7 ideas for positioning yourself as a thought leader

Alastair Banks - Optix Solutions

Lets break it down for a second. Thought suggests musings. Thought suggests insights. Thought suggests a point of view. Leadership is all about getting others to follow you, often blazing a path. Put the two together and you have content which is created with the purpose of getting others to think and follow if they agree. It does require putting your head above the parapet though which is why some find it uncomfortable. That in itself is why you should do it. If others shy away then its a great way for you to shine. 

I recently wrote a thought leadership piece for one of our industry websites – Smart Insights. You can read that piece here. I did it for a few reasons. 

    Firstly I’m keen to share my knowledge and help others. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship. I created my own business at 19 and haven’t looked back. I’ve never worked for anyone else and now I’m 38. My piece is aimed to resonate with people who are thinking about branching out on their own. I give away tips about running a business which should hopefully come across in a meaningful way as they are spoken directly from someone who has made all the mistakes along the way and can pass on some of those lessons. 

    My second reason is peer recognition. Getting published on a prestigious, industry respected website is not easy. They will get hundreds of people wanting to contribute, so a mention is worth a lot in this day and age. While peer recognition is not necessarily something that will help my business directly, one of my personal goals is to be respected as a leader within my industry and to leave a legacy when I eventually check out.

    Thirdly it helps build my social profile, which in turn leads to more opportunities for my business. So many times I’ve written about ‘its not who you know, its who knows you’ – this just adds to that strategy. I immediately saw a surge in followers across twitter and other social platforms the day the article went live and a number of days thereafter. 

    Finally its helpful in my sales funnel. I will point people I’m trying to win as clients at this sort of publication. It adds credibility to my name and my business. This is turn almost certainly increases the win rate by a few percent.  

Ok Al, what about us then? What can we do to get going? Here are few ideas as a starter for ten. 

1). Offer to do some public speaking for free. Get known as someone who knows their stuff – a real expert in your industry. I started this by speaking at local networking events years ago. This has lead to paid gigs all over the UK and Europe in the last few years, something I’m hugely proud of. 

2). Write for a well known publication. It doesn’t need to be online, it could even be your local rag. I used to do a piece for our one years ago, it was called, “tips on digital marketing from an industry expert”. It helped position me as a goto for advice in the digital space within my city. 

3). Aim for the stars. Set your sights high. What are the best sites you could possibly be published on? Now go and ask them. Whats the worst that can happen? They say no? Big deal, move on. If you’ve got valuable and useful insight that would be well received by the audience of major publications or websites in your industry, find the editor of the site and make contact. Most offline publications have a list of editors at the front with their contact details. Most websites have a contact page with details of editors on them. When you reach out make sure you don’t sell your wares, let them know what you can provide them with, that their audience would be interested in. 

4). Teach. Could you approach your local college or university and offer your time for free? It could be simply to help kids in school understand your industry and why they should consider it as a career option or it could be a little deeper, offering technical lectures in your area of expertise. It might seem daunting at first but if you don’t put yourself out of your comfort zone every now and again, how can you expect to grow. 

5). Start your own blog. You’re reading this which means you’ve either come across my blog or something on social media. Its a great way to establish yourself as a thought leader. If you can’t start a blog for any reason, consider using places like Medium or Tumblr. Try sites like www.answerthepublic.com if you’re struggling for ideas on what to write about. 

6). Use LinkedIn articles. You can blog within the infrastructure of LinkedIn itself. The best thing about this is that your network is automatically notified and can engage with you within the comfort of that network. I’ve found this platform to be incredibly successful over the years. I seem to get more comments, shares and likes within it than almost any other social platform I use. I guess that’s probably my relevancy to the audience, but its worth still pointing out for you as an option. 

7). Share Regularly. This is probably the easiest way to position yourself in this manner. All the major platforms have a way of sharing insights, usually in a micro-blogging format. By doing this consistently and adding value where you can (share things of interest and use, not purely information about yourself) you will slowly train your audience to see you as a thought leader. 

So there are a few ways of putting yourself out there. Its not easy, there is no real way to short cut this. You need to put in the work, build relationships and offer content and your time for free. The good stuff happens later but when it does happen, you’ll really see the benefits. 

What other successful ways have you found to stand out as a thought leader? What’s worked, whats not been so successful? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

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