You’re great at what you do.
Your clients tell you you’re the best lawyer/dentist/real estate agent/organic kombucha maker they’ve ever worked with.
You’ve seen your competition posting news articles they’ve been featured in and speaking engagements they’ve landed.
But they’re no better than you. In fact, they’re nowhere near as good! So why aren’t you getting the same kind of recognition?
Simply being good at what you do isn’t enough. Let’s face it. There are plenty of great lawyers/dentists/real estate agents/organic kombucha makers (is that even a thing?) in the world. You need to establish yourself as a thought leader.
A thought leader is a person who’s known for being an authoritative, influential source of information in a specific area, and with that comes recognition.
Elon Musk is a thought leader in technology. Mark Cuban is a thought leader in entrepreneurship. Brené Brown is a thought leader on courage and vulnerability.
And you deserve to be known as a thought leader in your field. Here are six steps toward getting there.
1. Get clear on what makes you unique
The thing that makes a thought leader a thought leader is that they lead, not follow. They’re not part of the pack, they’re out in front blazing the trail. More importantly, they have a unique interpretation or spin on things that’s all their own.
Accountants are usually thought of as boring number crunchers. But maybe you’re the skydiving accountant who helps people see their finances in the form of life adventures.
Biochemists are typically bookish and talk about complex scientific concepts. But maybe you’re the people’s biochemist who breaks down complicated topics in an interesting, bite-sized format.
Gary Vaynerchuk is a great example of this. He took something usually considered highbrow—wine—and made it accessible to people who’d never dream of spending more than $20 on a bottle.
Figure out what sets you apart from all the other great people in your profession, then make it your calling card.
2. Separate yourself from your company
At first, this might feel counterintuitive. We just talked about finding your unique angle in your profession.
It’s important to remember, though, that the thing you’re promoting in all of this is you and your knowledge, not your company. If you try to use thought leadership as an opportunity to shill your product, your message will feel totally phony and fall flat.
Can being considered a thought leader help your company? Absolutely. People want to do business with a name they recognize. But that’s a secondary goal here.
Being a thought leader means cultivating the latest knowledge in your field and sharing it in a way that helps people and positions you as an expert—not promotes your company. Leave that to your marketing team.
Download my free thought leader positioning worksheet to get clear on what makes you unique!
3. Stay on the cutting edge of your industry
You’d think this would go without saying, but you’d be surprised.
I can’t believe how many people I see touting themselves as “SEO experts” who are still preaching that it’s all about keywords (if you’re unfamiliar, that’s outdated advice).
If you truly want to be seen as an expert, then you’ve gotta be the go-to source for up-to-date information in your field. This means staying on the cutting edge of its trends and being able to explain what they mean to the average person.
Figure out the shortlist of the top publications in your field and—here’s the clincher—read them every day. This is a critical step to staying on top of new ideas and being the first one to tell your audience about them.
4. Be on top of current events and find connections with your field
This piggy-backs right on top of number 3, but it’s not just about your field. You also need to stay on top of current events: news of the day, politics, sports, pop culture, and so on.
Why? Because part of being a thought leader is being able to make your expertise interesting, timely and relevant to your audience—and the inspiration for that may lie in places you’d never expect.
Here’s a great example. In summer of 2017, cosmetic retailer Lush made headlines for a new product known as the ‘jelly bomb’ that turns your bath water into gelatin. Why anyone would want to do that is beyond me, but that’s beside the point.
Anyway. CNN Tech covered the story with an interesting spin: what the heck is in a bath bomb?
Enter expert chemist Tristan Lambert, who got exposure in front of millions of people by using his chemistry expertise to explain the jelly bomb phenomenon.
This story never would have come about without making the connection between a niche topic—chemistry—and a trending story tons of people were talking about.
Stay on top of current events and keep an eye out for opportunities to plug in your expertise.
5. Pitch It
When you’ve got something to say, a piece of news to break or a unique, timely angle on a popular news story, it’s time to pitch it!
As a thought leader you might be pitching any number of things that will gain you exposure as an expert, including:
- An interview with a TV station
- A guest post on a site like Huffington Post
- A contributed article to a trade/industry magazine
- A newspaper op-ed
- A speech at an upcoming conference or event
- And the list goes on.
Pitching sounds like some complicated thing only publicists do, but in fact, people pitch stories to reporters and publications all the time. A pitch is simply a succinct note (usually an email) that tells the recipient four things:
- What you’re proposing (the interview, guest post, or whatever it is you’re hoping to land)
- Why it’s relevant (make the connection with some timely topic or, if it’s not something that’s already being talked about, explain why it should be)
- Why you’re qualified (your resume high points)
- Next steps if they’re interested in moving forward (call me at 123-456-7890)
These days you can find contact information for almost any media contact with a little Googling. When in doubt, pick up the phone, call and ask for the appropriate person to contact to pitch a story.
6. Become known for being easy to work with
Landing that first interview/feature story/guest post is a major win. Not only do you get the exposure you earned, you also open a relationship with a valuable contact who you can pitch to again and again. Make that relationship a good one.
I can’t stress this enough: reporters, editors, and producers love when you make their lives easy. If you do this, they’ll work with you again and again.
When I was a reporter, I had a standby list of contacts (as all reporters do) of people I knew I could get an interview with, no questions asked. These were people in law enforcement, government, local business, and so on—thought leaders I could turn to for help on a story without the hassle.
They were easy to work with, and guess what? They made far more TV appearances than their more difficult peers.
Be friendly and accessible and eventually you won’t have to do any more pitching; the right people will be hunting you down for comment instead of the other way around.
Ready to get started? Download my free thought leader positioning worksheet which will help you determine your biggest selling points so you can pitch yourself as an irresistible expert.
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