How to Become a Thought Leader in 60 Minutes or Less

Lawyers, accountants and other professional service providers are constantly battling the scarcity of time. For those who bill hours for a living, time literally is money. And for those still clawing their way toward senior partner, there is a never-ending battle for that time — competing forces of billable time versus building the book of business — a conundrum I addressed at length recently.

Until someone invents additional hours in the day, we’re faced with reality: limits on our precious time. Where do we find it? How do we choose to spend it? Until and unless you’ve committed to selling yourself an hour a day, you’re likely struggling to find time to commit to business development.

But as I argued, your marketing program can and should run largely without you, which frees you of the burden to generate leads, and allows you to spend time practicing your profession and focusing business development time and efforts only on pre-qualified inbound opportunities.

What if I told you that you only needed to carve out 60 minutes or less every six to eight weeks in order to establish a well-oiled marketing machine?

Time is Fleeting; Your Content Shouldn’t Be

There is a great deal of conversation in our industry about the distinction between “unicorn content” and “donkey content.” Generally speaking, “donkey content” is the content that marketers churn out frequently, serving as a workhorse of consistent and constant delivery. It runs the risk of being swept away by the content tide, going tragically unnoticed by users scrolling numbedly through a LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook stream. “Unicorn content,” on the other hand, has the power to stand different...get noticed. It takes longer to generate, but it has a longer shelf-life — and greater impact.


Donkey content runs wide: It covers a lot of different topics and is, by virtue of its constant publication, varied in subject matter and theme. Unicorn content cuts deep. It may tackle only a single piece of subject matter, but it explores it with greater emphasis, depth and scrutiny. In running deep, you invite an audience into a more intimate relationship with your expertise, thereby establishing a greater degree of trust and authority.

Unicorn content aligns strategically with the value in establishing a niche — both in your practice of law (or other service) and in your content marketing strategy. Unicorn content in a niche practice area translates to bonafide thought leadership. And thought leadership establishes reputation and invites queries (business opportunities) into matters that require specialized expertise.

The 60-Minute Thought Leader

Once a subject matter expert becomes a recognized thought leader, the time commitment required to engage in content development will be better understood and more highly valued. As opportunities flow in as the result of a coordinated thought leadership campaign, the return will become self-evident. But early on, busy lawyers and like professionals struggle with carving out time to create content.

But let’s say you can spare 30-45 minutes. How would you spend it?

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Step I: The Blog

There’s always something to write about. Identify a significant trend or development within your niche, and dissect its importance for your target audience. Spend 30 minutes downloading your thoughts and opinions to someone capable of formulating a written piece of thought leadership. Consider this a post for your firm’s blog. Depending on the requisite level of technical expertise, this can be largely handed off to a junior associate, an assistant, a freelance writer, the marketing department, etc., in the form of a thoughtfully executed interview. You’ll need to carve out some time to review their work, make edits, and bless its final publishing, but you’re still likely under an hour of time (if your writer is capable). Voila! You have the first pillar of content: a blog post. But it doesn’t stop there...

Step II: Data Visualization

I mentioned the all-too fleeting nature of social media consumption these days. Let’s face it: Even your most polished and professional blog entry won’t get read by a sufficient number of social media connections the first time you post it. People scroll...waiting for something to catch their eye. That something might be an interesting headline or a timely topic, but even more likely to stand out is an image. No, not a stock image embedded carelessly into the post, but a graphic (or infographic) that conveys the subject matter visually. Both the intellectual and emotional cortexes of the brain respond to visual stimuli more quickly than the written word. So get your design team to understand the content you just published, and have them create a corresponding infographic. This can be embedded into the blog post you just had published, employed as an eye-catcher on social media, or simply used as a stand-alone piece of content that is shared separately from the blog post itself. That will reinforce your expertise in a way that will likely stand out in a crowded stream of competing written content. In other words, like a unicorn.

Step III: Video

Video has become the most-consumed form of content online. People who don’t like to read prefer to watch. Video is certainly a viable format through which to convey thought leadership, and it still has the benefit of being somewhat of a unicorn in the professional services realm. If your competitors are simply churning out written content, you will stand apart and above by offering video thought leadership. Remember that 30 minutes you carved out to download your thoughts to a ghost writer? Consider having that session professionally recorded (or even by an amateur). Most likely, that interview can be cut into bite-sized segments, say 30 seconds to two minutes, and periodically distributed on social media and other online fora. A really good video editor will even be able to convert your thought leadership commentary into “explainer” videos, which are extremely popular, both in their production and consumption. Video has a way of converting complex subject matter into understandable and relatable expertise — something to consider if members of your target audience are not themselves technical experts in your niche.

Step IV: Don’t Forget Email

It may seem a bit analog in today’s increasingly digital marketplace, but email still has the power to reach a mass audience efficiently. Your firm has cultivated a list of converts, most of whom will be willing to evangelize on your behalf. These are current clients, referral sources, and interested prospects who have signed up to receive your content. They are partially or wholly down the sales funnel, and are among the most likely to consider hiring you or referring you to a friend. Make sure your blog post finds a place in the next publication of your firm’s e-newsletter. And don’t be afraid to personally and directly email a link to the post to your closest confidants and current prospect list.

Step V: Presentation Assets

Master-level content producers can further take that content and create a white paper, e-book or other presentation out of it. Such presentations can be published to content communities like SlideShare, used as a backdrop to a keynote address, or deployed as a lead magnet on your website. Promote the e-book, but request an email address in exchange for your content. Now you have one of those inbound, pre-qualified leads to follow up on, as referenced earlier. 

Step VI: Syndication

Having content live on your own firm’s website is certainly valuable and critical. It establishes domain authority, it builds thought leadership reputation, and serves well to optimize the site for search engine rank and authority. But not all of your prospective clients will be frequent visitors to your site. Instead, they are looking for content and expertise within the niche content communities to which they retreat. Auto suppliers, for example, belong to associations of their peers. They read these association and trade magazines and newsletters, they attend their niche-specific conferences and events. If you truly want to attract inbound opportunities, you need to drop the line where the fish are. These associations and media are looking for content and expertise. If you can use your topic to pitch a guest post on a popular industry website or magazine, you will not only achieve broader visibility for your content, but also benefit from an implicit validation of your expertise by virtue of the third-party endorsement. It becomes recognized that a respected industry resource invited you to contribute to their content...that carries a ton of weight!

Step VII: Talks and Keynotes

Looking to land a speaking opportunity? Talks and keynote addresses are great ways to establish a reputation as a thought leader. Simply by virtue of your placement on a panel or time behind the podium, you’ll establish yourself as an authoritative voice in front of your target audience. With your recently published blog post, you have all the makings of a speaker’s abstract or panel proposal, and you have demonstrated prior expertise to a committee choosing its next speaker among myriad submissions.

Closing Arguments

There you have it: You carved out 60 minutes or less, and you generated enough content to fuel 6-8 weeks of a thought leadership program. In doing so, you went deep on one topic, not wide on dozens. You became a unicorn, not another donkey. And you reinforced your expertise in a wide range of media, delivery methodology, sensory stimuli, and audience segment. In other words, you became a thought leader...and you didn’t have to make it your second full-time job to get there.

Looking for more? Check out these related posts:

Advice from a Billionaire Lawyer: Sell Yourself One Hour Each Day

Why Lawyers Should Give Away Their Best Ideas for Free

Want to Become a Thought Leader? You Need to Build a Platform

We work with professional services firms to develop content marketing strategies, create visual storytelling assets, and build brands and websites that lead to new business.

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If you’re interested in increasing the returns on your marketing investments, contact me at or 313.432.0287 ext. 6 to set up a free consultation to discuss how we can work together to define clear goals, create a specific plan of action, and implement marketing tactics that will help your firm grow.

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