In accounting, expertise is KING. Not surprisingly, this is identified as the top selection criteria for businesses when choosing an accountant. But even amongst the profession, knowledge abounds. So how does one go about setting themselves and their practice above the others in the mind of the market?
Enter the concept of thought leadership. By now you’ve heard of it, and may even be wary that it’s nothing more than marketing jargon, the buzzword du jour, or a flash-in-the-pan, success-building trend.
Sure, it sounds great to be a thought leader and all, but how does it actually impact the bottom line?
It’s simple. People value knowledge. People recognize where their own expertise ends, and are willing to pay handsomely for the security of placing significant business concerns in the hands of an expert.
You might not be surprised to learn that people are willing to pay more for the service of industry leaders. But you probably didn’t know that people are willing to pay the highest profile leaders over 14 times that of the standard professional (Source: Hinge Resource Institute)?
14 times more. Let that sink in for a bit.
Do You Have What it Takes?
First, don’t let yourself get intimidated by the platitudinal moniker of “thought leadership.” Don’t assume what you have to say isn’t valuable, or that you can’t become a thought leader.
It’s just a different approach. It’s not unlike the difference between a classical piano instructor and a concert pianist.
Both are highly skilled. Both are passionate. And both have years of experience.
The difference with the concert pianist is that he or she has chosen to take their music to a larger direct audience and present their talents publicly with all of the risks, responsibilities and accolades that come from a solid performance. Not only that, they adopt a leadership role, working to inspire others to elevate the craft at large.
That’s not to say that it’s an easy leap from expert to thought leader, but rather one that can be approached methodically, like any skill.
Many Types of Fish, Many Types of Ponds
Of course there are thought leaders in any industry that have made a global name for themselves, but that’s not the only pond to play in. Trade organizations, for example, are frequently launching regional versions of their primary events, which still include similar content formats (e.g. speakers, breakout sessions, etc.)
The digital ecosystem is continuing to grow in its ability to link prospects and service providers, and with sites like LinkedIn encouraging their members to blog directly in-platform, the possibilities of reach within a targeted segment are enormous, regardless of where you call home.
What am I passionate about?
There’s a belief that how something is said is as important as what is said. It’s true. We can all relate to being enthralled by someone speaking on a topic, even when we don’t find that particular topic interesting at all. So what’s the secret?
It’s passion. It’s charisma. It’s the ability to detect that the person speaking (or writing) has a genuine interest in what they’re talking about, and have a passion for communicating it to an audience.
And conversely, we can all detect general disinterest or feigned interest. So ask yourself. What am I enthusiastic about? What can I make interesting for others? How can I inspire my audience, and what is something that I feel that I can communicate in a better, different, or more compelling way than others can?
THAT is thought leadership at its core. It’s the ability to take what you know and inspire, engage, and empower an audience.
What Does My Audience Want to Know?
Good question. After all, if you’re the most brilliant human alive regarding topics no one cares about, what’s the point? Again, it comes back to the beauty of the information age, and there’s a variety of methods to get into the heads of your market.
While most people look to the internet to find answers to questions of their own, it’s just as useful to find out what others are curious about. It may just take some out of the box thinking.
By learning what’s important to your audience, you better pull together thoughts on how to go about addressing these questions. You can choose to contribute to the discourse online if you want, or you can just observe the discussion threads to give yourself some context into:
- common questions
- common misconceptions
- misguided advice (or blatant misinformation)
- market frustrations
- gaps in overall accounting literacy
- real-life stories and examples (both positive and negative)
Packaging Your Message
By now, you’ve taken inventory of your expertise and cross-checked it against what resonates with your market.
What next? Unless you amplify your voice, no amount of leadership or insight matters.
Once of the greatest things about the marketing ecosystem is the sheer amount of opportunities to get your mesage in front of an audience. To start, work with your capabilities and focus on the properties you’e the most comfortable with. As you learn and grow, you’ve got no small amount of channels to amplify your message.
- White papers / e-books
- Speaking engagements
- Newsletters (print or digital)
- Published articles
- Social media
Like anything associated with marketing or communications, consistency and regularity are crucial to success. If you confuse your message or positioning, you can easily lose your audience. And if you let too much time pass between touchpoints, you can just as easily lose any momentum you may have built.
In our recent e-book, The Value-Added Practice we dig deeper into the concept of thought leadership for accountants as well as other topics to take your firm to the next level. Download it here!