How To Build Thought Leadership From Scratch For Your Business 

Jason Khoo

Jason Khoo

Jason started freelancing in SEO back in college, sold his first agency, and now is the founder of Zupo, which is an Orange County-based SEO consulting agency helping construct powerful long-term SEO strategies for our clients. Jason also enjoys multiple cups of tea a day, hiding away on weekends, catching up on reading, and rewatching The Simpsons for the 20th time.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

The internet is a vast, ever-changing landscape, and standing out amongst the literal millions of websites and content-building machines is no easy feat.

In fact, the only way to have a shot at getting in front of the right audience is by optimizing every single one of your digital footprints for SEO.

Search Engine Optimization or SEO as it is known is the art of crafting content so that it has the best chance of being found and clicked on.

A lot goes into SEO, but most of the strategies and methods you’ll find on the internet are moot if you don’t include link building.

Linkbuilding is a process whereby you work to create relationships with entities, like other websites or blogs. These websites provide a link back to your website in their content, which increases your online visibility.

However, this process has its own shortcomings: the links are often out of your control. That leaves room for mistakes, errors, and formatting that might not align with your brand.

Luckily, there’s a holistic workaround to traditional link building that will expand your reach more organically: thought Leadership.

Thought Leadership Basics

Thought Leadership is a process whereby you provide content and expertise on your particular niche and subject to other sites, bloggers and companies. It’s a way for you to build your brand as an expert on a given topic in more natural and less manipulative ways than traditional link-building strategies.

Not only does thought leadership help your SEO, but it also positions you as the go-to person for a specific type of expertise.

Thought leadership comes in a variety of formats, including:

  • Being interviewed or featured in digital publications
  • Speaking at industry conferences
  • Being the guest author on another site’s blog post
  • Creating content for your own website and social media accounts that other people then share, like, or engage with.
  • Being interviewed on either a podcast or YouTube channel
  • Being invited to a live broadcast on another account’s social media feed
  • Contributing articles to industry-specific blogs or trade journals.

Now that you understand the basics of thought leadership, it’s time to get started learning how to implement it so your business can stand out online.

How To Start Implementing Thought Leadership

I know what you’re thinking—if building expertise and SEO like this was so easy, wouldn’t everyone do it?

It’s true, most business owners, CEOs, and entrepreneurs love the idea of being seen as thought leaders. But building up thought leadership takes time and consistent effort. You have to be willing to put in the work to realize your goals.

However, there are four simple steps you can take to get started.

#1 Uncover Your Expertise

A master of all is a master of none. It doesn’t matter if you have 500 subjects you feel you could accurately and expertly discuss. You have to hone in on the overall message you want to share and then brand out to discuss just a few.

The more you niche down, the better chance you’ll have for becoming known for that ONE thing. So the first step, obviously, is figuring out what you know and what you can talk about.

Think about the overall message of your brand, and then ask yourself the following to get more clarity:

  • What do people come to me for help with the most?
  • What problems am I solving the most often?
  • What subjects am I most knowledgeable about?
  • What are people hungry to learn more about?
  • What story do I have to share to show people how I became an expert on this topic?
  • What could I talk about for hours and hours and NEVER get bored?

It is essential to articulate what you know about a particular topic to establish yourself as an authority. Think about what you could discuss in blog posts, podcast interviews, or live broadcasts. Come up with 2-3 essential topics that tie into your overall message, and then start brainstorming different content pieces that people would be interested in checking out.

For example, say you’re a veterinarian who specializes in anxious dogs. Your topics could be:

  • Coping tactics to soothe anxious dogs
  • Working through fear in dogs
  • Triggers that most anxious dogs have

From there, you could start to come up with some specific topics. Taking the “Coping tactics to soothe anxious dogs,” you could talk about:

  • My #1 tool for soothing my dog during a thunderstorm
  • CBD for anxious dogs—is it worth it?
  • How to make your dogs anxious chewy tendency healthier

When you’re coming up with these topics, it helps to know your target audience and what they’re looking for. Do they need something more detailed? Do they want something more general? Do they need help with a specific problem, like thunderstorms or separation anxiety? What kind of content do they prefer?

This will help determine what kind of thought leadership pieces you go for and the kind of content you create. The key to building thought leadership is knowing what you know and then figuring out how much of it you can talk about without sounding like an imposter or getting bored with the subject matter yourself.

Another good idea is to find a niche that is not overpopulated with other thought leaders to stand out in the crowd.

This strategy’s excellent because it doesn’t matter how much content (or notoriety) these influencers have. It just matters that they’re part of the same topic as you are, so if their voice resonates with people on social media, then yours will too!

This technique also works well for generating new blog post ideas because research shows we can find more insights when writing on topics related to our expertise. Finding an area, no one else has covered yet means there may be less competition following suit and, therefore, higher rankings in search engines!

#2 Create, Create, Create

Now that you’ve got your topics and speaking points fleshed out, it’s time to create a solid foundation of content that you can link back to. 

Whether it’s blog posts, infographics, videos, and social media posts, aim to have at least 15-20 evergreen pieces of content that you can link back to. While you’re pulling together ideas, remember the importance of value. If you’re providing value to your audience, they’ll be more likely to engage with what you’ve got and share it.

So don’t post something just to post something. In this stage, make sure everything you create has some sort of value to the reader and can improve their lives somehow.

If you’re unsure where to start, use a content planning tool like Trello or Evernote or create an editorial calendar for your social media channels to keep you on track and organized with what’s coming up in the next few months.

It will take some time and effort initially, but the more fleshed out and detailed you can make these pieces now, the longer you’ll be able to use them in your thought leadership strategy.

#3 Start Small

Once you’ve got your content foundation ready, it’s time to start building links to your thought leadership pieces.

An easy way to do this is by providing helpful advice on relevant, popular topics for smaller audiences. Here are a few places to get started:

  • Smaller podcasts
  • Guest articles for small digital publications
  • Local speaking engagements within your community
  • Answering questions on Quora, Reddit, or LinkedIn Answers

Look for audiences and avenues that are either at your audience size level or just below. These organizations or small-time media are often looking for content and people to share with their audiences, which will be more receptive and trusting of you as a result.

Start by adding these connections to your content marketing pipeline (more on that later), then start reaching out when they have something published or coming up where you can be helpful. 

And be sure to follow and share their content to make them want to work with you.

There are also opportunities to create content for organizations that cover your space but may not have the resources or audience size yet. Many of these sites will offer a share-equivalent in return for a contribution, and by getting their foot in the door this way, it can provide some significant leverage later on when they grow as well.”

Don’t get discouraged if somebody doesn’t respond right away – it’s likely because they’re busy but also because the timing just isn’t good for them…or maybe they need further convincing before taking the leap! If other outlets would better suit what you offer, try those next. And remember- quality always wins over quantity; this takes time, so make sure each connection provides value first and foremost, no.

Start small by first pitching 1-2 thought leadership pieces per week, and then gradually increasing once you get used to the process. This system works well because it forces you into new topics while still allowing enough time between them so that they’re fresh again when it comes time for publication.

It also helps keep a running list or spreadsheet of who you pitched to and if they responded. This way, you can determine who is interested in your ideas and what isn’t catching their attention.

#4 Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Fool You

Do you know why most entrepreneurs fail to implement their thought leadership strategy? They don’t feel like they have everything they need to be considered an expert in their field.

They think they need degrees, books, tons of testimonials, and social proof. They’re waiting for a book deal and 10K followers to be considered worthy. But the truth is, as long as you’re fully committed to the process and learning along the way, you can be an expert at anything.

There’s no question that there are many more people out there with degrees and book deals than without them. But those who have managed to build thought Leadership for themselves by following these simple steps will tell you that it’s less about knowing everything and more about being willing to learn and grow.

You don’t need to be perfect; just committed to the process of constantly learning more about your topic. Remember that you can learn about anything if you’re willing to put in the time and effort!

It may seem like imposter syndrome to think that people would listen or care about a stranger’s opinions, but it’s really just insecurity talking. As long as you have something worthwhile to say (and plenty do), then there will always be a need for your voice.

So when you feel that slight hesitation before pitching or posting, tell yourself that you’re worth it and keep going.

How To Use Thought Leadership To Improve Your SEO

You’ve got your message, your content foundation, and your strategy. You’re starting to get some hits from implementing these thought leadership tactics, and it’s time to see all that traffic pour in from your hard work.

Whenever you get a new opportunity for thought leadership, make sure you have the perfect piece of content to link back to. Your website and social media handles are great (and most organizations will include these regardless), but if there’s a chance to include another link, make it super-relevant to the thought leadership piece.

You don’t want to be that person who sends out an article about the best places in town for sushi, only to have links back on your website on how to make a perfect omelet. That’s not going to help anyone find you through natural search engine optimization when they’re looking for recommendations from experts.

This is what helps people take notice of your knowledge and expertise as it relates to the topic at hand—linking up with other thought leaders and making sure everything has continuity. It’ll also give you something extra powerful where friends or followers can find more information related directly back to this piece of content!

Keep all those details fresh, so there are plenty of opportunities waiting right around the corner when you need them most. And remember that the more you work on this, the more your authority will grow.

Thought Leadership Best Practices

Now that you’ve got your strategy down, it’s time to learn some of the best practices for you to utilize—the number one is to stay consistent.

Consistency is critical when it comes to the thought leadership process. You can’t just send out one email and expect people to take notice and start referring to you as the expert of XYZ. 

You need to be consistent in your communication with people and provide them as much value as possible. This is especially true if you’re a small business with the same resources that major corporations do. You’ll need to work harder than everyone else because it’s not about how big of an email list or following you have. It’s about how much value you can provide.

But once you start, it’ll be easier to keep going because the more thought leadership content you create, the more authoritative and credible your site will become.

Here are a few more final tips to keep you consistent and on track as you implement these strategies:

  • Set aside time regularly for ideation and brainstorming
  • Determine what works best for you in terms of scheduling and doing research before anything else goes into motion so that all aspects of building thought Leadership is optimized from day one.
  • Schedule a monthly analysis so you can see which content performed the best. This way, you can adjust your thought leadership pieces to provide more of what people want.
  • Create templates for pitches and other documents you’ll send out frequently to save time. That way, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.
  • And don’t be afraid to ask for help from others. You don’t have to take on the world yourself. It might be helpful to hire a virtual assistant to take over some of the time-consuming details like sending out emails and follow-ups.

The Takeaway

Thought Leadership is an essential part of any business’s marketing strategy as you grow your business online and look for a captivating audience. It’s challenging to establish yourself without some sort of credibility or authority behind your brand, which is where developing these skills can prove helpful.

However, if building thought Leadership was easy, everyone would do it. You have to be in it for the long haul to see real results. Success with this work won’t happen overnight.

Keep working hard and learning more about what you know until, at some point, that becomes enough to call yourself a leader in the field. The more you share, the more people will start to associate you with this work.

So keep going and know that the expert title you’re after will soon be yours.

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Jason Khoo

Jason Khoo

Jason started freelancing in SEO back in college, sold his first agency, and now is the founder of Zupo, which is an Orange County-based SEO consulting agency helping construct powerful long-term SEO strategies for our clients. Jason also enjoys multiple cups of tea a day, hiding away on weekends, catching up on reading, and rewatching The Simpsons for the 20th time.

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