“I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”
^^ Monica Lewinsky at a Women’s Day presentation I attended in 2017.
Yes, that Monica Lewinsky. The woman who, by some POVs, almost brought down Bill Clinton’s presidency because she kept a certain blue dress.
Her presentation was so well crafted on the subject of cyber bullying, I couldn’t stop watching. But it also felt like a warning: visibility can be bad. Making yourself into a household name might not be the business windfall you think it will be.
And that’s the thing that worried me as I tried to convince my introverted self to start increasing my visibility.
I’m a conversion copywriter and am the happiest behind the scenes, crafting persuasive copy that makes people money. I never saw myself as a thought leader, but soon realized that if I wanted to scale my business, I had to become one.
Because I knew that scaling my business is all about getting in front of my ideal customers. It’s about stepping into authority as someone who gets results. It’s about getting those dream customers to find me.
And that scared the bejeezus out of me.
Stepping into my authority felt like I was purposely opening myself up to criticism and a flood of negativity
Just like Monica Lewinsky became synonymous with infidelity, impeachment and an infamous blue dress, I was afraid that instead of showing prospects what I know, they’d see what I don’t know.
I was afraid that people would think I am a complete and utter fraud.
I was afraid people would judge me and find me lacking.
I was afraid I’d get rejected.
I was afraid.
So how’d an introverted, awkward person like me, who’d rather be almost anywhere than in the spotlight, turn into an authority builder who’s spoken on stages? (Like, real stages attended by real people – pre-COVID, of course.) And gotten clients from said speaking and other authority-building content?
It all started with a realization
As a copywriter, I do a lot of voice of customer research. One of my go-to questions when I do customer interviews:
How did you learn about this organization or person?
And I hear responses like:
“I’ve been listening to his podcast for years” or “I saw them on stage and what they said really resonated with me” or “I read a blog post that led me to another blog post and before you knew it, I was subscribed to their email list and fell in love with them”.
Cue proverbial lightbulb overhead. It wasn’t about expensive ads or constantly promoting yourself on social media (because, ugh, social media). It was about branding yourself as an authority and creating the kind of content that makes other people trust you.
I’d known that authority building was important. After all, I was a 10x Freelance Copywriter alum and heard Joanna tell me far too often that I had to build my authority. Advice that I ignored.
And if I needed evidence on how well authority building works, consider this: I spent the equivalent of a good used car joining a mastermind of a copywriter I’d been following for years (*cough cough* Copyhackers *cough cough*), begging them to take my money like a bachelor looking for his last lap dance. All without ever seeing a single ad or social media post about it.
But it hadn’t computed how important authority building was until I began seeing its payoff first hand.
Why do people (even introverts) work so hard to become more visible?
Authority building — the kind of authority building that means doing a lot of things for no guaranteed reward — is the backbone of a great content marketing strategy. It’s top of the funnel stuff (with a huge influence on the bottom of the funnel!) that helps you:
- Build trust among your prospective customers
- Generate leads
- Grow your email list
- Drive traffic
- Increase sales
Aaron Orendorff, VP of marketing at Common Thread Collective, lists the results he saw from a single guest post he wrote for Copyblogger,
“First off, traffic. People followed. Second, my email list grew by leaps and bounds. Third, comments on my own blog increased. Fourth, people shared it all over the place. In fact, it’s still on Copyblogger’s most popular list and it’s been shared nearly 20k times. On top of all that — and this is the real beauty — I landed four new clients from that one post alone.”
Authority building content like blogging, speaking, publishing a book and going on podcasts gets you in front of your ideal clients and customers in a non-salesy way. As Copyblogger’s Brian Clark says,
“It really boils down to the demonstration of expertise through delivery of valuable content as opposed to claiming expertise or saying, “We’re number one.” It’s the difference between marketing messages and content that actually creates the experience of authority. This is an important distinction that can be summed up with the short phrase: ‘Show, don’t tell.’”
So once I was convinced in my own mind how important it was to increase my authority as a copywriter…
It was time to think bigger
Picture how I got my clients when I first started my business:
- Someone on Facebook would say they were searching for a copywriter.
- I’d respond to the post and send a direct message to the original poster.
- So would 187 other people.
- Sometimes I’d get a new client but often the type of clients I was attracting chose the lowest bidding copywriter.
- Rinse and repeat, all while hopelessly checking my bank balance as sweat broke out on my forehead.
The hustling in Facebook groups wasn’t working. I was exhausted from the hustle.
I felt like I had to be constantly searching for posts where someone was looking for a copywriter. Time off was spent scrolling through social media and those leads often had the tiniest budget in the world.
Enter the experiment that would change how I did business:
AKA a big fat test that was intended to help me actually do the things that would increase my authority.
In addition to being an introvert, I am also a skeptic. I was convinced logically that building authority was important but I didn’t know if it would work for me. After all, I was the person who’d rather get a failing grade than put my hand up in class to answer a question, even if I knew the answer.
I came to the conclusion that I was either going to figure out this authority building thing or I was going to have to dust off my résumé and look for a job. Since I had zero desire to head back to the world of wearing pants, you could say I had some pretty big motivation.
I decided I’d say yes to every authority building opportunity that came my way. If I saw a tweet about a conference, I’d shoot out a pitch for it. If I was on a blog (like this one on Copyhackers…), I’d check to see how to guest post. If I loved a podcast, I sent out a pitch.
And I was going to track the results so my skeptical mind could see if it actually worked.
The key to building trust isn’t demanding it
You don’t just say “hey I’m an authority” and you are. You don’t just say “hey trust me” and people do. Trust and authority are earned. With authority-building content.
Authority building content is the kind of content that educates and informs your audience, and, in doing so, shows them why you can be trusted to help them with whatever problem led them to you in the first place.
As Demien Farnworth says,
“The goal behind authority content is ultimately about empowering your audience. You give them what they need to know in order to succeed, making them the rock stars, as opposed to a lot of chest-thumping about your business, your clients, or your organization.”
Authority building content can be anything that shows your target audience that you are a thought leader. Blogging, speaking at conferences or on podcasts, writing a book, etc.
Authority building is a long game –
but will it (eventually) pay off for you?
So, who can benefit from creating authoritative content?
Anyone. Anyone can benefit from creating high-quality content, either written or spoken. From service providers to founders and everyone in between, great authority content will attract prospects to your website to buy your products or services.
The team at Animalz says of their blog content,
“Literally 100% of the content we create is designed to support sales, either through lead gen, talking points for sales calls, assets that can be used during follow-up, etc. We don’t need a ton of traffic to grow, so I don’t really care about pageviews or sessions. I think most companies would benefit from a similar approach—marketing and sales should be in complete alignment.”
The always important truth about authority building is this:
- Full of links from other high-quality sites
- Not just an iteration of your own opinions
As Ross Simmonds from Foundation Marketing says,
“You’re truly actually helping people when you do it right. You’re creating content, you’re creating assets, you’re telling stories that solve a problem, that fulfill a need. If you can deliver that at scale, it means that you are helping thousands or millions of people do something they want to do. At the end of the day, you’re helping people become better versions of themselves and that’s important.”
When I decided that I was going to say yes to every authority-building opportunity that came my way:
Here’s what 2 years worth of “sure, I’ll speak at that event” and “sure, I’ll be on your podcast” did for this freelancer
But first, have you ever wondered why some companies make sales more easily than others?
As Brian Ainsley Horn says,
“It’s not magic. They’ve simply figured out why authority status is given to some people — and it’s not for reasons you might think. It’s not because they’re the smartest, most educated in their field or the best at what they do. And it’s certainly not because they call themselves the expert, guru or authority.”
Take Richard Simmons. After diet pills and super restrictive diets made his hair fall out, he finally lost weight using moderation and fitness. And then he decided to show the world exactly how he did it.
He’s not the most educated in fitness and diet. He doesn’t have a Ph.D. in nutrition. But he does create daily updated content for his followers. He has a daily messages and inspiration on his website, newsletter, YouTube channel, Twitter and Facebook page.
And all this came after he built up his reputation creating high energy VHS workout videos like “Sweating to the Oldies”.
In short, he creates a lot of authority building content that actively works to get people into his circle.
As you build authority, you meet one big competitor who does NOT think you are very smart
Ah, your brain. My brain. Our brains.
Built to keep us safe. Designed to tell us, “Shut up, idiot. Who asked you?”
Whoever thought that the biggest thing getting in my way really was me? It’s trite. It’s the stuff of after-school specials, if those were still a thing, which, yes, I wish they were.
The single most important thing I did when I started The Authority Project: hire Linda Perry, a copywriter turned mindset coach. She worked with me to help me understand the reasons why I was so afraid of authority building and how to move past it.
I knew that fear and rejection and visibility were freaking me out and causing me to do nothing, so it only made sense to work on my mindset.
I had a lot of things to work through and it took me most of the last two years to change the narrative in my own mind so that I was able to accomplish my goals.
Along the way, I discovered:
Procrastination was getting in the way – big time
I am a killer procrastinator. Not with client work because I feel confident in the work I produce, but with growing and marketing my business. I could make a short article take a month.
I could write a long form sales page in a week if I had a deadline breathing down my neck but could make a 750 word article take a month. I had a list of 100 blog ideas along with a list of 25 places to publish said articles… and I did none of it. After all, completing those projects meant that I was either going to get rejected or I was going to put myself on display for all to critique. It was paralyzing. That’s because…
I have insecurities about my insecurities
I tripped over every word I said in a university presentation. I hid in the back of the conference room between the IT guy and the weird woman from HR in management meetings, praying I wouldn’t have to speak. I was awkward. All of that told me that increasing my visibility was a terrible idea. One that was right up there with hiking Machu Picchu without doing a single stroll beforehand.
Working on mindset meant facing so many of my insecurities (seriously exhausting and made me drink a lot of wine). It meant uncovering the bloopers highlight reel that played inside my mind. It meant feeling the discomfort of doing things that are not in my comfort zone.
My walls needed to come tumblin’ down
I am great at pretending to be a tough guy. If normal people could get Emmys or Oscars for hiding their emotions, I’d be thanking the other nominees during my acceptance speech. But hiding behind my fears and insecurities made me miss out on a lot of opportunities so I came to the aha moment of knowing that I had to not only face my fears but to move past them.
One of the most profound things was realizing that, despite talking a big game, I was a ‘fraidy cat. I had a fear that others would judge me and find me wanting. That they’d think I am 100% an imposter and don’t know anything. And I was terrified of success and opening myself up for increased criticism.
So once my mindset was at least partially on the road to recovery, I had other things to deal with, like:
I was not going to be the first person in history to skyrocket to incredible success without ever experiencing rejection or ghosting from other authorities
Rejection hurts. It feels like a personal judgment that you aren’t good enough. As Geraldine Downey, Ph.D. says about rejection,
“It communicates the sense to somebody that they’re not loved or not wanted, or not in some way valued.”
However, rejection is inevitable when you’re building your authority.
Sometimes you get rejected. Sometimes you just don’t hear anything. At all. Seriously, those are the worst. I’d rather have hope die immediately than to wonder endlessly while my optimism leaks out of me, hissing like a balloon with a pinhole.
The first time you get rejected, it pinches and not like when your grandpa pinched your cheeks as a kid. It hurts and can make you feel like a colossal failure both as a person and as a service provider.
The second time, it hurts a little less. By the fourth time you get rejected, you will probably shrug your shoulders and pour a glass of wine to celebrate.
The point is, rejection happens to most of us but it’s not personal and it gets easier.
As psychotherapist, Amy Morin says,
“One person’s opinion, or one single incident, should never define who you are. Don’t let your self-worth depend upon other people’s opinions of you. Just because someone else thinks something about you, doesn’t mean it’s true.”
However, people don’t judge you nearly as much as you think they will
Monica Lewinsky is the exception not the rule here. Most of us are not dealing with a high visibility person like the President of the United States, and our transgressions are much easier to forget.
According to psychologist Jill Weber,
“The reality is that the human brain has limited data reserves. Although we may make judgments, they are not significant enough to earn a place in our memory banks for eternity. So when someone makes a judgment about you, chances are that moments or days later that judgment will have left their conscious awareness.”
In the face of my overactive imagination, I could feel the embarrassment I’d feel when the truth came out. That truth: that I don’t have any idea what I am talking about.
Not true. None of it is true. Not for me and not for you.
The thing is: we aren’t expected to know everything. The trick is to remember that if you can educate one person and help them with one problem, you can create authority-building content.
You can’t build lasting, real authority
off a single piece of work
I spoke at Microconf and had a vision of people showering me with accolades while begging me to work with them (for a lot of money).
That did not happen. Probably because that isn’t usually the way it happens and probably because it was the first time anyone had ever heard of me (it was my first speaking gig and I was pretty new to the Microconf community).
What did happen was that I got some discovery calls, landed some clients and put my name out there. Same when I published a post on CXL or spoke at a local event.
It’s the consistency that makes your name known, that makes you build authority. IT’s the continuing to show up. Doing one thing would not have moved the needle for me. And creating one piece of content would not have helped me hone my speaking skills, become a better writer or think faster on my feet thanks to getting weird questions thrown at me when I was on a podcast.
In 2020, Orbit Media did an annual survey of bloggers and found that,
“High frequency bloggers are getting better results. In fact, more than any response to any question in the survey, daily bloggers are the most likely to report ‘strong results’. Conversely, inconsistent bloggers are the least likely to report ‘strong results’.”
And results are kinduv the whole point, right? Results of authority building show up in the form of:
The ROI: More traffic, better leads and easier sales process for bigger projects
Creating authority means your audience will begin to trust you long before you ever sell anything to them. Your prospects are unlikely to buy whatever you are selling if they don’t trust you. Bill Carmody once said:
“The more someone likes you, the more they begin to trust you. This transforms the relationship from one of buyer and seller to the preferred position of subject matter expert and interested party.”
But building trust is harder than it seems. A recent survey by Hubspot showed that a mere 3% of consumers trusted marketers.
Whether you are creating content for new prospects, current customers, industry analysts or someone else entirely, the real purpose behind those efforts should be to build a higher level of trust between the consumer of the content and the brand creating it.
The antidote for a lack of trust is authority building. Conversion content writer Jessica Mehring says that once she started authority building, she built trust among her prospects before she ever talked to them,
“My reputation precedes me in the best sense of the phrase. So when someone reaches out to me about a content project or strategic consulting, the conversation is so much easier. There’s always trust left to build, of course — we’re human, and true trust takes time and experience — but that little bit of trust they already have in me and my company when we first talk goes SO far in making the conversation easier and more valuable for both of us.”
Or, as Peep Laja of CXL says, “If you’re the best in the world, or people think that you’re the best, you can charge the premium price.”
So how can you begin building authority, especially if you’re an introvert?
1. Create a plan
You have to create a content strategy plan if you want success. The spaghetti strategy of pushing out anything and everything randomly (and hoping it sticks) isn’t going to help you achieve as much success as creating content and publishing on platforms where your audience is likely to hang out. Meaning, you need a plan.
Your content should be designed to help your audience with a specific topic — whatever your area of expertise is.
When Abbey Woodcock wanted to get in front of people who needed her launch strategy, she wrote this post for Growth Lab. And she ended up getting tons of leads, affiliate income and course sales.
10x Freelance Copywriter was where I first learned about authority building (and it’s a great place to start or hone your guest blogging skills IMO).
2. Consistently create content
According to HubSpot, you should ask yourself the following questions before deciding what kind of content to create:
- What do they need from you?
- What challenges are they looking to overcome?
- Why do they need your product or service?
- How can you help them succeed?
- Where do they spend their time?
Tarzan Kay’s done a ton of authority building, but she says one of her favorite things to do is to be a guest on a great podcast. And she shines when doing it! Like when she was on Jenna Kutcher’s Goal Digger podcast, she gained 1287 new subscribers from that one podcast episode. Clearly, she understands who her target audience is and where to find them.
3. Promote your content
If you write a fantastic blog post, does it even matter if nobody reads it? The answer is no, it doesn’t. Promote your blog posts, your podcast episodes or show behind-the-scenes of when you spoke at a conference. All of that will help you increase your authority.
Like Aaron Orendorff did when he fulfilled his dream of publishing in the New York Times. He shared his article on Twitter (and pinned it to the top of his feed so anyone checking him out could see).
My ROI: Over half my income comes from my authority-building work
I know you are expecting me to tell you all about how I increased my income by a bajillion percent. And I did. I’ve enjoyed steady growth in my business since starting The Authority Project.
In 2020 — the year of everything effing up everyone’s plans — over half of my income came directly because of authority building, and I increased my income by more than 20%. That’s despite only doing one live in-person event (literally days before pandemic lockdown happened).
But I ended up with so much more. As soon as I got into the groove of blogging and speaking about copywriting, I gained the one thing I’d been missing for so long.
- I honed in on my processes in order to write about said processes. Specifically, I wrote a lot about voice of customer research, which made me more self-assured about it.
- I got into the habit of asking clients for metrics after launches in order to use the information for case studies and presentations, which helped me feel more confident in what I was producing.
- Writing about what I knew showed me I know more than I gave myself credit for. Imposter syndrome had nowhere to go but out when I was able to write about complex ideas without wondering what I was talking about.
- I got tons of messages from people who said I really helped them understand a complex problem. Like this one:
And I’m not the only one who found myself increasing my confidence the more I wrote authority-building content. As Jodi Harris from Content Marketing Institute says,
“Daily blogging certainly helps to expand a blogger’s own knowledge base – you learn more as you do more research to inform your writing. But there’s another benefit: The consistency helps build your authority on search, making it more likely your work will rank well and get discovered and shared. Ultimately, you’re building your audience’s expectation that your insights will be trustworthy – and worth turning to, directly, when they need expert advice on other related topics.”
Ultimately, I realized authority building isn’t about sales or money or invitations to speak on stages
Monica Lewinsky, the woman best known for saving a blue dress and almost ruining a president, went public because she was ready to begin helping those who were also struggling with bullying.
“Perhaps by sharing my story, I reasoned, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation. The question became: How do I find and give a purpose to my past?”
That’s perhaps the best reason to increase your visibility.
And if you do, those sales just might come.