How to Position Your Founder as a Thought Leader on a Limited Budget

“Thought leadership” is one of the past decade’s business buzzwords, and it’s a good one! There are several definitions of thought leadership, all involving influence, inspiration, and implementation. There is one definition, in particular, I like by Denise Brosseau of Thought Leadership Lab:

“Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success. Over time, they create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale their ideas into sustainable change not just in one company but in an industry, niche or across an entire ecosystem.”

Thought leadership is an important component of many leaders’ business plans. And it certainly was for us. It helps spread your mission, vision, and overall company philosophy and ideas, which in turn helps attract clients, business partnerships, sponsors, employees, and other opportunities. Having a distinct viewpoint, never being indifferent to the ideas of the day, and consistently sharing your ideas, and well, thoughts, is all part of becoming a thought leader.

How Force Multipliers Can Help With Thought Leadership

One of the biggest benefits a Force Multiplier can provide to a Founder, especially in the early days of the organization, is helping to position their Exec as a thought leader to help communicate and scale the vision to reach a wider audience. For the first six years or so of working with my Executive, Adam, I was a one-woman PR firm and it paid off.

Now, hiring a public relations firm is certainly one way to go to get your Founder’s name on the thought leadership map. And it certainly may get you there faster, but it will cost you a significant sum of money. We happen to be a big fan of bootstrapping your way to the top. One, it forces you to hone your voice and message over the months and years while you’re building your brand and positioning yourself in the exact niche and industry you want to be known in. Two, it forces you to lead with revenue and get creative while you’re building your thought leadership.

Considerations When Spending Money on PR

It seems easier to pay for PR in the beginning, but at what cost? Will you really be able to maximize the return on that investment? Will you have enough products or services to offer to generate revenue to recoup the cost of the investment before you start seeing a profit? Maybe, maybe not. The decision to invest into marketing and PR to fast track your thought leadership positioning is ultimately up to your Founder, but take it from us, it’s not necessary! Now, ten years later, it’s an investment that we are considering making as we have established such a solid foundation of content, services, products, and ideas, that it only makes sense to turn on the faucet.

Low-Cost Strategies for Developing Thought Leaders

So, how did we establish that foundation in the first place? There wasn’t just one thing we did, but rather a series of strategic in-house public relations efforts that have been more than worth the sweat equity.

Here are 10 ways you can position your Founder as a thought leader for low or no cost!

#1 Run In-Person & Online Trainings

These are usually going to be free or low-cost offerings in the beginning. Hosting webinars or live Q&As on a subject that you are an expert on is a great way to start to get your name and ideas out into the world. In the early days of our companies, Adam would travel around the country taking every opportunity he could to speak and share his thoughts, successes, and failures. Now, this also includes virtual speaking engagements and online training sessions. Sometimes, it was as small as hopping on another company’s monthly team call and offering a few pieces of advice for five or ten minutes, other times it was as complex as hosting a two-day training event.

#2 Land Speaking Engagements

Work with your Founder to create two or three keynote speeches or trainings that he/she can offer (of varying lengths) and then start pitching your Founder for those opportunities. Start locally in your city with your Chamber of Commerce, entrepreneurship groups, and your local university. Once you have a few of these under your Founder’s belt, gather testimonials from the attendees, and continue looking for larger opportunities, regionally and nationally. Many industry conferences take speaker nominations. Do your research and put your Founder’s name forward often.

#3 Be a Guest Columnist or Guest Blogger

Find others in your industry (or in the field that your Founder aspires to be known in) who are doing it right and see if they are taking guest post submissions. Perhaps there is an industry magazine or a local business publication that speaks to your target audience. Many of these publications have guest columnist opportunities, and if they don’t, pitch a column to them! Online magazines and blogs are often looking for quality content in this day and age of extreme media consumption. As long as you’re providing value, it’s a great opportunity for both your Founder and the media platform to benefit.

#4 Get Podcast Guest Spots

It is extremely low-cost to create a podcast. You don’t need much more than a solid microphone and editing software. Creating your own is one way to go, but if your Founder is not quite ready to become a host, then booking your Exec as a guest on other podcasts is a great way to get his/her message out there. Before Adam launched his podcast last year, I would book as many guest podcast opportunities as I could for him each year – on podcasts that aligned with our company vision and overall thought leadership, of course. Yes, we did turn down some opportunities that just weren’t quite the right fit because we didn’t want to muddy our brand messaging, and that’s okay! Once the podcasts were live, we got additional exposure by sharing those episodes on social media.

#5 Build a Platform Using Video

The key here is to determine which social media platform you Founder wants to dominate when it comes to video and then go all-in on Facebook Live, IGTV or YouTube. Video is a great way to share your Exec’s ideas. You can connect directly to your audience through your words, tone, body language, and other visuals. Be consistent with when, how often, and where you are delivering your content so your audience can come to know what to expect from you, while solidifying your Founder as their go-to resource for his/her unique principles and ideas.

#6 Engage Using LinkedIn Articles & Groups

All social media platforms can play a big part of establishing your Founder as a thought leader. LinkedIn deserves a highlight because it is a great place for thought leadership for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Over the years, we’ve had many articles get circulated widely across LinkedIn, which have led to other interviews and speaking engagement opportunities. LinkedIn is where people are going for thought leadership, so add your Founder’s voice to the mix – purposefully and consistently – and other opportunities will follow.

Take it a step further by posting your Founder’s original articles or share other interesting articles (with your Founder’s unique perspective added!) in niche groups on LinkedIn. Again, groups are where people are going for business and career information, be there and ready to add value.

#7 Write a Blog

Much like a podcast, blogging is a very low cost (or no cost) way to create content and start sharing your Founder’s ideas on a weekly basis. Determine the niche you want to be known for and then start writing. For several years, before we launched our podcast, Adam wrote a weekly blog on all sorts of leadership topics and many of those blogs led to other opportunities, such as podcast appearances, speaking engagements, and print magazine articles, not to mention new clients and employees.

Staying true to your Founder’s voice, writing about topics that he/she is interested in and knowledgeable about while creating a consistent publishing schedule will help increase your Founder’s thought leadership status.

#8 Nominate Your Founder for Awards

While awards don’t specifically showcase your Founder’s thought leadership, they do lend credibility to the other content and work you produce. Yes, it does take some time to complete nomination forms and gather submission materials, but it’s well worth the effort. From local business awards to state-wide Best Places to Work awards to ranking on national industry-specific lists, they all provide a great way to showcase your Founder, your company, and what they both stand for.

Our company has been named to the Best Places to Work in Vermont list 4 years in a row and it has attracted many new team members to our company. We’ve also had two organizations make it onto Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 5000 list of Fastest Growing Companies over the course of several years. You’ve already done the work, why not get recognized and create a tailwind of other opportunities for your thought leadership to shine?

#9 Join Help a Reporter Out (HARO)

HARO is essentially a daily email listserve that connects journalists who are looking for expertise to include in their content with sources who have that expertise. Why shouldn’t that expert be your Founder!? I made it my mission to pitch Adam and our organizations as an expert source at least once a week for several years and it helped land us countless opportunities in articles and podcasts. Which, in turn, we also promoted through our own social media channels which only helped to increase our thought leadership reach overall. Win-win!

#10 Answer Questions… Everywhere

Whether it’s a direct email into your website or podcast, or a general question in a LinkedIn or Facebook group, if you or your Founder have value to add to the conversation and can provide your unique perspective and advice to the person asking the question – do it! For years, Adam and I purposefully entered groups that aligned with the company vision and answered any questions that we could. Provide value, then more value, and more value. Serve others and share your Founder’s ideas everywhere that it makes sense based on your thought leadership goals.

Force Multipliers are uniquely positioned to help their Founder/CEO become a thought leader. Who better than a Founder’s right hand to help clarify their vision, tell the story of the company, and pitch him/her for media opportunities?

All of the above activities require time, focus, and consistency to really make a difference, but it is absolutely time well spent.

How have you helped position your Founder as a thought leader?

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