As a small business owner, you're an expert in your field. As such, there are many ways you can position yourself to become a community thought leader. Here are five ways you can build your credibility and develop your voice as a leader in your community and your industry.
Small business owners are experts in their fields. They intimately understand their community, and they passionately study their industry, making them ideal candidates to be thought leaders, both in business and the community. On a local or national scale, the perspective that small business owners provide offers valuable insights for consumers and leaders across the country.
Simply put, a thought leader is an individual who has a reputation for credible experience and commentary. Thought leaders' views can guide the direction of an industry or community. When a debate arises or a topic becomes newsworthy, the media, the public and people within the given industry may look to the thought leader for his or her perspective.
At a time when big-box stores, national chains and online retailers seem to dominate the airwaves, the small business perspective can't be overlooked. Small business owners know and understand their local communities, including the impact various events – good or bad – will have. For this reason, it's important for small business owners, who exude passion and expertise in their industry, to speak up. To become a community thought leader, small business owners can work within their cities and their industries to build a voice louder than the big-box stores.
Build a relationship with the media
When a new bill passes or a local event is on the horizon, the local news media looks to their community for relevant sources to interview. The opportunity to comment on current events may set small business owners apart from their big-box and national chain counterparts. Big-box store managers or chain representatives are typically limited in what they can say to the media due to national guidelines issued from their far-away, corporate headquarters.
If you're able to build a relationship with local reporters, they'll come to you whenever a relevant story arises. You can start building this relationship by writing letters to the editor, emailing your local news contacts or enlisting the support of a public relations agency. Before speaking to the media, prepare and review a list of key messages you'd like to convey, and practice answering the questions you're likely to be asked.
Advocate on a local level
When you're not promoting your business to the public, promote it to state and local leaders. With issues such as healthcare and immigration in constant debate, small businesses have a growing need to make their perspective on these issues known. After all, legislation that impacts small businesses negatively could, in turn, negatively impact the national economy. Contact your local and state representatives to share your position, and work with local organizations, such as the chamber of commerce, to amplify your advocacy efforts.
Speak at industry events
Whether it's a small business conference or an industry-specific event, large gatherings of your professional peers are can't-miss opportunities to develop thought leadership. The next time you visit a conference or annual meeting, don't just attend. Apply to give a presentation or sit on a panel.
Perhaps your business has experience with hiring millennials, or perhaps you recently launched an ecommerce platform to complement your brick-and-mortar business — experiences that may seem obvious to you could be inspiring to others and could help to establish you as a leader within the small business sector.
Create your own content
When you find you don't have a platform to convey your expertise, create one. Chances are, your business already has a website. Consider adding a blog component to the site where you can write about industry trends, local issues and topics that matter to your customers. Did you recently add a new product or service to your lineup? Announce it on the blog. Have you successfully grown your business through a new small business tool? Let your fellow small business owners know through the blog.
Regular, relevant blogging can increase your website's exposure, allowing you to build thought leadership credibility and amplify your business's name recognition all at once.
Submit guest content
You can also submit guest blog posts and editorial pieces to help spread the word about you and your business to new audiences. Reach out to the publication you'd like to write for and ask if they accept submissions. You should also ask what requirements they have for guest content, such as word count or images.
Serving as a thought leader helps to promote you, your small business and the small business sector as a whole. When local big-box representatives can't speak due to corporate policy and red tape, small business owners have an array of opportunities to make their voices heard.
It may seem like a lot of work, but the effort is worth it not only to boost your credibility as a business owner but also to increase your exposure. It is a low to no-cost way to get your name on the map – all thought leadership requires is an investment of your time.