But it could be that the biggest beneficiary of your thought leadership program is you. Here’s how that can work.
Thinking through your ideas in depth
In 2000, soon after I’d set up my own consulting practice, I thought of writing a book as a way to demonstrate credibility. I had a topic in mind: How business professionals could demonstrate expertise through publishing articles. Then, I had another couple of thoughts – “Is this a big enough topic for a book?” and “Do I know enough about the subject to fill up a book?”
But despite those negative voices in my head, I decided to plow ahead.
I approached the acquisitions editor of a professional association I was part of, and set a meeting with their acquisitions editor. I can still remember that meeting – in Alexandria VA, beside the Potomac River. We sat on an outside patio in the muggy DC heat, interrupted by occasional roars from aircraft on climbout from the nearby Reagan National Airport.
I described my idea to the acquisitions editor and she was quite enthusiastic, in an editor’s crusty way, giving me the encouragement I needed. And it was clear that her opinion had weight – she had been a senior member of the team at a major New York publisher, moreover had a clear idea of what the market was like.
Having her support got me going on the manuscript, but the big insight came as I started to fill up the chapters. Then, I realized that there was more to the topic than I’d thought, and ideas for more chapters just kept coming, much like the planes at the airport during the meeting. One of the biggest benefits to that book was that it made me think through what I’d been doing as part of my work.
That’s one of the biggest benefits-to-you from your thought leadership plan – faced with an empty computer screen, that must be filled with words, you start to dig deeper into your brain to pull out more insights. Once brought to consciousness, you can refine those ideas and put them to work for your clients. So, that’s the first benefit to creating content, even if you don’t go on to get it published – it makes you think.
Looking at your work from your clients’ perspective
Every industry or economic sector faces its own unique set of challenges. So do clients. This means that the solutions you come up with must fit in with their specific needs – and the thought leadership content you develop is a great way to show that you “get it.”
It also matters to the editors of niche publications – they want to have content that is developed specifically for their readers. Blog Post #34 talks about how you can find out which niche publications are best for serving your market.
I saw this a few years ago when working with a client in Vancouver, Canada, who is an expert on using remote imaging – data collected from satellite sensors, including topography. My client, who holds a PhD in the subject, showed serious depth of understanding of the technology, and how it could be used to determine changes in topography.
She wanted to use it in the mining sector, and particularly the problem of subsidence – what happens when disused mine tunnels collapse, so that the ground over the tunnels subsides. This can cause big problems for roads, railways, buildings and can even cause changes to streams, rivers and lakes. It’s a big problem for the mining sector, in that it exposes them to legal liability – damages claims and fines for environmental violations.
The benefit to remote sensing, my PhD author told me, is that it can detect changes in topography much more quickly than can be done using ground-based technology involving theodolites and boots on the ground.
But what she hadn’t thought through, it became clear, was how this speed advantage would work out in the world of mining. How would mining companies benefit from getting subsidence results quickly and easily? When I asked her this question, there was a pause at the other end of the line. I could almost hear the wheels and gears going around inside the mind of this brilliant scientist.
Then, she responded. Remote sensing would allow mining companies to take action on a subsidence problem before it became serious, she replied. If they were able to backfill or otherwise support workings that had a potential to collapse, they could prevent watercourse changes, highway damage and foundation cracking. This would reduce long-term costs. So, we worked that benefit into the start of the article, to catch clients’ attention.
In working with technical professionals such as her, I like to describe the process “moving from the laboratory to the boardroom,” in that they learn how their ideas play out in meeting the specific needs of their clients.
Generally, this has to do with earning more money, saving money, reducing liability, reducing uncertainty and saving time. If you can’t present your service in a way that does one of these things, you need to find a way to do so. Otherwise, your clients won’t buy what you’re selling.
One of the best ways to focus your content on your market’s needs is through “newsjacking,” which means (as described in Post #6) finding news that matters to your clients and then creating content around it. It could be a new regulation, law, legal precedent or other news item that matters specifically to your clients. If you can explain your service as a way to help them deal with the new reality in their world, they’ll be more likely to pay attention.
Doing research makes you stronger
How do you find out those industry-specific features that will help you sell your service? Content creation is part of the answer. If you do research on your target industry, you’ll get to know who are the heavy hitters and influencers. You can then engage with them as part of your research. Just about anyone is flattered to be asked their views on the industry, and this means that they’ll come to like you.
That research can involve reading their industry publications and association websites, spending time inside their LinkedIn groups, and following the right people on Twitter. Go further with interviews, either in person or remotely.
But just doing the research needed to create relevant content helps to inform you of the issues your clients are facing, and that helps you target your conversations to their needs.
So there you have it – three benefits to creating content, that help you in the rest of your professional life, which work even if you don’t get the content published. It forces you to think through your ideas in depth, apply your ideas to the needs of your clients, and to take steps to find out more.
But if you go further and make your insights available to others, you’ve helped them, as well as helping yourself.