A few weeks ago, I joined a webinar put on by Charlene Walters and Entrepreneur about how to establish yourself as a thought leader. The webinar was geared towards, you guessed it – entrepreneurs – but there were some takeaways that I found important even for us fellow 9-5’ers.
What is a thought leader, anyway? According to good ol’ Wikipedia, a thought leader is “an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.”
Some of the benefits of being considered a thought leader are:
- You can brand yourself beyond your job title
- You have an edge if you’re looking to advance in your career or make a break into a new one
- You show – not tell – that you are creative, forward-thinking and driven
- You have more visibility to share your opinions, thoughts and ideas
- You can land speaking engagements at public events, conferences and webinars
I’m recapping some of the tips I learned from the webinar, as well as sharing my personal thoughts and anecdotes. Take a read below on how you can get started in establishing yourself as a thought leader!
Have a Focus
If you want to be seen as a thought leader in your company, your city, your industry or all of the above, it’s best to have a focus. Entrepreneur recommends narrowing down to three to four areas of expertise that you want to be known for. These topics should be in line with your goals, what makes you stand out and makes you valuable.
Personally, I’ve tried to develop myself as a thought leader through my work with Lipstick & Ink and my career in the tech industry. Because of my online presence (my website and social channels), people now know that I specialize in the space of all things career content (resumes, interviewing, career development), career consulting, side hustles, and marketing technology.
Build Your Online Platform
Having your own website comes highly recommended. This way, you can post all of your content there and then strategically share out to your social channels, driving traffic to your own site. According to Entreprenuer, “this allows those who are interested to see all the content, products, and services the thought leader offers.” Having an official presence on the internet will provide you with more credibility too.
If building out a website is too extreme/time-intensive for you, LinkedIn Articles is a great way to show your thought leadership. (Check out this post about how to use LinkedIn to your advantage.) Medium is another reputable website to share written content specifically. Those are both great places to start as you work towards building out a site of your own.
Create Valuable Content & Share Your Expertise
As a thought leader, you need to focus on creating quality and valuable content and sharing your expertise with your audience.
From a writing perspective, you can share your expertise through blog posts (posted on your website or other platforms like Medium). You can also share your expertise and contribute to media publications. You can find opportunities through sites like HARO (Help a Reporter Out), ProfNet, Source Bottle, Pitch Rate, and KITI, to name a few. And hey, if you’re feeling extra motivated, you can even write a book on the subject or topic you are most passionate about!
If you’re more interested in creating video content, YouTube is the way to go in sharing your videos. You can also upload your videos to IGTV on Instagram.
You can also create educational content in the form of webinars, courses, guides and e-books, helpful resources and templates. This will allow you to add even more value to your audience. If you’re a solopreneur/entrepreneur, you can also think of this avenue as a path to monetization.
Use the power of social media to share out all of the valuable content you’ve created and don’t be afraid to self-promote! LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest (in my opinion, in that order) are the best “thought leadership” avenues as you can use links to effectively and quickly drive your audience to your content.
Seek Out Speaking Engagements
Look for opportunities where you can speak and share your expertise verbally. This will give you a stage to share your thoughts and opinions and develop yourself as a credible source. Look for opportunities where you can be a podcast guest, an event host, a panel mediator, a panelist or a main speaker.
If your goal is to become a speaker of any kind, it’s again important to stick to your three to four topics as mentioned earlier. Always know your audience and make your mark with your message. Find out more how you can prepare and pitch yourself as a speaker in this Salesforce post.
In order to boost your credibility and practice your speaking skills, you can also create and run your own workshops, webinars or podcast!
Network, Network, Network
Sorry, you weren’t going to get through this article without seeing the word “network”! As you begin developing yourself as a thought leader, you need to ensure you’re putting yourself out there and allowing yourself to be discovered.
Look into relevant associations that make sense for your industry or company. Research mastermind groups, where you can meet and collaborate with others interested in the same topics as you. You can also look into both virtual and in-person events as a way to meet like-minded individuals.
Social media also is a treasure trove of opportunities to network. Look into and join Facebook Groups and LinkedIn Groups. Follow popular industry hashtags. Engage with other similar thought leaders’ content and insert yourself into the conversation. By doing that, you can get more eyes to your own profile and content.
Engage in Continuous Learning
Keep tabs on things like webinars, industry publications, business articles/journals/books, workshops, conferences where you can continue to educate yourself on the topics that interest you most. A lot of this will lead you to even more networking opportunities and ways to get your name out there.
Show Your Personality
You can still be a thought leader and be human! Yes, you want to be professional, but you also want to make sure people relate to you. Sharing personal stories and showing vulnerability are ways to connect on a deeper level with your audience. You can read more about how you can do this in this post.
Trying to do all of the above can feel extremely overwhelming. Believe me, by the end of the Entrepreneur webinar, I wanted to do all the things. But I knew it wasn’t realistic to do this all at once. That’s why I appreciated that Charlene recapped the top things to do to get started in being a thought leader:
- Start small – it’s a long game, not a short game
- Stay focused and be consistent
- Play on strengths – do you excel at writing vs. speaking?
- Think in terms of topics – post one piece of content each week per topic
- Recycle content of what works well
What are your thoughts? Are you ready to establish yourself as a thought leader?
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.