Building Thought Leadership From Scratch

thought leadership

With millions of brands online and even more content, it can be challenging to stand out.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an excellent way to get your brand out in front of the right audience and give your content a chance to be found and clicked. A lot goes into SEO, but link building is one of the most important aspects.

Link building is a process that includes actions aimed at creating quality inbound links to your website. When authoritative sites link back to your website in their content, your visibility improves.

This can be a long and error-prone process, however. Fortunately, there’s a workaround that can expand your reach organically: Thought leadership.

What Is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership is the expression of ideas that demonstrate your expertise in a particular industry or topic. You provide content with expertise in your niche for other websites and bloggers, which builds your brand’s reputation as an expert.

This not only helps your SEO but positions your brand as the go-to brand for specific information.

Thought leadership may include:

  • Interviewing for digital publications
  • Guest authoring on blogs
  • Creating content for your own website or social accounts
  • Speaking at industry conferences
  • Interviewing for podcasts or YouTube videos
  • Live broadcasts on other social media accounts
  • Contributing content to industry-specific publications

How to Get Started With Thought Leadership

While many brands are familiar with thought leadership and want to be seen as thought leaders, it’s not a quick and easy process.

Building up thought leadership takes effort and patience, and you have to put in the work to earn that status.

Here are some ways to get started:

Choose Your Expertise

We all know the saying, “Jack of all trades – master of none.” Even if you think you’re capable of discussing a wide range of topics as an expert, you need to shift your focus to the message you want to convey. You can be a thought leader on a few related topics, but not a sweeping range.

The more you can narrow your focus, the better opportunity you have for being known as a thought leader with one topic.

So, how do you decide?

Think about the overall message of your brand and ask yourself these questions:

  • What topic do people ask for my help with?
  • What problems am I trying to solve?
  • What subjects do I know the most about?
  • What are my customers asking about most?
  • What story or background do I have to show people my expertise?
  • What could I discuss for hours without getting bored?

Use these questions to determine what you know about a topic and why you should be considered an expert. Think about what you discuss in interviews, blog posts, or your own content, then come up with a few essential topics that relate to your overall message.

From there, you can come up with some content that people would want to see. For example, if brand marketing was your expertise, you could come up with content for developing brand messaging, launching brand campaigns, and how to rebrand.

These topics can be drilled down even further to include content like “how to grow your business through brand awareness” or “how to design and build a brand map.”

Whatever your expertise, it’s vital to understand your target audience and what they’re looking for from you.

  • How much experience do they have?
  • Do they need general or beginner topics, or are they looking for detailed, next-level content?
  • Are there specific problems you could focus on?
  • How do they like to consume their content?

These questions can guide your content strategy and help you choose topics that you know and your audience will enjoy or appreciate.

Another important point to consider: Thought leadership already exists, so be sure that you’re not focusing on a niche that’s already saturated with thought leaders. Try to be unique. If you can find a topic that doesn’t have a lot of competition, you have a better chance of a high ranking.

Start Creating Content

Now that you have your topic and content strategy, it’s time to start creating. You can use blog posts, videos, infographics, social media posts, or any other content that works well with your audience – just focus on creating evergreen content that encourages linking.

Of course, always remember to provide value to your audience. Thought leadership doesn’t happen by accident. Your audience has to find value in what you post to engage and share it.

If you’re concerned about keeping your content consistent, try a planning tool to create an editorial calendar. When you have your content mapped out, you’ll be organized and prepared for the foreseeable future.

Begin with Small Steps

Now that you have the strategy and foundation, you’re ready to build links to your content. It’s best to start small and focus on relevant, popular topics intended for small audiences, such as:

  • Guest pieces for niche digital publications
  • Podcasts with small followings
  • Local speaking engagements
  • Community questions on Reddit or Quora

Ideally, you want to address audiences that are about the size of your brand’s audience, or smaller. Smaller venues may have good relationships with their audiences and want content that will resonate, and in turn, the audience may be more receptive to what you have to offer.

The best way to get this going is by reaching out to these venues to pitch your content or ask how you can help. Make sure it’s not all about you – follow and share these publications and venues to show that you’re offering a mutually beneficial relationship.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some of these smaller venues or publications may not have the resources for content. In exchange, they may offer a share-equivalent that can help your brand as they grow in the future.

If you don’t get responses immediately, don’t get discouraged. They may be busy, the timing may not be ideal, or they may need to learn more before working with you. Getting your content out there takes time, so focus on quality connections that provide value now and later.

For your own organization, keep a list or spreadsheet to track the venues and publications you pitched and their responses. This keeps a record of who’s interested in your ideas and who you should pitch in the future.

Stay the Course

Despite evidence to the contrary, some entrepreneurs struggle to see themselves as a leader or expert in their niche. They think they need credentials like degrees, bestselling books, and tons of followers to be worthy. Not all experts have this, however.

Plenty of people build thought leadership by doing the legwork and actually being an expert at something. It doesn’t fall in their laps – they work to show that to the world.

You don’t need to be perfect the first time. In fact, you may fail a few times before you get it right. What’s important is that you commit to the process and continue to learn about your topic and how to position yourself as an expert.

Thought Leadership Best Practices

Like any other process or strategy, thought leadership has best practices to make it more effective.

Consistency is vital to your success with thought leadership. Similar to content strategy, thought leadership requires consistency with your communications and the quality and frequency of your content.

Focus all your communications on providing value to the audience, rather than touting yourself. This is especially important if your brand is small and you don’t have the resources of a huge enterprise.

It’s also important to have a schedule for posting content so that your audience knows what to expect. Don’t post a lot in a short period and then disappear for days or weeks. If you keep it consistent, even if you’re not posting a lot, your audience will look forward to seeing new pieces from you.

Fortunately, the more you create, the more authoritative your brand will become. Set aside time for idea creation and brainstorming. Find the best schedule for researching, creating, and posting content according to your own responsibilities and the best active times for your audience.

Each month, you should evaluate your content to see what performed best. You can use these insights to tailor your thought leadership pieces to offer more of what your audience likes and expects.

If finding time to pitch is challenging, create templates with spots to fill in the specifics. When all you have to do is add a name and a few details, pitching is less overwhelming.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Taking on all the tasks of thought leadership on your own can take a toll on your schedule, but hiring a personal assistant or outsourcing non-critical tasks can free some time for you to focus.

Position Yourself as a Thought Leader

Thought leadership is vital to your business marketing strategy to grow your brand and attract a loyal audience. It doesn’t happen overnight, however. You have to be committed in the long term and keep at it to see results.

Though positioning yourself as a thought leader can be challenging, it’s worth the effort to have a strong authority figure behind your brand.

Author Bio

Jason started freelancing in SEO back in college, sold his first agency, and now is 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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