Thought Leadership for Lawyers
So you want to be a thought leader? Join the club. So does everybody else. Being a thought leader is not something that is easily accomplished. You can’t anoint yourself a thought leader or become one simply by adding it your title. It takes time, effort, dedication and the right mindset.
True thought leaders are scarce. After all, not everyone can become an authority on a subject. If it was easy, then everyone would do it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, or that you shouldn’t work on building or enhancing your personal brand. In fact, even if you don’t attain thought leadership status, building your brand is one of the most important things a lawyer should do. We’ve all heard the phrase – It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Building your brand enables you to strategically grow your network. Your network then becomes a key asset in your professional career.
This week, I will be speaking at the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference. My presentation this year is focused on how to build a thought leadership platform. Update: See slide deck below. For those of you that will not be in attendance, here are 10 tips on how to become a thought leader:
- Purpose: The first step in becoming a thought leader is to identify your purpose. Why do you want to become a thought leader? Is it to generate more business? To become famous in your circle of influence? Perhaps you want to help others learn the lessons you have learned. Whatever your purpose is, it is important to establish it at the outset of any effort.
- Audience: The next step in becoming a thought leader is to figure out your target audience. If your purpose is to build your business, then your target audience is likely to be your prospects and your clients. You can have multiple audiences that you are trying to reach. One way to achieve thought leadership is to target existing influencers and other thought leaders who can help you connect with their audience and expand your reach.
- Need: Once you have identified your audience, the next step is to determine what it needs. What are the problems or issues that keep audience members up a night? What are the opportunities for you to help them achieve their goals? Becoming an authority is not an internally focused exercise. You need to consider how to engage with your target audience, and that requires empathy. You need to put yourself in their shoes and understand their needs from their perspective. Only then can you begin to understand how to hone your message to achieve the utmost engagement.
- Theme: After figuring out your target audience’s needs and objectives, the next task is to figure out your angle. How are you going to provide your target audience with the knowledge and information they need that is different and unique from other similarly situated professionals. This goes beyond identifying your niche, and it is probably the most important component in the early stages of thought leadership development. In his famous book, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Seth Godin describes the concept of the purple cow as something that is so unique and remarkable, that it makes people want to spread the word about it. When it comes to thought leadership, not only does your message have to be remarkable, but so should the way you convey and deliver that message.
- Content: Once you have established your theme or your angle, then you need to determine how you are going to convey it. You need to develop a content strategy that enables you to create remarkable content that is easily repurposed. Each thought leader chooses his or her primary form of content, whether that is blog posts, articles, stories, podcasts, videos or visuals. However, in order to reach your target audience, you need to be able to share your content in whatever way your audience chooses to consume it. Some people like to read, others prefer watching videos or listening to podcasts, others prefer visual and infographics. They key is to be able to deliver the type of content your target audience wants in the format they favor.
- Platforms: It is not enough to deliver your content in the format your audience wants, you also need to deliver that content in the channel your audience prefers. There are many different platforms for content deliver today: Blogs, social media, newspapers, magazines, conferences, podcasts, webinars, YouTube, radio, television, etc.
- Plan: The next step to attaining thought leadership is to come up with a strategic plan that puts all the pieces together. The plan should include your audience, their needs and objectives, your theme, your content and how you are going to deliver your content. A great way to start on your plan is to put an editorial calendar together. This calendar will enable you to map out your content strategy during the year and will ensure that you stay committed to the plan you develop.
- Connect: As previously mentioned, you are going to need help in becoming a thought leader. Once you have your plan, your next step should be to identify influencers and other thought leaders that can help you attain your goal. Reach out to them and develop a strategic relationship with them. Tell them what your goals and objectives are and ask them for help. If you are genuine about your efforts and humble in your approach, most thought leaders will be happy to lend a hand and help you to connect with their peers and their audience.
- Learn: A true thought leader never stops learning. In order to become a true authority, you must continue to enhance your knowledge and learn from others. Watch and learn from other thought leaders, do research and read voraciously within your area of interest. Keep up with the latest trends and explore new ideas and new methods. Stay on top of your game.
- Execute: As I mentioned above, attaining thought leadership takes a significant amount of time, effort and determination. Thought leadership is not something you can buy or take short cuts with. You need to hone your knowledge and skills, execute your plan and be relentless in your pursuit of greatness.
True thought leaders are a rare breed. They are people who believe in something and are willing to go the extra mile in order to achieve it. It is not easy, and it will not happen overnight. Those that persevere, however, and are unwavering in their efforts, will be richly rewarded for their tenacity. UPDATE: Here’s the slide deck from my presentation at the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference.