How To Become A Thought Leader As Coach Or Consultant

Why would someone choose to do business with you? Deep down, we all know we have to answer that question if we want to win clients and make sales. For many coaches and consultants, one way to answer that question is to become a thought leader.

You may or may not naturally be using the term “thought leader” already. But even if you don’t, you are familiar with the concept. You probably follow people on social media or pay attention to certain blogs. Perhaps there are business owners in your community or friend group that you consider to be extra smart. All of these people are, in their own ways, thought leaders.

Thought leadership isn’t just about being smart, although that definitely helps! It’s about being recognized as an authority by your peers, potential clients, and other movers and shakers in your industry.

The truly hard work of thought leadership is mastering a skill that people want to pay for. You’ve probably already done that, or you’re at least well on the way. That means that turning you into a thought leader won’t be that big of a leap!

In this guide, I’ll go through a practical strategy that will help you be seen as a thought leader. We’ll start with a more in-depth definition of the term, then we’ll talk about ways you can share your knowledge, build your network, and engage with the right people.

What is thought leadership?

I like the Western Governors University definition of thought leadership because of its simplicity and accuracy. “Thought leadership is the expression of ideas that demonstrate you have expertise in a particular field, area, or topic.”

Put another way, thought leadership is how you become an authority figure. One of the surest ways to become an authority is to become known for your knowledge.

It might feel strange to give away free advice. After all, why would people want to pay for your services if you’re giving away your knowledge for free?

Odd as it may sound, sharing your knowledge for free is smart because it does two things. First, it makes you a reliable source of informed opinions and innovative ideas. Over time, you become the go-to person within your niche.

But building yourself up as a thought leader accomplishes another goal too – it helps people see why they need you in the first place! The most effective thought leaders are experts at taking complicated concepts and breaking them down for a larger audience. The audience still knows that what you’re talking about is complicated.

Think about Stephen Hawking. He wrote A Brief History of Time. It’s a good read, and pretty understandable by a normal educated person. Read and you’ll end up learning a lot.

Brief History of Time
Don’t be afraid to “write the book” on a subject!

But you also won’t think that you know everything about black holes or the Big Bang. And if the year were 1992 and you needed to smash together some particles, you’d at least consider calling him up because, well, he wrote the book on quantum mechanics!

In short, if you put in the effort to become a thought leader, you will teach people a bit of what you know. But when they’re over their heads, they’ll call you.

Why does thought leadership matter?

There are three reasons to become a thought leader: building trust, increasing your visibility, and extending your impact.

Thought leadership is, ultimately, a form of generosity. You are sharing your knowledge and giving people a reason to trust you. All because you keep showing up and sharing your knowledge.

With trust and time comes increased visibility. If you keep talking about your area of expertise and do it in places where people can find you, you’ll eventually get found! This will draw more opportunities, which could take a number of forms. You might end up with more clients, or perhaps some new speaking opportunities. People will want to collaborate with you, which will, in turn, reinforce your perceived authority to people who find you online or in your community.

Lastly, thought leadership is a form of power. Ultimately, you can use this to widen your impact on your industry and community. People will be more likely to listen to you and do what you recommend.

What does good thought leadership look like?

Good thought leaders have a few things in common: they are true experts, they have original ideas, and they consider their audience’s perspective.

If you’re not knowledgeable, don’t pursue thought leadership yet. Pursue skill. Build expertise, do research, and get some real-world experience. That way, you will be more valuable and credible.

That doesn’t mean you have to be #1 in the world at something. You just need to be considerably more knowledgeable about the things you spend time talking about than your average reader. It’s not a high bar to clear, but you need to clear it!

Great thought leaders also avoid another common trap. They don’t  just rehash what every bro on LinkedIn or X is saying. They think deeply and come up with their own ideas, then share those. Over time, they observe what does and doesn’t strike a chord with others.

Good Thought Leadership Diagram

The very best thought leaders leave their audience saying, “you get it, you understand my problems.” That’s because they are actively engaged with their audience, listening to their questions, and finding ways to answer them, as well as the probable follow-up questions.

That last part is very hard to do in practice, but is the North Star that you should orient yourself toward in your quest to become a thought leader.

1. Figure out your area of expertise and stay on message.

Think about your strengths, knowledge, and experiences. Figure out what you know that most people don’t. Pinpoint your key area of expertise and stay on topic.

Remember, most people will find individual things you write or say – social media posts, webinars, and so on – in isolation from your other work. You should be far more worried about straying outside of your area of expertise than you should be of being overly repetitive. (This also helps you avoid a common “smart person trap” seen on social media, wherein a person strays from their area of expertise, comments on things they don’t know about, and embarasses themselves as a result.)

Put another way, consistency is key. Every post, video, and media appearance needs to reinforce your expertise in your area. That helps you stay on message and build a recognizable, respected, and easily understandable brand. That helps your audience know what you stand for and why they should pay attention.

2. Commit to building your knowledge and skills.

The best thought leaders never stop learning! They are always paying attention to research, trends, and discussions in their fields. They read publications, attend workshops, and go to conferences.

Continuous learning helps you not only expand your own knowledge, but it makes you a better communicator to your audience too. You can slowly expand your sphere of knowledge and influence.

Example of knowledge building
If you were a thought leader in software engineering, one way you could stay sharp is by learning another coding language.

Another form of learning comes with taking feedback and constructive criticism. As you become a communicator in your field, you will see that some ways of communicating are effective. Some aren’t. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly.

Following the steps will also help you avoid the other common “smart person trap” of social media, where someone becomes known for their expertise, then becomes a “professional expert.” A few years pass and their expertise becomes outdated and they have a tough time catching up!

3. Create content that allows you to share knowledge generously without consuming all your time.

If your goal is to build an online presence for consulting or coaching, then a big element of that is going to be content creation. This will help you share your knowledge widely.

For that, you need to create a robust content strategy. That way, you can get information out of your brain and in front of the public in a way that won’t eat up too much of your time.

Consider the formats that work well for your niche. Does your audience read blogs? Watch videos? Listen to podcasts?

Think about how you can take your knowledge and fit it into different content formats. If you’re not sure how to start, think about creating one type of long-form content such as blog posts or long videos, and then take bits and pieces from that and reuse them on social media or in short-form videos (such as TikToks or Instagram Reels).

Repurposing content across these mediums maximizes the impact and lifespan of your ideas without requiring you to start from scratch each time. Establish a realistic schedule for content creation and stick to it.

4. Partner with media outlets and other experts.

It’s good to start up your own website and social media presence. You should put effort into making them worth checking out, even if you’re doing so in a time-efficient manner.

But if you want really great results, you need to reach out to media and other experts. Offer to be a guest on podcasts in your niche, or a guest in video interviews. Jump on webinars or contribute to eBooks. Pay attention to what other thought leaders are doing in your industry and imitate their strategy (but not at the expense of your unique voice).

It’s also good to reach out to other experts in your field, even if they don’t have their own media outlets. Often, you can benefit simply from having a relationship with them, because you will learn new things. But a lot of the time, they will introduce you to others that you need to meet as well, including media outlets and other experts.

5. Seek out networking events.

True thought leaders don’t hide. You need to go where your audience is. Attend industry conferences, workshops, and seminars, not just as an attendee but also as a speaker whenever possible. These events offer platforms to share your knowledge, connect with peers, and stay informed about the latest trends and challenges in your field. It doesn’t have to be the largest convention in your industry – even local meetups can put you in touch with some cool people!

Convention

Online, you can engage in Facebook groups, subreddits, and other communities related to your expertise. Share your insights and advice there when the situation lends itself to that. You may also consider participating in or organizing mastermind groups with other experts, as well. It’s just another way to build meaningful connections and open up doors. 

6. Be genuine.

Quoth the Bard, “to thine own self be true.” Nobody wants to talk or listen to a phony. People crave real connections with real people. So start real conversations, tell real stories, and really be yourself.

Yes, it’s true that being a thought leader requires, to some extent, building a public facade. But the goal is to build up a reputation that is “the best version of yourself” and not “an entirely different person.”

You want people to see you as an expert, yes. But you also want them to see you as a person. Because otherwise, they don’t need a business consultant or coach – they need an AI!

Final Thoughts

When you take away the buzzwords, being a thought leader is about building your reputation and being seen as an expert. It’s about making sure that people know that you are knowledgeable. That way, they know to reach out to you when they need help.

Start by figuring out what you’re good at, and commit to building your skill with time. Then come up with a way to create content that fits with your schedule. Make time for networking – with media, other experts, and your audience. And in all things, be a real, living, breathing human with hopes, fears, dreams, and war stories.

Do all this, and you can absolutely become a thought leader in your niche.

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