I’ll say this right now:
You don’t need to be the top expert.
You just need to become their trusted resource.
A thought leader is someone people follow and listen to. That’s it.
Being a thought leader means people will start clambering to read or hear from you. Your following will grow and they will seek your help.
That my friends is called:
People trust you. People listen to you. People will then be paying you to help them or solve their problem.
It starts with asking two simple questions.
I’ll reveal them in a moment….
When you step into your inner thought leader, you’ll be able start exponentially building value for your business or non-profit.
- Even if you’re an introvert. In fact introverts are some of the best of them out there.
- Even if you’re NOT the top of your field. They’ll still trust you, and know you can help.
- Even if you’ve never wanted to lead anyone, let alone thousands of interested people.
In fact, entire organizations can be thought leaders. It doesn’t have to be one figurehead.
On the web:
You’ll build a following you can monetize, SEO benefits that will build your traffic, and authority you can leverage for greater opportunities and greater revenue. The modern web makes it all possible for anyone to achieve it, with the right strategy.
First Off… What is a Thought Leader?
We’ll start by dispelling a leading myth:
A thought leader is not necessarily an expert or know-it-all.
What a thought leader is… is trusted.
That’s the value:
Authority and leadership.
A thought leader develops and shares their viewpoints, but doesn’t have to be the smartest or most profound one out there. You don’t have to know the most. The simplest things can often be the most helpful and profound to your audience even if they seem commonplace to you.
To build your authority, you just need to share and listen. And it helps to develop a niche, a viewpoint, a systemized method, or just a willingness to share what you learn with others.
The possibilities abound.
But most people put too high an expectation on themselves to be original or profound, which only sabotages them over and over again.
They end up doing nothing.
They end up agonizing over everything they want to share, or trying to make everything perfect or deeply profound. Then they don’t even share it!
Here’s the dirty little secret:
There’s always people one step behind you hungry to learn and explore with you.
Most people put too high an expectation on themselves to be original or profound, which only sabotages them.Click to tweet
So focus on really understanding WHO you want to reach, instead of what you have to say:
- Delve into their struggles and most common questions.
- Dip below the surface and see what they often don’t see themselves.
- Develop simple, actionable solutions or insights they can apply today.
Anyone can be a thought leader.
It’s a matter of cultivating the mindset and acting on the ideas and knowledge that develops. And honestly, just being helpful.
But we all face these common issues:
- Many struggle to believe they are good enough to be seen as any kind of expert.
- Many struggle to stop procrastinating and to take steady action.
- Some get stopped in their tracks trying to be original or profound.
You are not alone by any means.
But like any leader, a thought leader needs to move forward anyway.
- Accept the imperfect and the good enough.
- Embrace the obvious, the simple, and the basics (it’s not as obvious to people not YOU… and often the greatest insights you can give them).
- And develop a habit… even marking off an appointment in your calendar to focus on developing it, listening, exploring thoughts and ideas.
And as with any innovator, you stand on the shoulders of those who’ve come before you. And it’s okay, if not beneficial, to acknowledge that.
Embrace acknowledging the source.
But continue sharing it.
One of my clients told me again and again, “These are things I say to my patients every day, and they seem too obvious to me. I wonder how they can be so valuable… but they are.”
Then she went on to say:
“I thought it would be difficult to have enough to say – something profound. But the more I write, the more the ideas keep coming to me. Often, they are things I took for granted as so humdrum. But these are the things that my patients need from me all the time.”
Those articles of simple, actionable advice became hits for her.
The response came pouring in about how much those on her email list loved them. We even produced simple, step-by-step worksheets to download, and you won’t believe how much people loved these one page PDF’s.
Her thought leadership is helping people in simple and very real ways. And sometimes it does in deep and meaningful ways she never expected.
So can you.
How to Become a Thought Leader in Two Questions
You can start becoming a thought leader this very moment.
1. Right now, no excuses – think about what you hear over and over from your clients and supporters. They may even seem boring or obvious to you.
Take a moment and really consider it.
Try to go back to when you were just learning yourself, before everything become ingrained and obvious to you. It won’t be to them.
What questions do you hear? What seemingly obvious things spark their interest or an insight for them?
Write them down and keep them somewhere where you can continue adding to the list.
2. Now think about where so many seem to stumble or get stuck. In other words, where and why do they struggle?
Right now, while they are fresh, write them all down.
What frustrates them? What frustrates you? Where do you get baffled by their behavior? What do they just never get?
Again, write them down and keep them somewhere where you can continue adding to the list.
These are the seeds for your thought leadership. You’ve already started to think like a thought leader. Brainstorm how you can address and talk about these seeds with simple solutions, stories, and successes.
- Where were you able to help people?
- What did they need that they couldn’t see for themselves?
- What moments stand out when you think about these questions?
- What were the circumstances in people’s lives that bring them to you?
- What were the beliefs or assumptions that sent them down the wrong path?
- What other solutions did they try that didn’t work out, and what were those experiences like for them?
Ideas Spawn More Ideas – Here’s How
As you work with clients, patients, and supporters, ask yourself these questions more and more.
You will start to recognize idea opportunities. Opportunities to bring value to the struggles, questions, and needs of your audience. They’ll just pop out at you the more you look and the more you write them down over time.
Like a muscle, the more you do it, the stronger it becomes.
Jerry Seinfeld wrote a joke a day no matter what, and marked his progress with big “X”s on his calendar. They weren’t always good. In fact, most of them were horrible.
But the more he did it, the more ideas came, and the more he stumbled on the genius that got him to where he is now.
The more consistent he was, the more ideas would come, the easier it was to get into it.
And the more those X’s piled up, the more he felt the motivation to keep doing it.
But it doesn’t stop at the idea.
How to Go Be Seen and Heard
Thought leadership is equal parts thought and execution.
You need both or you have nothing. “Leadership” is about execution and the work it takes to translate insights into real value for your audience and your business.
You need to get the ideas out there where they can be helping people.
But how do you do that?
That’s the other stumbling block, and it can be doozy.
Start by packaging your ideas in whatever form fits you – articles, workbooks, video, audio podcasts, speaking, workshops, webinars, interviews, events, social media, short ebooks.
The possibilities are endless, for both the introverted and the extroverted. But the best results come from a very targeted strategy instead of a buckshot, “let’s do everything”, mentality.
So it’s best to pick one strategy (or a limited, manageable few) to start with and really delve deeply into them consistently.
They key here is:
“to start with”
You can add on later, but you need to start manageable and targeted or you’ll burn out quickly before you get off the ground…
… or simply never get anywhere because you are too spread out to be effective.
It takes some time, or maybe a stroke of well-prepared luck, to see accelerating progress. Just get it out there consistently.
And get a little help or support so you can spread it and improve it. A mentor, a small group, or hiring a professional will all greatly accelerate your progress and your reach.
In the end, you need to get it out there through what we call “inbound marketing” and “content marketing”, including:
- Through your website
- With a blog
- With your growing email list
- Writing and speaking
- Webinars and Workshops
- Guest posting and interviews
- Using Social Media
- And more
But Don’t Shotgun it! Use a Strategy.
Don’t try to do everything at once.
You’ll be spread too thin and struggle to get results from anything…
Seriously – take this to heart!
It can be a tiny niche or a global problem – size doesn’t matter, except that the smaller the niche the easier it is to gain that initial recognition. And once you get that small hold, you expand on it and grow your niche how you see fit. Before you know it, you’ll have to start choosing what opportunities to grab and which to reject.
Think about it. Is it easier for you to become widely known in a small party or a sprawling festival?
In a small party, everyone can know your name and get to know you. Random people can be talking and both know you. But in the mass of people flowing through a festival, you get utterly lost. People who know you may never connect, and have too much else to talk about anyway. How will you gain saturation?
Then you can confidently:
Get some successes by sharing actionable ideas they can apply in their lives, jobs, and pursuits. Package your ideas into memorable, repeatable concepts. And then begin to spread.
Go beyond your website. Go wherever your audience is.
Sounds obvious, right? But how many actually do it?
You absolutely need to connect and get yourself out in front of your audience.
If your audience includes mostly retiring boomers, maybe the hippest new social media platform is a bad choice. If your audience is paleo eating cross-fit junkies, explore where they hang out and already have communities dedicated to them. Check out their blogs, what social media they are strongest on, and where they gather together.
You need to own your home base.
You start by developing your site, email list, and blog as your hub – the place where everything starts or leads back to.
Then you spread out to the places you rent, like social media, PR, advertising, articles, speaking engagements, and more. Everything should point back to your website and email list, but you still need to reach outward to where your audience already is.
How you use all these tools is far beyond the scope of this article, but learning or getting help is essential to making real progress.
For now, just get started.
Most people fail because they simply never start.
Start, and you are already ahead of the game and working those thought leadership muscles. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Just start simple, slow and steady.
Everything You Need, You Already Have
You are already a thought leader waiting to happen. Thought leadership is the will to learn, share, and help. Thought leaders take action.
You may never feel you are good enough. You may never feel you have enough time. I never do.
My business and life had always seemed to have other priorities and no time. But I hit a wall just letting business come to me, and I had a great desire to reach out and help a wider audience. I had to do something, and years of wishing but putting it off wasn’t cutting it.
I had some writing already out there. I had written guides and consulted for my clients again and again. I had guided their progress while ignoring my own.
When I had enough of the excuses, I started getting accountability and help to focus me with the help of others. It helped me to get on track with my own business the way I help others with theirs. And I started, bit by bit, putting the pieces together.
We all need help, even if only a coach pushing you forward or someone keeping you on task and accountable.
I started slow, and have much further to go. But it’s out there. It’s mine. It’s growing because I held myself accountable, got help, and was able to finally focus on what I needed to do to get it moving.
You have everything you need. And you’ll always have more to learn and share as you go.
So stop waiting, ask those two questions I shared with you.
Start flexing that thought leadership muscle and scheduling time for ideas and action.
Just get started.