, generate content that shows your ability to get results, and put it in a place where your ideal client will come across it.

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Carl Friesen

Carl is the Founder of the Thought Leadership Resources and helps business professionals gain the skills they need to build their profile as subject-matter experts and thought leaders.

You can connect with Carl on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter

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