So you want to be a thought leader?

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It’s easy to dismiss the idea that you’d ever be seen as a “thought leader” or influencer in your field. But with a little hard work, and a conscious effort to share useful, inspiring, or insightful content, you’d be surprised how achievable the goal really is. 

What is a thought leader?

Let’s step back for a moment to think about what we mean by a “thought leader”.

Put simply, a thought leader is someone who’s built up the perception of authority in their field, often by consistently sharing insights, educational content, and ideas. Over time, that sharing of high-quality ideas and information builds trust and engagement with their work, which in turn builds their personal brand. 

Think of the copywriter who shares great copywriting tips. Or the coach or consultant who freely gives out – or self publishes – great, actionable advice that others can use. Or the stay-at-home dad who’s run into every problem you could imagine bringing up a toddler, and is now ready to help others navigate the challenges they figured out along the way.

So how do you become a thought leader?

When we first meet a potential thought leader we automatically start looking for “credibility indicators“. Whether that’s their professional experience, publishing history, or the credentials they’ve built up over time, we want to be sure that this is someone we can trust and learn from. If we’re not meeting a thought leader face to face, we might instead rely on their website, social media, presentations and events, books they’ve published, reviews or testimonials about their work, or presence in important conversations and discussions in their field..

In short, what we’re looking for are clues that this person really does know more about this topic than we do. Which is also a chance to root out any inconsistencies or alarm bells. Doing your research and fact-checking what you share with your audience is a great way to set yourself above charlatans, demagogues, and people who’d rather cobble together or spin existing content without doing their homework or double-checking their own experiences. That attention to detail can really help set you apart.

A really common credibility indicator is to have written and published a book. If that sounds like a daunting task full of manuscripts, query letters, and long weeks of waiting, remember that a book can be self-published more easily than ever these days. Checking your facts, and ideally asking a friend or editor to give your content a look over can also go a long way to making sure that you’re well reviewed, and well received.

Another way to build credibility is to publish consistently great content and grow your audience with a blog. Perhaps you’ve run a campaign or represented a particular interest group and can now share what you’ve learned. You might have mastered a particular craft, hobby, or field of business. Or maybe you’ve been into space or owned some troublesome dogs for a few years. We can’t help but learn from our experiences, and there’ll always be an audience of people who’d love to get a head start by getting great advice just as they’re starting out.

However you get there, the main point is to consistently prove that you have experiences and insights, and have gone the extra mile on making sure that they’re sound, truthful, and useful. That’s a great way to build trust and authority with others who might not have arrived at the same place in their journey yet.

Taking it further with ‘systems for success’

Sharing your experience and knowledge is a great way to lay the foundations for being seen as a thought leader in your field. But thought leaders also tend to take things a step further by “codifying” what they’ve learned.

By codifying, we mean that they’ve condensed and boiled down their ideas and experiences into a clear system that others can put to use. Think of that as a “system for success”.

A system is the difference between a half-remembered, rambling description of how to bake a cake, and a clearly laid out recipe with a list of ingredients and steps. It’s the difference between a long, winding anecdote about something that happened in your freelancing business, and an easy to grasp series of steps that your audience can put to use right away.

To be a thought leader, you really need a system AND a track record of success.

If you can show that you’ve used your knowledge to help others solve a problem and then abstract what you’ve learned in a way that works for other people, you’re already on the way to becoming a serious thought leader.

How can we use blogging and podcasting to help?

For starters, once you start publishing consistently, your blog or podcast is a credibility indicator “projector” in itself. Every time someone consumes your content, the experience and insights you share help to build trust and authority that you know what you’re talking about.

But secondly, a blog or podcast can also provide a perfect way to test your “system” as you develop your thought leader brand. By engaging with your audience and seeing what really sticks, you can make changes to your formula and find out what resonates with people. Which posts or podcast episodes are really ramping up and building engagement? What could you learn from the feedback you receive in comments? What challenges did your audience run into, or insights did they applaud? That can be a great way to double down on what’s working well.

Start where you are today

If this is all sounding like you need to be an expert before you get started then fear not.

There are business blogs and shows where the author or presenter starts out with very little idea of what they’re doing at the beginning. But as they go along, they capture, document, and condense what they’ve learned and share it with their audience, bringing them along for the ride. The interviews with other experts, and experiences and solutions they found on their journey become the foundation for their “system”.

The reality is that with a clear topic, and clear credibility indicators (even if you’re starting from scratch and inviting your audience to follow along) anyone could become a thought leader with time.

Putting this into action

In Module 4: Building an audience of the Intro to Blogging course we cover a variety of topics that will assist in the process of getting your ideas, experiences, and systems in front of others throughout your journey of becoming a thought leader.

And within the Intro to Podcasting course there are lessons and bonus materials related to conducting interviews and building a community. If you’re not already enrolled, join us today from the Home page!

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Published by Richard Midson

Podcaster, former journalist and news editor, public relations officer and techie

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