Many professionals instinctively know that writing (or creating other content) about your area of expertise demonstrates your thought leadership. Yet many professionals don’t do anything with that knowledge. When you have achieved a certain level of expertise and experience, sharing what you know serves several purposes:
- You can give back to your professional community.
- You can teach others who aren’t as far along or who have had different experiences than you have had.
- You refine and increase your own expertise when you write, teach, and share with others.
- You open the door to new opportunities when more people learn about you and your expertise.
Some of you may be reluctant to toot your own horn, but let me encourage you to set that aside with this reminder: No one else is in charge of promoting you and your expertise. You are the brand manager of what Tom Peters first called in 1997 “the brand called You.” Your boss — no matter how much they love you — won’t do it. They’re busy worrying about their own brand.
I always loved the idea that my work might speak for itself. It’s not that that it can’t; but in our overly cluttered media landscape, my work is a tiny voice. (And frankly, doing the kind of work I do, my work is often invisible and requires explanation to the outside observer, including prospective clients.) I need to amplify the impact of my work, and you do, too.
So, writing for thought leadership. Let’s do this thing.
There are only two hard parts:
- Learning to capture your ideas
- Getting into a publishing routine
Fortunately, neither of these two challenges are really significant barriers if you know how to handle them. I’m going to let you in on one of my biggest life secrets:
Any time something seems intimidating, you haven’t chunked it into small enough pieces yet.
Capturing your brilliant ideas to create thought leadership
I talk to people all the time who say, “I know I should be writing, but I don’t have any idea what to say.” That’s BS. Everyone has something to say. I suspect it’s more likely:
- You’re scared to say it. (Read my post on dealing with fear in thought leadership.)
- You’re scared it’s not original.
- You’re not looking at your ideas as content.
Let’s talk more about the first two challenges soon — I’ll link this post to future posts as soon as I can — and let’s deal today with the third barrier: You’re not seeing your ideas as content. Let’s chunk that into a process you can follow.
- You’ve got to have an idea.
- You’ve got to recognize it as a publish-able idea.
- You have to capture it.
- You have to put it where you can use it when you have time to write (podcast, video blog, create a presentation, etc.).
I’m crossing off Item 1 right now. You are human. You do work. You have ideas.
You’ve got to have an idea.
Done. However—and I don’t minimize this because it stumps even the most prolific creators at times—you may not always recognize your ideas as worthy of publishing. At the risk of turning this from a blog post into a book, I want to dive into this a bit.
See the publishing possibilities
First, a story. Several years ago, Megan Pacella and I put together some work for a client. It’s the kind of thing we do every day around here. We certainly thought about the work and were intentional about it, but we didn’t think of it as anything out of the ordinary. We went to the meeting, presented it to the client, and they gushed. Yes, gushed. They thought it was brilliant.
We talked about it afterward, and I’ve referred to that moment many times since that day. We all need those reminders that we may actually be very good at what we do. All those hours studying and thinking and honing our craft really do add up to something. And they are very meaningful to your clients, your team, your organization, your whoever-you-serve.
You are most likely having those kinds of moments all the time…you’re doing something fantastic but it’s become like water to you and you can’t see it that way.
So step 1 is, think about the things you do every day: Things you do that are routine, or your special way of doing it, or something new you learned. Any of these will work.
Capture those ideas
You need to make those ideas available to you when you sit down to write or create. For many years after I trained myself to recognize those ideas, I didn’t capture them. Inevitably, they arrive when I’m in the middle of something else: Working on a deadline. Driving the car. Showering. Cooking dinner. Whatever. I can’t write a blog post right that minute.
There’s not a right way to capture and save those ideas, but there is a right way for you. There are only two requirements: The right way must be accessible when you tend to have the ideas, and it must be available when you get ready to create.
Here are some simple ideas. Which one will work for you?
- A small blank notebook and a pen that you stick in your pocket or purse everywhere you go.
- Voice dictation to your phone’s default note-taking or reminder app.
- Voice dictation to a special program like Evernote.
- Email-to-draft post for your blog.
There are millions of other options, particularly if you start thinking about technology like IFTTT. It doesn’t matter which one you pick. Pick one. Try it for a month.
Write down/dictate/email/whatever every single passing thought you have. If you think, I was pleased with how that worked…write it down. Or, I need to remember to tell Sam about this…write it down. Or, I could use that fact in my presentation…write it down. Or, I disagree with the perspective in that article…write it down.
Here’s an important part: Do not stop capturing ideas. The more ideas you capture, the more you will have. These ideas will spawn new ideas. They will get together in your notebook and procreate.
Once you are in the routine of capturing ideas, pat yourself on the back. You have won a very hard battle! Use inertia to keep yourself going. Never stop capturing ideas, even if you’re not working on a new piece right now. You will be soon.
Get into a publishing routine for your thought leadership
The other tricky part is turning those ideas into a form that’s accessible to the world around you. Most of us trap the vast majority of brilliance in our own heads and do not share it with anyone else. No one. Stop it!
You’ve probably heard writing compared to opening a vein and bleeding; I’ll say that’s true in the positive and negative senses. Yes, you can get it to just flow out of you. Yes, it may take some life force from you.
I return here to my thoughts above about chunking up your work. If you’re not already in the habit of writing/creating regularly, you have to schedule this time on your calendar. (Even if you are in the habit, you probably need to schedule it, because anyone who’s got something worth saying is probably also busy.)
When it is time, sit down to write. Pull out your notebook, or open your notes app, and read through your ideas quickly. Pick the first one that strikes you and start writing.
Ignore the editor’s voice in your head
Here’s where you may run into trouble quickly: You start to critique your own work as you write.
- “I don’t have enough to say about that.” (There’s no rule about how much you have to say.)
- “I don’t like the direction this is going.” (No rules about starting one place and ending up in another.)
- “That’s not what I started out to say.” (So change the title to what you did say.)
- “Somebody wrote about this better before.” (Soooo many options here. Link to what they wrote and add your insight. Share the part where you disagree. Quote a sentence or two from their piece and explain why you think it’s so important that everyone read it.)
The point is, when it’s writing time, it’s not editing time. Those are two separate times. When you’re writing, your goal is to put the ideas down on paper. Metaphorically speaking. Only Alton Brown gets away with using paper in his online thought leadership publications in 2017. (Seriously, the man comments on tweets with post-it notes. It is simultaneously brilliant, meta, and bizarre. Well worth the follow.)
— Alton Brown (@altonbrown) April 17, 2017
Thought leadership publishing schedule insight
I’ve got another “doh!” idea for you. Your creation schedule and your publishing schedule do not have to be the same schedule. You can sit down on a Sunday afternoon and crank out three blog posts for the week and schedule them to post at the times you choose. You can collect articles you’ve liked all week long, and set up links to them with your commentary to publish on LinkedIn or Twitter over the next few days. Or you can do it as you go, if your schedule allows.
Despite not always taking my own advice here, I highly recommend using a regular publishing schedule, no matter what your creation schedule looks like. You can experiment to find the best creation and publishing schedules for you, of course. But I like getting little things out daily, medium-sized things 1-2 times a week, and at least one large piece a week—to make a real impact.
Here’s a critical piece for me: I need reminders. It is super-easy to put off the work when you are your own client. But remember the adage about paying yourself first? Same goes for thought leadership publishing. Schedule your time first and protect it. Your organization succeeds when you gain stature in your industry. You succeed when you build your network by publishing. It all adds up. Do not put it off.
What are your tips?
I’m curious to hear your tips for identifying ideas and publishing work to demonstrate your thought leadership. I’d also love feedback on other things that are significant barriers to you in doing this work. I’d like to share ideas on overcoming them in future columns!