The success of your firm is directly related to your team of experts on staff and their ability to skillfully apply knowledge and experience to client projects. Solving problems, creating solutions, and finding efficiencies are all in a day’s work. But what do you do if most of your team’s work is inherently invisible to the rest of the world? How do you showcase the collected knowledge and know-how when your best work is buried under ground, behind sheetrock or calculated in support beams?
Sharing your team’s expertise through an industry-relevant thought leadership program can bridge that gap — from unseen to visible expert — and position your firm as experts who can solve your client’s most complex problems.
The Three Benefits
Position Your Team for Future Wins and More Profit. What makes you so special? Do potential and current clients know to call on you any time they encounter specific issues or start a new project within your set of core services? A thought leadership program can help communicate your firm’s expertise and clarify when clients should call on you. Bring attention to a deeper experience within a specific project category and your firm will be recognized as an expert with solutions to problems. A strong position verified through thought leadership materials on the same topic is very effective in winning new opportunities. Your firm will be positioned as a specialist against other firms that may offer flatter and broader service lines. Specialized experts can also command higher fees for complex projects.
Improve Employee Morale. Thought leadership opportunities rewards your most talented experts with recognition for their performance and service to clients. Recognition comes from the leadership team in the nomination as a company thought leader, and from other team members as they share the expert resources available through your firm. Strengthening your firm’s market position can increase confidence within your team to solve complex client problems.
Strengthen Recruiting. A work environment where employees are recognized for their contributions to solve client problems fosters a more collaborative environment and generates more internal resources to your team to consult on future projects. A team that works well together retains employees longer, and a collaborative culture can help you fill open positions with more experienced experts.
Issues You Must Overcome
Project Completion Is the Priority. Work comes first, usually supplanting everything else within the life of a firm. Searching for new opportunities, closing on new business, completing current projects in progress and servicing existing clients fills much of each employee’s daily schedule, often spilling into hours away from the office. Without the work, your firm has little reason for being. The number of hours that can be reallocated to communications and marketing without impeding on the work are few and far between. Where do you find the time to share your successes and lessons learned for the benefit of future projects?
Consider assigning an accounting code for marketing and communications work, and then budget at least an hour a month for each team member to participate in generating content. If you don’t already have internal communications resources, think about partnering with an outside consulting firm to get the work done. These external team members can interview subject matter experts, ghostwrite articles, and manage the review and approval process prior to release while your team can focus on the work at hand.
Problem Solvers, But Not Gifted Communicators. Adding to the complexity of communicating your expertise is the small percentage of your team that feels comfortable explaining project complexities with clients and customers who don’t have a technical background. How much information is too much, and how can you ensure the message connects with potential clients who have different needs than your team of experts?
An independent creative firm can offer the required writing, review and distribution of the material, leaving your team to focus on what they do best. In addition, consultants can help to curate content and uncover unique solutions as opportunities for thought leadership material.
Finding Your Potential Audience. A successful thought leadership program is more than just generating content; your team’s expertise must be delivered to the right audience to have an impact on future business. A broad distribution may reach an adequate number of people, but they may not have the need for your services. A successful thought leadership program should focus on reaching more of your potential clients and partners who are grappling with the issues your team can solve. Where do you find them?
Spend some time to develop the market strategy behind your thought leadership program. A well-developed strategy gives your firm the opportunity to focus on a specific service and expertise where you perform better than competing firms. When you understand where your firm performs best, you can target more clients who face the same issues, narrowly targeting the potential audience who will benefit from your services.
Appropriate Return on Investment. It’s important to consider how much time, energy and expense you wish to allocate to a thought leadership program. Speaking opportunities, panel participation and even webinars are other opportunities you can use to position your firm as a leader in the field.
Keep the end goal in mind while you consider speaking opportunities. What does your firm need to get in return for speaking engagement to yield new business opportunities? Work diligently to make the investment worthwhile. The cost to the firm in lost productivity while your subject matter expert prepares a presentation, and travels to the venue, and participates in the conference should figure into the decision process in choosing events.
Of the three opportunities, webinars offer the possibility of rebroadcasting content to a wider audience, or adjacent market. The transcript of a webinar can be another opportunity for publication, amplifying a singular event.
Strategies and Tactical Responses
There are several proven strategies to promote thought leadership to your ideal clients and prospects, and even internal teams. A thought leadership program can generate relevant and engaging content for a new or existing social media program, or even direct email distribution. The following suggestions come from a range of solutions encountered during previous client engagements.
Self-Published Articles Shared Online. Thought leadership articles can be an essential element to a complete content marketing strategy. The opportunity to share experience and perspective of your best performers helps your firm claim the areas of service where you excel. Your firm’s talent can be influential in shaping industry standards, identifying new methodologies and procedures that save time, money and energy. More importantly, thought leadership articles show your potential customers that you understand the complex projects and have ideas that will solve their problems.
You foster good will with past clients when you highlight a completed project, the solutions that came out of the project, and the positive results. Happy clients are even motivated to share your thought leadership materials with others when their successful project is showcased.
Published Articles in Industry Publications. Curating content from your team of experts for thought leadership articles is the first step in sharing those resources with information-starved industry publications who are looking for story ideas and material. Industry publications generally have a loyal, targeted readership who may have the same issue your firm just solved for another client. You can magnify your message to a broader audience through print publication, which may also have an online component that can expand to a secondary audience.
Targeted Email Distribution. Don’t overlook the opportunity to share original content with existing clients and partners directly via email. Many firms generate most of their annual revenue from current and past client relationships. This client network is already invested in your success and may likely engage your firm again in the future. Keep them posted on your wins and successes when you share appropriate thought leadership materials with them. Original articles can be the key component to a regular email newsletter, or part of a compilation of resources and materials your clients and partners may find helpful.
Is a Thought Leadership Program Right for Your Firm?
A thought leadership program is a critical component of your positioning strategy. When connected with a solid connection strategy through LinkedIn and industry publications, it can be a powerful way to move your firm from generalist to in-demand specialist which leads increased revenue opportunities.
A similar program can be implemented with your current team with careful planning and allocation of resources. Partnering with an independent creative firm to work the program and keep your team focused on the current project load. Regardless of how you choose to share your expertise, a thought leadership program can be a vital element in the successful positioning of your firm as an expert in your industry. What do you have to lose?