You’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got great ideas, and business is booming. So why not be recognized as a thought leader in your industry? After all, your competition is doing it. With blogs and social sharing platforms at everyone’s fingertips, establishing a strong presence in the sea of voices is almost as important as your product or service. The big question is, how do you get your voice heard, and how do you know what to say and who to say it to?
Here are four tips on excelling in the school of thought leadership.
Articulate what makes you special
Spend some time deciphering exactly what makes your business stand out from the crowd. How are you innovative? How is your company playing the game differently? Nothing says leader more than spearheading a shift in industry thinking. It’s not as intimidating as it might sound — we don’t all have to be Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh transforming the call center into a model of corporate culture. It can be as simple as being one of the first to embrace technology and offer electronic signatures in an industry where archaic business practices are the norm.
Take startup Bristlecone Holdings, a financial technology company that launched last year. With the finance industry largely still stuck in a paper-pushing brick-and-mortar model, their first step was to go paperless and offer immediate electronic approvals through in-store kiosks. They may not be reinventing the technology itself, but they are reinventing its use.
Speak directly to your niche audience
You don’t have to shoot straight for the stars when starting to find your voice. In fact, those prestigious publications you may think you need to crack to leave a mark — think The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post — might not have your most ideal audience. A great way to get started pitching your expertise is to research which exact ears your message should be reaching. You might be surprised at the amount of opportunities that exist in your niche. For example, if you’re in the mortgage finance industry, do a quick Google search for mortgage publications. And don’t discredit blogs — popular blogs can receive more unique visitors per month than many print editions. Not only are their inboxes not as infiltrated with pitches, but also they’re hungrier for relevant, quality content from industry professionals.
Don’t be afraid to show your human side
A common mistake company leaders make is assuming that they have to give off the impression of perfection at all times. But the truth is, we’re all human, even the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. We all make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them. That’s how businesses grow, and no one ever said that running a successful business means it’s always flawless. Take the late Steve Jobs’ word for it: “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.” With that said, take your mistakes, embrace them, and share them out with the world. Help other business leaders learn from them. An added bonus: Editors love the human element of business.
Take advantage of multiple outlets
Be creative not just in your business strategy, but in your thought leadership strategy as well. There are multiple outlets to tap into to share your knowledge, and it doesn’t end with print publications and Internet blogs. One great resource is industry-specific business podcasts. You can also make your voice heard through speaking opportunities at conventions and events. Sign up for a TEDx talk in your area — they’re a great way to reach a captive audience.
The key to public speaking is to not make your speech too sales-y, but instead be informative and educational. Lain Hensley, COO and co-founder of philanthropic team-building company Odyssey Teams, for example, recently spoke at a TEDx talk in his home city of Chico, Calif. Hensley spoke on the subject of disruption and why it’s necessary in business. With one of Odyssey Teams’ goals being to go into a corporate setting and shift people’s worn-out perspectives, renewing drive and inspiration, this was a great way to tell the Odyssey Teams’ story and without being too promotional.
Now go out there and spread your business gospel.
Laura Davis is an account coordinator at The Abbi Agency, a media and marketing firm with offices in Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada. Her focus is on financial technology and consumer goods PR, strategy and positioning.