We’ve heard a lot about thought leaders in recent years. Being known as a thought leader has the potential to draw business to you because you and your business are seen as having answers to people’s problems.
The best examples of thought leaders are such modern-day Olympians as Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett — the kind of people normal mortals believe can see things they don’t see, because, in fact, they often can.
All these individuals possess superior knowledge and expertise and have extensive experience in their fields. They are capable of innovative thinking because they were willing to commit prodigious amounts of time and effort to attaining these benefits, and equal amounts of time to letting people know what they attained.
You don’t need to be a bestselling author or own a multibillion-dollar enterprise to reap the benefits of thought leadership. Specifically, there are four requirements for being a thought leader:
1. Knowledge/expertise: You must know more about and be better at something than others in your field.
2. Significant experience: You must be able to back up claims based on real-world experience.
3. Cutting-edge thinking: You must be able to generate and effectively communicate new, better ideas — not just comment on what is already known.
4. Time and effort: You must be willing to commit significant time and effort to this project.
How do you know whether you are a thought leader? You’ll know when someone else says you are — someone with the credentials to be taken seriously. You cannot declare yourself a thought leader.
And how do you get people to declare you a thought leader? Begin by getting published by reputable publishers. In increasing order of difficultly, the types of publishers that matter most are:
• Trade publications.
• Local magazines and newspapers.
• Local online news sites.
• Local TV and radio stations.
• National magazines and newspapers.
• National online news sites.
• National TV and radio stations.
• Book publishers (not vanity publishers).
How do you get published? By having the necessary knowledge, experience, innovative thinking and time, and by putting in the effort to let the world know you possess these things. You also must understand the tactics needed to attract the attention of a publisher.
Most people who have a chance of being a thought leader have knowledge and experience. If you don’t, go get them, and come back in 10 years or so. This article is about becoming an innovative thinker and attracting the attention of a publisher.
How do you become an innovative thinker? The process begins by reading — a lot. I recommend reading at least two books a month, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal every day, three to five blogs of thought leaders you admire, and relevant trade publications. And read widely. Don’t stick to content in your field. Read about other things that interest you, which will result in cross-fertilization from whence new ideas will spring.
You should also practice thinking up new ideas. The book Become an Idea Machine provides daily exercises to create new ideas. Write down random ideas that pop into your head. Get outside your usual networks. Meet and engage with new people who think differently than you. Once you get the machinery going, you will automatically begin to see connections you could not see before. Be curious, but focused.
Keep a journal, and write in it every day. When you begin putting your thoughts on paper, more will come.
And practice the formula followed by most creative people who seek to solve a problem: First, ingest lots of information, and let it incubate overnight. Then, brainstorm ideas without censorship. Pick out the best ones, and refine them.
Once you have your brain in high gear churning out innovative ideas, it’s time to attract a publisher. Begin by publishing your own work on a blog, posting at least weekly.
Then, attract the attention of other industry experts. Create and publish a list of these experts on your blog. Write blog posts in which you quote them, talk about their strategies, praise their successes and relate your journey to theirs. Share these posts on social media. Follow the experts’ social media feeds, and interact with them by liking, sharing and commenting on what they post.
Sooner or later, they’ll probably notice, and then you can invite them to guest post on your blog and offer to guest post on their blogs. This is an excellent way to increase traffic to your blog because the guest blogger will link to your blog, and you can link to your posts on other blogs. Plus, the guest blogger will share their post on your blog on their social media.
Then, use your blog posts as the starting point to pitch bylined articles to trade news media. Use that success to pitch stories to national media. Then, use that notoriety to start seeking speaking engagements. Begin locally and small, such as speaking to small civic clubs, which are always looking for speakers. Then, move to regional and national conferences, seminars and trade shows — always using your present experience as proof of your ability to perform at the next level. Record your speaking engagements, and post them on YouTube. Use them as your video resume to book even more impressive speaking engagements.
One day, three to five years into this process, you’ll read in a magazine or on a blog or hear in a video that you’re a thought leader. And you’ll know you’ve made it. You’ll begin reaping the benefits of being a thought leader in terms of more leads for your business. Or maybe you’ll discover that you like being a thought leader more than anything you’ve done before, and you’ll increase your speaking fee to provide a comfortable living and spend the rest of your days sharing your thoughts with people who believe you can see things that they can’t see — because sometimes you can.
(Originally appeared in Forbes.)