By Paul Bennett – NRWA Director of Member Support, New Business Owners
If you work for yourself, being visible in order to build your business is critical. But how can you achieve this?
You could buy visibility by spending buckets of cash on advertising—but ads, on their own, don’t enhance the business relationships that you’ll need to survive. Therefore, a far more effective strategy for creating visibility is to cultivate mutually beneficial connections through networking.
Building visibility is a mashup of “why, who, where, what, and when.” Addressing these Ws will greatly help you plan, focus, execute, and monitor your marketing activities. In this article, I’ll talk about the first four of them, and although the context is online, the broad principles apply to offline activities as well.
Why do you want to become visible?
In his bestseller “Start with Why,” Simon Sinek writes extensively about how the reason we do anything is so important. Addressing the why helps you set your “business compass” and should be done in the earliest stages of business planning. So, ask yourself why you want to become visible.
“To become successful” is often the first reason that comes to mind, but it’s pretty vague. What do you mean by “successful”? Is it making lots of money? Could it be working whenever, wherever, however, and with whomever you please? Are you inclined to work with specific types of clients? Or do you want to focus on one or two areas from the broad range of services (resume writing, coaching, LinkedIn consulting, interview prep, salary negotiation, full-cycle career management, etc.) that our clients need?
Who are the people to whom you want to be visible?
Do you want to work with accountants or architects? Grant writers or geographers? Zookeepers or Zamboni drivers? (Yes, that’s actually an official occupational category.)
Once you’ve figured this out, sustained focus on your target market can eventually pay huge dividends. When you’re just getting started, your priority will likely be financial survival (i.e., keeping food in the house by taking on as many new clients as possible). But over the longer term, hustling will enable you to start picking and choosing your clients, commanding higher rates, and hopefully, enjoying client interactions more than when you had to endure all of those obnoxious personalities to keep the lights on.
The general idea here is to, eventually, niche yourself. You could become the go-to resume expert for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) professionals, or you could develop a reputation as the salary-negotiation consultant who understands the curve balls law firms enjoy pitching to nervous prospective associates.
Alternatively, you could cast a huge net and serve an extensive range of clients (and some of us have done this quite successfully). However, if your ultimate goal is to maximize your personal visibility, then having very few competitors in a smaller, well-defined niche (like “retail commercial real estate marketers”) can prove much more lucrative than competing against the thundering herds that pursue huge, amorphous markets (such as “senior executives").
Where are the people to whom you want to be visible?
Speaking of herds, do statisticians have an online watering hole where they gather to geek out about primes and parallelograms? Or do teachers have a place where they meet to mull over curriculum development or classroom management?
If you want to catch fish, you’ve got to go to where they’re swimming, and one of the great things about the internet is how it has thrown open the doors to what once were exclusive, “gated” professional communities. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to discuss career management with physicians, you would have found them far less accessible than they are now, thanks to the advent of social media. Today, all of us can participate in many specialized professional groups (bankers, hoteliers, therapists, and so on) on Facebook and, preferably, LinkedIn.
The bottom line is, determine where your ideal clients hang out and then join in! Just remember that when participating in specialized groups, prioritize listening carefully over speaking frequently and limit your contributions to ones that draw upon your authentic expertise. Offering unqualified advice on topics outside your wheelhouse can make you stick out like a sore thumb or even get you banished by the admins.
LinkedIn is by far the best place for professional networking, although Facebook and Twitter are also good venues. Furthermore, you can comment on blogs, but this won’t necessarily enhance your visibility as well as pleasing the LinkedIn algorithms will.
What can you do to become visible?
Once you’ve figured out why you want greater visibility, with whom you want to become more visible, and where you should go to start expanding your network, you’ve got to nail down and execute your strategy for making those all-important connections.
A fast and reliable way to become well known is to solve other people’s problems, which can generate recommendations and referrals to the point that you’ve got to turn away business. And wouldn’t that be a nice “problem” to have?
Wherever your ideal clients are online, you’ll find lots of people liking, loving, commenting, and sharing. Unfortunately, many of those interactions are of little value. Your top priority should be engaging with your network, such that your network engages with you in return.
For example, Facebook is stuffed with billions of inconsequential post reactions (like, love, laugh, cry, shock, anger), quick-draw comments (“Congratulations!”… “Sorry to hear about that!”… “Agreed!”) and photo fails. If you’re Facebooking as “Suzy Smith,” then these kinds of lightweight interactions are fun and fine–but if you’re engaging on behalf of your business, you’ll want to focus on adding value to meaningful discussions.
For LinkedIn, it’s important to understand the relative value the algorithm places on different activities. In general, the more effort you make participating on LinkedIn, the more you’ll get out of it. In other words, reacting (like, love, celebrate, insightful, and curious) is fine, but you’re going to get more mileage out of comments and shares (ideally, shares that you’ve chimed in on).
In TSL Marketing’s blog post –“LinkedIn Content Tips: Which Is Better, a Like, Share, or Comment?" – Ryan Nicholson opines, “Hands down, comments really do dominate the algorithm, and there is really no question that comments alone are superior to even likes and shares combined.” (Andy Foote, an authority on the LinkedIn algorithm, agrees.)
In conclusion, the best way to boost your business's visibility and foster its growth is to join communities best aligned with your “why" and then become an astute observer who frequently and regularly contributes helpful, engaging, and relevant content. This will enable you to spend less time shaking the bushes in search of new business and more time cultivating warm leads that have come your way. And that’s not just because you’ve been feeding those algorithms well; it’s also due to the magic of good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.