There's really no arguing with the simple truth that training and education are the keys to growing a business and the industry as a whole, and that resulting certification and/or licensing is one of the best ways to establish professional legitimacy in the mind of the consumer.

Still, there's more to the question of establishing legitimacy. The fact is, the industry can have all the training and certification imaginable, but if the general public doesn't recognize those programs and resulting credentials, they do little to enhance professional status.

And therein lies the proverbial rub: It's one thing to have expert knowledge in a given field — it's quite another to be recognized for it. Even the staunchest advocates of our industry's educational programs will openly concede the public identification component is lacking. That leaves professionals in our industry with a considerable challenge: Absent some form of widely recognized certification or licensure, how do you establish and maintain professional credibility?

The answer comes down to each individual company and how its owners and managers choose to represent their organization's background and strengths to the public. In other words, establishing credibility is to a large extent a self-determined process. Here are a few of the most effective means:

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• Use powerful language to describe your work and your credentials.

At every opportunity, take the time to explain the training required to reach your certifications. Use words like "stringent," "authoritative," "verifiable," "experienced," "trusted" and "responsible." These all have a place on the websites, marketing materials and advertising of top-notch companies.

• Extract and use testimonials.

One way to demonstrate that your walk matches your talk is to maintain a list of positive referrals. Satisfied customers are probably the single most credible form of promotion. If you have clients who will sing your praises, make sure those voices are available to people who might be considering your services. Whether it's on your website, in your collateral materials or simply available upon request, there's probably no better way to back up your claims of excellence.
Few people will walk in the door and write them out for you on a piece of paper. Usually you have to ask for them, even from people that genuinely love your work.

• Prominently display design and performance awards.

On the builder side of the industry, a great many firms rely on plaques on the wall to make their case for legitimacy. Whether you believe design awards are valid or really nothing more than glorified photo contest, there's little question that a great many potential buyers are impressed by builders that have a bevy of awards. The fight for credibility should be fought on multiple fronts, but a few design awards noticeably posted can help.

• Help out conspicuously in your community.

Though it might not directly reflect on the quality of your work, maintaining a positive presence in the community is an effective way to bolster credibility. It shows that you are not only professional, but also that you care about improving your community and helping others. People see that and think you must be a good person, and therefore likely a good contractor. You can be a member of a chamber of commerce, rotary club or simply take on an important cause — it all works.

• Push your online presence.

Long gone are the days when businesses can afford to ignore social media as a means of promotion. There are loads of resources about using modern technology to promote businesses, so I'll refrain from retracing those recommendations other than to say that maintaining an online presence is essential any company's reputation.

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• Actually be professional.

Without trying to sound glib, the best way to maintain legitimacy and credibility is to be really and truly legitimate and credible. If you act like a professional and carry yourself as a fully formed adult, people will respond with respect. For all of the clever machinations of the modern world, the old-school values of trust, honesty and the value of your word remain far and away the surest path to professional credibility.

If that sounds idealistic, guilty as charged, but is there any question that maintain high professional and personal standards is the surest path to success?

After all, legitimate is as legitimate does. There's really no question about that!


Eric Herman is Senior Editor of AQUA Magazine.