Expertise is not relative but how the world perceives your expertise sure is. You might be the best there ever was (at your particular thing) but unless someone else knows it, or, ideally, lots of people know it, you could spend your whole career toiling in obscurity. This is where thought leadership comes in and it applies equally to individuals and businesses.
The Wikipedia definition of thought leadership is "an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded".
Recognized AND Rewarded
But how do you get from here to there? Becoming an expert takes hard work and that work is usually well defined. Follow a course of study, find work in the field, distinguish yourself as you work your way up, seek out mentors, etc. That work alone might be enough to gain recognition and reward, especially if you are developing expertise in a regulated or tightly controlled area like scientific research, academia or even finance. Chances are you went to a 'good school', joined a well known organization, climbed. But what if your expertise is in something more emergent or less well traveled like Crypto-Currency or nutrition or fashion or writing code? The path to becoming an expert could be circuitous and less predictable. In that case you might be an expert in total obscurity or with limited recognition. And without recognition, there is no reward.
You are an expert. Congratulations!
So, you put in the work to become an expert and now it's time to let the world know so you can start collecting that reward. But how? Humility is not over rated. Nobody likes a braggart, boaster or self promoter. Good news; there is a way to let the world know without stepping on toes. Share your knowledge. Be a resource for people who want to learn what you know. Use the tools that are available at this unique moment in time. Here are some of the best:
1. Blog. Blogs are a great way to share your knowledge and are often seen as adding value to the community. This is a simple, low cost way to showcase your expertise. It just takes some time and a little bit of inspiration. The more often you write, the better. Just be sure what you share adds value for the reader. It helps if you can entertain also.
2. LinkedIn. Use it to supplement your blog or use it instead of a blog. LinkedIn stands alone in the world of social networks as a professional resource. Others may try to compete but LinkedIn won the war for professional networking and is a must for professionals of almost any stripe. If you are not active on LinkedIn, get active. I recommend sharing this blog post as a step in the right direction. Posting content is a great start but you should also use the platform for commenting on other posts, debate and following relevant industry groups and companies.
3. Email Newsletters. Newsletters are really just another way to deliver blog content and you can easily re-purpose your blog posts or use the newsletter as a teaser to drive back to the blog. Building a following takes time but if you write compelling content, send regularly and make a concerted effort to get it to the right people, you can easily build a big audience of readers. Encourage them to share your newsletter by forwarding to friends, Tweeting about it or sharing on other platforms. Most newsletter platforms offer an easy to use subscribe tool that you can include on your blog to drive sign-ups.
4. Other Social Media. There are other platforms out there and you should use them to drive to all of the above. If you are professional and are adding value with your content, channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others are all great tools for establishing yourself as a thought leader.
Do all of that and let me know how it goes. Remember, regularity is key. One blog post or LinkedIn comment is not enough. You need a body of work. Thought leaders are prolific. Write, post, comment, email, share, repeat. Publish something at least once a week. Like, comment or retweet every day. Awareness is fickle. Staying top of mind is critical.
Ugh. Who has the time? I am busy being good at what I do.
Good point. If you spent all your time hanging out on social media, commenting, refuting, blogging and emailng you would never have gotten to where you are. All this hard work takes time to do properly and time is a zero sum game. This point is made even finer if you bill hourly. Laywers are often faced with the dollar value of time spent establishing themselves as thought leaders. It takes an investment. Your time is worth something.
There is a trick that many use and it is not a secret or a cheat: they outsource some of the work. Properly formatting a blog, an email newsletter, social media posts takes time. Every single time. Thought leaders hire people to do the tedious part- some even hire writers who prepare the content from notes or guidence the expert provides. Finding the right people to do that work is crucial. After all, it's your name on the line. So, if you are ready to hire your thought leadership team to increase recognition and reward, look for people with track records, references and experience. Hiring a kid you met one time is a not a great strategy. You want to find the thought leader in thought leadership development.
There are firms that provide this kind of service, mine for example. But, even so, make sure you get the right person for the job. Be certain that the person you hire can support you in the way you need to be supported. If your area of specialty is regional real estate law, hire someone who can speak to that- do not hire overseas. Review everything before it gets posted. If the person you hire is not living up to your expectations, give constructive feedback to get them up to your standard. If that fails, fire them and start your search over. Remember, your goal is to establish yourself as a thought leader in order to gain recognition and reward. Even the shortcut of hiring someone to support you should be undertaken with care and attention. This is a strategy to increase your reach without sacrificing quality. Grow your brand and establish yourself as a thought leader. The reward for this recognition is both time and money.