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Becoming a 'Visible Expert': Seven Traits Shared by Industry All Stars

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Firms with well-known industry stars are more likely to attract leads, command premium fees, and possess strong, recognized brands, we learned from a recent study of successful experts in the professional services industry.

We call these stars "Visible Experts."

After interviewing 130 of these Visible Experts, we discovered that they shared certain attributes. In fact, the data revealed seven traits that all professionals must have to be a Visible Expert in their industry.

In this article, we'll briefly explore all seven.

The Seven Traits of a Visible Expert

1. Commitment and Passion

That favorite cliché of high school sports coaches turns out to be true: You have to have heart.

Visible Experts are passionate and committed to their field and to what they are trying to accomplish. That makes sense: Becoming an industry star takes hard work and a substantial investment of time.

The people who make it to the top are those willing to fully commit themselves, and passion helps sustain you when times are tough.

2. An Expert Brand Strategy

Passion alone will not get you to the top, however. As famous attorney and author Andrew Sherman notes, "You wouldn't wake up and say 'I'm going to win a gold medal today.' It takes a lot of training."

That's also the case for Visible Experts. They are strategic about developing their brands, and few of their activities are haphazard.

To rise above the fray, you'll need to create a plan to develop your expert brand, all the while communicating a consistent message across all channels you use.

3. A Target Audience

Becoming well known is much harder if you are trying to appeal to a general audience. Instead, Visible Experts choose a highly targeted audience and focus their efforts on meeting, educating, and understanding that group.

Once they've chosen an audience, Visible Experts use a variety of methods to expand their visibility: networking, public speaking, publishing online, and creating partnerships with other Visible Experts and industry thought leaders.

4. Continual Expertise

The term Visible Expert was coined to highlight the two critical components at the center of every industry star: visibility and expertise.

Before you can expand your visibility, though, you must first have expertise. That's intuitively true: If you're not an expert in something, there's nothing for you to talk about—nothing to build on.

Our study found that Visible Experts emphasize the importance of staying on the cutting edge of their industries, coming up with the "next big idea" and staying relevant to their client base.

5. Communication Skills

Visible Experts are skilled communicators, equally at ease speaking in front of an audience of hundreds of CEOs and helping a client troubleshoot a problem one-on-one. They are also writers—of blog posts, articles, whitepapers, and even books.

But not all Visible Experts started off as speakers or writers. Many report having had to seek out training or coaching.

The moral of the story? If communication is a personal weakness, don't avoid it. Instead, make it a regular practice, and don't be afraid to take classes or find a mentor.

6. Teaching Ability

Hand in hand with good communication is the ability to teach. Visible Experts are skilled teachers, able to translate complex ideas into understandable takeaways easily understood by their target audience.

As world-famous architect and author Sarah Susanka puts it, "I pride myself in being able to look at a far-out, avant-garde building and help regular people understand it.... I enjoy putting my work into language that is accessible to regular people."

Visible Experts share other qualities with great teachers, including motivating those around them and imparting excitement about their area of expertise.

7. Getting Help

Becoming a Visible Expert is no easy task, and at some point the sheer number of demands on your time will threaten to overwhelm you. A defining quality of Visible Experts is the ability to delegate and to ask for help.

If you're weak on writing or speaking, consider getting a coach or taking lessons. Have a mediocre website or don't really understand SEO? Think about outsourcing it.

Visible Experts talked about the importance of smart hiring, as well—i.e., surrounding themselves with a highly motivated team that is both capable and committed.

Finding Your Own Recipe for Success

Remarkably, although all Visible Experts share these seven components, there is no "right way" to combine them, the study found:

  • Some experts began as prolific writers with a strong online or social media presence, honing in on their target audience only years later.
  • Others were the opposite, starting out as highly skilled professionals with a few clients, and developing channels to promote their expert brand afterward.

To learn about becoming a Visible Expert and to see the full results of the study, download the e-book (email required).

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Lee W. Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services to help firms grow faster and maximize value.

LinkedIn: Lee Frederiksen

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