6 Ways Startup and Small Business Owners Can Become Thought Leaders

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Thought leaders are the informed, go-to people in their fields of expertise. For small business owners, becoming a thought leader within one’s industry can open up the doors to numerous opportunities for business growth.

But while many strive for thought leadership, few actually know how to achieve it. Below are six ways startups and small business owners can become known as thought leaders in their fields.

1. Develop a Strong Personal Brand

For small business owners to have an impact on others, they need to be able to stand out from the crowd and know who they are and what their business represents. Consider the following questions as you create your personal brand:

  • What do you want your brand’s voice to be?

  • What are your values?

  • What is your story? Why did you develop your company in the first place?

  • How would you describe yourself to others?

Having the answers to these questions will help you better to resonate with your audience.

2. Find Your Niche

It’s impossible to be everything to everybody. In fact, small business owners to try to please every possible customer base typically wind up with a diluted message and, in turn, a diluted market share. Instead, focus on understanding your target audience and how you can best engage with them to address their wants, interests, pain points, and needs. The more entrepreneurs can hone in on who these people are, the more likely they’ll be able to reach their audience and establish thought leadership with them.

To define your niche, consider the following:

  • What problem do you and your business solve and who would benefit from these solutions?

  • What are the demographics and psychographics of your audience?

  • What does your ideal customer look like?

  • Who are your current customers?

Invest the time to discover who your audience is. It will make your road to thought leadership much easier.

3. Network

Becoming a thought leader will first require building a network within which you can share your personal voice. This network should include existing thought leaders within your field as well as those that you’d like to establish thought leadership with.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, here. Observe the actions of other industry influencers and mentors, and follow their lead. Start engaging with them by interacting with them on social media, commenting on their blog posts, sharing their content, or introducing yourself at a conference. The more you can establish connections with these thought leaders, the more likely you are to be seen as a fellow thought leader by association.

As important as online networking is, it’s also important to engage with people in person. Go to local networking events, attend conferences, or even offer to do a public speaking engagement at an industry meetup. Do what it takes to get yourself in front of the right people consistently.

4. Be Helpful

Have you ever been to a party and met people who only talk about themselves? It’s boring and difficult to pay attention. However, at the same party, have you met people who give you great tips on restaurants, vacation spots, or helpful tips on anything else that suits your interests? Now, those are the people you want to be around!

The same is true for becoming a thought leader. Instead of talking about you and your business all the time, provide helpful information that addresses your audience’s wants, needs, and pain points. The more value you provide to them, the more they’ll see you as a thought leader.

To get started, develop a business blog and write frequent posts that educate your audience. These posts should not be promotional in nature—focus on helping instead of selling. Supplement your blog posts with premium content such as ebooks, white papers, and tutorials that can provide value for your followers.

By being helpful and showing that you’re knowledgeable about your industry, you’ll establish credibility and authority within your field. This allows your audience to trust you and will establish you as a thought leader.

5. Be Social

Writing a blog and publishing premium content alone won’t establish you as a thought leader. You need to make sure people see the content! Promote it on all relevant social channels that your audience frequents. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be on every social media platform. Not all platforms will resonate with your audience. Find the ones they’re active on and do most of your social activity there.

In addition to promoting your content, social media is a great way to engage with your audience. The communication on social media should not be a one-way street. Respond to comments and start conversations. Be interactive with your followers. The more engaged you are, the more genuine you’ll appear which is what separates great thought leaders from the rest.

6. Think Outside The Box

While the advice to “think outside the box” may be cliche, it holds true if you want to become a thought leader within your field. Do something groundbreaking or thought-provoking that will capture and hold your audience’s attention. If they see that you have original insights and don’t just regurgitate information provided by other thought leaders, they’ll see you as a leader in the field, and as a person that they’ll want to follow to obtain the information and insights that they’re looking for.

The road to becoming a thought leader doesn’t have to be difficult if you put in the time and follow the steps above. By providing insightful information to the right audience at the right time, you’ll be on your way to becoming the next thought leader within your field.

Martin Jones

Martin Jones is a Senior Marketing Manager with the corporate Cox Communications social media team where he assists in leading strategy, campaign ideation and marketing execution for Cox Business social media & content marketing. Today, over 1 million fans engage with Cox Communications content, campaigns and Customer Care on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube. LinkedIn and Google+.