By Aaron Joslow
Many professionals have the potential to become thought leaders, but don't. Two problems stop them. They either do not realize they could become thought leaders, and never bother expressing their expertise. Or, if they do express themselves, they do it halfway, publishing a collection of shop-worn phrases and half-articulated concepts instead of fully-developed ideas.
These problems take a subtle but profound toll on firms and professionals. The major costs are threefold:
- Poverty of Content: Whitepapers go unwritten, speeches go unsaid, seminars never happen and webinars never occur. Your marketing suffers because you have no value-based offers that demonstrate your expertise to your prospects.
- Bland Culture: From thought leadership springs internal discussion and debate. A culture without it ho-hums along without the excitement and growth of vigorous debate. Internal people get bored, lose passion from doing the same thing, will become less productive, and, the good ones, may well leave.
- No Stage Lights: Prospects and fellow professionals never relate to you or your firm as experts. You lose business because you fail to pique buyers' interest and have no accolades because, without content, there is nothing to reward.
Professional services firms depend on brainpower. These three costs leech a firm of it.
It takes a two-stage effort to overcome this and fully tap your firm's brainpower. Hopefully, the above list inspires you to take the following steps.
"Me?" "Yes, you."
My former colleague Robert Croston gave a keynote speech at an Association for Accounting Marketing event some time ago. During the concluding Q&A, a man rose and said, "You've been talking about thought leader this, thought leader that. What makes a thought leader?"
"Let's take you for instance," Bob said. "What's your position?"
"I'm a principal."
"And how much experience do you have?"
"How big is your firm?"
"It's one of the five largest IT-specialized accounting firms in the Chicago area."
"Okay," Bob said. "Say you were asked to write, 'The Five Things IT Firms Must Be Wary of Come Tax Season.' Could you?"
He paused. "I could."
"Well then, you're a thought leader."
The principal, until that moment, never related to himself as someone who could take the initiative to share his expertise with the business community and marketplace. His obvious qualifications were instantly apparent to everyone in the audience and yet, in 25 years, it never dawned on him.
A variety of reasons could have blinded him to this (and others to theirs). He may have focused on his day-to-day business demands and not on how his years of business knowledge could translate into content. He may have let fear or a lack of confidence stop him.
Regardless, consider your years of experience and amassed expertise. Brainstorm ideas and start writing. You have insights to share that will make a financial difference for your firm.
The Search for Clarity
Do you see it? Do you see you have relevant experience to share? Good. You've completed stage one of attacking the thought leadership drain at your firm.
Stage two: Preventing shop-worn phrases and half-articulated ideas from taking over.
Look at your experiences. During your tenure, you have no doubt learned lessons, lost and retained clients, and developed effective habits that have earned you your position.
Talk with a colleague about the most interesting business conversations you've had in the past few months. Jot down the gist of what you say. Then, develop those rough notes into publishable content.
These topics do not involve research or fretting about what's right and wrong. This is an act of sharing your experiences and perspective.
Here's the key: Whichever topics you pick, demand clarity from your writing.
I mention clarity here so that you, the writer, circle each unclear sentence, phrase and word. Each spot is a place to start digging.
Renowned author Joan Didion said, "I don't know what I think until I write it down." That is a truth for most everyone. And striving for clarity is essential because it gives you a place to start, and continue, writing and developing your ideas.
It forces you to dismantle each assumption and cumbersome phrase. In the rubble, you'll find wonderful ideas, insights and perspectives that you have taken for granted and, which if properly explained, make for compelling content. Ultimately, the search for clarity in your writing works as a reliable and swift guide into your journey of becoming a thought leader.
Many people have railed against unclear, jargon-laced writing and offer tips for writing clearly. David Meerman Scott wrote the excellent "Gobbledygook Manifesto." From afar, Bill Zissner, with On Writing Well, and George Orwell, with "Politics and the English Language," have written classic texts. I leave this task to them.
My goal here is for professionals to want to write clearly and to want to reap its benefits.
The End Result
I grant that most professionals in your firm will not write seminal white papers for you to mail to clients and prospects. But they can participate in local panels or submit articles to print and online publications.
The finished product does matter, but the process matters just as much. Sharing what you know, discussing it, and writing it down prevents the three costs of brain drain I listed at the beginning of the article.
Striving to clearly write your thoughts about professional services contributes to a healthy culture, cultivates talent, smoothes internal operations, hones ideas, and helps you demonstrate your expertise to prospects and clients.
The sum of this activity will make your firm more competitive. Not only because sharing expertise can position professionals at your company as thought leaders, but also because time spent writing allows for individuals to grow, and that makes your firm more valuable.
Aaron Joslow is a principal at Rally Point Webinars who specializes in content development and webinar implementation. Click here to email Aaron.