The more your target market is exposed to your brand, the more the people in that market will recognize you as a thought leader, feel a connection, and buy from you. Here are a few tried-and-true strategies you can use to establish your expertise in your niche.

1. Publish Plenty of Free Content

Content can include:

  • Blog posts
  • E-books
  • White Papers
  • Emails
  • Guides
  • Videos
  • Podcasts

The more valuable content you publish, the more you'll establish your brand as an authority in your field. In an era of marketing, when people are being bombarded with content, they like value. If you give them something they can sink their teeth into for free--such as an e-book--you can not only establish brand awareness and credibility but also add them to your email list, and then nudge them toward buying your products.

The more quality content you create, the better: 60 percent of marketers create at least one piece of new content each week.

2. Make It Dead Simple to Access

I'm not a fan of sites that require you to give your email address, name, phone number, income, and children's first names (I'm slightly kidding on that last one) just to access some "free" content. It's not free if visitors have to pay for it, either with money or the time it takes to input all that info. You can require an email address so you have them in your database, but even that's not necessary. If you're really driving value with your offering, they'll come back for more. In this article, the Web company HostGator provides an excellent resource for optimizing conversion rates by testing and simplifying the acquisition process.

3. Provide Value on Social Media

Here's what not to do on social: constantly send out links to your website, in the mad hope that people will click the link and buy something. Instead, consider yourself an indispensable resource. You have knowledge that others want. Share it by:

  • Answering people's questions
  • Joining in conversations
  • Sharing relevant content (both yours and others')

Remember: Thought leadership is about your audience members, not you. They have problems, and you have advice that can help them. Social media is a great place to build relationships, but only if you keep helpful solutions in the foreground.

4. Guest Post on the Right Sites

Guest blogging can be useful as a thought leadership tool, but like everything, it can also be used incorrectly. Your goal here is to find popular, well-trafficked blogs that target the audience you're trying to reach. Then you need to find your unique voice as a guest blogger. What can you deliver that no other contributor has covered? What gaps can you fill in that will make you stand out?

I enjoy writing for Inc. and other online publications. It gives me a chance to shine in my areas of expertise, as well as reach an audience I might not otherwise connect with. But I'm picky about the channels I pitch guest post ideas to. I want to make sure I don't spread myself too thin or waste my time by writing for sites that don't truly cater to my audience.

5. Tell Your Story

There's a reason storytelling is a trending concept right now. People identify with stories, not corporate branding messages. They want to know who you are as a person, so they can find connections to you. Maybe in addition to running your business, you're an avid World Cup fan. Or you have triplet daughters. These are little tidbits of your own life you might assume are better swept under the rug in your business life, but actually, whenever you can inject something personal into your message, you'll instantly create rapport with your audience.

So go ahead, use your personal anecdotes in your blog posts. Share a tale in your email. Find ways to really personalize your business.

6. Take Advantage of Google Authorship

This advice is simple enough: Log into your Google account and, under your profile, add all the sites you've contributed content to. By leveraging Google Authorship, you'll get a link to your G profile within Google's search results, which can help you boost followers. You'll likely see a bump up in traffic as your articles appear higher in Google search results, and you'll certainly look more authoritative with Google's seal of approval on your content.

7. Write a Book

While you shouldn't necessarily expect to end up on the New York Times bestseller list, writing a book (or two) is a great way to further establish your expertise. There's heavy clout around saying, "I'm an author." And with self-publication and digital books so prevalent, it's easy, too.

Don't fancy yourself as an author? Hire a ghostwriter. You can still get your knowledge and voice across, even if you don't have the time or skill to write it yourself.

8. Be Controversial

It's hard to stand out if your opinions are the same as everyone else's. And while it takes gumption, going against the current may net you more followers (and more customers) faster. Find your voice by challenging the status quo and bringing up points others haven't thought of. But don't force it; if you can't find a way to stand out by going against popular opinion, it'll only come out as fake.

9. Speak at Every Opportunity

If the thought of speaking to a roomful of potential customers doesn't give you stage fright, give public speaking a try. By putting yourself in front of the right audiences at trade shows, conventions, and conferences, you further brand yourself as an expert in your field. If you have physical products or a book (see #7) you can sell afterward, most venues will permit it. Just stay true to your core message: What do you want to be known for? What topic do you want to brand yourself on? That's what your speaking engagements should cover.

10. Be Constant

If all this branding is succeeding at making you a known expert, you're probably going to be swamped with work. But don't let that derail you from continuing your branding efforts. You may need to hand some tasks over to others on your team so you can focus on your thought leadership efforts, but it's well worth it if it's slamming you with business.