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Five Powerful Ways To Become A Thought Leader

Thought leaders are trendsetters and tastemakers in their fields of expertise. Here's a look at five practical ways to become one.

With the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI), the thought leader’s role will become even more important in marketing. This is because generative AI can only use what is already online to generate content.

Photo: Rob Swystun | Credit: Heaven Young

Unlike you and I, it cannot have lived experiences that provide it with years of real-world triumphs and mistakes to draw expertise from to help others. This is exactly what a thought leader is – someone with an innate desire to share the lessons they’ve learned for the express purpose of helping others become better in various aspects of their lives. As a fringe benefit, thought leaders are also recognized for their expertise in their chosen field, which generally leads to better business and life opportunities.

In her fantastic article 6 Simple Ways Entrepreneurs Can Establish Thought Leadership, Sukanya Samy talks about a few ways entrepreneurial folks can gain the coveted “thought leader” tag for themselves. I want to add to this with one tried and tested route to being seen as a thought leader in your industry in five simple-to-follow steps.


1. Be curious about the world and how to improve it.

If you’re already a naturally curious person; congratulations, you already have this part down. If you wouldn’t normally describe yourself as curious, you can train yourself to be. Basically, you need the desire to constantly be learning. This is something you can do on your own through reading, watching educational videos, listening to podcasts, and consuming knowledge. It doesn’t have to be limited to just your industry.

In fact, it’s better if you don’t stick to your industry or immediate interests, because a process for one industry can be translated to another one, or a brand-new, little-known piece of technology might cause an epiphany for you about how to use it in your own field. Try to always be jotting down lessons you’ve learned from your experiences, thoughts you have on the content you consume, and your opinions on a variety of subjects that you can use.


2. Start sharing.

Start publishing your thought leadership content on targeted and influential platforms.

If you prefer the written word, this could be Medium or LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. If video is more your thing, perhaps YouTube or TikTok would be a better fit. And, if you are more of a behind-the-scenes talker, uploading your clips to SoundCloud may be a good start. For SEO purposes, publishing a written component is an obvious advantage. But what’s even more important is to use a medium that your preferred audience also uses.


3. Contribute to reputable third-party websites.

While it’s great to start sharing your thoughts on your own social profiles, it’s key, at some point, to start pitching contributions to third-party sites. These sites have gatekeepers who only allow truly valuable content onto their sites. Therefore, if your content has made it onto the site, this gatekeeping element gives it more clout.

Now, obviously, there is a spectrum of sites ranging from basic content farms to highly respected thought leadership forums like the Forbes Contributor community, Entrepreneur magazine, Inc., and, of course, YFS Magazine.

You may try a smaller site, to begin with, and work your way up to get onto one of the bigger sites after you’ve got a few pieces published and you’ve started to establish your reputation. The best kind of content for these sites draws from your real-world experiences and the lessons you’ve learned from them – including your failures.

Another type of content that works well, as independent content strategist Emily Omier points out, is sharing a controversial opinion (that you can back up with solid arguments). Controversy equals clicks, and if you can support your opinion with facts, a little controversy is welcome. Always follow word counts, formatting, and submission guidelines to increase the chances of your piece being accepted.


4. Write a book.

In a book, you can expand your ideas without having to worry about keeping them within a certain word count. There is also something more innately authoritative about a book.

If you’ve put in the time and effort to build up an audience, you can either self-publish the book and sell it directly to people, or you can try to pitch it to a publisher. As with articles, books published by a third-party publisher tend to carry more weight than self-published books.

If you’d like to try going the publisher route, research the various publishing houses that specialize in self-help and business advice types of books. These publishing houses will want you to have an audience built up to sell to already, which is why it’s a good idea to spend some time building an audience before you jump into a book project. Virtually all thought leaders will publish a book at some point, and having a book published in your name will help you land speaking opportunities, as well.


5. Hire a competent ghostwriter.

Hiring a ghostwriter isn’t about your ability to write. It’s about delegation. Even if you are a fantastic writer who can build compelling narratives and clearly explain your points while providing valuable advice to your audience, you are probably also a busy person whose specialty lies elsewhere.

A ghostwriter’s specialty is writing, and they’ll help you convey your expertise in your own voice. Your excellent insights and opinions coupled with superb writing will give your content the edge it needs to get attention and establish you as someone worth paying attention to.

It saves you time. You can either have the ghostwriter interview you, send them notes you’ve made or provide them with an audio or video file they can use to get your perspectives and turn them into compelling content. You’ve got the roadmap, now go and share your expertise.


Rob Swystun is a content marketing strategist, journalist, business writer, and fiction author who enjoys helping B2B tech companies convey their thought leadership and expertise through inspired content and strategy.


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