When it comes to choosing an accountant, expertise is king. Not surprisingly, this is identified as the top selection criteria for businesses when choosing an accountant.
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 you may even be wary that it’s nothing more than jargon, the buzzword du jour, or a flash-in-the-pan success-building trend. But the statistics available beg to differ and paint a significant story.
In fact, The Gartner Group has described thought leadership as “an established field in marketing and a basis of competitive differentiation when well-informed buyers see little perceived differences between solution providers.” Maybe not the most concise definition, but it ultimately hits the mark. Given that we’ve discussed how specialization can differentiate your practice, this definition actually reinforces thought leadership within the value-added practice concept.
Sure, it sounds great to be a thought leader and all, but how does it actually impact the bottom line?
Implications of Thought Leadership
So, what are the implications of this on your business? 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.
But thought leaders take advantage of this reality and push it even further. Why settle for an expert when you can employ the services of someone even the experts look up to?
You might not be surprised to learn that people are willing to pay more for the service of industry leaders.You probably didn’t know that people are willing to pay the highest-profile leaders over 14 times that of the standard professional, according to Hinge Research Institute.
That’s 14 times more! Let that sink in for a bit.
Not only does thought leadership bode well for the billable hours of an individual, but the impact of thought leadership on purchase and consultation engagements is significant.
Do You Have What it Takes?
First, don’t let yourself get intimidated by the fancy 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. 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
A thought leader in small-town Nebraska is no less a thought leader than someone in New York. While the latter may have the benefit of a larger audience directly in their back yard, the web has had a profound effect on making the world a much smaller place
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. So, if you can manage to see yourself as qualified as anyone (assuming you have the expertise to back it up), it’s just a matter of getting started.
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 has 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?” 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.
By learning what’s important to your audience, you can 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)
Don’t Be Afraid to Have an Opinion
Maybe your profession doesn’t allow for a completely cavalier attitude toward the rules and regulations, but that’s not to say that you can’t have thoughts, ideas, and opinions that go against the grain or challenge new ways of thinking. In fact, it’s the ability to challenge your audience with new ways of thinking that separates you from a common subject-matter expert in your field.
Not too long ago, those touting the power of the cloud to transform SMB accounting were few and far between. But given the leadership of early adopters, and their vision for how the digital ecosystem could significantly benefit firms and clients alike, they are looked at as go-to resources for providing a take on the pulse of the accounting tech environment.
The topical opportunities are limitless, it’s just a matter of choosing a message and committing to it entirely.
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 insight matters.
One of the greatest things about the marketing ecosystem is the sheer amount of opportunities to get your message in front of an audience. To start, work with your capabilities and focus on the properties you’re the most comfortable with. As you learn and grow, you’ve got a large amount of channels to amplify your message:
- White papers/e-books
- Speaking engagements
- Published articles
- Social media
Like anything associated with marketing, 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 touch points, you can just as easily lose any momentum you’ve built.
This is an excerpt from a larger guide on how to truly build The Value-Added Practice, which you can download here for free.
Wes Wilkins is vice president of marketing at Circulus and when not geeking out on all things marketing he geeks out on video games, sports, craft beer, music, food, and his two husky compadres, Stevie Nicks and David Bowie.