Like any industry or sector, entrepreneurship has its buzzwords, and ‘thought-leader’ is certainly one of them. It’s one of those things many aspire to become, but a lot of us aren’t completely sure exactly what it means, or why it’s so important.
Becoming a genuine, bona fide thought-leader in your niche is an incredibly powerful thing to do for your business.
In essence, thought-leadership means you are recognised as an authority in your specialised field, so much so that others seek out your expertise and reward you for it.
At its simplest, we can say we are thought leaders once we reach a stage in business where clients seek us out and hire us to provide a specialised service. But on a much deeper level thought-leadership isn’t as simple as landing a few clients.
Instead, thought-leadership represents an elite level in business, which you only reach once you’ve made your bones. You can’t simply declare yourself a thought-leader (if only it were so simple!). Rather, it’s something others in your niche recognise you for.
This happens organically as you make a name for yourself in a specialised area and you become known for your zone of genius. More than that, thought-leadership requires recognition from other experts in your area.
When you reach a point where existing leaders in your field are looking to you for advice, and following your lead, you’ve effectively established yourself as a thought-leader.
Thought-leadership is something you can aspire to, but it’s a mantle you need someone else to bestow upon you.
So how exactly do you make that happen, and more importantly, why should you care?
What exactly does it mean to be a thought-leader in your niche anyway?
Insight, Innovation And Inspiration
The hallmark of the thought-leader is their ability to provide insight into their chosen field, to inspire others working in that area – both professionals and those looking to hire professionals – and to create new things. To innovate.
These are precisely the three traits that make attaining thought-leader status such an appealing prospect for business owners.
What more can we hope for, as entrepreneurs, than to create businesses that inspires our clients and provides them with insight and inspiration?
Digital marketing has made it possible for entrepreneurs to not only make money, but build communities around their products and services, and create movements.
This is great for the people we help, because we are able to provide so much more value than companies were capable of offering in the past. But more than that it’s great for our businesses for three really crucial reasons:
- Becoming a thought-leader enables you to positively influence others through the content you create, and the products and services you offer. All that positivity is not only great for the world, it results in more followers, greater visibility, and a much higher level or recognition for your business.
- All that influence results in real tangible change in the world. It might be as simple as making life a little easier for your tribe, or as complex as fueling social revolution, but it makes your business an active agent within society. From the foodie bloggers teaching people how to cook, to the tech gurus showing people how to use all the latest gadgets, and the coaches helping people manage their health, wellbeing, and businesses, influence gives you the ability to improve people’s lives in a tangible way. The power you have to change people’s worlds is what converts them from followers to paying clients, which brings me to…
- A large part of thought-leadership is the recognition of others for your abilities, knowledge, skills, and unique gifts. That recognition comes in many forms, but the main ones are financial rewards and steadfast loyalty. Not only will people happily pay you to enact that change in their lives, they will pay you repeatedly. This grants your business sustainability, scalability, and growth, and allows you to change your own life for the positive.
How To Become A Thought-Leader In Your Niche
Carving out a name for yourself in business is one of the most consuming aspects of entrepreneurship.
Whatever you do, once you’ve found your groove and started to develop a great following and successful business, it’s only natural that you’d want to start positioning yourself as a thought-leader. Especially considering all the amazing professional benefits it will bring.
But if it’s not a title you can claim for yourself, and it has to be acknowledged by other people, how exactly are you supposed to go about making it happen?
Well, there are a few things you can do…
Become Exceptionally Good At One Very Specific Thing
The first thing to do is to find your niche within your niche. This is the point where the established ‘norms’ of your niche perfectly intersect with your zone of genius in a way that is really special.
Ideally, it will be something completely unique, but finding a totally unique way to do something standard and otherwise mundane in your niche is just as good.
Getting exceptionally good at this one very specific thing is a great first step. For one thing, in order to be seen to be an expert in something, you need to have very detailed knowledge about it.
Even if you’re operating in a small niche, the breadth of knowledge required to have that level of understand of every single aspect of it is phenomenal.
By zeroing in on one extremely specific element, you can ensure you know absolutely everything there is to know, and become an expert on that, while still being a all-round knowledgeable professional operating in your niche as a whole.
So find your ‘thing’, and really explore it in detail.
Here are some good places to start:
- Read every book you can find on the subject (remember, it should be an incredibly specific subject, so that shouldn’t be an overwhelming task!).
- Follow good blogs and social media channels on the subject.
- Follow existing thought-leaders who specialise in related areas.
- Familiarise yourself with all the current theories on the subject, as well as its history and development – context is really crucial for understanding, and since history has a way of repeating itself, you may find inspiration for creating the next big innovation in the field.
- Set up some Google Alerts to keep you fully informed on breaking news in your chosen specialty. This will ensure you remain cutting edge and give you a jump start on new theories, methods and ideas.
Look for ways to add an extra twist to the established way of doing things, or enrich the existing knowledge on the subject by bringing your own unique perspective to the subject.
It’s easy to settle for having basic knowledge on a subject, for knowing what everyone else knows and can easily find. It takes a concerted effort to elevate yourself above that and push yourself into the stratosphere, but that’s where the magic happens!
Manage Your Searchability And Visibility
This one takes time and patience but it’s super important.
You need to have a strong online presence in order to become known for your chosen specialty. That means ensuring both you and your business are visible, and that if someone searches for you online they see only positive results, which reinforce your expertise and solidify your position as an expert.
What do people see when they search for your name online?
While there are bound to be a few social media profiles that pop up, you want the first page of search results to be filled with professional credentials.
Top of the list will be your business website, followed by any other professional platforms you may have – your business’ social profiles, rather than your person ones. Beyond that we want to see your name appearing on professional sites that aren’t owned by you.
And, most importantly, we want all of those results to very clearly link you to what you do.
Not just to your niche, but to the very specific aspect of your niche that you have made your specialty.
Now, what do they see when they search for what you do online?
It will be great when you’re so well known that your name is synonymous with your specialty, and people are told such great things about you that they actively seek you out. But before that happens you need to be found, and even once it’s happened you want to perpetuate that organic discovery as much as possible.
For that, you need a strong presence in search engine results (SERPS) when people search for the relevant keywords associated with your niche.
Achieving this requires fully optimising every aspect of your online presence, so that your content is constantly appearing on those SERPs, and your name automatically appears with those keywords, even in places where the content wasn’t written by you.
That means creating content with SEO in mind, which is of such great value that other people start to reference it and link to it. That in itself will boost your SEO by providing you with backlinks (links to your content from other websites, which positively impact your search ranking), but it will also help your name to become synonymous with your specialty.
Create A Strong Personal Brand
One of the potential problems with becoming a thought-leader is the personal nature of it.
Innovators and trail blazers are generally seen to be individuals, rather than companies, and when it comes to visibility, in particular, it’s a lot easier to establish yourself as an expert if there is a strong personal element to your branding.
That may mean you are the ‘face’ of your brand, and as the CEO/founder of your company the business ethos revolves around…
- Your knowledge
- Your methods
- Your world view
- Your values
- Your face
But not everyone is comfortable with this type of branding.
Some prefer to keep their face out of the visual branding of their business and happy to work behind the scenes. This is particularly true if you have a team who works with you.
It’s generally a lot easier for solopreneurs to get behind the notion of personal branding, because it really is all about them. But as soon as your business grows to include other members of staff, it can feel a little conceited and false to maintain that kind of branding.
It isn’t at all.- a personal brand revolving around an individual is by no means limited to people who genuinely work alone, nor should it be. It’s about what makes you most comfortable and confident to express your expertise.
A strong business brand can come to be seen as a thought-leader, it doesn’t have to rest on the shoulders of a single person.
That being said, infusing your brand with personal elements, even if you’re not crafting a personal brand, is a great step forwards.
To do that, make sure you are crystal clear on the following:
- You have a powerful brand story that is present throughout your copy and content.
- You have a completely consistent visual brand and brand voice.
- You know exactly what your company stands for, and it is far more than simply ‘making money’.
- You are completely authentic and as transparent as possible when it comes to your business, how you operate, what you do, and who does it.
Demonstrate Your Expertise
This is perhaps the most practical element on this list. In order to be seen as a thought-leader, you need to not only possess in-depth knowledge, but also demonstrate it.
This might involve a variety of things, but the simplest, easiest, and most effective way to demonstrate your expertise is to consistently produce high quality content that focuses on delivering your own personal take on your zone of genius.
Don’t just have a ‘thing’, make sure people clearly see you doing your thing.
Content marketing is an incredibly effective way of demonstrating your expertise, as is social media marketing. Ensure you are as original and consistent as possible in your message and subject, but also be sure to vary what you talk about.
It’s no good repeating the same point week in, week out. People will get bored, and they need to know you are able to apply your expert knowledge in content.
Your ideal clients need to feel you fully understand their situations, and have the perfect solution to their very specific problems.
That level of content creation takes a concerted amount of time, effort, and resources.
Like most of the methods on this list, it isn’t a quick fix – you will need to persevere and maintain absolute consistency if you want it to work. But it is incredibly effective, so don’t give up!
The more you create, the more easily you will be associated with your specialty, and the higher your search ranking and visibility will grow.
Work With Influencers In Your Niche
Believe it or not one of the best ways to be seen as an influencer is to get to know and work with other influencers. This may seem counter-intuitive – surely they’re the competition? – but it actually makes perfect sense.
Influencers in your niche already have an established tribe and are see to be experts. If you can work with them and convince THEM of your abilities they will do the heavy lifting for you, and introduce you to their ready-made tribe of people already interested in what you do.
If you’ve selected your niche-within-the-niche well, and made it as original as possible, it will never be an issue in terms of competition, because these influences will have their own ‘thing’, and (pretty much by definition) it won’t be the same as yours, even though you share a niche!
Build A Strong Network
Beyond the influencers you specifically target, start network within your niche by:
- Joining social media groups.
- Contributing to discussion boards.
- Building a network of professional contacts.
Having a bucketload of endorsements for your chosen specialty on LinkedIn is a great way to start presenting yourself as a thought-leader in that area!
Go to events for your industry or niche and extend that network with face-to-face time. The more you connect with other people in your industry – at all levels – the more recognisable you will be as a presence and personality in your niche.
You can then build on this and start taking speaking gigs at some of the events you attend, putting you front and centre stage and giving your voice and ideas an outlet.
This is not only great for positioning you as an expert thought-leader, it’s also a good way of earning extra cash (though you may need to speak for free initially to get some momentum going!), and raising the general visibility of your business.
More than that, a strong network will strengthen your online presence by generating interest and engagement in your content, driving traffic to your blog and website, growing your tribe, and ultimately converting more clients.
Become A Thought Leader
Thought-leadership isn’t something you will stumble into by accident or come to overnight. It will take time, and effort, and patience, but it’s so worth it. Not only does it come with a lot of great benefits for your business in terms of growth, sustainability, and increased profits, it’s actually an incredibly rewarding pursuit.
The core of thought-leadership is embarking on a mission to provide value and genuine help to a specific group of people.
That, in turn, is extremely rewarding on a personal, as well as a professional level. So while it’s hard work and requires a long-term commitment, the rewards you reap will be immense, and they are built-in.
After all, part of being a thought-leader is being rewarded for your expertise!
If you’re looking for help establishing your own expertise, and getting recognised as a thought-leader in your niche, get in touch. We can discuss boosting your visibility and and searchability, solidifying your brand and online presence, and demonstrating your expertise through high-quality content creation, social media marketing, and other great tactics to boost your visibility online.