[BLOG] Douglas Kruger Column: Becoming an industry icon - Why you should position yourself as an expert
Over time, their voices become familiar. When we discuss an industry, their faces float to mind. Without having to think about it, we tag their names to the end of the sentence, ‘You know who you should talk to about that…?’
These are the gurus, the thought-leaders, the icons. When the big names are in need of guidance, when the media require insights, when high-paying customers are ready to spend, they are the ‘go-to’ people. But experts are never experts by accident. They have worked hard for that place in our perceptions.
The good news is that their techniques can be emulated. As you build your business and brand, it is entirely possible to position yourself as an industry expert on purpose; to become iconic by design.
The Three Benefits of Expert Positioning
1. The business starts coming to you
When you are unknown, you have to cold-call to generate business. When you are iconic, the business comes to you. This switch in your business dynamic is a singularly satisfying moment in the life of an entrepreneur. It is also in no small part lucrative.
2. You can add a zero to your income
There are many ways of earning an income. You can labour all day and earn minimum wage. Or you can be recognised as a leading authority and earn exponentially more for shorter periods of input.
In this latter model, hours of work no longer determine your remuneration. Instead, the very status of your work has been elevated, and people pay you in accordance with that perception. Perceived expertise is worth more money.
A practical example: A mid-level consultant works for a large organisation, concludes his business and hands in an invoice for x. But Richard Branson drops by to speak on business principles, and the same organisation adds three extra zeroes to his cheque. Is it because Branson worked harder? No, it is because of the very equity of his name. Being Richard Branson is worth a lot of money.
Of course, that’s not to say becoming an expert can replace hard work. It is extremely hard work to get there in the first place. But the rewards then become relative to your perceived status.
3. It is deeply fulfilling
Being an expert provides a sense of career and personal satisfaction that is unparalleled. There is nothing quite so fulfilling as rising above the status of a small cog in a big machine, and being able to comment upon, advise and solve issues that cause a great deal of anxiety for others. Being the ‘solutions’ person is a rewarding station.
Here is the essential transition from amateur to industry icon:
You are introduced into your industry. Finding the right industry can take a number of years as you dabble in, and then leave different vocations, before settling in the one that captures your interest.
You develop competence. You start to feel comfortable with your tasks at work. At this stage, you are still reactively taking orders. You know what to do because you are told what to do.
You’ve realised that there is a wider world to your industry and you’ve started to network. You read industry publications, go to events, meet others and explore the interior universe of your industry. You compare your views, knowledge and production to that of others, because your performance is beginning to matter to you.
You’re displaying initiative. Thinking critically. You can see what should be done, and you don’t need to ask others how and when to do it. You start to make things happen, of your own prerogative, because you know it needs to be done and you’re the person to do it. You are developing passion for what you do. You no longer require the guidance, or possibly even the employment, of others. You are heading up your own work and initiating your own projects. You understand enough about your industry to operate independently within it.
You are developing a reputation, becoming known as formidable. You are seen at events, requested as a speaker, sought after for articles and ideas. The key players in your industry know who you are, and you get recommended. You are becoming the answer to the question, “You know who you should talk to?”
Your work has developed a unique signature. You have moved beyond mere independence. You are pioneering. You’ve found better ways of doing things. You’re able to be artistic about what you do, rather than merely functional. You are becoming iconic.
You are exerting the beginnings of control over and influence within your industry. You are now at such a level of mastery and expertise that the industry looks to you for guidance. You are strongly opinionated, and no longer need the approval of others. You don’t play by expected rules; you determine them. You are the thought-leader at conferences, because you know – and can teach others – how things should be. You are a voice and an authority.
You are an icon. You have been doing it so long, so brilliantly, and with such consistency, that your name is lauded and remembered even after you are gone. Your name is indelibly etched upon the consciousness of your industry. You are the Babe Ruth of your ball-game, the Spielberg of your space, the Stephen King of your craft.
In a series of upcoming articles for ABC, I will provide practical steps for becoming a recognized industry expert. I look forward to the journey, as we grow your personal brand and start bringing the business to your doorstep!
Douglas Kruger is professional speaker and author based in Johannesburg, and the only 5x winner of the Southern African Championships for Public Speaking.