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How to Build Authority as an Expert In Your Market

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
16 min read

When you are building authority in your market, it’s done in hopes that you’ll have a steady flow of higher-quality clients waiting to work with you. If you have enough people waiting for you, you can work on your own terms.

In this episode, I’ll be talking about:

  1. How to find your market
  2. What makes a world view memorable
  3. Distributing your authority
  4. How much time is spent building authority

How do you become known? You’ve spent years refining your position as an expert, but who’ll recognize it? Find a market to tap into first—and be specific. “Entrepreneurs” and “business owners” are not markets. Start small and grow your prospect list with time. Once you have your market focus narrowed down, you’ll need to be present in areas where clients consume information and make buying decisions, like blogs, podcasts, and conferences.

To strengthen your authority, a stand-out world view will make your ideas and overall outlook more memorable, prompting clients to want to hear more from you. A world view that is counterintuitive, explains a trend, and truly sticks out in the listener’s mind will put you on the map.

Now that your market focus is decided on and you know how to present yourself in a unique way, it’s time to distribute this expertise. Decide where you’ll go first—will it be LinkedIn, email, networking events, or an online publication? Know where members of your market are frequently active, and distribute your authority there.

So how much time does it take to build authority and be considered an expert? The simple answer: a long time. This is a no-nonsense, no shortcut route; but with patience (and yes, time) you’ll have built an authority that makes you a fish out of water in the best way.

Mentioned in this episode:

Influence by Robert Cialdini

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

How to Build Authority as an Expert In Your Market:

Full Transcript

His paintings are fixtures in the world’s most well known museums, and he was incredibly prolific. His style jumps off the campus, and it’s obvious who painted it upon first glance his work is world renowned, and perhaps his name is the first one that pops into your mind if I ask you to think of a famous painter. None of this was true while he was alive. He lived in absolute poverty, in obscurity, and with depression his entire life. Several days before his death, he wrote in a letter, “I tried to do as well as certain painters whom I have greatly loved and admired.” Sure, he admired others, but was admired by basically no one. You could say he had no authority in the artist community during his lifetime. And certainly not with art collectors or museums who could have lifted him out of poverty.

He couldn’t make up for it with volume, either. He painted 900 paintings in less than 10 years. How many were sold? Just a few, but certainly he wasn’t a recognized painter during his life. But his collection remained. After his death, his brother took up the mantle of getting his paintings out to the world. But he too died just six months later. But it was his brother’s wife, Jo, who put the painter into your art history books. She published a book of the brothers’ letters to each other, lent out paintings to dealers and galleries, and organized art exhibitions to get his work out into the world. This painter, of course, is Vincent van Gogh. The lesson is that expert and even groundbreaking world alone doesn’t build authority. You also need a way to distribute it. In today’s episode, I’ll tell you what’s required to build your authority in your market, and some ideas to get you started.

Welcome to Modern Sales. A podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and sales people looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win win relationships. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

How to attract the best clients who are willing to pay you the most and do business with you as quickly and with as little effort as possible. That is the fundamental challenge of all sales and marketing. What underpins it all is authority. Are you seen as one? Well, if you’re listening to this podcast, you might see me as an authority. But I guarantee there are plenty more people out in the world who don’t now who I am, and certainly don’t see me as an authority. In my view, there are four factors that affect your ability to develop authority in your market. The market you choose, number one. Number two, your world view. Number three, distribution. And number four, time. Being an expert in your field is necessary, but not sufficient to building a thriving business. You have to both know what you’re doing and be known. Easier said than done, of course.

How do you become known? It’s a combination of activities and factors that create and solidify your presence as an authority, but ultimately it’s completely up to other people to decide if you’re an authority. Moving up from the somewhat narrow discussion, the point of authority is to develop lead flow in your business. You want a steady and eventually growing pipeline of top tier accounts and contacts waiting to work with you. Having authority also affords you the opportunity to escape, for the most part at least, negotiations over price or terms. If you have enough people waiting to work with you, you work on your own terms, and you are happy to say goodbye to anybody who’s difficult. So the first thing you need to do, of course, is pick a market and a perfect client.

Before we go further into the discussion, I’ll start with the definition of authority as it applies to our discussion here. The power to influence others, especially because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognized knowledge about something. Now I can’t give you a commanding manner. There are ways to improve your speaking abilities, take acting and improv classes, go out and do speeches on a regular basis. Study charisma and body language, all of that. That’s all possible. But in this podcast, I can’t really cover all of those things. What I can cover is this key phrase: recognized knowledge. The power to influence others, especially because of recognized knowledge. If you are to have recognized knowledge, then you must have both knowledge and recognition. So you’ve already spent all these years developing your expertise and the next question is, who is it recognized by?

I recently had David C. Baker on the podcast. You can go back and listen in the feed here. And he recommends experts narrow their focus to markets with two to 10,000 prospects. Though I would say you can go up a bit from there. If you’re wondering how small of a market you should have, the answer is generally much smaller than you think. Let’s approach the problem with a bit of math. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect that about 3% of your market is in a buying cycle at any given time. So if you’re looking to land, say, five additional net new clients a year, then you’ll probably need about 20 sales opportunities if you close one in four. 100 leads per opportunity. And that gives you a total addressable market of 67,000 leads. Now you can play with the numbers a bit, but what’s clear is that you’ll be addressing a market in the tens of thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands as an expert, but not in the millions.

By definition, your expertise is in a particular field, which by itself limits who you can help in the first place. Choosing a market to address is critical because every market will have its own requirements, its own ways of consuming content, its own ways of gathering. Like at conferences and meetups and other things where people congregate in a physical place. It will have its own hubs on the internet. All of these things are dependent on the market. So this isn’t to say you have to have only one market, but it’s hard enough to develop authority in a single market, let alone in multiple markets. So let’s stick with this for now.

Once you decide on your market focus, the next question is how people in that market consume information and make buying decisions. And of course, the shorthand of what you need to do is just be in those places with insightful thought provoking information. So if people in your market read blog posts, do that. Create wonderfully useful information they can consume at their leisure. If they listen to podcasts, make a remarkable podcast. If they discover industry trends and ideas at conferences, be on stage and speaking. The truth is, for most people, building authority with the target goal of developing lead flow. One single place: articles, podcast, whatever it is, is not going to be enough. You’re going to need to be in multiple places to reinforce the perception of your authority.

But before we get to where to go, what comes before that is what to say. In the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel, he says one of the questions that he would ask of people is what do you know that no one else knows? And what he was really saying is, is there something counterintuitive that you can see in the world that other people don’t see? And this would help him choose entrepreneurs or employees or other places to invest his time and resources. Now this is a really difficult question. I don’t want to make it seem like this is just so easy to find some big idea. Because that’s essentially what we’re saying here, is you need a world view that is remarkable. You have to have a point of view that stands out and is memorable. Otherwise, your authority building efforts will never harness the power of organic or viral growth. And maybe that’s something that I can talk about in a separate podcast.

But essentially, it’s this. At first when you’re building your authority, there needs to be some amount of brute force involved in this. You need to make people aware of and exposed to your thinking. But over time, if you do have something unique, a remarkable world view. A way that you see the world that’s maybe different or counterintuitive or helps people self select into your tribe. Hey, I’m one of the people who believes that, they may think. If you can do that, you will start to benefit from more and more word of mouth over time. And I’m gonna get to time in the very last part of this.

But now the natural question is, well how do I develop a worldview that’s remarkable? And there is no easy formula for this. But what I’ll tell you is maybe a few tests that you can use in order to determine is this memorable enough? Test number one. Is it counterintuitive, or would very few people say this right now? One brand test that a lot of people use is, are you making claims that your competitors won’t? Another test is that your worldview baked into it explains a trend. There’s something going on in the world that people are observing and would agree, yes, this is happening. And your worldview helps to explain that trend for them. And third, is it memorable? Now, memorability could be a byproduct of whether or not it explains a trend or whether or not it’s counterintuitive. But memorability is also related to simplicity. Can this be communicated simply in a way that people will not only be able to remember it, but they’ll be able to say it to someone else verbatim. So that’s the second thing is creating a worldview that’s remarkable.

Now number three is distribution. And that just simply means getting your message out. So where will you go to get your message out? Now there are different levels of getting your message out. And what most of us focus on is getting our message out to the most people possible. But what’s more important than that is getting it out to just the right people. So if you say to me, your market is only 2,000 people. How can you spend an afternoon getting a particular message out to a subset of that 2,000 people? Even if it’s only 20 people? That’s 20 more people who are exposed to you now, and may believe you are an authority, either now or later, than knew you before. That’s incredibly powerful. Versus if you went out and created a YouTube video that got two million views. If none of them overlap with your 2,000 person target market, then it doesn’t really matter how many view you got.

So rather than focusing on volume, focus on fit. How closely does this audience fit with what you’re trying to do? Of course, one easy way to start to get your message out and develop some authority, and at least recognition is LinkedIn. You get to curate your own audience there. Of course, there’s a slew of reasons why when you post something, they might not see it. I’ll just give you an example of what I mean by that. I put up a post this week that got, I don’t know, 2500 views or something. But my first degree network, the people I’m actually connected to, is over 9,000. So very likely, let’s assume that everybody in my network logs in at least once a week. It’s very likely that not everybody I’m connected to saw that post even though they were logged in I posted it there. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why that is. But what I’ll tell you is, 2,000 people seeing my post on LinkedIn, pretty good. I didn’t have to pay anything for it, other than the time invested in growing my network into that platform.

You know, there are lots of other ways to get your message out. There’s email marketing. There’s in person events. So industry associations, conferences, networking events. There’s referral networks like BNI. And of course, speaking is a really, really, really big one. And I’m gonna get to what makes authority believable in a second. And speaking really checks a lot of boxes there. But I think what underpins all of this in terms of distribution and the skill you need to effectively distribute your thoughts, essentially, is writing. You have to write. And you have to write well. Now, can you become an authority without writing well? Yes, you definitely can. But someone needs to write for you, and someone needs to clarify and articulate your message in a digestible way that’s really easy to understand. And in my opinion, writing is the single skill that forces you to do that more than anything else.

Right here on this podcast, for this very episode, I’ve written probably about 1500 to 2,000 words to prepare for recording this. There’s a lot of research that went into it. There’s a huge outline. There’s a gathering of resources. There’s clarifications that I make while I’m writing and while I’m recording. Writing helps me create for all these other channels. So even if I’m gonna go do a public speaking event, the place I would always start is who is my audience, and what do I want them to know? And the not next question is what am I going to say? How do I get this message across in a way that they can both digest and take away and be memorable? And writing is something that’s really critical there.

So the next thing I want to cover is what makes authority believable. Because one thing you may be wondering at this point is, okay, great. I have a market. I have a worldview, and I have distribution channels. Does that mean if I’m just the loudest then I will win this battle to be an authority? And I would say no. I think the least helpful advice that I’ve heard people giving over the last 10 or 20 years in all of marketing and all of sales is just be better than everyone else. Some variation of that. Make better content. Be better at sales. If you could just do that, then you’ll be good. Which, it’s like, not something that you can action. Or turn into some useful advice. Because obviously you want to be better, the question is how can you be better?

So I want to discuss really quickly what makes authority believable. No discussion of authority can be had without referencing Cialdini’s book influence because it’s the seminal work on how people are influenced to comply with our requests. Now, of course, your ultimate request is do business with me when you need this kind of help. So this discussion may be about influence just as much as it is about authority. In particular, there are certain reinforcement mechanisms you need to have in place in order for your authority to be believable. And for people to buy into the idea that you are an authority. In the book Influence, Cialdini covers six different factors of influence, which he calls weapons of influence. That’s chapter one. And I don’t want to cover all six, but I do want to cover three. Because three are very relevant to this discussion of authority.

Number one is commitment and consistency. So to become an authority, to be an expert who has authority, you need to show the fuck up. You need to be there. You need to be committed to your market. You need to be committed to the people who you want to reach out to you when they need help. That is required. You also need to stay consistent. And consistency can mean many different things, but in Influence what he primarily means is, you remain consistent with your word. So if you have a worldview that says serve, don’t sell, for instance. My tagline. I’m not gonna sit here and give you a bunch of tips and tricks in order to get someone to get someone to buy from you when it’s not in service to them. That’s not something I would ever do. That demonstrates consistency. I’ll give you another example. One of my favorite ones is HubSpot, the marketing automation software. They talk about all of the great benefits of inbound marketing. But they have hundreds of people in a boiler room dialing for dollars all day. Now, that’s not totally consistent with their message, right? That can be undermining to their overall influence in the market. Obviously, they’re doing well. But the more you dig in, the more you realize that there’s nuance there, and they’re not being totally forthright about how they actually behave.

The next one I want to highlight is social proof. So social proof can come in a lot of different ways. But essentially, it means other people, objective third parties, or at least seemingly objective third parties have given a stamp of approval to you. And if those parties are authoritative, by the transitive property, you get some of their authority. I’ll give you an example. A good friend of mine, on his website has a picture of his appearance on a cable news show. Where they interviewed him about his business. Now he uses this as social proof that he’s someone that you should pay attention to. So social proof can come in the form of places where you’ve published. It could come in the form of people you associate with. It could come in the form of case studies and testimonials, which obviously are fantastic because they substantiate the work that you do. It can be lots of different things. But you need to have some of it.

The final thing I want to highlight comes out of chapter six of the book. And the title of that chapter is Authority, which is not super useful. But one of the things that he talks about under the umbrella of authority is trappings. So the example he gives in the book is if you walked into a hospital, and a person with a lab coat and a stethoscope around their neck walked up to you and said, “I hear you’re sick. How can I help you?” You would automatically assume that that’s a doctor. Even though any of us could go buy a white laptop and a stethoscope and pretend to be a doctor. That’s not what I mean in this context though. Let’s expand the definition of trappings here a little bit. I could go on a rant about people wearing uniforms. Self employed consultants who in all of their photos are wearing suits even though they’re probably working in their home office most of the time. But I won’t do that. I won’t do that. I will spare you that rant.

But what I will say is if you’re on stage at a conference, that’s a trapping of authority. The organizers of that conference have chosen you, out of a pool of probably qualified people who couldn’t all speak on stage. And here you are speaking to a room full of people, which also gives you social proof, because if other people think you’re smart, then any given individual is more likely to think you’re smart. But you’re doing something in that moment when you’re speaking on stage that people with authority do, which is speak on stage. And so I mentioned in the distribution channels is speaking is one of the ways that you can get your message out, but in and of yourself makes you more believable as an authority. Even if people don’t witness you doing it. If you could just say you did it or show pictures that you did it, that starts to send a message of authority.

If you want to build authority, you are playing the long game. Which is to say, this shit takes time. Hang in there. One thing that a lot of people don’t talk about when it comes to developing an authoritative position either as an individual or as a firm is that you can add catalysts so that you accelerate your authority building. But you can’t completely circumvent the need for time. Because what happens in authority building is people become exposed to you, they start to learn more about you or your firm, and they slowly make decisions as they pick up more and more signals about whether or not they should trust you as an authority. In addition to this decision process, they also have to be in a buying cycle before they ever become another sales opportunity for you in your pipeline. So yes, this takes time. Undoubtedly. So you really have to make a commitment if you want to become an authority, because this is a several year plan. This is not going to be something that just happens overnight. And showing up consistently and repeatedly is probably the best absolute best thing you can do to create, solidify, and cement your authority position in your marketplace.

Now I want to leave you with this. Think about targeting your outcomes. What can you do that you can consistently execute? And what can you measure? So you can measure the amount of effort you’re putting into something. You can measure the number of speaking appearances you do. You can measure your output. How many articles you write. You can measure your engagement on social media. You can measure the number of links coming into your website, which could be a proxy for how influential you are in your industry. You can measure the number of referrals and the quality of referrals you’re getting. There’s all kinds of different ways to observe leading indicators of you developing your authority, or at least proxies for authority. So what I want you to do is target your outcomes when it comes to authority. And also one of the things you really need to measure is the amount of effort you’re putting into it. Your inputs. Because that is inescapable. The inputs and the time are two factors that you just can’t get away from.

So just to recap, if you’re looking to develop authority in your market, there are four things that you need to do. Choose your market, develop your worldview, find your distribution channels, and put your message through there. And give it some time. Once again, my name is Liston. I wanted to thank you so much for being here. For taking the time to listen to this. I know you could be doing virtually anything else with your time. Or certainly listening to hundreds of thousands of other podcasts, so I thank you for being here. And if you’re getting something out of this podcast, please just share it with someone. Tell someone about it. And if you’re so inclined, leave a review on iTunes. It helps other people discover Modern Sales. Thanks so much. And I hope you have a fantastic day.

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