It’s December, and, while some of us may have our 2016 marketing budget buttoned up and others may be asking “Budget? What budget?”, budgets and planning tend to be topics of office conversation this time of year.

And then there’s growth, which tends to be a topic in any month of any year. Our most recent research tells us that 72.1 percent of professional services firms identified “attracting and developing new business” as their No. 1 business challenge. Toward that end, 61.9 percent of firms listed “generating more referrals” as their primary marketing objective. So, growth through new business is on our minds, and our marketing plans can make or break that initiative.

In order to maximize the value of your marketing dollars with a focus on growth, consider creating and developing a Visible Expert (or a team of them!) within your firm.

At Hinge, we define a Visible ExpertSM as a professional who has attained both high visibility and a reputation for expertise in his or her industry niche. Within your own niche, you can probably think of at least one or two of these industry stars. If you have such experts in your firm but they remain largely unknown to your target audience, it might be a partial explanation of why competitors are getting new business that’s eluding your firm.

SEE ALSO: Building Your Brand: How a Solid Brand Drives More Referrals


Connecting the dots.

Most firms rely heavily on referrals for business growth. Referrals are far from confined to recommendations passed along by customers in a business’ existing client base. In fact 82 percent of firms have received a referral from a person with whom they’d had no past relationship. How does that even happen?


Our research on referrals shows that just under half – 48 percent – of all non-client referrals are expertise based. In other words, unbeknownst to you, referrals can be generated on your behalf by folks who have never worked with you but simply know about your expertise through hearing you at a speaking event, reading a piece of content they’ve read, or even through one of your threads they’ve seen in social media.

Sources for Expertise-Based Referrals

Sources for Expertise-Based Referrals

If your expertise is hard to uncover, or decipher, imagine all the business being let on the table. A Visible Expert is a powerful magnet capable of attracting new business, a statement that’s fully supported by our research.

Creating a Visible Expert

What’s involved in creating and developing a Visible Expert? It’s a strategic, multi-faceted process that begins with these three key planning steps:

1. Choose the right candidate or candidates.

You’ll want to start with a high level of domain expertise, but don’t neglect the “soft” skills. Is your candidate at ease and persuasive in front of a group or a camera?  Most importantly, does your candidate have the ability to explain complex issues and material to an audience of non-experts and semi-experts in a concise and understandable way?

2. Define your candidate’s area of expertise.

Precision is needed here – along with knowledge of your firm’s marketing targets. As an example, let’s use Claire, a technology firm’s capable big data specialist who seems ideal for the role of Visible Expert. The proper focus can help Claire succeed by matching her published content with an aspect of her knowledge that’s in high demand. While Claire may be capable of writing with flair and authority on more than a dozen topics related to big data, a little research might show that the issue keeping her audience up at night relates to data breaches and how to prevent them.

That’s valuable information. In professional services, being a “jack of all trades” often gets you left at the curb, since it can leave clients in doubt as to what you really do best. Rather than seeking the most versatile firm, these clients are often looking for the one expert who can solve their specific problem. And in targeting Claire’s content toward too broad an audience, you run the real danger of creating an Invisible Expert.

“Visible” and “Expert” are two equal parts of what you’re building. Don’t short-change either one.

3. Assemble all the pieces.

Visible Experts aren’t usually created by luck or accident. A number of elements have to come together to produce the desired result. Your candidate may already be a popular blogger, but a potential customer attracted at first by his blog might also expect to see him offering content on LinkedIn or have specific questions about his background or where he might be speaking in the future. They may want to hear and see him on video. Attaching a bio box and a photo to his blog is a start, but it isn’t enough. Have an integrated branding program in place.

I’ll close with one more chart, which details our findings on why buyers chose not to follow up on a referral:

Why Buyers Rule Out Referrals

Look down the list and see how many of these deal-breakers could be countered by the presence of a Visible Expert at your firm. Start at the top with “I couldn’t understand how they could help me.” Educating your audience on your expertise as that expertise pertains to the problems they’re trying to solve through content, speaking events, and online tools such as your website and social media is the pathway to not only referrals and new business, but sustainable business growth.

Developing Visible Experts is one of our cornerstone services at Hinge. Would you like to be found by potential clients who are looking specifically for a firm like yours? Would you like to drop cold-calling in favor of showcasing, particularly when the payoff can be so dramatic?

It’s something to think about if you’re taking a first or second look at that marketing budget.

Additional Resources

How Hinge Can Help

Want to become an industry thought leader? It’s one of our specialties. With Hinge’s Visible Expert℠ Program, we can help you implement a thought leadership platform that builds your reputation and visibility in the marketplace.

The Visible Expert

Elizabeth Harr