I'm an accidental thought leader in my industry. I didn't follow a specific path to the top. I trusted my gut. 

I created compelling content on my blog as a means to get the attention of potential employers. I've made some bad decisions. I've also made some good ones. 

Over the years I've boiled my path down to a handful of powerful steps to thought leadership.

Here are 7 steps to becoming a leading voice in your industry. 

1. Define your message.  

What do you have to say? What value are you adding? What unique perspective do you have? If you're not sure, do what I did when I was starting out. Read articles/blog posts about your industry, and offer your opinion on the articles.

If you don't have an opinion, you have bigger problems, and I can't help you.  

2. Determine your audience & become part of the conversation. 

Where do they live? What are they talking about? What is important to them?  Years ago, I was interviewing at Buddy Media with then CEO Michael Lazerow.  

I had been doing everything I could to impress Mike and get the job. Nothing was working. The one thing that did get his attention was my comment on Fred Wilson's blog. Michael had interest in venture capital and respected Fred's thoughts on his blog.

Because I was part of that conversation, it got Michael's attention and I got the job. 

3. Define where do you want to publish your content.

The best way that I know how to build your personal brand and become a thought leader is to buy your personal URL. FIRST name, LAST name DOT COM. If you have a common name, add your middle initial. 

This step will help with name recognition and personal brand equity.

Here is a free 24 step tutorial to launch your blog in 15 minutes or less. When I was getting started in social media, I published content on FacebookShouldHireMe.com.

Owning your name url or a creative url that has something to do with your industry is a great first step. Or take a baby step and publish on LinkedIn, or Medium.

Both platforms already have an huge audience. If you have great content, it will be a powerful step. 

4. Test topic ideas

My first ideas for blog content came from reviewing industry trades and offering opinion. The best way to test your topic ideas is to review  Google Trends, and see what people are paying attention to.

Find respected leaders in your industry on Twitter. Review what they're creating, and what they're reading. Read as much as you can, from as wide an array of publications as you can.  

The more you read the more ideas you'll have.  A great first step is to read content outside of your industry, and try to find synergy within your industry.

I once received inspiration from a Harvard Business Review article. Combining that inspiration, with an industry issue about the fatal flaw of paying for performance helped produce one of my first popular blog posts. 

5. Begin to write content & leverage technology to help.

You can't become a thought leader if you're not publishing content. If you have the personality for it, you can begin a video blog.  Most begin by writing.  

This app will help you become a better writer. I'm using it to write this article now. Here's how it works:  The app ranks your writing with a score, which tells you what grade level you're writing at -- fourth-grade, fifth-grade, etc.

The app will advise you on how to write clearer sentences that can be easily digested by your readers.

The free blog post headline analyzer will score your overall headline quality and rate its ability to result in social shares, increased traffic, and SEO value.

Provides you with tools to grow your website's traffic. It allows you to add emails to your list - so you can market your content to your readership. 

6. Engage and build your platform.

Now that you have a repository of content, you've got to market your wares. Some readers will discover you organically, but it helps to promote yourself.  

Tweeting content is good. Tweeting to editors with a personal touch is better.  Posting on Facebook is good. Posting and tagging an author you respect and quoted in your article is better.

I believe that the most powerful step you can take is generating an email list.  Once you have an engaged email list, you tap into the power of amplification. Your loyal readers will share your content for you, becoming brand advocates. 

7. Pitch editors. 

It took me 10 years of generating content before I became a columnist here on INC.com.  I was able to prove my merit by posting on my blog, LinkedIn, Medium, and a few other competing trades.  

Don't worry about volume of content, worry about focus and consistency of interest. Once you can review the performance of your content, identify editors in trades where you'd like to publish.  

Warm introductions help, but they're not  necessary. If you're good, they'll read your content, and will want you to write for them.  

Think about what will be more impactful: If you tell the editor what a great writer you are, or if you share a LinkedIn post read by 35,000 people?

We all have something remarkable to share with the world. Now it's your turn.   

Published on: Jan 27, 2016
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