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7 steps to becoming a thought leader in 2017

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This year 2017 is the year for the thought leader.

There has been no better time to finally take your destiny in your hands, advancing your career and dominating your area of expertise – your niche – than now. This is the year it all comes together. Experts predict that the wheel of this digital age will spin even faster, affecting whatever you do profoundly.

The winners will be those who will make the effort to learn more, and do more to stand out. There is no better way to do this than to strive to become an expert in your field, preferably in a narrow but meaningful niche, and to share your expertise with as many as possible.

Thanks to social media – Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and so on – and the digitisation of news media in the last one decade, it is now easier to stand out. However, it is also very easy to get lost, fall, and get trampled on in the information-sharing stampede. That is why you need a plan, a thought leadership plan.

Having crossed the one-decade mark, the most powerful social media – Facebook (launched in 2004), Twitter (2006), Linkedin (2003), and YouTube (2005) – have tweaked their algorithms and features multiple times and have in many ways become more user-friendly. They’ve also become more potent tools in the hand of those who have mastered how to use each of them for personal branding and content marketing. These have become known as thought leaders in the areas they’ve focused on (learning and sharing) without needing to break the ‘bank of knowledge’.

In truth, setting the goal to become a thought leader is really not far-fetched. People who started out less knowledgeable and less experienced than you have become celebrated as thought leaders (need I say they are earning a lot more now as a result). With focus, hard work and consistency, they’ve followed action plans similar to the one I’ve summarised in these seven steps:

Before we take the steps one after the other, think about what it would feel like if by the end of this year, you’ve earned the fulfilment, respect and better pay that often comes with being a smart thought leader.

The point is, instead of mouthing, non-effective New Year resolutions, sit down and draw up a detailed thought leadership plan as well as a content strategy that would guide you in reaching your goal of becoming a thought leader (the go-to resource person) in your field this year.

If you take these seven steps diligently, I guarantee you that within the next ten (10) months you would have boosted your career and business profile and earned the admiration of industry colleagues, and the trust and confidence of clients and prospects.

1.    Define your goal and your niche

You need to know from the out-set what you want to achieve. Be as specific and detailed as possible. Set your overarching goal and write it down. You can seek to become known as the most credible and consistent source of information and advice in area expertise. Your goal could also focus on generating disruptive ideas, or mentoring others.

The more specialised your niche is, the better. If you choose a broad and already-saturated niche, then you would have to work very hard to consistently beat the competition at providing the most valuable content.

A good knowledge and experience are enough to start with. However, you must commit to learning everything about your niche; getting advance training and hands-on experience.

2.    Identify your target

This is where a lot of people miss it. Whatever your message is, it is not for everybody. Targeting everybody is targeting nobody. The best way to spread an idea is to sell it to those who are opened to it. They are often the people who the idea or information affect the most. When they buy it, then they will sell it to their friends and then the rest of the world.

Therefore, the important question to ask is: Who would benefit the most from my content? Answer: Those who have the problems to which you are proffering solutions, period. Another question is: Whose respect do I need to earn with my know-how? Answer: Influencers, opinion leaders, your employers, etc. A thought leader has to be declared a thought leader by others. Hence the need to seek out these ‘kingmakers’ and show, without a doubt, that you deserve the crown. Last thought on this: Make a list of these target individuals and groups. Let them make up your mailing list and identify where to reach them directly online and offline.

3.    Create your message

Your message is your distinction. This is where your passion comes in. What are you passionate about? The greatest thought leaders often have one central message and it is usually in alignment with their passion.

For instance, Bill Gates built Microsoft on one message, one passion, one goal, which was to ensure make personal computers accessible and available to billions of people in the world. What is your own unique idea; your distinct cause? Write it down and let it guide your actions and content.

4.    Build a personal brand online

Your reputation online is more important than your reputation offline. Even though they rub off on each other. Definitely, more people do know you online than know you offline.

From my research, I found out that most people have offline relationship with much less than 10 per cent of the people they are actively connected with on social media. However, all your online ‘friends’ and many other, who have stumbled on your name, photograph or profile online, have their opinion about you. These are opinions are formed in their conscious and subconscious mind by the things they see associated with you online. How about defining how you want to be seen online and let it guide your posts, tweets and comments etc, from today? This is personal branding.

Getting published in newspapers and magazines is fantastic but these media are not under your control. Blogs are powerful too. You can create and run a blog that focuses on your niche, then promote your blog posts on social media. That you can control.

5.    Build your network

You have to painstakingly build your network of mentors, influencers, colleagues, clients etc. Network online – join and participate in relevant social media groups – and offline by attending industry events and the types of event your target audience typically attends.

When you advance, you can create your own social media group or fan page and organise events, all in the bid to cultivate valuable relationships and promote your message.

6.    Publish a book

Becoming a published author on a subject that speaks to your niche is one of the fastest way of achieving thought leadership. Authors are generally respected. Writing a book is believed to be a daunting task which only people who are vast on their subject and very passionate can surmount.

Publishing a book is not as difficult and as expensive as it seems or used to be. Publishers have simplified the process and made it less expensive with print-on-demand services. Amazon and dozens of other online outlets have made sales easier too.

E-books also confer authority on their authors and they are a lot easier to produce and distribute. Once you have your content, even without a design skill, you can design your own e-book on platforms such as Canva.com.

So you can publish a book this year if you choose to.

7.    Watch trends and make bold statements

Once you earn some level of credibility and authority, you can work at coming up with disruptive ideas and making bold statements about critical developments in your industry. You have to watch trends to know the best time to jump in. Though risky, don’t be afraid to be controversial, when you are sure of your facts.

When you can, make predictions. Thought leaders are known to drive conversations on changes and innovations in their fields. So don’t be caught napping. Be the first to learn, talk, write, and blog about the latest shift in technology affecting your niche, and then others will follow your lead.

Note: Thought leadership is not a destination, it is a journey. Take these steps to get recognised as a thought leader. Remain one, by continuously providing leadership and feeding your audience. Are you ready?

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