When we do webinars or talks on thought leadership marketing, we’re often asked how to “get started” quickly, with little budget and resources all while still making an impact. I can certainly understand the desire to get started quickly and see results, but truth be told, thought leadership isn’t exactly something that’s built overnight and there are no “3 quick steps to thought leadership” out there, at least none that we’ve found. All that said, there are a few things that any would-be thought leader can do.
First things first – Why do You Want to be a Thought Leader?
In our last thought leadership class, the group talked at length about the value of understanding the “why” behind your thought leadership efforts. Thought leaders are those individuals or organizations who have a thorough understanding of their motivations for thought leadership, which usually flows as an extension of their passion for the business that they’re in. I realize that you hear about ‘passion’ all of the time and how you really need to have ‘passion’ for what you do, but insofar as thought leadership is concerned, I submit that you’ll rarely meet a dispassionate thought leader who is at the top of their field. It just doesn’t happen.
Another thought on thought leadership motivation. If you’re coming at this from a position of “take” rather then “give”, you’re going to meet significant resistance. The best thought leaders do not covet their ideas, rather, they give them away freely. Giving ideas away has 2 main benefits. First, you attract the best prospects with the best ideas that resonate with your ‘tribe’. That’s how you attract your tribe. Second, and often an afterthought of thought leadership, is that giving away your ideas forces you to always be out in front looking for new ideas and replenishing your knowledge and understanding of the industry and the challenges your tribe faces.
Second – What do You Have to Say?
I meet a lot of would-be thought leaders who are bloggers, writers, and even speak from time-to-time who have never really sat down to assess and plan out “what it is that they have to say.” Sure, they’re always saying something, but is it on message? Is it aligned with their passion? Is it helping to raise the bar in the industry? I could go on, as there are a host of questions that we ask when developing a thought leader’s “what to say,” but instead I submit that there area few questions that you should ask yourself, your team or your entire company.
- What ideas do I have to offer the industry?
- What are we doing to challenge the status quo that I’d like to expand on in writing?
- What ideas is your organization fighting for?
- If we were to invent the future of our industry, how would it depart from the way it’s currently heading?
- What values do you or your organization stand for?
- What’s your “high concept” or “higher Holy calling”?
Third – Start Writing a Blog
Back in 2003 when I was first introduced to the concept of thought leadership through a chapter in Steve Van Yoder’s book “Get Slightly Famous“, I discussed the concepts with my then manager, who was an accomplished writer and had edited a book or two by that time, that I needed to start writing daily and get my thoughts on paper and refine them over time. Well, I ignored the paper idea and pored my energy into the blog that I had started earlier and never looked back.
The first publishing effort for any thought leader should be to get your thought out to the world via any means possible, but with the ease of procuring technology today, like a WordPress or Tumblr blog, your first effort should be to blog. What do I say? Well, while I realize that I usually harp on the idea of creating great content calendars that cover every possible situation, you don’t really need to start there. Start with your best ideas. Develop them over time, publish 2-3x/week and keep up a rhythm of drafting and delivering thought leadership through your blog.
Fourth – Get an Article Published
Having a blog is a critical first step, but it’s by no means the only tool that you need to attract the audience for your ideas that thought leadership deserves. Getting a first (or your next) article published in a respected local or trade publication is a linchpin in anyone’s thought leadership strategy and while you may not (likely) see business pouring in to your firm as a result of one article, a consistent approach to thought leading articles will put you on the right path.
Shane Snow, in a recent article in Fast Company on this very topic, contributed several great ideas to the conversation. As Snow indicates in the article, most publications won’t take just anyone. And they won’t print thinly veiled marketing messages with no takeaway. He gives four tips for getting printed and breaking through at your top-choice publications:
- Establish credibility – Show you have a track record for this sort of stuff (your blog, perhaps), create a concise pitch and leverage your credentials (subject matter expert, CEO, etc.)
- Contribute to the industry conversation – You have to be a source of information and education and you have to be tuned into how your point of view fits into the larger conversation on the topic.
- Adhere to journalistic rigor – Use facts, get your research right and be thorough. This is no place for conjecture and limp opinions. You need to have your story straight.
- Be bold with your opinion – You have the facts, now leverage your point of view and put it out there. You’ll take some people in, and turn some people off, but that’s the point, that’s how you build your tribe.
Fifth – Book a Speech, Talk, Seminar or Workshop
I call this the “most tangible touchpoint” and those that get to the most tangible touchpoint quickly are the thought leaders (well, there’s more to it, but you get the point).
By most tangible, we mean ‘as close to touching your audience as possible.’ Typically, that means speaking engagements, seminars, workshops, webinars, etc. I know that some thought leaders want to get from ‘free’ to ‘paid’ as quickly as possible, but I look at each speaking engagement as an opportunity to touch possible influencers, clients and other meeting and event organizers who may hire me in the future. I’ve never regretted a non-paid speaking engagement and put as much effort into those as I do my paid speaking opportunities.
As a thought leader for your organization, most of your speaking is admittedly going to be for free, or even paid for, in part, by your company (in the form of travel expenses and such to get to conferences where you will then speak for no fee). However, the thought leadership enterprise is not concerned with getting it’s people on the paid speaker circuit. It’s that most tangible touchpoint that matters.
Start small. Look at all of the events you already attend. Pitch them. Then talk to your clients. What events do they go to where you could speak? Get booked, get referred, and get booked again.
Question: What can you do today to start your thought leadership journey?
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