Hinge announces the release of a new study of high visibility thought leaders and the clients that retain them. We call these high-power professionals Visible Experts® (VEs).

What does it take to become a high-visibility expert? Where do you start? How do you know where to focus? What are the best ways to build visibility? Should your firm try to encourage your professionals to become more visible? These are the types of questions this study was designed to answer.

About the Study

The current study investigates 220 VEs and 275 clients that retained the services of high-visibility subject matter experts. It is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive study of its type. The Research Summary includes both quantitative data and quotes from high profile VEs.

This study builds upon and expands our original 2014 study of Visible Experts®. Over the past six years, the marketplace has undergone significant change. While the initial study’s broad lessons study still hold true, many of the details have changed. This latest research brings the findings up to date. 

What Is a Visible Expert®?

A Visible Expert® is a professional with a high level of marketplace visibility and a reputation for specific expertise. These are the individuals who are the keynote speakers, thought leaders and industry experts who drive their professions forward and propel their firms to new levels of profitability and growth.

Many Types of Experts

There are many types of experts, covering the whole spectrum of professional services expertise. These experts differ not only in the subject matter they master, but in the level of expertise they aspire to and the strategies they embrace.

We have identified five levels of expertise, ranging from an individual expert known only by their coworkers and clients (Level 1) to those internationally known superstars whose influence extends well beyond their profession (Level 5). The accompanying table describes and defines each of these five levels. 

  • Level 1: Well known in your firm
  • Level 2: Well known within a narrow niche outside your firm
  • Level 3: Recognized name in your industry
  • Level 4: Leading expert in your industry
  • Level 5: International expert recognized across industries

We also found that Visible Experts® vary in their approach to their work. Some are very focused on the newest ideas, while others are natural collaborators and accumulators of best practices. We have identified five distinct styles or “personas,” shown in the chart below.

  • THE BRIDGE BUILDER – This expert spans two different areas of expertise, connecting ideas from both. This combination of knowledge makes this expert truly unique.
  • THE LASER – This expert is highly specialized in a very specific area. Not many businesses need their services all the time, but when the time comes, this is the preferred choice.
  • THE CURATOR – This expert gathers the best information from multiple sources. Often, Curators have access to an extensive network of experts.
  • THE FIRST MOVER – This expert was the first to pioneer an area of expertise. Businesses turn to First Movers for the latest innovation or new idea.
  • THE CONTRARIAN – This expert takes novel points of view on industry issues and challenges clients to make bold or unconventional moves.

The chart above shows the premium (above the billing rates of an average professional) that clients of VEs expect to pay for experts at various levels of Visible Expertise. Even at the lowest VE levels, clients expect to pay a premium to access the expertise of these valued professionals.   

Delivering Exceptional Value to Clients

As compelling as these benefits are for VEs and their firms, there is an equally compelling set of benefits enjoyed by the clients who engage Visible Experts.  

Top Benefits of Working with a Visible Expert

The chart above shows that getting the specific problem solved (e.g., “They get the job done” and “The ability to solve complex problems”) is not even the top benefit. Well over half of clients (56.1%) value what they learn by working with the VE! And an almost equal percentage say that the VE came up with solutions they had not even considered before.

The list of benefits goes on. Working with a well-known VE can actually help the client’s visibility, credibility and new business efforts. Complex issues can be solved more quickly, with lower risk and a higher return on investment (ROI). Clearly, using a VE can be a win for the client as well as the expert.

How Experts Become Visible 

High levels of marketplace visibility rarely happen by accident. In fact, the average expert employs 6.5 marketing techniques. The top 5 marketing techniques and the proportion of experts using each is shown in the next chart.

Referrals and social media are the two most frequent ways VEs get in front of prospective clients. Rounding out the top 5 list of frequently used techniques are speaking engagements, attending networking events/trade shows and writing articles or blog posts.

But widely used techniques are not necessarily the most effective. And in fact, some of the most widely used techniques are losing their effectiveness, even as other techniques become more effective. Download the Research Summary to see the effectiveness and usage of the full range of techniques.

A Final Thought 

Visible Experts® are the new rainmakers of professional services. They not only enjoy exceptional professional success, but also propel their firms to stronger brands, faster growth and higher profitability. The results of this research both make the case for developing VEs and show you the path to success.