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  • Writer's pictureHeather Lloyd-Martin, ACC

11 Proven Ways Gen X + Millennial Women Can Build Their Thought Leadership Online

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

We’ve all heard that being a “thought leader” is important, but much of the advice for women feels simplistic and doesn’t address some core issues.

I've been a thought leader for over 23 years. Here are the tips I give women who want to establish their expertise.

Do you feel like your personal brand is invisible and nobody knows you exist?

I've talked to many Gen X and Millennial women who feel the same way– even after years of hard work.

They may have a website – but it’s like a pretty coffee-table book that nobody ever sees.

They may have experienced loads of success in a past career or business, but now they feel like they’re starting from scratch.

Or they may have read some “here’s how women can become a thought leader” articles – but the how-to doesn’t feel authentic or resonate.

I did the math and realized I’d been considered an industry thought leader for almost half my life.

I’m part of a core group of people who formed the SEO industry long before Google existed.

Those “here’s how to be a thought leader” articles? Yeah, they don’t click with me.

They’re too simplistic and don’t dive into the real behind-the-scenes story.

So, here’s my thought leadership advice for women (10 tips!) – after 23 years of trial and error and one super-big mistake.

Let’s start with where I screwed up:

Build your audience (otherwise known as your email list).

I still kick myself over this. I was so focused on speaking and writing back in the day that I never sent out email newsletters.

So, for around ten years of my career, I had the email addresses of some of the top executives worldwide – plus permission to contact them. My virtual Rolodex was amazing.

Do you know what I did? I deleted the list because I wasn’t using that platform anymore.

Yeah, don’t do that. Grow your list. Nurture it.

My current newsletter subscribers have been reading my emails, commenting on my writing, and purchasing from me for years.

And no, your social network doesn’t count. You don’t “own” your followers. You can’t control how your content is distributed. But you do own your email list.

Social platforms come, and social platforms go, but Google is forever.

Yes, social media is a great way to connect and engage. But if you’re looking for thought leadership longevity, creating content that positions on Google is your best long-term bet.

Why? Because people still use Google. Search is a crucial part of the B2B buying cycle. I created content over ten years ago that’s still positioning and driving traffic.

You can have that too.

Yes, SEO content writing does require a strategy and is different than writing an Instagram post.

But the process doesn’t need to be soul-crushing or so filled with keyterms that it renders the article unintelligible.

That’s not what Google wants. And your readers don’t want that either.

An easy way to start is by writing down the questions you hear every day.

You can transform those questions into articles, showcase your unique take, and let your personality shine through.

Once you learn the SEO writing ropes, achieving long-term Google positions is much easier.

People only notice you if you get yourself out there.

Apply for that speaking gig. Guest post for that publication. Join a local organization and get on the board. If you want people to know your name, you’ve got to freakin’ launch out of your comfort zone and be seen – everywhere.

Don’t wait for your business knight in shining armor to help you get noticed.

They aren’t coming.

If you want to be a thought leader, you need to put on your shining armor, hop on that horse, and LEAD.

For instance, I joined the Oregon chapter of the International Coaching Federation as soon as I received my coaching certification and went to the first meeting I could.

Did I want to hop on Zoom at 5 p.m. after a busy day? Honestly, no. Sometimes, getting yourself out there is hard.

But I’m glad I did. That first meeting was a blast!

After that, I felt more comfortable reaching out and asking about speaking opportunities – and my first one will happen two months from now.

What a cool win/win!

Build quality, life-long business relationships.

Here’s a huge shout-out to my fellow SEO friends. Creating relationships is more than “building influencer relationships” or some transactional B.S. that’s all about getting likes.

Get to know people. Spend time getting to know the person behind the brand. Go to events and talk to people instead of ordering room service.

Not only is life a little sweeter with friends, but you’re also building a network of people who know you, trust you, and will refer opportunities to you.

My search friends have paid me to rewrite their websites, referred me to clients, and sent press opportunities my way.

I’ve known many of these people for almost half my life. That makes me smile.

I’ve worked with my fantastic editor for over 16 years after she introduced herself to me at an SEO conference.

Now, I consider her one of my closest friends. We visit each other when we can, write long “here’s what happened this week” emails, and have met each other’s families.

Quality relationships matter. They also help you to…

Leverage other peoples’ lists.

This tip can immediately drive new traffic to your site.

Yes, serve your existing audience – but know that tapping into other people's audiences can extend your reach even further.

It can be as simple as creating an exclusive online lunch-and-learn for a trade organization. Or you could author a white paper with another company or co-create a resource.

For instance, I’ve developed private webinars that immediately led to speaking and consulting opportunities.

Other people have seen their newsletter subscriber lists soar after joint venture partnerships.

Consider who you could partner with short term and percolate on the co-creation possibilities. The right opportunities can help you find new audiences and boost your thought leadership – plus be extremely profitable.

Learn to love public speaking.

Throughout the years, I’ve pounded hundreds of stages worldwide. It’s opened the doors to paid speaking opportunities and fun clients – even the chance to create a course for LinkedIn. (A LinkedIn Learning course on B2B SEO writing is coming soon!)

Public speaking establishes you as a thought leader and exposes you to new audiences. Plus, it’s fun to do once you get over the jitters.

Sure, some people are naturally charismatic – but if this doesn’t feel like you, know that public speaking is a skill you can learn. Understanding your body language and speaking patterns can help you feel more confident, and you’ll connect with your audience faster.

The more nonverbal strategies you learn and practice, the easier public speaking gets.

You can start small by talking about your area of expertise locally – for instance, women’s local networking groups are always looking for speakers. From there, you can check out local chapters of trade organizations and connect with their speaker coordinators.

Speaking somewhere once a month – even once a quarter – help you polish your skills and spread your message.

Doing > planning.

I’m all for strategizing and planning. But sometimes – especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed or insecure – it’s easy to stay in planning mode and feel stuck.

Do not wait. You will never be completely ready. Even if you only have the mental energy to do one small thing, do it – every day.

Stagnation sucks and will drag you down fast.

Keep challenging yourself.

Here’s a dirty little thought leadership secret - sometimes, being an expert can feel boring. For instance, I think I’ve seen an article on the topic “is SEO dead?” every year for 20 years. That’s…a lot of sameness.

One of the reasons I went back to school and received my Associated Certified Coach credential was that I needed to do something different. I kept running into screwed-up marketing teams that wouldn’t move forward, and I knew a new skillset would help me make lasting changes.

Plus, you know what’s fun? I’ve found a new way to reinvent myself with an entirely different audience. I’m now positioning myself as an SEO content thought leader within the coaching community.

And I haven’t read one “is SEO dead?” article within the coaching community yet.

Haters are going to hate.

I still recall super-painful moments that made me want to disappear from the public eye. There was the late-night Twitter spat I still don’t understand. The person who blogged that my early-morning speaking voice was “shrill.” And, yeah, there’s nothing like receiving the random “you stupid bitch” email from some moron.

As women, we’ve been there.

It can be hard to continually put yourself out there when others want to tear you down. The more thought leadership fame you have, the more often this may happen – and the more public the drama becomes.

Shit like that gets to everyone, no matter what we show people. It’s okay to feel icky, but don’t let yourself stay there. Life is too short to let small-minded people steal our joy and make us feel small.

Track your successes.

Last summer, I cleared out old business files. It was a wild trip down memory lane.

I learned that I’ve worked with some of the most recognized brands in the world. Yet, I had forgotten most of the companies I’ve worked with and what I’d done.

That’s dumb.

It’s amazing how super-smart women will think back on a fantastic career and forget critical points – like how they serviced big-brand clients or were able to increase revenue by 137 percent. When you do something extraordinary, write that shit down.

Keep a list.

Accomplishments you think are “business as usual” are actually pretty freakin’ cool. You have done incredible things. Don’t forget it.

You could use a Google Spreadsheet to track clients, wins, and ROI. Or, you could write quarterly reports for yourself where you review the previous three months and write a bulleted list highlighting key moments.

I track my overall success metrics on Evernote now – of all the systems I’ve used, it’s the one that clicks with my brain.

Plus, I review my wins weekly and write them down in my Panda Planner. (Yes, a physical planner!)

That way, I’m constantly tracking my success.

You are amazing. Don’t underplay your brilliance.

I’ve seen too many smart women hide their light, downplay their accomplishments, and hope someone out there will eventually reward them for their hard work.

That’s not real life. It won’t happen.

Or, some of us are conditioned to keep quiet about our achievements so “other people won’t feel bad.”

That’s a load of crap.

When you do something cool, share it with your network and let them help you celebrate your success.

When you write your LinkedIn profile, approach it like the boss bitch you are and confidently state your expertise. If you boosted revenues by 147 percent, make that fact front and center – and tie that information back to how your knowledge can help future clients.

(Here are other tips on how to boost your confidence).

When you bid on that job, remember they are hiring you for your years of subject matter expertise – and that’s worth the big bucks.

You’ve got to turn the spotlight on yourself and make that light shine bright.

The world needs you to do it.

Isn’t it time?

Are you ready to build your thought leadership expertise? Contact me and share what’s on your mind.

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