Chapter 17: The Mechanics of Earning Visibility and Trust
Know what's better than deciding you want to specialize, choosing a specialization, changing your website to match, and then getting an inquiry from a great-fit prospect a few weeks later?
Here's what's better: deciding you want to specialize, choosing a specialization, changing your website to match, and then getting an inquiry from a great-fit prospect a few days later.
Feedback from the market is so valuable because it clarifies your direction, fortifies you, and helps you keep going. The faster you can get it, the better.
I recently spoke with a prospect who decided on a new specialized focus, changed his website to match, and got an excited inquiry from a good-fit prospect the same day the website went live. That almost never happens, and that's not where we set the bar for sufficiently rapid market feedback.
47: "Fastest" is measured in relative terms in the context of your project length and other "business metabolism" factors, not in absolute terms like days/weeks/months.
The orientation toward speed, however, is important during the early phase of implementing a specialization decision. You want the fastest possible time to feedback from the market  because of the emotional benefits that rapid feedback provides. There's less sunk cost to deal with, and less time to experience the anxiety that uncertainty produces. You can't control things like inbound lead volume. But you can eliminate unnecessary time-wasting activity as you move into implementing your specialization decision.
I want to remind you that all of the advice in this book is tailored for the solo indie consultant or the very small expertise-driven services business. And further, it's all advice that assumes you're specializing for the first time. If you're re-specializing, or if you already have momentum as a specialist, then the advice that follows is less relevant for you.
A Specialization Implementation Recipe
I normally offer frameworks, not recipes, but here's a useful recipe for starting to implement your specialization decision:
48: The more human and high-bandwidth you can make this communication, the better. A realtime voice/video conversation is generally the gold standard here.
Contact all your current clients and let them know about your new specialization.  Unless you want them to panic-quit you, lay out a transition plan for them. That plan could include working with them for as long as they need. It could be a more rapid transition away from working with you. Do whatever fits your goals, context, and risk profile. Make sure they feel heard and listened to during this conversation.
Contact all your previous clients and let them know about the new specialization. Less high-bandwidth approaches are fine here. Let them know that if they want to help you, they could search their "mental Rolodex" for introductions they could make that might fit the new specialized focus.
Update all your social media accounts/properties with the new focus. Be as clear, simple, and un-clever as possible in how you word things.
Update your website as quickly as possible.
Step #4 in this recipe can kill you. Not literally, but it is the place where you are most likely to conduct a dramatic reenactment of the healthcare.gov debacle but on your own website. Please don't.
You might need a great website, but what you need more now in the very early phases of the specialization implementation is a functional website that clearly describes who your business serves, what you do for them, and a few other relevant details. One website page and a few hundred words of copy on that site are usually enough. You can and should revisit the website after you have made headway on the rest of this recipe.
Consider The Expertise Incubator framework described in the previous chapter, especially if you have the ability to execute a more gradual transition to your new specialization. This will often delay getting feedback from the market, but it will enable other worthwhile things, so it can be a good tradeoff.
If you want or need to get a response from your new specialized focus quicker , you need to use faster-acting tools.
Conversations are what will quickly lead to the traction you need. This is true even if you are an introvert. This is true if your service is simple. This is true if your service is complex. This is true if your service is cheap. Or expensive. It is almost universally true within the world of consulting services.
Sales matter too, of course. They matter a lot. But conversations precede sales, even if you imagine a future where the selling is product-like or low-cost. In the very early days of a new specialization, optimize for conversations. As you do so, favor simple, low-tech tools.
Simple, low-tech tools for earning visibility, connection, and trust from an audience include:
Anything that leverages an existing authoritative publication (trade publications, someone else’s podcast or event, etc.) for getting your thinking in front of your target market.
Email list . Don’t allow yourself to use fancy segmentation, lead scoring, personalization, or complex digital marketing funnels until you get a comment from at least 10 strangers on the strength of your expertise or point of view. Generally avoid using urgency, fear of missing out, or fear-baiting.
Anything that relies on RSS for distributing content. This includes a blog, hosting a podcast, or guesting on others’ podcast.
Curated, small group real-time interaction with those from whom you are trying to earn visibility and trust. It’s okay if the tech that facilitates this is somewhat complex as long as the experience for participants is intimate and high quality. It’s fine if you’re listening to them, learning from them, speaking to them from a stage, teaching them, or demonstrating expertise for them. All are trust-building forms of interaction. Selling aggressively to them as a group is not.
Make use of a social media platform to share your thinking. Considered alone, social media is not usually a valuable method for earning visibility and trust, but it is cheap, relatively easy to use, and in some cases, very fast-acting, so it's worth considering using at this point in your specialization journey.
If possible, use outreach to facilitate conversations . Horizontal specializations are generally incompatible with outreach visibility methods, but outreach can work fine with vertical or service specializations. Outreach can be fast-acting, effective, and cheap. That is why bottom-feeding services businesses have started using it so heavily for sales. Do not join their ranks. Outreach combined with a willingness to do the emotional labor of caring about those you are reaching out to will always be a usable visibility-increasing tool.
Other Helpful Assets
There are a few more assets that will help you implement your specialization decision:
Ecosystem of support
Patience, discipline, and courage
Eventually, you’ll need an ecosystem of support. One of the ways you can cultivate the reputation you want is to recruit the help of certain people. These include:
People who can refer you when the right kind of prospective client asks them for a referral.
People who can get you in front of their audience and help you connect with the right kind of prospective clients.
People who can call attention to your work because it’s relevant to their audience.
People who have a complementary product or service who can refer you to their customers or clients.
People who admire your work and spread the word without you asking them.
One of my coaching clients is cultivating a relationship with a Wall Street Journal ( WSJ ) reporter whose beat (the intersection of tech, business, and culture) overlaps with my client’s focus. My client is playing the long game of slow, gradual engagement, starting with social media interaction. Eventually, this WSJ reporter will be part of my client’s ecosystem of support. I don’t know exactly how or when, but I call this out here because it’s a good example of what I mean by an ecosystem of support. You can run your business alone, but you can’t reach the highest possible level of success without other people.
Cultivating an ecosystem of support is something you can do intentionally, but it’s not something you can develop a granular, precise plan for. It’s much more about keeping an ear to the ground for beneficial relationships and opportunity, and then taking action when they present themselves.
The final group of assets you’ll need to implement a specialization decision: time, patience, discipline, and courage. They go together because they are the human stuff—the grit and heart—that you bring to the process. They are vital ingredients in the asset you are trying to build.
The Importance of Speed and Conversations
This is as close to a recipe as you're going to get from me, and I am happy to admit it's more like a typical pound cake recipe than a precise recipe for a delicate French pastry.
Building a marketing platform takes time and experimentation. There’s no single recipe you can follow that will work for every independent consultant. Building it takes real work.
Remember that speed is critical. Direct response marketing tools are the right ones for speed. Eventually, their use will impose a trust ceiling, though, so be ready to drop or reduce your usage of those tools later.
Remember that conversations are critical. Optimize your marketing to generate conversations. Sales will follow, but the market feedback you get from conversations is more important early on.
Favor simple, low-tech tools wherever possible. A lot of SaaS companies make good money by convincing you that the source of the vaguely sad, disappointed feeling you have when thinking about your marketing is inadequate tooling. The real source of that feeling is that you haven't learned how to use marketing to improve the lives of a small number of people. Better tools won't help with this learning curve.
After you’ve decided how you will specialize, you’ll find that some of the difficult or confusing parts of building a marketing platform have become easier to figure out. You’ll have more clarity about who you need to reach, and you’ll have better ideas about how to reach them. This new clarity makes beginning the work of building a marketing platform easier.
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