Continuing our How to Brand Yourself Series with a conversation on thought leadership. Whether you work for yourself or a company, you can increase your profile by taking inspiration from some top industry experts and stand out as a leader in your field.
Thought leadership is a buzzword thrown around by just about everyone in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds. It’s a fancy way of calling yourself an expert in a specific field or area of thought. Of course, in a world of spin and social media, everyone and their mother is calling themselves a thought leader and, of course, I’m here to tell you few are, and even less are willing to put in the work to get there. These days anyone with a laptop can call themselves an expert. That’s not a bad thing. I would never have the business I have today if I didn’t have such easy access to technology and the ability to create reach. But it does lead to an oversaturated market and a lot of noise to have to break through, which is why positioning is everything.
Brene Brown, Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, Sherly Sanberg, are all examples of true thought leaders. They are vastly different in content, delivery, and style, but they share one critical piece of common ground: they have incredible research, life experience and a unique point of view. They are not regurgitating old facts and sayings. Instead, they are creating a brand new topic and category. Brene didn’t wake up one day and decide she was going to be an expert in vulnerability. She spent two decades of her life learning, researching and exploring that topic and everything that funnels into it. It’s why she was the one sitting under Oprah’s oak trees on Super Soul Sunday, and not someone else.
So what can thought leadership do for your personal brand? Simply put – everything. There’s a lot of noise out there. Spend five minutes on Facebook, and you are inundated with a variety of “experts” from content marketing, and direct sells, to financial management and spirituality. I even recently discovered a woman who will teach you how to “live like a French woman,” and I’m pretty sure she’s from the Midwest. The point is, you can become an expert in anything.
You don’t have to want to rise to Oprah-interviewing-you status to benefit from owning some expertise. Maybe you just want to elevate your profile at work or build a local business. You can use the same strategies as the famous thought leaders to help you rise to the top of your category, in a relevant, and commercially profitable way. Because the more you are top of mind and sought after the more you’ll be presented with better opportunities and make more money.
Today, we’ll talk about some simple tips and strategies on how to brand yourself as an expert now and in the future.
How to Brand Yourself as a Thought Leader
Define your topic.
This takes longer than you might think so have patience. For a long time, I assumed my topic was fashion, but it never felt 100% right. Over time, I realized that the first half of my career exposed me to working women all day long and that my real passion was making our lives easier and creating conversations about issues related to women who work. Stick to your gut on this. You’d be amazed at how many emails I get telling me to “stay in my lane” and only talk about clothes. I don’t know why other women feel like they have a right to tell me what to do, but I know I’m not alone in this experience. I can tell you for sure that it wasn’t until I became clear on what felt right to me that my business came into its own.
Let your topic and passion evolve. Your journey will take many turns so stay open to where you might end up.
Analyze the current playing field.
Spend some time figuring out who is already an expert in that topic. Do you agree with what they say? What can you add that they aren’t covering? It’s not only essential to understand your competition, but by researching them, you’ll be able to articulate what makes you different and find some inspiration on how to position yourself.
Don’t be discouraged if your specific category feels crowded. It likely will be, this simply means you have to work harder and more creatively to stand out, but you can do it.
Write, write and write then read, and read and write some more.
Collect your thoughts and experiences, provide advice and solutions to issues you see in your industry and start to gather research, whether it’s yours or someone else’s (obviously always give credit). Keep a journal to jot down notes as they come to you. Some thoughts take time to come together, and you don’t want to forget anything. Read everything you possibly can so you understand all points of views and can reference emerging research and statistics.
This blog started years ago as a marketing piece for our image consulting business, and over time, became the business itself. I always say if I can figure this out anyone can. In the beginning, I didn’t know anything, but over time I defined my voice and felt more confident in my abilities. Nothing will happen over night.
Being an expert is not only about your personal intellectual property but your grasp of existing, industry research and your ability to relay it to your audience.
Catalog your work
You have to share your work, which is scary and vulnerable but essential for your success. Start to publish your writings in blog posts and share them on different social platforms. If you are an HR professional and have thoughts on modern and creative employee benefit packages, write a post and share it on LinkedIn. If you’re an interior designer, create a blog and attach it to your website. Create weekly tips about color trends and design choices, provide resources, and then share your posts on Facebook and Pinterest. Be sure to have a strong understanding of social media. Leveraging it will be the key to your success.
It’s important to put yourself out there. Share your work and share it frequently. The more you do it, the more natural it will feel.
Pay your dues.
I hate to sound like a fuddy-duddy, but you have to pay your dues no matter how old you are. If you are starting out on this journey, your age doesn’t matter. Whether you are 25 or 55, you start off at the bottom and have to work your way up. There is no hack to avoid it.
When I first started our business, I said yes to every single request I received. From MCing charity fashion shows, attending every networking event in the tri-state area and speaking at morning mom groups in the basement of a synagogue, I made the rounds and was paid ZERO dollars. It was all part of learning how to speak and articulate my message. That was a decade ago. Now I travel the country speaking and make a real living. But I wouldn’t be doing this now if I didn’t hustle the way I did back then.
Know what you are getting into. You won’t wake up and be considered an expert. But if you put the time into building your brand, it will pay off.
Becoming an “expert” in a big or small way isn’t for everyone. If you find yourself at a point in your career where you want more, and you are starting to feel the weight of your competition, or unsettled in your current situation, implementing a few of these strategies will help you stand out. If you work for yourself, being top of mind is essential to your success. As women, we need to get comfortable with talking about ourselves, owning our power and sit comfortably in your expertise. Doing so will change the way we work and will set the path for other women to do the same.