I fondly recall one of my favourite childhood television series, The Littlest Hobo, a show starring a stray dog who befriended humans in need. That sharp-as-a-tack German Shephard would gallivant all over the country, meeting new people, solving problems, and then moseying along to the next town unwittingly seeking a canine hero.
Every episode ended with the affable pooch sauntering solo down an empty road in search of the next adventure and fresh companions.
How brave the beast!
I fell in love with the series. We moved around a bit when I was younger, so making new friends was a necessary part of fitting in.
"Every stop I make, I'll make a new friend 🎵
Can't stay for long, just turn around and I'm gone again"
If you grew up hearing that theme song, you’re welcome for the earworm.
If the show left the same impression on you, perhaps you also share in my reflections on the customs of that furry cur. Befriending new acquaintances, offering a helping hand, becoming known as the solver, leaving a positive impression.
Customs and characteristics also befitting a business owner, as it turns out.
Six months before I founded shiftED, I volleyed from full-time employment to full-time-student prior to becoming a full-time entrepreneur. For the entirety of 3-decades+ employment, I put my hand up higher and higher for opportunity. Opportunity to grow, to mentor and be mentored, to ask 1,000 questions and explore options…as long as those options were in the gainfully employed space receiving a regular paycheque.
I was not as courageous as our Littlest Hobo.
I shrugged off earlier suggestions of hey, Tisha, you should go into business for yourself. Pounding the pavement looking for my next gig did not appeal to me at all. The sales. The business building. The constant search for that next client. No, thanks.
I had the misconception that this is how it worked. Knocking on doors. Begging people to hire me.
But a funny thing happened.
I went into business, didn't chase contracts, and the business built quickly anyway.
And it got me thinking.
"Why doesn’t that happen for every new business?"
My take is that many people stay just out of sight, on the sidelines, in their comfort zone.
They’re good at what they do, but nobody knows about them.
They slip into the shadows.
They become invisible.
The old adage ‘It’s who you know' gets a lot of credit in a geographic region like Atlantic Canada, as it does in many other parts of the world. Our connections run deep. Business and career opportunities often stem from hereditary relationships, historic ties, and, yes, to some degree, nepotism.
Born in small-town Nova Scotia, I was often asked, “Who’s your father?”
And it wouldn’t take too many peeps into the family tree to establish a 2nd or 3rd level contact with Dapper Daddio. He lived in an era wrought with a very high degree of social class reproduction where people offered opportunity to their own first. People stayed in their spheres.
Sometimes I daydream about conversations I would now have with him.
He would cleverly tell me, "It’s who you know."
I would bashfully challenge him, "It’s who knows YOU.”
We’d discuss the pros and cons, the benefits and drawbacks, before sipping his homebrew and sampling his latest batch of pickled herring.
I digress, daydream, and smile.
He would appreciate that in this era of digital media and myriad free distribution channels for gaining prominence, it IS who knows YOU that holds more weight than ever.
So, how does one go about gaining visibility as an expert so that more people know about your awesomeness?
1. Take responsibility.
We, as contributing employees OR business owners, are responsible for and in control of whether we remain in the shadows or get comfortable with being visible. Nobody is going to bat for you like YOU can. If you are silent, fearful, or insecure, it does not instill confidence in your audience that you are the right person for the job. Sure, we might have folks in our corner advocating for us, but if our presence does not match that level of certainty, you are more apt to be passed over for the person who puts their hand up higher. Own it.
2. Choose a gateway.
Your audience, whether a future or current employer or client, is hanging out somewhere - in person and online. Trends change, but figure out where your audience is present or where they consume their information and get visible in that space. This can be asynchronously on your social media channel of choice by becoming visible in their newsfeed or it can be synchronously by participating in networking events (note: participating, not showing up and being a wallflower). You do not have to be on all channels all the time or join every professional association - be strategic and pick one to begin with, then pour in your efforts.
3. Make a plan to offer value.
Firing off in all directions can increase your visibility; however, planning ahead serves better. Consider how you can give with your whole heart and be of service. Gaining visibility as an expert is far more effective if you seek to build relationships, help people solve problems, and communicate with generosity than if you enter a room and frisbee your business card at everyone. Illustrate your outcomes by seeking to learn about your audience, relay case studies and results that align with their needs, and bring them in on secrets rather than hide the answers behind a pay-wall. I'm not suggesting you start donating 100% of your knowledge - but what values do you want to be known for?
Regularly and consistently familiarizing people with your experience and your capabilities through multiple gateways is the long game. Leverage the tools in front of you first to remain obvious as the go-to for X or Y. Become known as the no-brainer choice in your industry. Walk the same road as our barking buddy 🐕 - be relentless in your pursuit of serving.
Then, when someone is seeking your expertise, your name is top of mind. No matter if your audience is next door, on the other side of the planet, or, like our solo lobo fellow, just down the road.
If you want to present yourself as an expert to a broader audience in a more effective way, reach out.
"Maybe tomorrow, I'll want to settle down 🎵
Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home"
-Tisha Parker Kemp