How to increase your influence as thought leader in your industry

Black professional speaking, Black entrepreneur, Black woman
Being recognized as a thought leader can invite opportunities for panels, conferences, and even TV appearances.

  • To become a thought leader, founder Jennifer Spencer suggests focusing on a niche you’re already familiar with.
  • She says your thought leadership should reflect who you are, so stick to what you’re passionate about.
  • Having an influential voice will increase your credibility and boost exposure for your brand and advocacy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the online ecosystem for thought leadership has continued to populate, many have turned their attention away from social media numbers, worrying it’s too competitive. And while it’s true that the battle for an online footprint has never been more fierce, it’s also never been more important to claim your unique stake on the Internet and create content that proves that you’re an expert in your field.

The importance of building internet thought leadership cannot be understated. This can be done via guest-posting for credible publications, building out a watch series on video-compatible social media sites (like IGTV or YouTube) or posting regularly on Medium or LinkedIn. The following are the core reasons why building thought leadership through these means can be the boost you’ve been looking for in your career.

It denotes credibility

Nowadays, a byline for a major publication or a considerable social media following is the near-equivalent of a degree from a top-tier university. From a social perspective, it suggests that you have something to say that people want to listen to – large groups of people, specifically. Well-known publications only choose top writers and thought leaders to contribute, and while many call your social media following a vanity metric, it still says something about your credibility to onlookers.

This credibility matters for opportunities you may have your eye on. This could include speaking engagements at events or conferences, new career opportunities or even impressing key stakeholders like investors. Thought leadership entails that you stand behind a cutting-edge idea or concept in your respective industry, and that others look to you as a leader within it. Bylines and follower count prove this leadership, which means you’ll be at the top of the list for TV appearances, panels, and conferences where your opinion and research can offer value.

It creates exposure

The powerful part about a large audience is that it creates exposure for you, your brand, and what you can speak to. Every reader who finds an article you wrote for a publication is another set of eyeballs that can keep you top of mind for opportunities. Every social media follower who consistently tunes in for what you say is another set of eyeballs that can go to bat for you when their boss or a friend asks for a recommendation for a podcast guest or expert.

And they fold into one another. For every article you write that does well, more readers learn who you are and are likely to follow you on your social accounts. When you share your latest piece on your social accounts, you’ll get more readers.

Exposure also matters for marketing. Everyone who consumes the thought leadership content that you create is a potential customer, a potential investo or a potential repeat customer (and you’re proving your credibility to all of them).

Choosing your thought leadership niche

All of this sounds great; so how does one get started? Begin where you already have a significant amount of expertise. If you’ve started a business, what do you know that is critically important for other founders to know? If you’ve successfully raised money or invested, what have you learned? My top suggestion is to niche down. The best thought leaders have a clear and concise mission statement that helps them stand out amongst the noise of these admittedly competitive fields.

For example, rather than saying you’re a thought leader in “starting a business and raising your first round of funding,” perhaps you could tailor your content more specifically to address “how to find your first round of investors who share your company’s core values.” Then, add to this specific thought leadership niche with research about why a full startup team having shared values leads to explosive business growth, and how companies should create their pitch decks with this in mind. The more niche your content is, the more memorable you will be.

Don’t be in a rush to find something that sounds particularly enticing just for the sake of it. It’s important to let your genuine passion shine through. What do you genuinely want to research and talk about over the course of your career? Of course, you can pivot as your research and experience takes you down different paths, but for the most part, your thought leadership should reflect who you are, what your experience is and what you hope to continue to build.

Get started

The first step is to begin creating content. Many top publications expect to see a portfolio when you apply to be a contributor or submit a guest post, but this isn’t an “always” rule. A portfolio could consist of blog posts, articles for smaller publications, TV appearances, or a strong audience base on a platform like Instagram or Twitter where you specialize in sharing research and expertise around a niche topic.

Just ask social media thought leader Gary Vaynerchuk, who is a vocal advocate for thought leadership on social media. As he shared with CNBC, “Become a practitioner. Please don’t underestimate the social network ecosystem … it’s ccommunication. It’s not social media. Communication is fundamentally how the world turns; and I implore this audience to triple down on their efforts of being a written, audio or video communicator on the platforms.”

At the heart of it, communication is what thought leadership is really all about. The more you can take to writing, speaking, and sharing your message – backed by research, experience, and expertise – the more you can make a true difference in this world and attract compelling opportunities for your own career while doing so.

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The 5 best platforms for creating a professional website, whether you’re a beginner with no coding experience or are an HTML pro

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There are many good reasons to invest time (and even a little money) in a well-designed professional website. For one, more and more job applications are asking for them, with many certificate programs now including portfolios as part of the curriculum. 

But beyond practicality, building a personal website can be a fun and creative experience, allowing you to represent your skills, personality, and individuality. And thanks to many website-building platforms, users can generate their own sites without any coding knowledge.

“Some people are more creative than others, some are more technical than others, so it is only right that the deliverable we need from you is the one you’d feel comfortable showing,” says Mac Lofton, a lead user experience design instructor at General Assembly. “At the end of the day, what is important is that you have a website, so if you use a template site, like a Wix, or you use something more robust like WordPress, it is the same deliverable in allowing students an equal opportunity to express themselves based on their talents.” 

When it comes to picking a platform to build their site, Lofton says “the most common thing I see is students selling themselves short, saying ‘I want to [build] something easy, and then, once they jump in, they realize they’re more creative and they want something other than what they are provided [by their website builder of choice.] They find themselves stuck in a box; trapped into designing their portfolios in one kind of way.”

In order to combat this issue, Lofton suggests doing as much research as possible before hitting the purchase button on a website design platform or before publishing on a site. There are certain tools that should be expected from every site, like the ability to view the webpage on mobile, tablet, and desktop monitors before publishing or basic analytics tools, but there are still many important differences that should be considered depending on your skills and specific needs. (For example, a graphic artist might have different priorities than a journalist or UX designer).

Website Builder

To understand what these platforms are offering, it is important to know some basic terminology. For website making, you might hear terms like:

  • Widgets: The elements of a website that can be chosen from a list and dragged onto website pages to be customized. They can be fields in a submission form, links to social media accounts, or video players. These can be really helpful because you wouldn’t have to know the code needed to create a button – you could simply drag a button widget out and drop it onto the web page, as well as easily edit details like size, color, and font. 
  • Hosting: Where all of the content you upload to your website is stored and maintained so that it can be quickly and easily distributed to visitors on the site. Some platforms incorporate hosting, while others require you to find an outside host. 
  • Domain names: These are the website names, or URLs, that one might type in to get to your portfolio site. Computers need a string of numbers, called an IP address, to recognize pages on the internet, but humans need something that’s easier to remember. Domain names help give your website personality and make it easier for viewers to find your site. If the platform you’re using doesn’t offer a domain name, you can buy one through GoDaddy.Com or Google Domains
  • HTML and CSS: Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), and Cascading Style Sheets, (CSS), are standardized systems used to describe and create the elements of a webpage. An understanding of HTML might help you make simple changes to your site, like the background color or dimensions of a photo.

With the newfound importance of personal or small business websites, it is important to pick the right platform to build on, so that you are able to focus on showcasing your content (rather than get frustrated during the actual building process.) There’s no right or wrong platform to use – only the one that best serves your needs. 

Here are five platforms to consider for building your personal website: 

For easy and free customization

Wordpress Interface
  • Free with an optional $4 upgrade
  • Contains a website builder, host, and domain name

WordPress has something for everyone: There are plenty of options for those who have never made a site before, and lots of customizability for people with years of coding experience. 

WordPress’s free templates are a great place to experiment with the look of your website. There are 112 free themes — pre-built webpage styles — that users can customize by adding their own content. So long as you’re okay with having a wordpress.com UR, and the occasional WordPress logo in the footer of your website, WordPress’s free templates are a great way to figure out exactly what features you want for your website, without spending any money. WordPress is also a powerful host, so you can make the entire website just on the WordPress platform. 

If you choose to upgrade your site to a paid plan, or just buy simple new features à la carte, you can easily build off of what you’ve already made. If you have any coding knowledge, or want to expand on what you already know, WordPress gives you ample opportunity to customize your site by playing around with the HTML. 

You can watch WordPress tutorials on LinkedIn Learning or Udemy.

For a sleek, clean design

Squarespace Blog UI
  • $16 per month; or $12 per month for an annual plan
  • Contains a website builder, host, and domain name

Squarespace is visually appealing and, like WordPress, has a domain, host, and builder all in one place. Squarespace websites are beautiful because of templates that allow users to drag in prebuilt galleries of images, headlines, form fields, and more. 

But, however visually appealing, these templates are not all that customizable, so you won’t always be able to add animation within a component or dramatically shifting proportions of an element on the Squarespace platform. On the bright side, Squarespace does have many special template options to help you to sell products online, run a blog, showcase a portfolio, or meet other important needs. If you aren’t convinced Squarespace is the right choice for you, the site offers 14 day free trials. 

You can watch tutorials on LinkedIn Learning and see examples of Squarespace websites made by other creators.

Those interested in Squarespace’s simple and sleek features for beginners should also check out Wix, available for $14 per month. Like Squarespace, Wix is very popular among those new to making websites looking for a clean interface. Wix has slightly more customization when it comes to editing widgets and less of a focus on clean templates.

For Adobe fans

Adobe Portfolio
  • Free until 2021; $9.99 per month
  • Contains a website builder, host, and domain name

Adobe Portfolio has a lot of benefits for those already familiar with the Adobe Suite. It allows you to easily put images made in Photoshop or edited in Lightroom directly onto the site, or use the fonts you already have in your Creative Cloud account. 

It also uses similar commands to other Adobe products, so you don’t have to learn a totally new interface. Adobe Portfolio, like Squarespace, offers templates that users fill in with their content, hosts users’ content, and provides a domain name. Plus, if you already have an Adobe Creative Cloud account, or the Lightroom and Photoshop plan, Adobe Portfolio is totally free to use, making it a time and cost-saving option.

You can read more about designing an Adobe Portfolio on Adobe’s website.

For creative freedom

Simplice
  • $99 one-time payment for a Single Plan, or $138 for a Studio Plan
  • Contains a website builder; recommends outside hosting and domain name

Semplice can be accessed through a free WordPress dashboard and gives you a new interface to use, providing you with incredible amounts of creative freedom, movement, and beauty. Semplice is the place to go if you have a vision (and patience). It’s been used by Disney, Spotify, Google, and others, marketing itself as a site made for designers by designers, without requiring coding knowledge. 

I will admit that when I first downloaded Semplice, it wasn’t a stress-free process. In addition to the time it takes to understand its unique builder interfaces, Semplice also asked me to get my own domain name, which I purchased for $.99 through GoDaddy.com, and my own host. They recommended I use FlyWheel as a host, and, although Flywheel has helpful customer service staff, I later found out their price, $15 a month, is far more than other hosting sites like Bluehost or SiteGround

While using Semplice, it’s clear that there are some imaginative people working there. For example, instead of forcing users to wait for a site update to get new features, Semplice has a Hacks page that provides users with code they can drop into their sites on their own. Although the Semplice staff can’t help users with problems that might occur with the code, sharing this information empowers website makers to customize and learn on their own. Those interested in a challenge like Semplice should also check out Webflow ($12 a month) to see which site builder fits their needs. Webflow is free until you publicly publish the site, which gives users a nice chance to see if the builder is for them. Like Semplice, it allows for advanced options like animations and impressive user interaction.

For collaboration

Elementor
  • Between $0 and $199 a year
  • Contains a website builder; recommends outside hosting and domain name

Like Semplice, Elementor is accessed through WordPress, giving you a lot of widget, customization, and style options. Elementor is a great platform when it comes to working with teams, and does a good job letting users know what pages their teammates are working on through an easily accessible revision history. This can be helpful for businesses or anyone who wants a trusted editor to help make tweaks to a site. 

Elementor comes with 29 free basic widgets, including icons, toggles, progress bars, and testimonials. However, I found myself wanting to use some of the 58 paid widgets and looked up YouTube videos to see how they worked before paying to use them. Elementor took me the longest to get comfortable with, as every new element has tabs to edit the content, style, and other advanced options, so remembering exactly where to make each specific change was a learning process. However, all of these options mean that those who stick with Elementor have lots of freedom to tweak features to make them their own. 

You can watch Elementor tutorials on LinkedIn Learning.

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