When you become noted as the foremost name in your industry, a wonderful little thing starts to happen. Instead of fussing and fighting for every incidental customer, you discover that they start coming to you. And that’s a good place to be.
Think of your target market as a large crowd, gathered at the scene of a spectacle. Most business owners act like the longsuffering pie-man at the back, running back and forth, tapping each person on the shoulder and asking whether they would like a pie. Most say no. Sometimes, someone says yes, and the pie-man makes a sale. It’s a lot of work to sell a single pie. And he must keep up his incessant to-and-fro in order to sell the next one, and then the next, if he hopes to survive.
You don’t want to be the pie-man
Instead, cast your glance over the heads of the crowd and observe what it is they have come to see. There in the distance, elevated on a hillside, is the guru, and the crowd have all assembled to hear him speak. That’s who you want to be. Business — and life generally — becomes a different proposition when they start coming to you.
Be a producer
So how do you go about cultivating the public perception that you are an expert; someone actually worth listening to? How do you become the thought leader in your own industry? The first part of the answer is to become a producer.
Let me give you an example from my own industry:
In the realm of professional speakers, who all consider themselves content experts, it’s surprising to see how many of those billing themselves out on the speaking circuit are simply not producers. They’re performers, yes, with a single keynote presentation, but they get stuck in time and cease to produce. They may very well be specialists in their field, but people tend to forget them, because they’re not constantly innovating, not constantly putting out into the world; and this changes their role from thought-leaders to mere performers. There’s a phrase written by an author from the previous century, James Michener, which I find inspiring. He recalls a period in his life when he was writing over 7 000 words a day. He described this act as an ‘almost indecent display of industry’. The phrasing of that statement hits the spot for me. Michener was seen, worldwide, as the foremost author of historical fiction, and a mind to be reckoned with. And just like Stephen King, who is often lauded as the bestselling living author today, he ascribed his astonishingly high-level reputation to honest hard work. Lots of it. He was a constant producer.
The next big thing
Imagine if Stephen King had written Carrie, then sat back in his chair and declared, “Right! I’m done. People should give me a career now.” It may have even worked. For one year. After that, no one would remember who Stephen King was. And yet, forty years later, he remains at the top of the bestseller lists. The ‘one great novel’ approach would be equivalent to what many experts are trying to do today. It just doesn’t work. You have to go on to novel number two. It’s a constant gradient of productive output that ultimately adds up to a real career and has people recognising you as someone at the top of your game.
So, if you are an expert in flowers, when will you write a book on the topic? And what will the second book be about? And the third? What new things can you do around flowers? Is there some novel way to present them to your market? Is there a TV show that you could do about them (and preferably something a little cleverer and quirkier than just a gardening show)? Or perhaps a road show? What’s the next big thing in flowers? Have you stamped your intellectual mark on it? When people think about flowers, why should they think about you? Constant output is the key. It’s one of the most important elements in positioning yourself as an expert. If you’re a financial advisor, write a small guide. When you’re done, think of the next thing. Take a careful look at your own approach to being an entrepreneur. Are you actively positioning yourself as the guru on the mountainside? Or are you still behaving like the pie-man? N
Hone your speaking ability
Joining a local Toastmasters chapter is a proven and enjoyable way to practice communication and leadership skills. A Toastmasters meeting is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a friendly atmosphere. A typical group has 20 to 40 members who meet weekly or bi-weekly to practice public speaking techniques. South African toastmaster chapters are members of Toastmasters International. To find your closest club, visit www.toastmasters.org and click on the ‘find a location near you’ link.