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

Most sophisticated professional services providers, such as lawyers, consultants, and accountants, aspire to be thought of as thought leaders. Thought leaders grab attention. They shape the narrative. Their ideas drive action. And their reputations lead to business opportunities. They’re trusted, admired, and sought after.

The moniker of thought leadership cannot be bought, it must earned through hard work. The work primarily involved in becoming a thought leader is the sharing of compelling, interesting, and opinion-shifting insights in the marketplace of ideas. Some thought leaders write. Others speak. Most do both.

Thought leaders come in all shapes and sizes—from bombastic, colorful extroverts most comfortable on stage, to the introverts among us who prefer the quiet solitude of a keyboard and a cup of coffee.

However, one thing all thought leaders have in common is that they have taken the time and committed the energy necessary to build a “platform,” which is the means through which a thought leader broadcasts his or her ideas to a target audience. If your ideas are going to spread, you need to build a following around them.

As Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, writes, “In the old days, you could stand on a small hill or a wooden stage to be heard. That was your platform.” Today, we think of platforms far differently. Instead of a small wooden stage, thought leaders leverage a variety of tools and resources to spread their ideas, including an email list, social media following, blog, professional network, access to media outlets, and relationships with industry influencers.

Too many professionals mistakenly believe that all they need to do is create high-quality content, post it on their firm’s website or newsletter, and it will make an impact. Good luck with that. Consumers of information have too many options and outlets available to them, so you can’t reasonably expect them to find your content—your content needs to find them.

To reach members your target audience, you need to hit them from all angles. You need to meet them where they are. You need to entice them to opt-in to receive your content. You need to build a platform.

Actions You Can Take to Build Your Platform

To give you a sense of what it takes to build a platform, allow me to share my own experience related to the launch of my most recent book. Having been through the process of publishing books before, I had the benefit of understanding that a book, like an article or blog post, will merely languish if not marketed through an omni-channel approach.

In the months leading up to my latest book launch, I took active steps to make sure that I had a platform in place to get the word out. Some of these steps included:

  • Bulking up my LinkedIn network by adding connections in the legal professional development space

  • Forming a launch team of attorneys and other legal professionals who shared the book with their own networks and wrote reviews on Amazon

  • Actively growing my email list

  • Writing content on my blog, on third-party sites such as Attorney at Work and JD Supra, and on LinkedIn, all for the purpose of introducing concepts from the book

  • Securing podcast interviews

  • Giving away the first chapter of the book to pique interest and gow my email list

  • Sending advance copies to media outlets to obtain coverage and reviews

  • Earning the opportunity to write a monthly expert opinion column on the issue of associate professional development on Law.com

  • Lining up speaking opportunities at conferences focused on attorney professional development

By taking these steps, I had an effective platform in place through which to spread my ideas and market the book. The hard work has paid dividends. Six months after launching the book—and keep in mind that most books quickly lose momentum shortly after launch—it’s on track in September for its best monthly sales performance. My platform is providing fuel for lasting success. The alternative would have been to publish and pray; to hope that somehow, some way, someone else would step in and assume responsibility for marketing my ideas.

If you want to become a thought leader, you need to start building a platform. Now. Platform-building doesn’t happen overnight. It takes diligence and patience.

But here’s some good news: You don’t need to build a massive platform in order to stand out and reap dividends yourself. If you have a niche focus to your practice, you can channel all of your platform-building efforts toward a niche audience. Indeed, if you know who you’re trying to get your ideas in front of, your platform doesn’t need to be big and broad, it can (and should) be narrow and densely populated with people that matter. A big platform is merely an unhelpful vanity metric if it’s not serving the purpose generating business development opportunities for you.

Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine, came up with a theory he calls “1,000 True Fans” to explain how big of an audience, or platform, is required to make an impact. He writes,  “A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author—in other words, anyone producing works of art—needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.” I would argue that the same principle applies when it comes to providing professional services given that in this industry one particular client or referral source who is a “True Fan” has the potential to make a significant impact on your bottom-line.

There are many steps you can take to build your platform. When coaching and consulting with individual lawyers and other professionals who aspire to become recognized thought leaders in industries they serve, the first step in the process is creating a strategic plan to define what their big idea is, what audience they want to reach, and identifying the content marketing tactics required to spread their message. Building a platform goes hand-in-hand with these priorities. A few of the most important, highest-ROI platform-building steps one can take include:

  1. Build an email list. Jobs, people, publishing and social media platforms come and go. Email is not going anywhere. If you have someone’s email address—particularly when it is given to you for the express purpose of sending someone your content—it allows you to communicate in a personal, direct manner. You can stay top of mind because you’re at the top of their inbox. Compile the email addresses of those you meet and work with in a list. Create a lead magnet that is a helpful resource to your target audience and offer it via your blog or website in exchange for someone’s email address. Use your email list to distribute content and create community around your ideas. Build an email list so you’re not at the mercy of other people’s permission when trying to spread your ideas.

  2. Make (the right) connections on social. Most thought leaders are actively engaged on social media—particularly LinkedIn. Social networks offer an incredible opportunity: to scale your ideas among your niche audience in a way that would never be possible without the network effects that social media enables. However, and to continue beating this drum, strategic focus and not size is what matters when making connections on social. You can make connections with anyone. But you should be connecting with members of your target market. Having a niche focus should inform everything you do on social networks, from how you craft your profile to what content you create and share. If your network is dense with people who are interested in what you have to say (as opposed to a network filled with people with disparate interests), the thought leadership content you share will resonate and spread.

  3. Guest post. Most professionals publish most of their content on their firm’s website or blog. This happens for several reasons. First, it’s easy. Second, they believe that there is an SEO benefit to having more content on their own platforms (which is true but short sighted). Third, they don’t take the time to explore the alternatives.

A better approach is to publish most content on third-party platforms. Executives, entrepreneurs, and other consumers of professional services are busy. When they spend time online, they’re visiting sites they know and trust—platforms that aggregate the best of what’s available online in one place. By understanding where members of their niche audience consume their information, professionals can seek to publish their thought leadership there.

By having their byline appear on a platform that the audience they are trying to reach already trusts, professionals can leverage the credibility that those platforms already have with their audience, thus helping the professional to build trust with new audience members. The content that is shared on those platforms creates a digital breadcrumb trail back to their own websites, and leads new readers to opt-in on email lists and connect on social media. You can’t just preach to the choir of your own platform. Thought leaders venture out and bring new people into the fold.

Don’t wait. Build your platform now. Build it so you’re not at the mercy of other gatekeepers to distribute your content. Build it to lay the groundwork for business development success. Build it because you have ideas inside of you waiting to come out. People are waiting for those ideas. They want to follow what you have to say.

But his won’t just happen. You have to make it happen. Build a platform.

Looking for more? Check out these related posts:

A Churchillian Approach to Personal Branding for Lawyers

The Ultimate Guide for Lawyers to Build Powerful Personal Brands Online in 2018

The Best Form of Legal Marketing: Building Influence and Authority Online by Demonstrating Thought Leadership


Are you looking to build your reputation as a thought leader in an industry you serve but don’t know where to start? Or are you looking to take your thought leadership efforts to the next level? I provide coaching and consulting services to lawyers, consultants, accountants, and other professionals who are looking to build influence, authority, and new business by becoming recognized experts in their fields. From thought leadership strategy to content creation to ongoing coaching services, I can help you to elevate your ideas and get them in front of people that matter. Email me at Jay@hcommunications.biz, call 313-432-0287, or simply click the button below to set up a free consultation to discuss your objectives. 

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