Have you ever wondered what it would take to become a “thought leader” in your industry? Have you put any effort into developing your personal brand?
If you see the value in these concepts, but don’t know where to start, this post is for you.
The good news is, plenty of thought leadership and personal branding opportunities exist—thanks in large part to the internet. The route you take will depend on your strengths. If you’re a gifted speaker, participating in a TEDx talk or speaking at conferences can boost your profile. And if you have a way with the written word, guest posting on blogs and media sites is a relatively easy way to build your brand. If you have graphic design skills, teaming up with a like-minded company or influencer to create a valuable infographic is another option.
I know these efforts work because, about two years ago, I made the commitment to invest my time and resources into boosting the profile of my company, which boiled down to putting myself out there. The work has paid off so much that we’ve diverted most of our advertising budget to content marketing—which, for us, includes guest posting and speaking. In 2014, the guest posts, infographics, PDFs, and ebooks that my team and I created snagged us around 1,000 media mentions.
Being a thought leader is just as important for entrepreneurs and professionals who are starting out as it is for Richard Branson and Jack Dorsey—if not more. With that idea in mind, here are three things you can do to build your personal brand and be seen as a thought leader in your field.
1. Align Yourself With Other Influencers
When you start to build your personal and professional brand, it’s important to align yourself with existing influencers. The easiest way to do this is to partner with them to create something that will mutually benefit both of you.
For example, my company is in the business of social media marketing. We make social marketing campaigns that brands use on Facebook and their websites. Since we happen to have an awesome designer on staff, we decided to reach out to specific influencers in our space and offer to work on co-branded efforts with them. First, we made a list of people who we wanted to know about us. Social media thought leader Mari Smith, social media strategist Amy Porterfield, and content marketing expert Ann Handley were at the top of the list, as was Post Planner, a Facebook post scheduling tool.
For Smith, we created a co-branded infographic that featured 14 ways to get more Facebook shares. For Porterfield and Handley, I wrote a couple of guest posts. And we did a joint giveaway with Post Planner. Our ulterior motive to was to make these people and brands aware of us, but the success of our outreach depended on providing them with very high-quality content. The result is that we are now on their radar, and we’re gratified to find that these folks regularly recommend our product just as we recommend theirs.
There’s even a great tool that will help you find influencers in your industry: BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo allows you to search content and influencers based on keywords. It will then rank influencers by their social following size and articles based on their numbers of shares.
By the way, when you start doing this, expect to be turned down a few times before someone takes you up on your offer to co-brand content or guest post. People are protective of their brands, rightfully so, so you have to make sure you align yourself with the right people and are able to deliver relevant, quality content.
2. Partner With Industry Organizations
Content marketing is a crowded space, and now that it’s so easy to publish, everyone is a writer. The good news is that opportunities for guest posting abound! You can set your sights high and pitch posts to outlets like Entrepreneur, The Next Web, Inc., Fast Company, and The Daily Muse—all places that professionals look to for advice. Or, you can start out with smaller industry sites or business blogs, or even offer to guest post on the blogs of products you use and love.
Getting placed or mentioned in one of the major outlets can be a challenge, but one way to break through the crowd is to partner with industry organizations. For me, one that’s been successful is the Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC).
When I was first experimenting with this whole personal branding thing, I joined YEC because it offered networking opportunities with more than 500 people who were in a situation similar to mine. YEC also partners with some of the biggest media outlets, such as American Express’ OPEN Forum and TechCrunch. I was able to have YEC editors work with me to place some of my early efforts until I had a big enough portfolio to write for these places on my own.
If you’re an entrepreneur, there are quite a few great organizations out there; here are 10 worth checking out. Otherwise, look for similar organizations that focus on your industry or role.
3. Take Advantage of All Opportunities to Educate Others
The reason influencers are so, well, influential, is because they find a niche and then provide best practices and tips focused on that one area. While my main business is in the social media realm, and I write a lot about Facebook, I’ve also founded a few other companies, so I’ve been able to write and talk about entrepreneurship and startup challenges as well.
Everyone has opportunities to educate others in his or her industry; you just have to discover them. A public relations person can help you with this, but you can also do some of the legwork yourself by keeping your ear to the ground. If you’re a brick and mortar business, consider joining local networking clubs and organizations to learn about events in your city you can sponsor or speak at. If you’re in a larger industry, participate in Twitter chats and LinkedIn groups, and generally follow the conversations your peers are having online.
I also recommend joining a program such as Help a Reporter Out (HARO). HARO sends daily queries from media outlets looking for sources for their articles. You can choose which industries you want to get queries about and then easily respond. I’ve formed many of my media connections through HARO. Once, I responded to a query and the reporter found my insight so useful that she now comes to me first before sending out generic queries.
Whenever you see an opportunity to speak or write about something that’s happening in your industry, don’t let it pass you by. Whether you’re invited to be a guest on a small podcast, or the local television station wants to swing by your office for a two-minute segment, it all helps establish you as a personal brand and thought leader and makes your company more discoverable.
Becoming a thought leader isn’t so much difficult as it is time-consuming. Start with one tactic at a time: guest post or speak or create co-branded resources. Once you have one thing working for you, and you know you have the time to put out more high-quality content, you can add another. The payoff is that all these efforts will keep you top of mind in your industry.