In a competitive business landscape, reputation and credibility mean everything -- and they are not easily earned. A strong brand as an expert in your industry can boost your business to new heights; and, on the contrary, a weak reputation can call your credibility into question. Planting a flag as a differentiated thought leader or expert in your field makes all the difference for your personal brand.

Those who are considered experts in their field earned that status by establishing, building, and maintaining a thriving personal brand -- and continued to make the necessary strides toward strengthening their brand and securing influence and credibility. Here are a few key areas to focus on in the new year to begin securing your expert reputation. 

Speak about your industry 

Have you ever watched a TED Talk or attended a truly inspiring conference keynote? The key similarities between both were most likely the speakers' abilities to think deeply on a certain topic and showcase their expertise. Speaking opportunities are major credibility boosters. 

Landing speaking engagements builds your reputation in your field while also enhancing your personal brand, increasing lead generation, and building brand recognition. Reaching paid speaker status will take some time and dedication. Start small and outreach to local conferences or chapters and propose to do a workshop, breakout session, or luncheon presentation. Securing events locally will build up your experience and provide opportunities for you to develop a video reel of your speaking style, which will be critical as you work toward larger paid engagements. 

Write what you know

An essential step toward establishing yourself as a thought leader is sharing written thought pieces or analysis. Influential thought leaders, experts, and speakers often contribute weekly content to nationally ranked sites, maintain consistent and well-trafficked blogs, or give interviews to high-profile publications. All of these activities ignite your visibility and begin to qualify you as an expert.  

To start, try blogging one to two times a week to build an archive of content. Make note of which posts bring the most shares and engagement. Once you have a decent library of blog posts and a good idea of what resonates with readers, you're ready to pitch a contributed article. Established publications usually have specific contributor guidelines governing length, format, originality, and so on. Follow them closely to avoid having to redo your work or, worse, jeopardizing your reputation as a reliable contributor. 

Build a strong online presence

Being recognized for your expertise starts with sharing it online -- as "Millennial" as that may sound. Blog posts, fresh content, tweets, and photos spread like wildfire through digital channels. Building a strong online presence that is thoughtfully branded around your expertise gives you a strong competitive advantage. Building a community starts with securing your discoverability online; then, it's easier to grow through word-of-mouth marketing. 

A well-built website, a newsletter, social media platforms, and a blog with original and curated content will help your brand gain traction and a loyal community. It takes time and dedication to build a strong online presence. Start by building a website that serves as an online hub highlighting you and your brand. Next, choose one social media channel you enjoy using to share blog posts, interviews, and original content. Expand social channels from there as time permits, but remain consistent! Start a newsletter to offer exclusive content and industry highlights to build your following and engage with your community. 

Maintain continuous growth

The most influential thought leaders and experts have one thing in common: They never stop learning. Making it to the top doesn't guarantee you will stay there long. As your industry changes, staying one step ahead of trends and developments is imperative for growth. Attending conferences, joining industry associations, or taking professional development courses all help you learn from like-minded professionals while making valuable connections. Or pick up a book written by another thought leader in your industry or someone you admire. 

The road to thought leadership takes time and dedication, but that commitment to building your personal brand and audience will open doors and pay off in the long run. The extra mile is rarely crowded. Invest in your own brand and the results may pleasantly surprise you.