Why The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Aim for Thought Leadership (And Here’s How)

Next to content marketing, thought leadership is one concept that is selling like hotcakes these days. B2C folks label 2016 as the year of thought leadership-driven content marketing (Has anyone noticed how buzz phrases follow this formula: “insert catchy word” + driven + marketing or design or development?) There are also skeptics asking if it’s just a waste of money to pursue thought leadership.

Although the idea of being a thought leader in an industry or niche is nothing new and was a term initially used in 1994 , many are quick to jump to the bandwagon and declare themselves as a thought leader.

Contently’s Joe Lazukas describes it best:

Listing yourself as a “thought leader” on Twitter or LinkedIn is like listing yourself as an “artist” on OkCupid or Tinder; there’s a 99 percent chance you’re lying to yourself, and a 1 percent chance you’re Kanye.

Back in 1994, then-editor Joel Kurtzman originally used the term thought leaders to highlight individuals who provided insightful, creative, and out-of-the-box ideas and opinions within a given niche.

Put simply, they brought something new to the table.

Like how exotic plants specifically attract honeybees, thought leadership is currently drawing too many posers. As an entrepreneur or small business owner, we don’t blame you if you’re excited about the the idea of being referred to as a thought leader. However, a true thought leader does more than endlessly wax philosophical about his accomplishments, the books he has read, or the places he has gone to.

It All Boils Down to Value
The true measure of thought leadership lies in your ability to provide value consistently.

No one cares if you just got certified by insert-name-of-global-leader here or just got a significant amount of funding.

It’s that simple. Yet it takes a significant amount of time to build one thought leadership block after the other.

We’ll save you a few more minutes by skewing the usual “what is thought leadership” section. If you insist though, here’s a compiled list of thought leadership definitions.

Now, let’s go straight into action and learn why you, as an entrepreneur, should aim for real thought leadership and explore 3 actionable steps to become one in your chosen niche.

Why Entrepreneurs Should Be Thought Leaders First

thought leadership

As a true blue authority and expert in your industry, you will benefit from thought leadership through the following:

It helps you gain trust in both of your prospects and customers. When people recognize your perspective or opinions as a unique solution to their woes and pain points, they will stop looking at you as just another business owner. They will begin to listen to what you have to say, and eventually carry on the same amount of attention and trust to your brand. This is crucial because trust is the holy grail of marketing.

It helps you build relationships not just with prospects and customers but also other like-minded individuals in your industry. You cannot build a business empire without relationships after all. Imagine if Steve Jobs didn’t meet Steve Wozniak and opted instead to stop sharing his ideas.

In hindsight, thought leadership helps entrepreneurs build an image founded on trustworthiness. It is the exact opposite of self-promotion.

How to Be a Thought Leader

The how to be a thought leader question is like asking how do you make someone fall in love with you. Attraction and dating aside, we go full circle and revert back to the idea of building relationships. So how do you build solid relationships?

Tell a good story.

Okay, people are tired of hearing the same story over and over again. To get your ideas to spread and be heard, you need to sharpen those rusty storytelling skills. It’s human nature to relate more to stories rather than cold, hard facts. Want proof? The brain’s sensory cortex lights up when you tell a story filled with metaphors and imagery.

As Smarter Egg Founder Aodan Enright writes: It’s not the best idea that gets implemented, it’s the one with the best story.

Ask, listen, and help.

Most of the time, entrepreneurs assume rather than listen. Got a online course for web developers? You’re probably quick to create a list of modules that you assumed will help beginners. Have you thought about asking these newbie web developers instead about their current struggles in learning coding?

Before you declare that you have the smartest solution, figure out the pain points first. You’d be able to provide a product or service that is chock full of real value if you solve real problems.

Before you know it, customers will love you even more because someone finally knew about their struggles and found a way to make their lives better.

Be more informed than anyone else.

This hack is borrowed from Jeremy Waite’s insightful piece Thought Leadership is Bullshit. Your prospects and customers will always have questions. Once a problem has been solved, another pain point will arise. Thus the need for being more informed in your industry.

How do you do that?

Read, experiment on new ideas, and share your results.

It doesn’t matter whether you succeed or failed as long as you and your audiences learned something from it. Like how stories have always drawn humans since eons ago, the human brain is a sucker for novelty. Discovering and getting new things (or learning new ideas and perspectives) release dopamine and is subsequently interpreted by the brain as a way of earning more rewards. Cool huh?

True Thought Leaders are Thoughtful Leaders

True thought leaders don’t tweet a dozen times a day nor publish content on LinkedIn twice a week just because the SEO consultant said it’s going to gain more traffic. If you’d like to join the ranks of true thought leaders in your niche, deliver something of substance amidst the noise. Be thoughtful.

Need help on how to start your thought leadership journey, get in touch with the Founders’ Guide team today!

Digital Content Writer
Kyjean Tomboc is a freelance writer who churns out value-driven content for brands in the healthcare and life sciences niche. She also writes about content strategy, startups, user experience, and social media marketing. Her previous professional lives involved crafting press releases and email marketing campaigns, blogging about Botox and breast implants, and cold calling strangers.