When you’re first starting your business, you want to project competence and gravitas – after all, no one wants to be your guinea pig. But the truth is, you probably don’t have that much experience yet. This will obviously change as you gain more knowledge and have a few years of working under your belt. (Further down the road, you’ll be able to cite dozens of case studies and marquee clients, proving your know-how beyond a shadow of a doubt.) But how do you establish your expertise -- truthfully -- in your early days as an entrepreneur?
Here are four strategies that can help.
1. Solidify your digital credentials. You know that before anyone hires you, they’re going to look you up online. So leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs that mark you as an expert. Even if you’re just starting your business, you won’t look like a newbie if someone sees that you’ve written 100 thoughtful blog posts, created a podcast or video series about your profession. They’re rightly going to be impressed with the breadth and depth of your knowledge.
Related: 9 Ways to Become a Better Leader
2. Speak up. Angela Lussier is a marketing and career consultant (and now TEDx speaker) jumpstarted her business by offering to give free workshops at local libraries. She knew the best way to grow her business was to get in front of potential clients, so she booked an astonishing 32 free workshops in her first two months of business. The intensive approach worked. Her confidence in public speaking soared, she sounded (and became) more knowledgeable with each presentation and potential clients started coming to her.
3. Read the experts. In a recent interview with social-media phenomenon Gary Vaynerchuk, author Michael Simmons reveals that Vaynerchuk appears not to have heard of Jim Collins’s Good to Great, a book that many deem one of the most successful business books of all time. That’s no problem for Vaynerchuk, who’s already established himself as a popular speaker and successful businessman. But it would be a big problem for you.
To be considered an expert in your field, you need to demonstrate a familiarity with -- and a thoughtful take on -- the canonical figures and works in your field. If you sell shoes and don’t know who Tony Hsieh is, you’ll get laughed out of town. If you open a record store and haven’t heard of Richard Branson, that’s a major issue. Steep yourself in the history of your field, so you’ll know which barriers and ideologies to break through later on.
4. Don’t ask for permission. In my book Reinventing You, I profile an executive coach who started her business at the age of 27. She was talented and qualified but worried that older and more experienced professionals would question her abilities. “The first few times people asked what I did, I said, ‘I’m a coach.'" in that uptalk way we do when we’re not so sure – asking permission, ‘Is it OK to be a coach?’” She finally became more sure of herself after commiserating with a doctor friend, who shared the discomfort she’d experienced when she graduated from medical school and immediately transitioned into having to present herself as a “real” doctor. At a certain point, you just have to project confidence, even if you don’t yet feel it. Fortunately, it creates a virtuous circle: as you see people accept you in your new role, it builds up that confidence and makes it easier next time.
It’s not always easy to project expertise when you’re first starting out. But it’s essential to your success. With these strategies, you’ll be better able to persuade clients that working with you is the perfect choice.