OK, stop reading right now. Reach behind you and administer a well-deserved congratulatory smack. You’re an entrepreneur, and a female – and you’re wearing a lot of hats. If you haven’t started the journey yet, you’re doing your homework, so hats off to your research efforts.
Either way, there’s probably a big success component that you haven’t tackled yet. That is the business-building strategy known as public relations. My guess, based on the numerous conversations I’ve had with other women entrepreneurs, is that there are a couple of reasons.
First, there’s time. Running the business takes almost all of your waking thoughts (and some sleepless ones, too). Secondly, it seems a bit mysterious. Third, and probably the most significant, is an almost endemic reluctance to self-promote. But the key to transcending promotion is to aspire to thought leadership, a key topic of these times, and an arena in which you will shine (much as you are reluctant to admit it).
OK, let’s face it: the endless stream of articles, infographics and webinars on thought leadership is a little overwhelming. Not only that, if everyone follows the “thought leadership” formula, then aren’t we all at risk of becoming a packaged success product, instead of a true industry influencer? If that’s the case, how does such a strategy help a female entrepreneur as she strives to break through to the next level of success in her industry?
Because true thought leadership is based on sharing knowledge, conviction and your own, irreplaceable viewpoint. It has nothing to do with formulas, which makes it an extraordinarily powerful tool.
Indeed, this is the “Year of Thought Leadership,” according to business-focused publications. Although I’d prefer that it be re-titled “the year of you breaking the thought leadership mold and becoming a rock star.” That may not be exceptionally catchy, but I hope it resonates with you.
The reality, in my opinion, is that all of those thought leadership must-do’s are very helpful – as a starting place. At some point, however, you need to leave the playbook behind and create your own, fresh, original voice if you really want to find your place as opinion maker and chart-topping influencer.
After all, Led Zeppelin rock icon Robert Plant would have been just another high school dropout with a few chords under his belt if he hadn’t cultivated that eerily cutting banshee wail that became his hallmark.
Fortunately for you, there is no need to sing “Stairway to Heaven,” but harnessing your industry knowledge to a fresh, unique point of view is a must.
Here’s What You Don’t Know
In my 16+ years of helping some of the world’s smartest executives and entrepreneurs to share their story, I’m here to tell you: You have thought leadership capabilities within you that you haven’t even guessed at. The key is to acknowledge your unique industry experience, and partner it with your you-and-you-only point of view. You may not be able to play a 16-string guitar, but I bet you have a fresh take on your industry that could turn a hum-drum conference presentation into rockstar-worthy chatfest.
So What is a Thought Leader?
A thought leader is someone with subject expertise, who is generous in applying their knowledge to educate, engage, inspire and explore.
Don’t sell. Inform, engage, question.
Maybe even inspire if you are truly passionate about your subject. You don’t necessarily have to have all the answers, but knowing the questions to ask, and being able to offer a reasoned look, is key. Whatever drove you to launch and grow your business is a prime propellant for sharing your knowledge, insight, and passion with those who would learn from you: prospects, customers, partners, community colleagues, employees, contractors and more.
So, prepare to share. The world is waiting to hear it.
Where’s Your Stage?
OK, you’re ready to take your act on the road and share your thought leadership chops. Great. But where? Fortunately for you, the options for connecting with your fans (oops, I mean market community) are endless. The social world of owned media under your control is great: blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, all good. Speaking engagements and white papers? Equally good and necessary.
May I suggest, however, that you not overlook the awareness and credibility-builder that’s transformed the careers of CEOs and actual rock stars alike: the press, or earned media, as we call it these days.
Three Key Reasons to Engage with the Media: Thought Leadership
It’s fine to paint yourself as a thought leader. However, when a respected journalist decides your thinking is valuable enough to include in his or her story, well, your thought leadership rock star status just took on some serious extra sparkle.
Having a trusted third party validate your insight and thinking delivers credibility in a way patting your own back never could.
Telling your story to people you’ve already connected with – through newsletters, blog posts, and social interaction – is critical. They are your community, and they are important. But, engaging with a journalist means getting in front of a whole new community – their readership – in an impartial venue, and in the social media they interact with. The bonus for B2B executives is that your existing community gets to see you in important industry and consumer outlets, as well.
Search, SEO, the Web
Google puts a great deal of store in what is commonly called “earned media;” the impartial publication of the journalists’ word. From better search rankings to SEO-worthy backlinks, publication of your insights and expertise yields dividends that will keep paying you in thought leadership interest for literally years to come.
So, tune up your guitar – then put it back in the closet.
As a hardy and hard-working female entrepreneur, your brains, industry knowledge and fresh point of view are all you need to build your own thought leadership rock star status in today’s digitally-savvy world.
Pam Abrahamsson an award-winning public relations professional, founder and director of PRA Public Relations, a B2B national agency. An entrepreneur by heart, she also runs social impact/artisan goods ecommerce site, www.rusticagift.com.