If you want to dominate your market, have lots of inbound sales opportunities coming from your website, and generally carry online marketing to its fullest potential, then it won’t be long before you’ll come across the advice to “become a thought leader in your industry.”
But what does that actually mean, and how do you actually do it?
For a lot of businesses and self-employed professionals, that means a quick read through the same materials that everyone else has seen, and then spouting them back to the public with a few articles or blog posts. That might be a decent start, but it’s hard enough to separate you from your competitors – especially at a time when knowledge, information, and web usage are proliferating at amazing rates.
In order to become a real thought leader in your market, and not just someone who is up to speed on the latest popular reading, you have to go a bit further. Here are seven ways you can make that jump:
1. Challenge basic assumptions.
The one thing that counterfeit experts have in common is that they always almost agree, especially when it comes to the assumptions within an industry. For example, in our industry, lots of people will tell you that social media isn’t as effective as search engine optimization. That might be true in some cases, but the more these assumptions are challenged, the more loopholes you find. Don’t be afraid to follow your own ideas and instincts.
2. Take known ideas and make them more specific.
Could you take something that has been known or suggested and apply it to a more specific audience or situation? For instance, following our example above, could you show why social media works especially well for dentists or manufacturers? The more specific an idea is, the more applicable it becomes to your readers and followers.
3. Conduct your own research.
Even within the scientific community, there are always more people analyzing and borrowing new data than there are those who are creating. That’s an even bigger issue in business, where the same studies and statistics are always being thrown around. If you want to stand out as a thought leader, try conducting your own research and generating your own facts and figures.
4. Write and teach frequently.
As anyone who has written extensively or taught a few classes can tell you, it’s often the author or instructor who learns the most. That’s because the issues to be explored, the questions that are asked, etc., don’t just spread our knowledge to others, but help us further our own understanding of an idea. Teaching and writing don’t just establish you as an expert, but make you more of one in the end.
5. Stay at ground level.
In some circles, “expert” has become a dirty word. That’s because there is a tendency to learn more and more while simultaneously losing touch with what’s actually happening around you. To avoid the sense that you are approaching problems and challenges from some sort of “ivory tower,” make sure you have ways to keep in touch with front-line colleagues and customers. They’ll help you stay grounded, and ensure that you know what sorts of issues are really important to them.
6. Fund a study.
You might think that only major universities and corporate departments can fund studies, but that’s certainly not the case. If you have a question you need to be answered, and can’t manage the research yourself, consider turning to the professionals. You’ll be able to share your results with the public, and the process might lead you to further inquiries or breakthroughs, all of which will make you a bigger authority in the industry.
7. Go back to school.
Naturally, one of the easiest ways to increase your expertise is by taking yourself back to the classroom. Not only do customers respect recognizable achievements (like degrees and certifications), but they are a good way to expand your thinking and get to know other people who are developing great ideas, too.
As valuable as these seven tips are, the real key is using them altogether. When you become a real thought leader, people seek out your opinions and ideas because they are truly innovative, and not just part of the background “noise” that’s so pervasive online. So, are you willing to do what it takes to increase your understanding and become someone that colleagues and customers turn to for knowledgeable advice and insight?