Here’s how the Oxford English Dictionary defines thought leader: “One whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.” It’s no wonder so many business owners and executives invest millions of dollars trying to attain this status. Today, anyone can find countless alternatives to every product or service with a few mouse clicks. In this sort of environment, only those perceived as experts can truly thrive."¨"¨

Unfortunately, becoming a notable expert usually takes a long time, even in the digital age. Many people assume that if they throw up a blog and publish great content, members of their target market will find it. They won’t. There are literally millions of blogs and websites already in existence. The most successful thought leaders built their audiences by fostering relationships with other influencers they knew could effectively spread their message.

Engaging in this kind of intense ongoing interaction can be grueling. Fortunately, there’s a way to shortcut the process. "¨"¨

Target Your Own Circle First

If you’re a driven entrepreneur or executive, I’m willing to bet you have an extensive network of people with substantial knowledge and expertise. Like so much else in the business world, your personal network is the ideal place to begin when establishing yourself as a thought leader."¨"¨

Set aside an hour to make a list of everyone you know who is in any way connected to your professional life. Don’t discriminate at first--if a person crosses your mind, write down his or her name. Once you’ve finished with this initial exercise, segment your list into relevant categories--Industry Leaders, Colleagues with Existing Online Presence, Super Connectors, and so on. Then assign each of the names on your list to these categories, and eliminate those that don’t fit."¨"¨

Instead of immediately trying to crack the often-insular circle of big names in your field, start closer to home. Contact the people on your list and let them know you’d like to interview them about their expertise on your blog or online publication. Remember, people judge how smart you are more on the basis of the questions you ask than on the answers you give. The interview format will allow you to showcase this in a big way. The majority of your friends and colleagues will be flattered by your offer. And if they’re smart, they’ll see it as an opportunity to gain exposure for their own ideas."¨"¨

Create a Snowball Effect

"¨"¨By initially building your content creation efforts around people you already know, you get a built-in audience and megaphone all in one. Your subjects will inevitably share their interviews through email and social media. Many will also link back to them on their own websites, which will boost your search engine rankings. Your rapid spike in visibility will quickly attract even more prominent influencers in your field. The result will be a snowball effect that will draw significant attention to your knowledge, ideas, and expertise in a matter of weeks.