How to Build Authority and An Audience: The Opening Act Strategy
Imagine it: a long line of raving fans who pay premium prices without haggling.
It sounds like the fantastical stuff of podcasts, blogs, or books we read. It’s the tale told by countless consultants and marketers who want to sell you something.
The reality looks a little different. The feast-and-famine cycle feels inescapable. Just-high-enough prices haven’t given way to hell-yeah-pricing quite yet. And there’s no long line of leads waiting to pull out their wallets and hand over their hard-earned cash to you.
Why is this happening, and what can you do about it?
The reasons are threefold:
You’re seen as a commodity
Time drives prices down in most service markets
You don’t have enough sales leads
There’s a solution to all three, and I call it The Opening Act Strategy. The strategy helps you stand out, charge higher prices, and get a long line of raving fans who’ll happily pay you for your expertise.
It’s the fastest way to build your own audience by borrowing someone else’s. It is the oldest trick in marketing. I’ll tell you all about it, but first…
Let’s have a quick night out together.
How to Build Authority: Becoming the Opening Act
You’re at a concert to see your favorite musician, and it’s packed. The packed that is elbow-to-elbow, sharing sweat, and pushing up the humidity until the walls are dripping with anticipation. The mood is frantic. Your fellow concert-goers are just as geeked as you are. As the lights dim and you finish the last of your drink, the opening act starts.
What an opportunity for them! Instead of having to sell tickets on the strength of their music and reputation, the opening act gets to play for the same audience as your favorite band. Rather than creating an audience from scratch, the opening act accesses an existing audience. That is an immense advantage.
The same is true for your business. Stop thinking about your business as being the headliner, or building your audience “from scratch.” Headliners have spent years, big money, and hard-to-find expertise to develop their audiences. Do you know what every single headliner needs? An opening act, sometimes a few of them. That’s you.
How It Works
So, dear Solopreneur, are you ready to become The Opening Act? It’s how to build authority, and I’ll describe it in a bit more detail to uncover the power of this strategy.
You’ve probably followed people who have opinions. They’re often called thought leaders, opinion leaders, bloggers, coaches, authors – the title doesn’t matter. The good news is that you don’t have to become any of them.
What you need is a point of view and helpful information to share. As a solopreneur, you have one, but you do not have to become a thought leader. More on that later.
In your case, The Headliner is someone with an audience you want to access. They have a platform used to communicate with, and market to, their audience. The Headliner may be a business, or another solopreneur, or an author. Whatever their title, they have an audience you want to access.
The Audience is the group of people who show up time and again to see The Headliner perform. The audience is there for a reason: they have a shared identity, similar tastes, and have a shared experience in being part of the audience and liking The Headliner. In online speak, audiences might be called “tribes,” implying that they are tied by a common cause. The Audience is loyal to The Headliner, and trust The Headliner’s recommendations, too.
The Opening Act opens for The Headliner. That’s you. You’ll bring your own content to The Headliner and The Audience to “perform” for them.
The Power of Marketing Partnerships and Building an Audience
The reason that The Opening Act Strategy is so powerful for you and your business can be summed up in a word: amplification. Rather than creating your wonderfully thoughtful content and hoping someone shows up to consume it, you can find The Headliner that has The Audience you want to entertain.
Your content and your message will be amplified tens, hundreds, or even thousands of times more than you could on your own. Do you remember how The Audience already has loyalty to The Headliner? That’s because there’s a considerable amount of trust built. The Audience has already come to expect good things (or at least consistency) from The Headliner. Like The Opening Act, your credibility with the audience is created by way of the halo effect or the transitive property.
In short, The Opening Act Strategy is the fastest route for you to transmit your message and build demand for yourself, and for your business. I’ll get into the ways you can begin using this in your business, but let’s look at a success story first.
A Smashing Success Story
Dorie was a marketer without much going on. In fact, she was fired from a job and didn’t know what to do next. She strung together freelance marketing gigs to bring in some income, but she quickly realized that she was a commodity.
Even so, Dorie was able to net six figures in her first year of freelancing with absolute resolve and relentless hustle. Through this process, it became clear that she’d work more hours for less money because she was just a commodity provider. There was no apparent differentiator, she had too much competition, and she didn’t build any demand.
What did she do? She began creating content, but for other websites. She became a content-writing machine for blogs and media outlets until she finally reached her goal: Harvard Business Review (HBR). Dorie (The Opening Act) published numerous articles for HBR (The Headliner) because they had The Audience she wanted. If you’re still wondering how to build authority and an audience, just think about the influence Dorie got simply by publishing in HBR.
One of her articles struck such a chord that HBR asked her to expand upon it, which eventually became her first book called Stand Out. Dorie Clark is now a three-time NY Times bestselling author and executive coach and consultant.
How to Implement The Opening Act Strategy
Becoming The Opening Act isn’t as simple as declaring yourself eligible to entertain all comers. Let’s go back to the top and review why you’re not able to charge the prices you want or escape the feast-or-famine cycle:
You’re seen as a commodity
Time drives prices down in most service markets
You don’t have enough sales leads
You need to solve #1 first. You cannot be a commodity provider and be The Opening Act. It just won’t work. Whenever someone lends his or her platform to you, he or she needs to benefit, too. If you’re The Opening Act, you’re sharing content. That requires marketing and endorsement from The Headliner. Every time someone markets to their audience on behalf of you, they’re taking a chance. They are spending limited audience capital on you, so you had better be worth it.
That means you’ll need solid positioning. What the heck is that, right? Al Ries and Jack Trout defined positioning simply as “owning a word in the mind.” For example, Philip Morgan, author of The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms, positions himself as “specialization for technical firms.” He does it because he wants to help technical firms and solopreneurs charge more and increase the demand for their services.
Beyond just positioning, you’ll also need something to say. What you should say is subjective, but it’d better be memorable and worth repeating. The idea should be unique, fresh, or rely on a broad trend.
Jonathan Stark, a fellow solopreneur, talks a lot about pricing at ExpensiveProblem.com. The title of his book sums up his memorable idea: Hourly Billing Is Nuts. Notice something here: Jonathan is not the only person to talk about pricing, or how to escape the billable hour. However, the way he does it and whom he does it for (software programmers) is both memorable and worth repeating.
How Headliners Choose an Opening Act
Let’s go back to the concert for a second.
I’m just guessing here, but you probably won’t go to a Jay-Z concert and see John Mayer open the show. It just wouldn’t work.
Why? They’re too different. Each has an audience that has come to expect different things, lack a shared identity, and have sufficiently different tastes. They’re just not compatible. Which is to say, The Headliner will only choose an Opening Act that their audience is sure to like.
When the Headliner chooses an Opening Act, they want to be sure of a few things:
There’s obvious crossover appeal: the Headliner’s audience has to like The Opening Act and vice versa
The Opening Act is reliable: they’ll show up on time, give an extraordinary performance, and show up again for the next show
There’s evidence that it’s working: The Opening Act won’t have the following of a Headliner, but they should have some fans and shows under their belt; maybe one day The Opening Act will be so big that they’ll be in a position to boost The Headliner’s career
Complimentary, but not too similar: because they need to appeal to the same audience, The Headliner and The Opening Act have to compliment one another, but not be so alike that there’s competition or confusion
Clear uniqueness: the more unique, the better the chances that the audience will like The Opening Act
It can be challenging to navigate The Opening Act / Headliner dynamic because there must be substantial crossover appeal and mutual benefit from the relationship.
But rest easy: as long as you have a strong position and message, someone will feature your content because they need to feed the content beast.
Choosing Your Headliners
Michael Hyatt writes about leadership, and has a strong Christian message. He also has a huge following. So far as I can tell, Michael has at least half a million email subscribers, perhaps a million or more. If you visit his blog, you’ll notice something: he has guest writers posting pretty frequently. Here’s an example:
Jeremy Lott is an author who aligns nicely with Hyatt’s platform: he has a Christian message and writes about leadership, productivity, and other business things. Is Lott a better writer or content producer than Hyatt himself? That’s up to you.
To keep traffic on his blog up, and email subscribers coming in every day, Michael Hyatt needs a tremendous amount of content. In other words, he needs to feed the content beast.
The content beast is hungry and is nearly insatiable. It always needs more, and better, content to serve. But there’s more to it than that.
Headliners – Michael Hyatt in the example above – want to bring fresh ideas and voices to their Audience. They want to be a go-to source of information, which means they’ll happily bring in Opening Acts like you. Sure, you’d better be competent, but Headliners need your help to help their audiences now and in the future.
Headliners also want to cast a wider and wider net to expand their reach and build their audiences. If you have fresh ideas that are genuinely helpful, Headliners may see future success in you. They may want a favor from you: to one day be your Opening Act.
A Word About Intention
Admit it: the reason you’re reading this is that you want to grow your business and charge more, not to learn how to be more helpful. You want to know how to build authority, and spread your idea. I get it.
Maybe you want to sell products, productize your service, sell books, or sell coaching. Whatever it is, you understand that being different and building demand can only help you.
Somewhat paradoxically, helping yourself is the exact wrong mindset to have when pursuing The Opening Act Strategy.
Your intention matters. In this case, your intention should be to help Headliners and their audiences. Just as your business will be more successful if you consider how to be as helpful as possible before asking how to make more money, so too will your marketing.
Headliners will showcase your content if it’s incredibly useful for them and their audience. If not, back to the drawing board.
So as you think about how to implement The Opening Act Strategy, ask yourself just three questions:
Who is the audience I want to reach?
How can I help them?
Who has this audience?
As you pursue this strategy – or any other strategy – ask first who you can serve and how you can serve them. When you have focused and concise answers to these questions, your marketing and sales efforts will suddenly get a lot easier.
Tips for Finding a Headliner That Needs You
It may seem daunting to find The Headliners that’ll help boost your business. You may have an image of scouring the entirety of the Internet to find the perfect person in a game of chance. Don’t worry – it’s a lot easier than that.
First, start with your audience: who would you like to serve, and what can you provide them?
Once you have an answer for that, everything becomes a lot easier. There are two simple models you can use to build your plan for finding and connecting with the right Headliners.
Option 1: Create Your Own Plan
Think about your audience and the things they do. If you can answer at least one of the four following questions, you’ll begin to identify The Headliners you need to know.
What tools does your audience use? Everyone needs tools to do their work. Tools include things like software, subscriptions, or information. So if I am selling to sales teams, they’re sure to use a slew of different sales software tools. Alternatively, if I’m targeting app developers, they use tools to build and optimize their apps.
What services do they use? Business services could be another great place to look. Office space providers, accounting, taxes, legal, and more could all be referral points that have a vested interest in also serving their market.
Option 2: Find A Model
Is there anyone in your industry who has a career that you might like to emulate? For example, I sell to solopreneurs. There are very few people who sell to “solopreneurs,” but many who market to “freelancers,” “consultants,” and “agencies.” One person whose career I respect is Jeff Goins, because he’s a writer, has a tribe of freelance writers, and sells information online. I don’t want to copy his message, but it’s safe to say that Headliners who featured Jeff may be a good match for me.
Let’s say I wanted to make a list podcasts to prospect. I could do a simple Google search like this one:
intitle:("jeff goins") podcast -goinswriter.com
What I’m telling Google here is that I want:
The exact phrase “Jeff Goins” in the title of the page
The word “podcast” must appear somewhere on the page
No results from Jeff’s site since I’m looking for Jeff’s podcast guest appearances
Once the search was set up, I limited the results to the past year because podcasts die early and often. This search yields a manageable 51 results, which could then be passed along to a VA or easily scraped and turned into an outreach list.
Even if podcasts aren’t your natural habitat, you can use a model to determine what opportunities exist for you in various channels.
Building an Audience with the Right Content Channels
By now, you might have some ideas for Headliners that could be a fit, but you’re wondering what kind of content you need to make it work.
Your choice hinges on what you’re good at making, and what your Headliners need.
More than anything, you have to make something that’s highly useful, and for a targeted audience. If you can do that, I 100% guarantee you can find Headliners to feature your content. There aren’t many guarantees in life, but this is one.
Something else to think about is the type of content that best tells the story for your brand. As a content creator myself, it’s critical that I write and speak. I can’t skip these content channels because they’re core to my brand identity. What are the channels that make the most sense for you?
When looking at channels to use in my business, I evaluate them based on the following criteria:
Importance to my brand – is this a critical content channel for my brand?
Difficulty to execute – how hard is it to make the content and build the Headliner relationship in this channel?
Time commitment – how long will it take from start to finish?
Repeatability – is there an opportunity to create multiple pieces of content for the same Headliner?
Scalability – is it possible to do a lot of this activity by leveraging past efforts?
Impact – how close of a relationship is the content likely to create with your audience?
Has anyone ever said that you have a natural ability to speak? That you’re “quick on your feet” or witty? Do you feel comfortable talking to strangers? Do you mind repeating your message over and over again?
Podcasts may be a channel for you. Being a podcast guest is relatively easy to set up, and it only takes 30 minutes to an hour to record. The host handles everything else, and you can get back to work as soon as the recording is done.
To make the most of podcast recordings, you should have a clear call to action that you use every time. That way, you’ll send listeners to a single place where they can sign up to get something you offer, and you can keep in touch with them as long as they’re subscribed.
The downside of podcasts is that there’s low repeatability with a given host. Once a host records with you, they may not offer a repeat opportunity, or at least they’d require months or years to pass before interviewing you again. That said, you can echo your message on dozens of podcasts, but you’ll have to create relationships with every new host.
Guest Posting and Articles
Writing for a publication is a powerful way to get your message across. Unless you really want to write, I’d recommend skipping this channel.
However, I’m a firm believer that writing is the most powerful way to bring your message to a large crowd. Ten years ago, guest blogging was all the rage. It’s faded in popularity because it now requires more work.
Writing is a slow process, and perhaps takes more time than anything else on this list. One way to scale your written content is to decide on three or so topics you’ll cover, then iterate on them. The more you do it, the faster you’ll produce your next article.
Something else to consider: very few people write well. I still have a long way to go, but the feedback I’ve received is that my content ranges from very good to excellent. When I get this feedback, most Headliners want more content from me, so while I can’t scale the next article, I can continually leverage a small handful of relationships.
If you’re a natural in front of a crowd and can effectively structure your content to teach, webinars are a great channel for you. The thing I love about webinars is that they combine several talents, which collectively leave a much stronger impression on everyone watching.
Putting together a webinar is a lot of work. You need to find a topic, structure the content, create the slides, rehearse…it’s worth it, but it can feel exhausting. On average, I spend about 12 hours building and honing every webinar I produce.
Once you have a webinar that resonates, it’s pretty easy to take your show on the road to multiple Headliners. You won’t be able to give the same webinar to a Headliner’s audience twice, however.
In some cases, Headliners need experts to shore up the weaknesses in their courses. Contributing to a Headliner’s course will give you access to people who pay for the course. This audience is much higher quality than passive content consumers who expect everything for free.
So for example, if I were to create a course teaching you how to execute The Opening Act Strategy, it might be right at home with a company like UGURUS that sells a more comprehensive “how to run your web services business” curriculum. In my case, I’m diving deep on a particular marketing strategy that would apply to many of their students. UGURUS promises a better business for each student. Everyone wins.
You may also consider a big platform like Lynda, since they’re selective in the content they choose. Teaching on a platform like Udemy is fine, but it’s not The Opening Act Strategysince they don’t curate the content. In other words, publishing Udemy conveys no trust and does not give you a focused audience.
Video interviews work exactly like a podcast, except that you need to look presentable! In a video interview, you’ll be asked questions about your expertise. Like a podcast, you should have a focused topic to cover and a call to action.
Video allows people to see you. They get a stronger sense of who you are as a person, and may even feel like they know you by the end of it. It’s a weird phenomenon, but it’s true.
Depending on your market and audience, there are quite a few video interview shows like Mixergy(mixergy.com), GrowthHacker.tv(growthhacker.tv), and many more.
Unlike some of the channels mentioned above, being a great video interview guest requires a bit more equipment and know-how. You need to worry about things like the quality of your camera, lighting, contrast, audio quality, and more. For me personally, I have to remind myself to not look weird (because acting weird is a given).
Speaking may be the channel that conveys the most influence on your audience. Since you’re live and in-person, the amount of information communicated about you is enormous compared to every other channel. Your audience not only has the benefit of seeing you and hearing your content, but they can also observe your body language and the nuances of your physical appearance.
You’re also able to learn about your audience while you speak to them. You can see which points create resonance, if people are actively engaged, and who is in your audience. After your speech, you also have the option of interacting with the audience, which gives you even more valuable information.
Your credibility is multiplied if you’re able to speak at a well-known event. There’s colossal social proof and esteem that comes with it: a large group of people is watching you, and the event organizers endorse you…you must be good!
I love speaking as a channel. I also recognize that public speaking strikes paralyzing fear in a lot of people, maybe you. Rest easy: anyone can become a better public speaker, and it becomes more natural with practice.
What to Do Next to Build YOUR Authority and Audience
Knowing what to do next is the key to everything you do in your business. So what do you do to start building your audience by borrowing the audience a Headliner already created?
Decide firmly on a single Audience you’d like to serve.
Identify how you can help them (your message).
Figure out who has that audience already (your Headliners).
Decide on the types of content you’ll create.
Reach out to Headliners to get the strategy under way!
Don’t obsess over what you’ll say before you identify your Audience. Who you help comes first, then how you’ll help.
Don’t require perfection of yourself when you get started.
Don’t talk yourself out of contacting Headliners.
Don’t create content that helps your Audience and Headliners, but not you.
And if you’d like a cheat sheet to put this all into practice to help you stay organized, you can get my full checklist and spreadsheet here.
Thanks for reading, and I can’t wait to see you in an Opening Act role soon!