Have you accumulated significant knowledge and skill since you began working in your industry?
If so, you might have what it takes to become a thought leader.
No matter what kind of job you do, where you work, or how long you have been with your company or on your own, somebody, somewhere, wants to learn what you know. With 7 billion somebodies roaming the planet, the number of those who want to learn what you can teach is significant.
You only need about five years on the job to position yourself as a thought leader. And for some, one or two years will be sufficient, depending on the skills they mastered. Granted, if you have five years’ experience, your thought leadership may pale in comparison to someone who has been at it for 30 years. But what you have learned at this point is valuable to somebody with less experience than you. And so, even if you have only been at it a year or two, you can share what you have learned.
With that in mind, let’s pause to define what makes a thought leader.
What is a Thought Leader, anyway?
If you ever cringed from encountering the term “thought leader,” you are not alone. Buzzwords are cheesy, and they grow old fast. But hate them or not, buzzwords gain longevity despite how annoying they are—like Nickelback.
Buzzword takes flight typically because an author or speaker communicated them into existence, such as Tom Peters’ challenge for leaders to “think outside the box.” That’s the power of mass media. Conversely, surveys show Peters’ famous phrase has earned the distinction as the most annoying workplace buzzword, followed by “at the end of the day.” Yet long after Peters faded away, his annoying phrase remains with us. And so does “thought leader.” Joel Kurtzman, the founding editor of Strategy+Business, is credited for coming up with “thought leader” in 1994.
Thought leadership represents the propensity to generate new ideas, provide fresh perspectives or create original insights. It is a crucial component of business success and can be a significant differentiator between competing businesses or personalities in highly competitive industries.
People respect thought leaders for their knowledge and expertise and their ability to—you guessed it—think outside the box. Others seek thought leaders for advice and insights, and their opinion carries weight in traditional and social media.
Becoming a thought leader can offer a significant edge in business, as it can help you to attract new customers, partners, and investors. It can also help build your brand, underscore your reputation, and launch you into industry expert status. And if you are in the first decade of your career, it can catapult you into unimaginable success. Look at Gary Vaynerchuk, for example—ringing registers in his parents’ wine store one day, the most sought business speaker the next.
Imagine having a lousy job from which there seems to be no escape. You craft the right article at the right time, and the next thing you know, everyone in the media wants to interview you. And the best organizations in your industry want to hire you. This scenario has happened many times. It’s like a one-hit-wonder getting invited by a major band to open for them on an upcoming tour. That, too, is the power of mass media and PR.
Get Media Ready
The news media is more interested in your grasp on a particular topic than your time in business. If your industry experience spans five years, you can focus on what you know, and if you know how to approach the media and articulate your message, you will have no problem landing interviews. You’ll generate plenty of new content as time rolls on, and the next thing you know, the media will call you a “Veteran Thought Leader.” If you have children, you know just how fast time marches.
To be recognized as a thought leader, you must be visible. You cannot do it in a dark inner sanctum where no one is permitted. National and Global media producers like to see that you have a following, an audience, or prior publications. There are a lot of people vying for attention in any industry. They are pitching the same journalists, editors, and producers as everyone else, so you need to stand out as much as possible. To make yourself known, you need to brand yourself because the media gives attention to those who have mastered the art of packaging and presenting themselves. You know that HVAC guy who comes on the news each fall to advise on how not to get costly repair bills from companies like his? He’s not necessarily the best in the industry, and he might even operate a ragtag outfit, but he knows how to pitch the press and deliver valuable messages.
To accumulate media hits, seek every opportunity, and emphasize the trade press, blogs, podcasts, and magazines that cover your industry. Gaining a byline or a quote in trade venues will serve as a stepping stone to mainstream media.
As you build your brand, it is essential to actively engage in your industry’s community and create valuable content. Make sure to update your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles, complete with a full profile picture, and interact with your followers and with those who post relevant material. When you publish an article on a venue like LinkedIn, recycle your content in a blog and other social media platforms. It is essential to be visible and accessible on the web in the 24-hour media cycle.
The oldest and foremost rule in PR is to go where the cameras already are. Contributing your expertise to a trend is a powerful way to get into the media. And, if your material is well packaged and presentable, you might be able to skip the trade media route and springboard right to national or global media if you have something of value to contribute.
Identifying trends requires research, but thanks to technology, you don’t need to spend days on end combing through Google results.
To figure out which trends are hot, you can subscribe to cloud-based SEO apps or purchase Lifetime Deals (LTDs) from Appsumo, a website that lets you get in on powerful emerging apps at a low cost. Subscribe to YouTube channels such as LearnWire and Digital Creator AVI as they review LTDs and make specific recommendations. Apps such as Neuron Writer, which at the time of this writing, Appsumo is featuring, will show you how the hottest keywords rank, which is part of research trends.
Don’t limit yourself to writing on topics your favor. Know the trends. Just like the paradox of so many bands who hate playing their top hit song, what matters most is you’re your audience, not your preferences.
Create a Course
Creating a course is a great way to be recognized as a thought leader. Having the accolade as a course writer attached to your name can open new doors. When authoring a course, you have several options, from addressing an issue, sharing how-to tips, or covering everything from the “front office to the shipping dock.” Again, check out Appsumo for great deals, as popular platforms like Teachable and Udemy come with a hefty subscription cost. Learnwire and Digital AVI author courses, so their platform recommendations have meaning.
Course authoring software ranges from the option to create fully developed courses packed with lessons and modules to a bare-bones “just-the-facts” structure. Think of the former as a university style. A university requires students to study non-essential courses, such as when an aspiring accountant needs to take Ancient Roman History before graduation. The latter gets right to the core subject matter like a trade school. If you go to school for electrical occupations, you won’t need to study much else. For complete courseware capabilities, I use Heights. For quick and easy courses, such as how-to mini-sessions, I use Upcoach.
Build an authentic online reputation
An essential step in establishing yourself as a thought leader is to build an authentic online reputation. But before you can develop your online persona, you need to use relevant industry keywords that do your work and profile discoverable. Programs such as Neuron Writer can help.
Make sure your online profiles are compelling. We’re not to judge books by their covers, but the fact is, covers sell books. And the same applies to profiles. You don’t want to look like every other person who looks like everyone else. As trendsetters, thought leaders do not conform to the status quo. Consider investing in a professional headshot with a contemporary agency or freelancer who wouldn’t think of sticking you in front of an 80s-style background. If you haven’t the time or the cash to invest in photography, you can do it yourself using a smartphone and online photo editing tools. I use my iPhone along with BeFunky and PhotoVibrance. You can also upload your logo or artwork that reflects your brand instead of a headshot. For the latter, check out Canva—a great tool that helps even the most inexperienced armatures look like professionals.
The idea behind being a thought leader is to offer a unique perspective on industry topics. You may use personal experience and on-the-job learning to communicate that perspective in online content, media interviews, or self-produced videos. Find what needs to be said, have something to say, and say it. It won’t take long until others become familiar with your online presence.
To become a thought leader, you must create quality content that people will find helpful. So be careful not to post rushed work. You need to come across intelligently about industry issues, and whether you have been on the job for three years or three decades, that requires research.
Earn Awards and Recognitions
Obtaining awards and recognitions in pursuit of thought leadership status is not easy. First, you need to identify suitable awards for your field. Then, you need to determine the best ways to get nominated for those accolades. If you ask a colleague to nominate you, offer to write the narrative. Once you have a list of possible awards, keep an eye on deadlines.
Awards and recognition outside your industry are also crucial if a well-respected organization issues them. For example, city business journals offer highly competitive recognitions, such as the annual Women of Distinction.
We have written numerous award narratives that resulted in our clients gaining significant recognitions, such as the Women of Distinction. The value of a well-thought and well-written narrative be understated. The key to getting your nomination accepted is to make the judges feel the passion behind your submission. And do not under-emphasize any of your work. Always look at things in their larger context. Rather than just listing experiences such as being a “Community Activist,” you should bring life by adding content to that bullet point. Write something like, “A community activist who dedicated her life to draining the school-to-prison pipeline, fighting for equity that has far too long been denied to inner-city children who live below the federal poverty line.” See how much more powerful the latter sounds? Both say the same thing: the first implies the work but leaves judges clueless about the challenges inner-city children face. The second sounds like something everyone can and should get behind and is more likely to strike an emotional chord with the judges.
Self-Publish A Book
Have you ever felt there was a book inside of you, screaming to be written? Once again, technology has broken down the gates that elitist and self-serving editors used to keep only favored insiders published. Today, a self-published book can sell millions. People do not care whether the publisher is Simon & Schuster or Simone and Shubert. What they care about is content. And when one reader leaves a positive comment, a flood of others come right behind, and Amazon’s algorithm takes notice.
Publishing a book in your pursuit of becoming recognized as a thought leader requires you to create content that will be useful and informative to your target audience. Be prepared to go past your own experiences with some research.
The most crucial point is that your book must offer a unique perspective. More consultants have established themselves as thought leaders by self-publishing books.
A book is a powerful platform for thought leaders to expand their networks and build their brands. Done right, publishing your book will open doors you could not have otherwise accessed. It’s also a great way to advance your career and build a legacy.
If you opt to write a book, do so wisely. Revise and repurpose your chapters into the course you are creating. Make blogs out of important subheadings. Use the content to pitch podcasts and radio shows. Make the book work for you.
Becoming a thought leader will help build confidence in your brand. Customers like to buy from trusted brands. By building trust with your target market, you can increase your conversion rates, which means every piece of content you share will pay itself off with interest and compound dividends.
A true thought leader can meet an unorthodox moment and contribute something meaningful to the conversation. To become a thought leader, learn to stand out from the crowd and find your unique voice. No one has the same experience or perspective as you do or the same sense of humor. This way, your message will resonate with people and help them solve their business problems
You can draw on your own experience to produce your thought leadership. Your life experience will provide many insights. As the saying goes, “anything worth saying or hearing will be repeated,” so anything worth saying should be shared and heard. You can use your network to help you find unique insights.