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Small Business Tips

How to become a thought leader in your industry

Manasa Reddigari

Every business owner wants to be considered a thought leader: a mover and shaker whose views and words are treated as gospel. But not every entrepreneur is willing to put in the time and effort needed to become one.

If you're committed to making a name for yourself in your industry, read on to learn how to become a thought leader.

Pick a niche

A jack of all trades is often a master of none. The first step of how to become a thought leader is to pick a specific niche within your industry to master. Start with your high-level industry and then drill down until you're left with a specific niche in which you have the aptitude, skills, experience and above all, the passion, needed to become a subject matter expert.

Let's say your business is in the financial sector. Drill down further to what type of services you offer, e.g., accounting. Hone in on the specific type of accounting, e.g., tax accounting. If you're interested in analyzing others' finances from a tax point-of-view, you might make tax planning your niche of expertise.

Hit the books

Attaining a cursory level of knowledge in your niche isn't enough; you must have a depth of knowledge in your area to be regarded as an authority in your niche. So, the next step of how to become a thought leader is to learn your niche inside and out. That might mean formally enrolling in a class at a local community college or ending every day by listening to an audiobook of the bible for your business niche.

Where you choose to educate yourself isn't as important as what you learn. When you get to the point that you intuitively understand and can concisely explain concepts in your niche to others, you know you have gained a solid grasp of it.

But given how quickly business landscapes shift, you should never grow content with your current level of knowledge. Pledge to become a continual learner if you want to be a thought leader for life rather than for a season.

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Practice, practice, practice

Innate talent and ability in your niche can certainly go a long way in improving your odds of becoming a thought leader. But they're no substitution for the necessary but hard work of hands-on practice in your niche. Psychologist Anders Ericsson, who conceived of the idea behind the "10,000-Hour Rule" popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's novel Outliers, posited that setting clear goals and regularly engaging in "deliberate practice" with a mentor is key to mastering an area.

One way to do this is to shadow someone more experienced in your niche for a period of time or take on reduced-fee work to beef up your skills in an unknown area. Whatever you do, practice well, practice often and monitor your progress towards subject mastery.

Show what you know

Once you've reached a point at which you feel confident enough in your business savvy to share it, demonstrate your knowledge of your niche to others on a platform of your choice. That might be a business blog, a social media page, a podcast or an out-of-the-box idea like an advice booth in a public venue.

When you first start to share your expertise, you'll have a limited audience. But don't lose faith. If you regularly deliver valuable content, that audience will grow into a large and loyal following.

Promote yourself

Gaining exposure for the content you deliver on your platform is vital in cementing your status as a thought leader. After all, a thought leader is a leader, not a silent guru who exists in a vacuum. There are many ways to get the word out about your platform in a non-pushy way. Some practices include the following:

  • Attending networking events to meet other influencers in your field.
  • Giving live talks at a seminar of a professional association.
  • Volunteering to be interviewed by a prominent local publication about a subject in your niche.

Be patient

"Thought leader" isn't a credential you can formally earn and introduce yourself as at office parties. Consider it a badge of honor given by others based on how they perceive you and the value you bring to your niche. Naturally, it can take time (years, not months or weeks) for people in your niche to familiarize themselves with your work and realize its impact before holding placing it on a pedestal.

If you don't see results in the short-term, don't be discouraged. Keep on learning and delivering the best content you can with the time you have available to you. It will only be a matter of time before your star rises.

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