Are you a solopreneur or a small team looking to see bigger results? Maybe you want to expand your marketing ROI. Maybe you want to scale your business. Maybe you’re curious about where else you could go and how you could get there.
For many people, the answer is thought leadership. As a thought leader, you’ll be respected as an authority in your field. You’ll sell educational content to help others succeed — and if you do a good job of scaling up, you could make a good salary from a thought leadership career.
Here’s what you need to know about how to become a thought leader and how this path could help you succeed.
What Is Thought Leadership?
To be a thought leader means you are an individual or organization that’s been recognized as having authority in a certain field.
While the definition is pretty simple, there’s a lot more that goes into thought leadership.
Becoming a thought leader takes time and effort. You have to become knowledgeable and experienced at whatever it is you do before you can advise others in this area. You’ll then spend a lot of time creating content, building a brand online, and taking interviews or other opportunities.
Examples of thought leaders you may know include:
- Seth Godin — author, speaker, and business executive who shares primarily about marketing-based topics
- Tim Ferriss — best known for the concept of the 4-hour workweek
- Jack Canfield — self-development author and entrepreneur, best known for co-authoring the Chicken Soup for the Soul books
- Phil Town — financial guru known for his resources on helping people invest
- Simon Sinek — author and speaker who shares about leadership
There are several benefits to being a thought leader. People will automatically look to you to answer questions or solve problems; you’ll be widely regarded as an expert in your field.
Thought leadership helps improve your credibility and opens up doors to additional opportunities. And over time, all of these things will lead to more sales and growing your business.
Being a thought leader sounds like a great gig. But how do you actually get there?
Like many successes in the business world, becoming a thought leader doesn’t happen overnight. So let’s take a look at some of the different avenues you can explore to become a thought leader and grow your business.
Elements All Successful Thought Leaders Incorporate
All successful thought leaders incorporate four specific elements:
- A unique educational offering
- A strong online presence and personal brand
- They host events and community experiences
- They utilize a scalable growth system.
Let’s take a deeper look at what goes into each one of these elements and why they’re all necessary to become a successful thought leader.
Unique Educational Product or Course
Thought leaders commonly offer a unique product, course, or another educational offering.
They might be authors with one or more books. Or speakers with a unique educational angle to share and inspire. Or entrepreneurs who have created a course that helps their target audience in some aspect.
Whatever it looks like, thought leaders produce and publish high-quality content that educates people and provides value in whatever industry the thought leader is in.
For example, Natacha Oceane is a thought leader in the fitness industry.
With one million followers on Instagram and 1.45 million subscribers on YouTube, Natacha is a biophysicist who takes exercise science concepts and breaks them down into easy-to-follow workouts and advice.
She sells training programs and recipe guides on her website as well as provides free content on social media.
Strong Online Presence
Another common thread between thought leaders: They all have a strong online and social media presence.
This might include a website with a blog, a strong email list, a podcast, and more.
A strong online presence is important to help more people find out about you and to prove that you are an expert who can be found anywhere and everywhere. Essentially, having a big digital footprint is one of the best forms of marketing you can use to grow as a thought leader and share your content, ideas, and products.
Make sure to define the business and marketing objectives and create a plan of action for what you hope to achieve before jumping in, though.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start from scratch. When looking to succeed as a thought leader, look to other leaders in your industry and see what tactics work for them. That way you can build a strategy of both new ideas and tried and true methodology, putting your own personal spin on it.
No matter what strategy you end up with, however, it should reach across as many platforms as possible. And all content you post should directly address your target audience.
For example, share posts that will educate them, inspire them, motivate them, or make them laugh. In turn, they’ll feel motivated to re-share that content with their network so more people can find out about you.
Another option to boost your digital presence is to create a podcast. A podcast might be a good fit for you if you have something unique to share; your story or information is best told in an audio-only format; you have the ability to produce new episodes consistently; and you know your target audience inside and out.
You’ll need at least a computer, microphone, headphones, and editing software to start your own podcast.
Events and Community Experiences
Thought leadership events have two objectives: to promote yourself and further establish your authority, and to provide opportunities for attendees to network and form relationships.
Most thought leadership events involve a presentation from a thought leader. Others call on a whole panel of thought leaders, using a Q&A format.
These events and speaking engagements can be in person or take the form of a webinar. Afterward, you could even choose to sell a recording of the event.
And while live events and speaking engagement are traditionally the best for creating a sense of community, it’s essential to do your best to create community experiences for everyone who follows you, even if it’s primarily on social media platforms or through your website.
This might sound complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Creating community experiences could be as simple as using a Facebook group.
Facebook communities are a good place to foster communication and relationships. Live stream a video and answer questions from viewers, or share a post once a week asking members to answer a question or share a success from the past seven days.
Scalable Growth System
The final piece to the puzzle: making sure you have a scalable growth system in place. You want to be able to continue to see sustained growth over time, without a negative impact on the services you’re offering.
If you’re just getting started as a thought leader, map out where you want to go. Make sure your offerings — ebooks, courses, or any other kind of product — are as solid as they can be.
If you’re going to build the foundation of your thought leadership career on these products, they need to be top-notch!
It’s also important to be willing to shift and change over time. The systems and procedures you’re using now may not lend themselves to growth.
As you continue to grow as a thought leader, you might have to introduce different systems and innovative ideas that will better fit that stage in your business.
How to Grow As A Thought Leader
We’ve covered what a thought leader is and some of the most common elements that thought leaders use.
What else do you need to know?
If you want to see more growth in your thought leadership, try a few of these tips to help you succeed.
Find Your Niche
It’s important to define a niche to focus on with your thought leadership. Thought leaders typically focus on a specific niche or industry.
This makes it easier for them to appeal to a targeted group of customers.
When you find a niche, you’ll have less competition, more visibility, and stronger relationships with your customers.
Chances are, you already have a niche even if you don’t realize it. What industry do you work in? That industry will most likely be your niche.
If you’re truly starting from scratch, think about the areas where you have education, skills, talent, experience, and/or knowledge.
Consider whether one of these would work as your niche.
For quicker growth, choose a niche that’s not as crowded. Or pick a sub-niche where you can really hone in on a specific group of people.
For example, “fitness” is a very broad category. Try focusing on something more specific, such as CrossFit or yoga.
In some cases, you might be able to pinpoint an area that’s even smaller than that — like CrossFit for athletes or yoga for postpartum moms.
This will give you a better chance to find people who truly need your advice and leadership.
Build A Community
As a thought leader, part of your job is to build relationships and a community among the people who have benefited from your content.
You want to connect with these customers — and you also want to encourage them to connect among themselves.
By doing so, you’ll foster feelings of trust and loyalty that will encourage your customers to stick around for the long haul.
Build brand trust by strategically using social media. Be genuine and authentic as you share about your life.
Encourage your followers to share about theirs, too. It’s incredibly important to be honest, transparent, and upfront with your customers to help them trust you and feel committed to your community.
Work with Growth Experts
If you’ve made it this far, one thing is probably clear: Becoming a thought leader is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of work.
And if you’ve never done anything like this before, you may feel unsure of where to start.
Working with growth experts who have helped launch other thought leaders is a good way to get your career off the ground.
If you’re trying to get started with thought leadership, consider connecting with an agency like Brandetize, which is an award-winning marketing agency in San Diego.
Here at Brandetize, we have over 20 years of experience helping businesses increase their bottom line.
We regularly work with thought leaders, like Brian Tracy — a well-known motivational public speaker and self-development author.
In 2021 we created a customized, interactive Black Friday sale for Brian Tracy that won the Bronze award in the Digital Creative Technology User Experience category from the American Advertising Awards.
In just seven days we received 2,868 leads and earned $46K in revenue, making this campaign one of our biggest Black Friday sales successes to date!
We love what we do, and we’d love the opportunity to help you launch your thought leadership career and see real results.
Contact us if you’re interested in working together — we’ll take care of your digital presence, educational content, and everything else you need to do to position yourself as a leader in your field.
Feeling a little overwhelmed? We don’t blame you!
Becoming a thought leader is a lot of work. But for those who are willing to put in the elbow grease, thought leadership is a lucrative and fulfilling career that can help you scale your business and see better results long-term.