Becoming a Thought Leader Today

Back when I launched my USA TODAY column 15 years ago, becoming known as an expert was both easier, and more difficult, than it is today. Let me explain:

It was definitely more difficult because the opportunities to get your name out there were far fewer. The Net was new, there was no social media, and e-potential was essentially yet unknown. Example: When USA TODAY hired me to be their “online small business columnist”, I asked if I could get into the paper instead (that would have been a big mistake, eh?) And when, a short time later, someone asked me to launch a blog for their business, I asked, “what’s a blog?” and he had to answer, “Well, it’s a Web log, or blog.”

So yes, times have changed. I was able to establish a name for myself when there was a lot less competition. And that is why I also say it was, in a strange way, easier then too. Fewer outlets meant fewer people competing for eyeballs, and that meant greater market share for those of us who were lucky enough to be at the forefront of the Internet revolution.

But this all begs the question: Why in fact is important to become a thought leader, to be known as an expert in your field? There are many answers, but let’s just touch on a few of the most salient ones:

  • It will enable you to grow your business. Generally speaking, people like doing business with established names. Wouldn’t you rather buy a cereal that you heard of rather than some no-name brand? Exactly. And that is what becoming a thought leader makes you – a trusted name, and as a result, you should get more leads, and closes.
  • It will allow you to charge more. People who buy well-known brands are willing to spend more for that assurance. By being seen as a leader in your field, you and your business will not need to compete on price. Sweet.
  • It’s good for business: Employees will like that they work for a company that is seen as a leader, and your current customers will like it too.


So if you want to get known as a thought leader today, your job too will be easier and more difficult. You will have far greater access and a lot more tools and opportunities to get your name and expertise out there, but you will simultaneously have a lot more competition.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Have a dynamite website. This seems obvious, but actually not when I saw the most recent Staples Small Business Survey that indicated that about 60% of all small businesses still do not have a website.

Huh? If you want to be taken seriously, you have to have a serious online presence, period. That's starts with your website and it also brings me to . . .

2. Tweet: Facebook is nice and friendly and all that, and LinkedIn is great for networking, but if you want to establish yourself as a thought leader, Twitter is the place to be.

3. Have something to say: It does you little good to get your name out there if you don’t have something interesting and different to say. Create a voice and find and share information that reflects that unique voice and brand.

4. Be a giver: Give your expertise away. Make things better for others. Share what you know. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

5. Be consistent: Finally, to get heard above the din today requires that you get your message out there again and again . . . and again.

Bottom line: With the advent of social media, it has never been more important to establish your credentials as a leader in your field. The good news is that the tools to do so are more available than ever.

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