It’s estimated that a quarter of the American workforce are solopreneurs. With so many millions of solo-professionals – from business consultants and life coaches to freelance writers and web designers – there’s a lot of fierce competition. And this is why being a thought leader is so essential for any ambitious solopreneur, especially those aiming for a six-figure income.
Thought leadership is a controversial term these days. There’s a deep polarity in peoples’ reactions. Many embrace the term, while others reject it as pompous and mock those who rush to identify with it. Yet it’s also true that most people don’t really understand what the term means, and why it’s so important for business owners.
What is thought leadership?
Essentially, thought leadership is sharing in-depth opinion with a target audience which positions you as a go-to expert. True thought leaders – as opposed to those who merely label themselves as such – reach deep into their direct experience, knowledge, and passion to answer the most pressing questions in their field.
A quality of genuine thought leadership is consistency. Thought leaders show up regularly, with insights and tips, based on thorough research and real results. As such, they lead the way in how people think about a certain topic or issue.
Why solopreneurs need to be thought leaders
The word ‘leadership’ might signal that the term doesn’t much apply to solopreneurship. After all, as a solo-professional, you’re in charge of just yourself. You might collaborate with other professionals or delegate work to other solos but practically, you’re not exactly a leader.
Yet thought leadership is something different and it’s an essential quality and practice for solopreneurs seeking to strengthen their personal brand and its reach.
Thought leadership is the essence behind a successful content marketing strategy. Many freelancers, solopreneurs, and operators of a side hustle, write content and share on social media but in many cases, these are simply rehashed concepts from other people.
Real thought-leading solopreneurs do something different and as a result, are noticed, followed, liked, and most importantly of all, hired. They are soon booked solid with clients or deluged with product sales.
How to be a thought leader
So how do you, as an ambitious solopreneur, become a thought leader?
Know your stuff
Thought leadership requires knowledge and expertise. You need to know your stuff. People will see through an amateur trying to portray an expert status in a particular field of knowledge or skill.
As a solopreneur, working every day with clients or creating products, you’ll have a good handle on what works, and what doesn’t, in your chosen specialism. Focus your insights on your experiences and the world you know inside and out. Don’t try to be something you’re not.
Know your audience
Part of being able to reach and influence people is knowing your audience. For some solopreneurs, particularly specialist industry freelancers or solopreneurs developing niche products, the audience is obvious.
But for solopreneurs who target a broader range of people, it’s key to define just who you want to reach with your content marketing, brand message, and insights. Doing so will allow you to talk in their language and connect on a deeper level. All thought leaders have a ‘tribe’ to which they direct their focus.
Define your unique personal brand
Your personal brand as a solo-professional is the sum of your knowledge, your services and products, your life experiences, and your audience. It’s important to carefully and intelligently craft your unique personal brand so as to appeal to your target market and position yourself as the expert you are.
However, your brand will also evolve naturally over time, gently pivoting and growing. What’s most important is to know who you are as a person and how and why you can help other people achieve success, satisfaction, or comfort. When you know all this with complete clarity then your brand and thought leadership is so much stronger.
Stand for something
Influential business leaders and entrepreneurs all have something in common, apart from the ability to lead well. They stand for something. They dream big. They have their ideas and their beliefs which they share unapologetically to the world. This makes people sit up and notice. The details and the concepts may change over time but these thought leaders are fearless when it comes to expressing what they believe in.
Similarly, as a solopreneur, it’s vital to stand for something you believe in related to your work. You’ll portray strength, experience, knowledge, and leadership, which for service providers are attractive attributes.
Stay on top of industry developments
Knowledge and experience are important but they can easily go out-of-date, especially when it comes to digital careers. Top thought leaders consistently stay on top of industry developments in their specialist fields. Every day, they learn something new, top up their expertise, and adapt to an ever changing environment.
For you as a solopreneur, providing services and products to paying clients and customers, it’s essential you’re at the forefront of what you do. Stay educated and aware of everything in your niche, and share your findings and your unique perspective with your audience.
Study and embrace leadership qualities
As mentioned, leadership qualities in a solo-professional might seem redundant. After all, you’re not leading an in-house team or a big corporation. Most of the time you are sitting by yourself in your home office or a coworking space liaising with clients and collaboration partners as equals.
Yet leadership still matters. It matters in how prospects perceive you. Clients want a leader to help them with their project. They want the best.
Take time to study leadership qualities and embrace the leadership styles used by the most successful names in your specialist area. This knowledge will help you both in leading yourself – a much underrated skill – and in leading the people you help.
You’ll also find thought leadership stems naturally from the cultivation of leadership qualities.
Being a thought leader as a solopreneur
Thought leadership has been tarnished as a term in recent years. This has predominantly been due to people self-labeling themselves as thought leaders when in reality they are anything but. Anyone can claim a title but it’s often those who avoid such titles in the first place who are the true drivers of new ideas, insights and strategies.
In fact, it’s for other people to define you as a thought leader.
Just like your personal brand can be intelligently designed and honed, it’s what other people perceive it to be that ultimately dictates the type of people and work you attract.