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  • Writer's pictureFleur Brown

Do you pass the cred test?

3 ways to boost your credibility to win an audience

Passionate people are very persuasive. Sit down with an entrepreneur, you’ll likely leave the meeting with a fresh opinion; usually theirs.

But passion and expertise don’t always go hand-in-hand. And that can leave a credibility gap.

Passion can be the reason we start or stick with a project or life goal; it’s personal. Expertise? The stuff we use to build the house; to make the dream real.

Expertise is the substance that keeps people coming back for more. Without it, our words eventually have a hollow ring.

But what if you are in a new area where you have almost no runs on the board? What if you’ve tried but failed to get in the room with someone important because you’re ‘not on their radar’? Welcome to the chicken and egg dilemma of building something — anything — new.

Trial by media: the ultimate cred test

Nowhere is credibility more ruthlessly tested than in the media arena. Try sitting down with a journalist and asking them to quote you in their story when, in their mind, you lack credibility on the topic.

There’s no brownie points for a friendly introduction or the warm and fuzzies about your cause. You can be as articulate as Winston Churchill and still swiftly shown the door.

It’s nothing personal. And that’s the point.

Good journalists are trained to say and ask what others only dare think. If they didn’t, their editors would sack them; their audiences would desert them. If you can pass through the media filter, you can probably get an audience with anyone. Let’s give it a try.

Rate yourself against these questions…

Think about something you are currently pitching — to investors, to media or to a future client. Then rate yourself honestly against these questions.
  1. Do you have a proven track record in the space? Think: author, academic qualifications, successful business leader or entrepreneur?

  2. Are you on the radar? Is the company you are working for a known brand? Do you have a senior title within that organisation?

  3. Is anyone well known or influential backing you or your business? From the CEO to the board, an investor or a high profile member of staff.

  4. Have you been given third-party endorsement — via investment, past media coverage or high profile customers? Media coverage tends to breed more media coverage — journalist’s rate the filter already provided by their peers.

  5. Do you have any strong, proven numbers to back up your claims? Think: customer traction (big numbers and over time), Oh, and the specific numbers will be required — quoting percentage growth off a zero or unknown base won’t cut it.

Did you answer yes to any of the questions above? You may pass Go and collect $200. Everyone else, please read on.

So you’re not an authority? Yet.

What if the answer to every question was no? Startup founders often face this dilemma, particularly when they’re young or working in a new space. How do you get an audience? How do you even build your brand when you have limited marketing dollars?

Do you just supersize your confidence? (Well, yes and no — see this post for the yes part). Should you bluff your way into the room? Should you give up? None of these things. Success is within your reach if you take the time to build what I call a Credibility Bridge. And here’s three ways you can do it.

3 paths to credibility: borrow it, buy it, build it

Borrow it:

Most of us build our new plans and ideas on some foundation from the past — personal experience, past expertise. The mistake many people make in reaching for new horizons is they want to distance themselves from their past work; thinking it will hold them back. Often, the opposite is true. Past experience, in even a vaguely related field, sends the signal that we have substance. (More in this in on Bridging to your Future.)

What experience or track-record from your own past, or your company’s past, can you draw down on to demonstrate success? Use it. I repeat. Use it.

We can also ‘borrow’ credibility from those on our team who have more direct experience in our new field of operation. There’s a reason startups often have Cofounders. On the surface, it can make more sense to push ‘the charismatic one’ forward as a front-person for the brand.

Yet, when we are starting out, this can be a flawed plan if that person lacks substance in the area we are pitching.

A better plan is to make sure the team member with that Doctorate, engineering degree or career experience is also in the room when we are pitching something that demands evidence-based content.

That expert could also be an early investor, or someone on our board. Or it can come from a partnership with a person or a brand that already has a track-record in the space we are entering.

Buy it:

Yes. An element of credibility can be bought — in the form of research, partnerships or marketing campaigns. For example, if you’re launching a new Health-tech app but you don’t have a medical expert in the house, you can create a credibility bridge by sharing the deep research behind your thinking and/or investing in fresh research within your space.

Where your opinion or marketing claims may not count, expert research can help bridge the credibility gap until you gain more of your own field or customer insights or business runs on the board.

You can also hire-in that person lacking on your team — as a consultant, advisor, spokesperson or actual team member. In early stages, that decision alone can spell the difference between success or failure.

A marketing budget can also help. By generating strong awareness of your brand, you create the impact of an established brand, and a known quantity within the space you are targeting.

Build it:

Building credibility over time is the superior way and a path you ultimately need to take building any brand.

This is not always an immediate option. Sometimes you need to get out there fast to mark the territory, take advantage of a gap in the market or due to limited cash runway.

Building credibility over time takes, well, time. So stay in the game.

It means telling your story slowly. Starting with a small community audience or group of users, customers and letting the good results lend your brand the halo you need to create an audience with an investor, a partner, a journalist or an aspirational customer.

Tactics you can use to support this longer journey include creating a ‘go-to’ position within an area of content or commentary. This means identifying a thought leadership space that you can own. One which attracts your target customer. And then generously share that content — offering your audience a genuinely helpful set of ideas, tips or knowledge within that space.

The other tactic is to simply let your success (your business metrics) speak for itself. Once you reach a certain level of market share, your brand will be credible. No credibility bridge required.

Few people have the risk tolerance to back an ‘Unknown’ quantity. But you can accelerate your journey from unknown to ‘on the radar’ relatively quickly by consciously building your credibility assets using these simple strategies.

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