How can professional services firms raise their visibility in the marketplace? Of course you need to deliver great service, so your clients are willing to say good things about you. And it never hurts to network with people who can recommend you or become clients themselves.

But word of mouth is no longer enough to grow your company, according to Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D., managing partner at Hinge, a leading branding and marketing firm for professional services firms.

In fact, Hinge's research shows that when clients research potential services providers, 80% use online sources of information compared to the 55% who rely on traditional references.

That means that that those of us who lead a professional services firm need to become more visible--so potential clients can easily find us--and be perceived as experts in their field--so potential clients will believe we can meet their needs.

What does it take to become a well-known expert in your field--a leader that clients seek out for leadership and insight? Frederiksen calls these leaders Visible Experts®. And he offers a wealth of advice for how to become one of these rock stars.

You've probably heard some of the tenets of this approach; for example, I'm sure you're familiar with the term content marketing, a "strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience."

But you might not realize that becoming recognized as an expert requires a lot more than writing an occasional blog post. Here are 5 things you may not know about building your expert reputation:

  1. Being perceived as an expert isn't about knowing everything or having the most experience. "The most successful experts are knowledgeable, of course," explains Frederiksen. "But, more importantly, experts are teachers. They generously share their expertise and work hard to give helpful advice."
  2. The more you share, the more people believe you're an expert. Potential clients are seeking help to solve their problems. So when they find an expert who freely gives advice about a problem, they immediately feel taken care of and reassured. "Sometimes, the firms Hinge counsels worry about 'giving away the store' and sharing too much," says Frederiksen. "But you can't share too much, because qualified potential clients don't want to struggle to solve their problem themselves--they want an expert to help them. When you're been willing to provide answers, that expert is you."
  3. Your best allies are your competitors. It's natural to regard other firms in your niche as vicious competitors fighting for your target clients. But Frederiksen has found that when you ally with other firms, you gain two benefits. First, your association with talented, knowledgeable people gives you credibility. And second, you put yourself in the position of getting referrals from your competitors when they can't meet a client's needs. "It happens to me all the time," Frederiksen says. "A competitor has a conflict of interest or a capacity issue, so they send a client our way. And I do the same, since I know the value of building a long-term relationship."
  4. To broaden recognition of your offering, make the focus of your expertise really, really narrow. You'd like to say you do a lot of things well because you think it gives you more options. But then you just seem like one fish in a very big pond. You'll be more memorable if you can position yourself as being remarkable. For example, Frederiksen has a client who was trained as an engineer, but whose hobby was origami. The engineer figured out how to combine both interests when he started to share content about folding structures like retractable roofs. As a result, people remember the origami-folding engineer.     
  5. Being an expert breaks the barriers of time and distance. Online marketing allows you to create new relationships in a way that simply wasn't possible twenty years ago. In fact, the bigger your online presence, the more likely that your next big client is as likely to be located across the country as down the street. Clients expect to be able to find a specific expert in just a few clicks. And when they feel comfortable with their choice, they don't care that you're not in the same zip code.

"The world of professional services is changing," says Frederiksen. "It's no longer just about who you know, it's about what you know and how visible that is to your best prospects."