Almost every business executive aspires to be regarded as a thought leader in his or her respective field. It comes with a lot of perks: gaining desired traffic, a huge following, exposure on other blogs, awards and even individual success such as making a name throughout an entire industry.

So how do you build a reputation as a singular expert — someone who doesn’t just participate in the conversation, but drives it? In a word: leverage.

No matter how brilliant and talented you are, you won’t be sufficiently appreciated within your industry or by your customers until the broader public recognizes you. This outside reinforcement becomes an echo chamber that offers respect and awareness.

But how does one become a respected thought leader? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Ask anyone how to get to Carnegie Hall and the answer will always be the same: “practice!”

Here are a few of my suggestions for jump-starting your thought leadership efforts:

  1. Become social. Blogs are a particularly good starting point because they showcase your knowledge — and search engines look for the frequent stream of fresh content. Good content is the key, of course, but so is making friends and connections (both online and offline) with other influencers and thought leaders in your industry and related industries by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube and sharing/liking and commenting on one another’s content.
  2. Generate Interesting Content. As you create your thought leadership strategy, it’s not enough to plan topics and then distribute. You have to understand how ideas evolve and spread. To be a true, sustainable thought leader, you have to remember there’s always something to gain from getting out of your comfort zone and looking beyond your product, service or industry and help the reader connect the dots to see the bigger vision, issue or opportunity that could affect them. True thought leadership is such a rare thing, but when it happens it’s very powerful.
  3. Guest Blogging. Once you’ve established some momentum, it’s time to branch out. Guest blogging allows you to share your thoughts on another industry site or blog. The best part of guest posting is that it allows you to enter an already-established community and share your message. Guest posts can be a good vehicle for building and sustaining thought leadership and associating your personal/corporate brand with a reputable news organization or influential blog.
  4. Get some press. Don’t shy away from promoting yourself. Identify the media that matters in your industry, monitor the headlines/news, and make it happen whether you choose to do it yourself or work with a PR firm. By gaining the extra visibility, you’re building mind share with third-party media organizations and exposing your personal/corporate brand to new audiences.
  5. Keep Current. Breaking news or fast-moving industry trends can be a great entry point for expressing your unique POV whether in the media or via your various content channels. By addressing the questions your customers are likely asking, you’re then providing value when and where it’s most needed.
  6. Stay In Good Company. A great way to solidify your reputation, cultivate relationships and/or foster new connections is to invite customers or partners to contribute to your blog. Better yet, I’m a big fan of the idea of interviewing customers/partners to create compelling content that puts you in good company while creating useful content. Also worthwhile is curating content from outside sources while adding your own perspective.

With all of these suggestions, the key is to not be “sales-y” or too self-promotional – that’s a huge no-no. It is really important to be completely neutral in your perspective. It’s not about you, your company or your product, but rather it’s about your (potential/existing) customer and your target audience.

What techniques do you employ to build a reputation as a thought leader?