Are you ready to be a thought leader in 2014?
How can you stand out from the crowd as an entrepreneur or small business owner? Develop your credibility and visibility, and that of your company, by establishing yourself as a well-respected thought leader in your niche.
Entrepreneurs are well positioned to be thought leaders, which I define as those who can move and inspire others with innovative ideas, turn those ideas into reality, then create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale those ideas into sustainable change.
Recognition as a thought leader not only positions you as the go-to expert in your market, it can attract customers, partners, employees and even funding.
So what are some techniques that you can use this year to be recognized and anointed an industry thought leader?
1. Foster Approachability and Be “Of Service” to Others: As a thought leader, you need to know the right people and the right people need to know you.
Whether you’re out networking, writing your company blog, or convening other industry leaders, the idea is to attract and connect with followers. Is your personal, writing and speaking style approachable? Can you create a connection with your customers and community, online and off?
Added Takeaway: One CEO I know spends 30 minutes every day “curating” information for those in her network -- sending articles, industry news, congratulations and ideas to those she wants to stay connected with. In this way, she is “of service” and stays top of mind.
2. Listen to Learn: A thought leader is also someone who listens to learn what matters to their community and how they can add value. Below are a few ways that you can listen and add your own expertise:
Read industry publications.
Follow existing influencers and thought leaders on Twitter, ScoopIt or LinkedIn.
Read top-rated blogs in your field to learn which are receiving the most followership and comments (refer to Alltop or Technorati).
Join forums or LinkedIn groups specific to your industry.
Host a regular gathering of your customers where you provide them a place to be heard.
Participate on expert panels at workshops and conferences.
Ask! Use your blog to ask a question. Create a poll using SurveyMonkey, Poll Daddy or even Facebook. If you send out newsletters, ask your list.
Added Takeaway: Don’t limit yourself to listening to only the “experts.” Connect with the wise sage and the clever newbie alike. Learn from those located next door and those halfway around the planet. Great ideas have no boundaries.
3. Join Your Ecosystem (even if it means collaborating with your competitors): No matter what industry niche you are working in, you are not alone. Identify the trends and find the broader ecosystem that cares about what you care about -- even if it means collaborating with the competition.
When you seek out creative suggestions from, and collaborate with, those tackling the same challenges you are, you not only gain their respect, you learn who you can rely on when you need advice or critical resources.
Added Takeaway: Just as large company executives participate in industry consortium and serve on trade association boards, small business owners can join the Chamber of Commerce, a leads group like BNI or the local Entrepreneurs Organization.
Get involved with the issues that matter in your community – that’s a great way to gain respect and followers.
4. Become Discoverable: Create a trail of authority online using sites like LinkedIn, SlideShare or Vimeo. Validate your authority with real world examples. Testimonials, case studies, media mentions are all ways that you can provide social proof to your audience that you have credible expertise. Find opportunities to talk to the media.
Added Takeaway: Create a downloadable white paper or eBook and share it widely. Apply for an award or ask someone else to nominate you. Write a book that shares your best practices and lessons learned.
5. Share Openly: Thought leaders don’t just share their vision for the future -- they are committed to bringing it about. They cultivate a habit of being pretty transparent about their personal journey.
One successful CEO that I admire is Chip Conley, who not only founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality when he was twenty-six years old, he grew it from one hotel into the second largest boutique hotel company in America.
Along the way, he wrote four books and spoke before audiences of thousands, sharing his business expertise but also the moments he feared bankruptcy and his own near-death experience from an untreated infection. These personal experiences not only made him more approachable but also have inspired many others to follow in his footsteps as more approachable leaders.
6. Think Relay, Not Sprint: Creating a reputation as a thought leader and a broad following for your ideas does not happen overnight. Build a personal board of directors who can support you, serve as your sounding board and assess your progress.
Take the time today to develop some milestones and then invite others to help you remember to celebrate when you achieve them. Research shows that often by the time we attain our very ambitious goals they seem inevitable. Enlist others to remind you to stop occasionally and appreciate and celebrate your progress before moving forward.
Let 2014 be the year you establish a thought leadership platform that positions you as a trusted resource for customers, investors and competitors alike. You’ll be amazed by the opportunities that come your way as a result and the difference you can make for others.
Author Bio: Denise Brosseau is author of Ready To Be A Thought Leader? (Jossey-Bass, 2013) and founder of Thought Leadership Lab, Inc., an executive talent agency, which specializes in building the visibility, credibility and thought leadership of executives and CEOs. She has worked with leaders from such firms as KPMG, Apple, Genentech, Pacific Gas & Electric and Morgan Stanley.
Previously, she cofounded and served as CEO of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (now Watermark), growing it into the country's leading organization for women-led startups. She also cofounded and continues to serve on the board of the National Council of advisors to Springboard Enterprises, the prestigious women's startup launch pad that has invested over $5 billion in funding for women entrepreneurs.
Brosseau was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change (2012). For more information visit thoughtleadershiplab.com.
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