Anyone who has a Twitter account or a blog can call themselves an "expert" on any given subject, so it can be a real challenge to rise above the noise level and reach current and prospective clients with your message. However, you can establish true thought leadership and experienced-based innovative thinking, communication and leadership in your specific area and use it to connect with your audience. By leveraging various communications platforms in a way that is meaningful, authentic and effective, you can learn to use your industry knowledge to capture the attention of those you need to reach to expand your consultancy.
The first step to establishing true thought leadership is understanding that "sharing is caring." Your audience can conduct a search on any given topic and gain access to anything they need or want to know about that topic at no cost. To get your message out to as many relevant groups as possible, you have to be willing to "give it away," which may be a hard pill to swallow as an independent consultant when time is money. There are certainly ways to monetize your information sharing, and you don't have to provide all the details for every strategy you employ in your work, but "giving away" useful information is now a requirement. Not only does it familiarize your audience with your expertise and industry knowledge, but it helps you to establish credibility and build your online reputation.
The next step is to determine what area in which to establish thought leadership. At this point in your career, you're likely familiar with most of the issues and trends impacting your industry and the industries with which you work closely. There's a good chance, at some point or another, you've said to yourself , "...but nobody is addressing the problem of...." or "I wish someone would talk about...." Perhaps you've come up with your own ideas or solutions to some of these unaddressed issues or challenges. Consider these scenarios as opportunities to carve out a niche for yourself as a thought leader. Find those topics where useful information is scarce and start developing your message around those topics. If you try to take on a topic that you're comfortable with, but available information is dense and there are many "experts," you'll have a more difficult time rising above the noise level and standing out as a leader.
We've established that information sharing requires you to give something that your audience values to them for free. Social media requires little to no financial investment on your part and instantly connects you with large numbers of people who are interested in your topic. Start by following people and groups that are talking about what you do, and without being sales-y or promotional, jump in the conversation with your unique points of view. Creating and sharing webinars or podcasts is another way to take advantage of social media.
Speaking opportunities can also help to get your message to your target audience. Reach out to professional organizations in your area that are interested in your subject matter. Ask to speak at one of their meetings and conduct a Q & A session afterwards. You can also research conferences looking for panel discussion participants.
Many conference organizers will also request a "Call for Papers" (CFP) from anyone interested in leading a workshop or breakout session. These requests typically require you to submit a bio and abstract of several topics that you're able to speak on. You'll want to propose topics that would be interesting and highly relevant for that particular group. Large conferences usually select speakers 12 to 18 months in advance, so you'll want to begin your research early. Smaller or local conferences will usually have shorter lead times.
Also consider reaching out to reporters and producers at traditional media outlets, like newspapers and TV stations, with your bio and the topics you can speak on and make yourself available as a third-party expert that can weigh in on stories. This only applies if your topic has appeal to broad business or consumer audiences. Aleternatively, you can target trade or industry publications.
Another way to increase your credibility as a thought leader is to regularly publish original, written information on your topics. You can do this by maintaining your own blog, making sure to keep it updated by posting to it at least one to two times per week, and by contributing to other blogs that discuss matters related to your topic. You should also write and publish long-form pieces like eBooks or white papers as often as possible.
Because you can't establish yourself as a true thought leader overnight, these tactics have to be executed consistently and repeatedly over time to see the results you want. Keep in mind, leveraging thought leadership to build your consultancy is a marathon, and not a sprint.
As an independent consultant it's important to know what exactly soft skills are, why they matter, and how you can improve yours.
News and notes for independent professionals and their clients. This is the September 19, 2016 edition.