The Word of Gold: it’s visible experts who see off the competition

The fight for market share is about winning influence – being persuasive that in a crowded space you are outstanding. Thanks to the work of Robert Cialdini and others, the components of influence are well established:

  • Social proof – clients are strongly influenced in their buying decisions by the choices of respected peers.
  • Reciprocity – do something valuable for others and they will be motivated to pay you back.
  • Liking – not surprisingly, we are more likely to engage people we find engaging.
  • Scarcity – if our expertise is hard to find, it attracts a premium.
  • Consistency – if our proposition is aligned with clients’ previously expressed priorities or values, they are more likely to buy it.
  • Authority – the more impressive our credentials, the more work we will attract and the more we can charge for it.

In this piece, I focus on how we establish authority. How do professionals become, to use a term coined by Lee Frederiksen of the leading US consultancy Hinge Marketing, visible experts?

To the despair of business development directors everywhere, most lawyers are pretty good at keeping a low profile. Either they assume that whoever they are pitching to knows enough about them already, perhaps through looking at an underwhelming biography on their firm’s website, or they are reticent about pushing themselves, in case they appear arrogant or self-serving. Both are costly mistakes. We need to constantly reinforce our credentials. Who are we? What do we do? How well do we do it? So far as we are allowed to say, who do we do it for?

The competitive problem is that in mainstream practice, many have a good story to tell. What does it take to stand out? In a word, content, which means insight and information of genuine value, targeted strategically at the markets we want to be in and disseminated in ways calculated to create maximum visibility. It takes effort and investment to do this well, but the payoff is worth it. Frederiksen’s recently published research indicates that clients are willing to pay up to 13 times more for the right visible expert than for more obscure competitors. And he identifies a halo effect, which brings lustre to the whole firm, not just the individual.

What works?

Writing a book: the research indicates that head and shoulders above the pack for establishing authority is writing a book. Writing a good one may be easier than you think. It need not be a dense tome. The best ones are concise, in plain English and designed for an intelligent lay audience. Think of the brilliant success of the “Dummies” series. Landing a publishing deal can be difficult and time consuming, but on the other hand self-publishing has never been easier, nor, thanks to Amazon, has distribution.
Of the other possibilities, the winners are:

Online video: which needs to be professional and engaging, but again modern technology means barriers to entry are low. If bright kids can attract millions through their own YouTube channels started on a shoestring, what is stopping the smallest law firm?

Speaking: actively seek out opportunities to speak. Conference organisers are always on the lookout for able presenters with something interesting to say, and the kudos from appearing in the right forums is invaluable for building one’s personal brand.

Blogging: you may think the world is “blogjammed”, but there is always room for high-quality content, and blogging gives us a direct line to our chosen audience. Look, for example, at, or for great examples of original, provocative and accessible writing.

SEO, LinkedIn and Twitter: enough said. There is no point in doing all this dancing if we’re doing it in the dark. As between LinkedIn and Twitter, the former is the runaway winner in the present context.

Finally, these are not tasks for DIY enthusiasts. Even the most talented people cannot constantly come up with fresh ideas, translate them into product, optimise web and social media presence, and run a practice all on their own. Specialist expertise is available from an array of providers at modest cost. You will want to control and put your own imprint on it, but help like this is invaluable. Encourage colleagues to help you with ideas, and remind them of the halo effect – it’s very much in their interest too. If you are lucky enough to have junior staff under your command, involve them – a great resource for you, and equally valuable for their personal development.

So let this be VE – visible expert – Day, when you begin the process. I wish you a happy, healthy and high visibility new year.

The Author
Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds, a multi-award-winning law firm which grew from a sole practice to become a UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and trusted adviser to leading firms nationwide and internationally. e:; t: 0044 7968 484232; w:; twitter: @thewordofgold 
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