GUIDE | 8 MIN READ
10 Ways to Build Thought Leadership as a Consultant
You’re already an expert in your field, but are you a thought leader? That’s a question every successful or aspiring small business should ask. Marketing is changing along with the internet, and producing content that reaches your audience is fast becoming a necessity for solo businesses.
As a self-employed professional, you may already be an expert in your field, but are you a thought leader as well? That’s a question every successful or aspiring small business should ask. The modern marketing game is changing, and producing content that reaches your audience is fast becoming a necessity for solo businesses.
Influence and reputation are two keys to success as an independent business, and there are clear steps a business of one can take to improve these areas. One way to enhance your reputation and elevate your independent consultancy is by developing a thought leadership platform.
A planned approach that integrates social media, content marketing, and creative ideas can ease your transition to becoming a subject matter expert. That transition, from “good” consultant to sought-after expert, will give you a competitive edge and make you more visible to clients.
In this guide, you will learn
Why is thought leadership important?
The mantra of personal branding has made it easier than ever for people to gain visibility in their chosen field. Thought leadership can elevate you from being known as “good” in your particular specialty to defining it. This guide sets parameters around not just how to become a thought leader, but why one might want to adopt the moniker.
What is a thought leader?
Thought Leaders inspire others with innovative ideas, which they then turn into reality. Their goal is to replicate and scale their efforts by creating a dedicated community of loyal friends, fans, and followers to help them create sustainable change.
Knowing your audience is key in any field, and particularly applicable to thought leadership. More than just being an expert to the “stars,” a thought leadership platform should position you to become a solution provider for your target audience.
There are many benefits to thought leadership, including:
• Increased and more meaningful access to people, opportunities, and the media
• Potential establishment as an industry leader
• The ability to become a “trusted resource” to key people and businesses
• Opportunity to shape the conversations taking place in your industry
Thought leadership can be a significant competitive advantage for independent consultants.
People want to hire the best, and thought leadership validates your reputation, credibility, and expert knowledge. Experts tend to be in higher demand, which positions you to be choosy about the engagements you accept. Higher demand may also allow you to command higher fees.
Steps to build thought leadership
Steps to building it
Thought Leadership Lab Founder and CEO Denise Brosseau likens developing thought leadership to “putting yourself on shout.” How you do that depends on your interests. You can start with a blog or speak at an association. You can also convene the conversation by bringing people together
where you nurture and build the dialogue while also creating a strategic connection for people.
According to Denise, how you build thought leadership could be broken down into three broad categories.
1. Things that you do
2. Going where there is already traffic
3. Teaching others to become you
How to educate others
Teaching others to “become you” can take your thought leadership to the next level. First, codify what you do; put it down on paper in the form of frameworks, best practices or even a manifesto. Then, build your thought leadership platform by sharing this information widely. You may do this through writing, speaking, and/or teaching. Next, consider how you can get others to take what you do and do it for their respective
audiences. License or certify others in your methodologies using a train-the-trainer model. This can also provide a secondary income stream.
As you begin to develop thought leadership, keep the following tips in mind:
- Be yourself. Denise advises, “Be the consultant that you are. If you are larger than life, then be that on the stage. Don’t try to fit yourself into a box.”
- Stay focused. Thought leaders are not jacks ofall trades. Focus on an area of expertise and own it. Focus teaches people what you are good at.
- Forget the box. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box or create a new shape entirely. There is overwhelming demand for our attention today, so rise above the cacophony of sameness with your own big ideas.
- Predict the future. Thought leaders anticipate future trends and challenges.
- Create a trail of authority. Validate your authority with real world examples. Testimonials, case studies, and media mentions are all ways that you can provide social proof to your audience that you have credible expertise.
Walk The Fine Line Between Promotion And Overexposure
While one of the benefits of thought leadership may be additional revenue, it is important to differentiate between sharing your expertise and being overly promotional. The latter can sabotage your credibility.
Authentic thought leaders have a passion for the dialogue. They have big ideas or points of differentiation. They seek to teach, inspire, lead, and engage others in the exploration of topics of interest.
Lead with passion and develop a strategy that aligns with your interests and that of your audience. However, thought leaders do need to market their ideas.
In the next section we’ll examine how to build and market your thought leadership platforms.
…thought leaders can’t be thought leaders if they aren’t heard. A single speech at a conference, unless it goes viral (and chances are it won’t), is much like placing a single advertisement on the television in one time slot and hoping that people catch it. Daniel Rasmus Author Listening to the Future
Speaking at events not only puts your name out there, it introduces both your thoughts and your brand as a thought leader. See more tips to building your personal brand in the MBO Partners article “9 Ways to Build a Personal Brand” for Small Business”
Build your platform
Thought leaders listen, communicate, and create.
Listening allows you to discover:
- Who are the key players
- What questions are being asked by your target audience
- Where conversations are taking place
- When hot topics are of note and how to think about those topics strategically
- How something is missing from the conversation—and what you can do to fix that
Listening not only helps you in your initial discovery, but also allows you to continue the dialogue with your audience. Below are a few ways that you can listen:
- Read industry publications
- Follow existing influencers and thought leaders
- Join forums or LinkedIn groups specific to your industry
- Participate on expert panels at workshops and conferences
- Ask! Use your blog, newsletter, a survey tool, or social media to ask a question and get an answer from your network or to start a conversation.
10 Ways to Communicate Your Expertise
There are many ways to communicate your expertise. You may begin by focusing on one method and find that another becomes a natural extension of what you are already doing. For example, publishing a book can generate opportunities for public speaking. Just as thought leadership should be driven by your passion and interest, so too is the way you promote it. You want to find a way that fits your message and style of communicating.
- Public speaking. Speaking is a wonderful way to lead the conversation. If you enjoy presenting and teaching in this way, it will be a natural channel to develop your platform. Chambers of Commerce, professional associations, conferences, and workshops all need knowledge experts to deliver valuable information to their participants. You are not limited to participating in the conversation, but can host your own speaking event.
- Publish a book. Writing a book can establish you as a thought leader and knowledge expert. A book is a tangible asset that can be used to communicate your ideas and open doors to continue the conversation.
- Lights, camera, action. If you are good on camera, video is a powerful medium to employ in your thought leadership efforts. You can create your own media outlet using sites like YouTube or Vimeo. You can create how-to videos, provide tips, or create your own talk show format.
- Podcast. If you prefer audio only, then podcasting provides another option. You can do your own talk show using sites such as Blog Talk Radio. Create a teaching series and share it on iTunes. You can do short daily podcasts, a weekly, or even a monthly podcast.
- Win awards. Awards and honours are another way to validate your expertise. We tend to pay closer attention to those who have “award winning” in front of their name. You can submit yourself for industry awards and honours or work with a PR professional to identify and submit applications on your behalf.
- Teach. You can teach others to do what you do, or teach your target audience how to solve a problem. You can create a workshop that you teach in your local area, or teach a track at an industry workshop or conference. You can teach through writing or webinars, or online platforms, in addition to universities, high schools, and other educational venues.
- Blog or guest blog. Blogging is a relatively easy way to begin establishing thought leadership.It is important to be consistent in your content and posting schedule. Remember that you want to create authority; that requires focusing in on your area of expertise. Use your blog to share news, insights, develop ideas, answer questions, and encourage conversation. Consider whether you’d like to have a blog tied to your website, if you’d prefer to leverage a social platform like LinkedIn, or if you’d pitch yourself to third parties with a guest blogging program. Make sure that when you pitch your ideas for a post, they are original and relevant to the blog’s audience.
- Become a digital “Dear Abby.” Social media channels are excellent for creating, communicating, and sharing. You can tweet expert tips or share your take on relevant news. Demonstrate your passion for your subject by sharing relevant content on LinkedIn. The more you share (within reason), the more people will begin to seek out your expertise.
- Master the media. You can grow your thought leadership platform by becoming an expert source for the media. Sign up for services such as Help a Reporter Out (HARO) that deliver media queries to your inbox or create an expert profile on sites such as ProfNet. If you read a story and have a different take, connect with the reporter via email or social media to discuss contributing.
- Develop insight reports. You can commission a survey and use the data to create a benchmark report. This provides an opportunity to provide your unique insight on the data collected. Develop quarterly, biannual, or annual updates to the reports. Take key highlights from your report and turn it into an infographic or deliver a webinar that delves deeper into the data. Create a press release that announces the report and shares key findings.
Social media channels are excellent for creating, communicating, and sharing.
To become a marketable independent professional, you need to position yourself as an expert in your field or industry. An easy way to establish this credibility is to write and publish your own industryrelated blog. The MBO Partners article, 5 Blogging Tips for Your Small Business, compiles a series of tips to help make the most of one’s blog.
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