Would you rather build your business by meeting prospective clients who already know, like and trust you – or trying to convince people who’ve never heard of you before?

I know which one I’d pick.

To see how this can work for you, imagine yourself at an industry event, and you meet your ideal kind of client. We’ll call her “Aisha” just to put a name to a construct. Aisha works in an industry you really want to get into. She’s got exactly the kind of problem you’re great at solving. Better yet, she’s senior enough to have the budget authority to bring you in to solve that problem. 
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. How can you make it work in your favor? What can make it more likely that Aisha will agree to a meeting at which you can present your ideas?
Maybe … if Aisha has already heard of you, knows that you understand the realities her industry faces, and has already received help from you. If Aisha already knows about you and trusts you, how hard can it be to get a chance to work with her, on a billable basis?
To get that head start on working with Aisha, you need to:
  • Get your message in places where Aisha is already looking, so she’s more likely to see it 
  • Better yet, present your ideas in places that she already trusts as being reliable
  • Communicate in a way that she feels you’re already someone who’s part of her business community (for more on showing clients “I’m on your side,” see post #59).
Do this through getting your ideas published in niche publications that are set up to serve Aisha and people like her. These are publications that may be small in circulation compared to the giants like Fortune, CNBC and the Wall Street Journal. But they’re powerful because that they’re “narrowcast” media that are particularly effective ways to reach decision-makers like Aisha. And these publications welcome content from business professionals like you – provided you approach them in the right way.
This has been my world for over 15 years. I’ve helped clients on six continents get their ideas published in niche media. This has helped them stand out as subject-matter experts, so that they’re able to get more of the work that they love doing, and earn more. So, let me introduce you to my world of geeky, specialist publications you’ve never heard of – but your knowing about them doesn’t matter, because your clients do. 
I’m talking about three main types of media:
  1. Printed business and professional magazines – a long-established information model, but one that still works, because unlike many online media, print publications actually make money, through advertising
  2. News websites managed professionally by these magazines – as well as those by business and professional associations
  3. Influential, professionally-edited blogs
In my view, publishing articles in niche media that influence your clients is one of the most effective ways to build a thought leadership program. It’s also the most accessible, in that it works within the comfort zone and skill-set of many business professionals. In this post, I’d like to tell you why that is, and how you can do it.
To do that, let’s imagine that Aisha is in the solar power industry – she provides financing solar projects on building rooftops, in parking lots, on vacant land and other sites, and takes a cut of the revenue.
And that’s the market you want to reach – maybe you’re involved in designing solar arrays, building them, financing them or selling them. Whatever it is, you need to show your expertise to people in the solar power industry, like Aisha.
Aisha needs to stay informed about everything in solar power. This includes news about developments in solar arrays, in how to configure installations, innovations in the inverters that turn solar energy into usable power, new regulations and standards, and other aspects of solar power. She needs to stay current with who are the main players in the field, and about sources of expertise that her company may need.
How does she do this? Well, there’s Google. But it’s becoming harder and harder to find credible, genuine information through online search, due to the number of organizations that pay money for better listings. see post #20, “Why you don’t want Google to find you”
And, sometimes the information that Aisha finds online isn’t all that credible. It can be biased by the writer’s political agenda, or whatever they’re trying to sell. And it may be way out of date – you may have found this yourself. What seemed to be a really interesting article turns out to be dated ten or more years ago.
Where else does Aisha turn for information? As we said before, she goes to conferences, local solar industry events, including informal meetups. She follows the right people on Twitter. 
But Aisha’s a busy woman, and she needs information that has been packaged to meet her needs, presented in an effective way. Most particularly, she needs quality information – information that’s accurate and free from bias. Aisha wants a reliable, frequently-updated source of information she can trust, about solar power. So where does she go?

Reaching your ideal clients through trusted media

When she really wants to learn, Aisha goes to the three kinds of publications I listed above – business and professional magazines, credible news websites, and professionally-managed blogs (see Post #35 for more on how to find publications that match your market).
One thing that all these media have in common is that they’re managed by someone who acts as a gatekeeper. In magazines, it’s called the editor. This person obtains content that is relevant to readers like Aisha, and makes sure it’s credible and current. The editor then packages the information in a way that is convenient for the readers. This means that to get your ideas in front of Aisha, you first have to get buy-in from the gatekeeper (see this infographic for more on that).
These publications’ credibility makes them ideal vehicles for you, getting your ideas in front of your “Aisha.” They’ll help you get your ideas into the places where your ideal clients are already looking – places that they trust for reliable, relevant and current information.
And there are thousands and thousands of these media out there. Most of them, you’ve never heard of. But if you’re in their particular niche, you probably do read them very intentionally, because like Aisha, you depend on them to help you succeed at your job. 
In the case of Aisha, one of the publications she’d read is called “Solar Builder.” And to cite a nineteen-nineties album title, “We’ve never heard of you, either.” I would venture to say that almost nobody’s heard of “Solar Builder.” But the key is in that little word “almost.” That “almost” includes niche industry members like Aisha – the exact people you need to reach.
Solar Builder has a small but significant circulation of 7,500. But the point is who those 7,500 people are. They’re people in the solar power industry – people who build, design, finance and maintain solar power systems. They’re all Aishas, so to speak. I mean, think about it. Who, other than someone seriously into solar power, is going to be reading a publication called “Solar Builder?” Potential clients for you, that’s who
Look at the world from Aisha’s point of view. As discussed, she needs information that’s current, reliable and unbiased. Solar Builder offers her that. It’s specifically for her and her colleagues. It helps her do a better job. And remember – I’m just using solar power as an example. There are thousands of publications out there that might want to publish your ideas – provided you approach them in the right way.

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Trade secrets for working with editors

To begin with, you have to understand that trade publications all have a narrow focus. These aren’t publications like Wired or Fast Company, which have a pretty broad range of topics and readers. Most trade pubs focus on a specific industry, with titles like “Pipeline & Gas Journal,” “Foodservice & Hospitality,” “Shopping Centers Today” and, yes, “Solar Builder.”
A second category of publications focuses on a specific occupation or profession, such as “Health & Safety Today,” “The Lawyers Weekly” and “CPA Magazine,” for accountants. If you get work from people in specific occupations or professions, they’re a good way to build your business.
And there’s a third category, publications that focus on a particular cause. One example is cityminded dot org, with a focus on sustainable urban renewal. Another is “ReNew Canada,” which is about the need to build better infrastructure.
Most of these publications have a print version. Maybe you’ve heard about “the death of print,” but someone forgot to tell these publications. They have a web presence, but most of them still have very healthy print circulation. My theory is that the advertisers get better engagement from print readers than online. And since it’s advertisers that make these publications happen, what advertisers want, advertisers get.
The editors of these publications are eager to work with external contributors like you. But it has to be on their terms. For example, they want information that is relevant to their specific market. That’s because people who read Solar Builder want information on the building of solar power systems. They don’t want to read about wind power, unless it’s about how wind and solar power can be co-located, or in some other way can benefit each other.

Why niche media are worth the effort

But you may be asking, “Why should I go to all the trouble of getting my ideas published in some other publication? I’d rather have those ideas published in my own blog, so I can retain that traffic.” I agree that getting traffic to your own site is important, which is why I put so much effort into my own weekly blog. But it’s also important to get your ideas published in wider media. Here are some reasons.


Your blog limits you to reaching the people you know now 

Sure, you can share your insights through social media like LinkedIn, Twitter and Slideshare, but you’re still limited to the people in your network. This means that potential clients outside your network may not know what you can offer them.
With a trade publication, you’re able to reach well beyond your market. I’ve helped my clients get published in magazines of 70,000 circulation or more, although it’s usually more like 30,000 to 40,000 circulation. And these publications have an online presence – being read and searched by bots to reach a much wider audience. Better yet, they often have huge social media followings on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.


It gives more prestige and credibility to your ideas 

Picture two consultants, each meeting a prospective client for the first time. One says, “Here’s my business card, which has a link to my blog.” The other says, “Here’s my card – and printed reprints of some articles from one of your industry’s periodicals, on issues you may be facing.” Which meeting do you think is off to a better start?


It forces you to think of your work from your client’s point of view, not your own 

The ‘force’ bit comes from the editor – if you don’t provide information that’s relevant enough, they’ll just reject your article. 
I find that many mid-career technical professionals have a problem with this. Many of them are really strong at the technical aspects of what they do. But they haven’t thought through the issues that their work solves for the client. For example, think of an expert in Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, which are like really powerful computer-based maps. If I’m working with a GIS expert for an article for a retail publication, for example, the editor will want to know about how GIS can help determine traffic patterns and wealth distribution. But a GIS article for a pipeline publication like World Pipelines, out of London, would need to focus on determining rights of way, topography and the location of watercourses.
Writing for publication makes you a stronger service provider – you understand the issues that your service solves, for the people you want to reach. That helps you sell your services better, and you do better work because it meets real needs.


Publishing articles in niche media builds credibility for other kinds of marketing

Articles can help you get speaking engagements. Include PDFs of your articles with your application to present at an industry meeting, and you’re more likely to get accepted. That’s because conference organizers want speakers with credibility and name recognition, and providing articles you’ve written gives them more reasons to choose you to fill one of their speaker slots.
The same applies for getting opportunities to appear as a guest on podcasts, or contribute guest posts to influential blogs. Published articles, sent to your host as well as listed on your LinkedIn profile, help you get these opportunities.
Yes, publishing articles can appear intimidating – just like riding a bicycle was, when you first tried. But it gets easier – and that’s a real plus when many people are struggling to get noticed through just their own media, such as a blog with only a few subscribers. Publishing articles in media already trusted by the people you want to reach can be a real asset to your thought leadership program.