This week I was approached by a business owner who has been in business less than 2 years and is having some difficulty getting clients. He’s not in one of the big industries (marketing, coaching, health), but it’s not a super obscure niche nor is it one without obvious customers; many businesses could be helped by his services. While many of the usual issues were obviously present (website issues, indecision about customer base, lack of marketing etc.) the one thing that he mentioned specifically was his challenge with credibility. He said that his main goal since he started was to establish credibility. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself; one thing that businesses should be doing is continually proving their credibility and how their knowledge and services/products are still current given whatever changes have happened in the industry that customers would be concerned about. But what this guy failed to realize is that credibility is more than proof of how you’ve helped clients.
Credibility starts with your subject or niche. Very few people choose to go into business in a niche they’re not somewhat knowledgeable in. I would not start a business that sells wine because I don’t know much about it and I’m not really interested in it, so it would be like pulling teeth for me to learn enough about it to create a successful business. You will have a very difficult time establishing credibility and competence with potential clients if you know nothing about the industry and don’t have a passion for it.
Credibility continues with education. If you don’t have the experience yet to prove you’re competent in your business the next best thing is to show you’ve got the smarts. Show that you know your niche inside and out, show that you know the big questions clients have, the concerns they’re dealing with and your insights to solve their problems or avoid them. Use social media, blogs, podcasts, videos and interviews to show your expertise even if you can’t share a long list of clients you’ve helped.
Credibility is confirmed with experience. Just like I wouldn’t start a wine business because I don’t have much knowledge about wine, I’m also not a big wine drinker so I don’t have the experience at all to back up my (nonexistent) knowledge. Just because you don’t have hands-on client experience yet doesn’t mean you don’t have experience working for a company in the industry or experience in your life on the subject.
Credibility is more than just your client experience, it’s the reasons you’re in your business, your education on the subject and your personal or professional experience with it, and it’s something everyone can build on.