Have you ever looked at a leading authority and thought about how they got there?

Or maybe you’ve read their best-selling book, listened to their Top 1% podcast, or watched their amazingly edited videos, and felt disheartened, because you feel a long way from being able to do that.

Here’s the thing about becoming an authority:

  1. It is a long game. There are some quick wins, but for the most part it will take time.
  2. The top authorities all started at zero followers and limited skills. You can find their early crappy videos and podcast episodes to see this.
  3. Becoming an authority is not magic. There’s a logical, repeatable process you can follow. That’s what I’m going to share with you here.

Before we dig into the details of the process, let’s chat about why you should even bother.

Maybe you’re already sold on the concept of becoming an authority. Or maybe you’re still weighing the pros and cons. In this article I dig a little bit deeper into why authority might be a good strategy for you.

As consultants and experts, we have all sorts of options when it comes to how we run our expertise-based business.

One of the important choices we can make is the strategy we use to attract new clients.

I say it’s a choice we can make, because not everyone makes a deliberate, conscious choice. Many consultants follow the “default” path, and it works for them.

Referrals are the default strategy

In the consulting and professional services space, the vast, vast majority of business is generated through referrals – that is word of mouth recommendations.

I found in my research (surveying 1,000+ consultants), that referrals and networking are the number one source of leads for independent consultants (as well as consulting firms size 2 to 10, 11 to 50, AND firms sized 51-200).

The reason why referrals are so important is – in brief – because consulting services are risky, expensive, invisible, relationship-based services. ()

In the world of expertise it is not a stretch to say that referrals are sacrosanct.

It’s all about building trust in a risk-heavy environment

The main reason that consultants rely so heavily on referrals for business development is because there is a .

The client needs to trust the consultant because the project will often be expensive and high-risk.

Referrals do a great job of passing trust because it’s a personal recommendation. Reputation is on the line.

Referrals have their downsides

They can be sporadic, unpredictable. They depend on the size of your network, and a desire to network.

Asking for referrals, as many proponents recommend, can feel uncomfortable. Your network can get tapped out over time.

And if you pivot your business, you can get a lot of referrals that you cannot or don’t want to service.

“I would be terrified if my business depended on referrals” Philip Morgan, author of The Positioning Manual for Indie Consultants

Alongside referrals, there are two less popular strategies for business development in the professional services space.


One of those is outbound. Cold calling, cold email, outreach on places like LinkedIn.

Outbound has its fans. I’m not one of them. I think it’s a throw-back to the old interuption-based marketing, and we’ve moved on. Permission-based marketing is here to stay.

Also, who wants to spend their worklife leaving 70 voicemails a day, like the average cold caller does? [source:Ringlead] 25 hours per month just leaving voicemail? Not for me!

But there is another way, which is – arguably – superior to referrals and outbound.

Become the recognized authority

When you become a recognized authority – or the recognized authority – you start to get a stream of self-qualified, inbound enquiries.

That allows you to turn away bad-fit clients. You never have to ignore red flags again, or work on projects that don’t interest you.

Potential clients contact you after educating themselves through your authoritative content they found in your books, your podcasts interviews, your social media channels.

These prospective clients already know you, your philosophy, your processes, frameworks or methodologies.

They are pre-sold on working with you, no convincing or persuading required. No awkward “tell us why we should work with you” conversations.

These are just the lesser benefits of becoming an authority!

Charge premium fees

Other benefits include the ability to command higher fees, and work less hours. You don’t get challenged and asked to explain your pricing.

You are able to do value-based pricing and decoupling your fees from hourly rate.

Experiment with business models

With a consistent flow of educated inbound leads, you can even change your business model.

You can get invited to paid speaking engagements. You can move from project-based work, to selling intellectual property products, like training courses, books and more.

You get more attention and more respect from peers, influencers, other authorities, and even press.

It’s about more choice

You can choose how you spend your time. You can design your business to , spending more time speaking, or reading, or writing – whatever is your preference.

The Journey to Authority

You don’t become an authority overnight, it takes time and work. I see the journey to authority as having several different stages, and I’ll break those down and talk more about the details in the next article, the Journey to Authority.