4 Steps to Grow as a Thought Leader

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Author: Lindsey Groepper
Lindsey Groepper
4 Steps to Grow as a Thought Leader graphic
4 Steps to Grow as a Thought Leader graphic

Thought leadership content is everywhere. More people are reading it than ever. But most of it doesn’t offer valuable takeaways or excite audiences.

When thought leadership works, it can be a game-changer. A survey of over 3,000 B2B decision-makers found that effective thought leadership can:

  • Attract high-quality talent. 
  • Create trust and credibility. 
  • Repair a brand reputation. 
  • Build a dialogue around topics not covered by newsrooms.

Another benefit? Your customers may spend more with you when they see you as a trusted industry voice. About half of the decision-makers surveyed said when an organization offers high-quality thought leadership content, they’re at least somewhat more likely to increase their business or buy a new product.

How can you craft inspiring and distinctive thought leadership content to lead industry conversation and drive business? Find your audience, and refine your voice. Test and tweak your narrative. Then, expand your reach and offer consistency.

No. 1: To find your narrative, identify your audience.

To craft a personal narrative that resonates with your audience, you must define who you want to influence. Whether it’s SaaS PR talent, prospects or investors, focus on how you can become an unrivaled source of help for them, addressing their pain points and solving their problems with your unique take.

Saying something new is harder than it seems, and everyone can spot a half-hearted attempt to leverage a trendy topic. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Focus on areas where you can offer your audience true passion, a unique perspective and value. Consider the mistakes, opportunities and lessons learned that provide your audience insights and takeaways they can’t get anywhere else. Your goal as a thought leader is to offer yourself as a trusted resource, contributing to industry conversations and engaging your audience thoughtfully — not to hype yourself up.

No. 2: Find your unique voice.

From “The Great Resignation” to the monumental shift to remote and hybrid work models, the way we work has changed forever. While people left jobs to search for greater meaning, Gen Z brought its values-driven approach to the workforce, demanding authenticity from every facet of work life. Meanwhile, working from home eliminated long-held barriers between our personal and professional lives. The voice you develop as a thought leader must meet this pivotal moment.

No one shares your exact point of view, sense of humor, favorite hype-up song or unique voice. You’re not obligated to speak for anyone else, and you don’t have to imitate thought leaders or storytellers you admire. Your voice is already there; it’s up to you to unearth it.

How to find your thought leadership voice

Your voice has developed over time as a blend of your knowledge, experience and idiosyncrasies, expressed through your word choice, tone and delivery cadence. It comes through in your personality and how you connect with others. But to settle on a voice you can use consistently in your thought leadership efforts, do a little research on yourself.

Read your authored LinkedIn posts and blogs. Listen to recordings of yourself from company events, podcasts and speaking engagements. You’ll better understand the speech patterns and rhythms you reach for when recounting a past win or sharing a humbling lesson. When you’ve discovered some elements of your unique voice, practice strengthening those features.

No. 3: Test-drive your narrative.

Where can you practice your thought leadership voice? Start with the channels you control, like your social media accounts or blog. Share some posts to determine whether your voice and talk track resonate with your audience. How are people engaging with your posts? Testing the water supplies helpful feedback to build confidence and become bolder with your message.

Remember, you’re not necessarily looking for agreement from your audience — you want to start a conversation! A vocal minority responding to your ideas shows you’re provoking thought and getting your audience’s attention.

As you become more comfortable, broaden the reach of your insights. Look for opportunities to place contributed content in relevant publications, speak at conferences and take your turn as a podcast guest. Or take it a step further, like I did, and start your own podcast! Hosting SaaS Half Full enables me to have deep conversations with my peers in SaaS PR and marketing and gives me an outlet to test my narrative and build my audience.

Finally, you need food to grow as a thought leader! Your ideas can’t survive in a vacuum, so seek resources to help you form opinions and refine your perspective. Taking in timely conversations around you keeps your thought leadership content relevant.

No. 4: Be consistent to gain momentum.

Building consistency will set you apart. Just as you anticipate the latest episode of your favorite podcast or show dropping as scheduled, your audience will come to rely on seeing your perspective as they check their inbox or scroll through social media. Consider your bandwidth and the channels most important to your audience. Focus on those essential channels, and set attainable goals for how often you’ll post. 

Consistently growing a few channels is better than taking on more than you can handle and disappointing your audience by leaving them hanging. Ramp up to additional channels once you’ve reached your initial goals, and pace yourself.

Break through the noise by being human

True thought leadership humanizes your business to show your audience a person, not just an organization. By emphasizing your personal voice, passions and viewpoint, you’ll spur conversation and build trust. And as interest in your thought leadership grows, others will seek your commentary, expanding your platform and broadening the reach of your expertise.