2 people who look like small business owners carrying boxes with Best Methods for Budding Entrepreneurs to Rise as Thought Leaders as the title infront.

Best Methods for Entrepreneurs to Rise as Thought Leaders

Whether one is new to the world of entrepreneurship or a seasoned repeat founder — entrepreneurs are often intrigued by the concept of thought leadership. To stand out as a thought leader, one must master the craft and the persona. As someone seen as an authority and a go-to person in their field, a thought leader is a beacon of wisdom and innovation. As an experienced company builder and entrepreneurship professor, with hundreds of interviews on television, radio, and in various publications, I frequently share my thought leadership lessons learned with companies that I advise. Here, my team and I have put together strategies to become a recognized thought leader.

1. Forge Your Distinctive Personal Brand

A man drawing and writing words representing Brand.

A. Crafting Your Voice

You must create a vibrant personal brand to become an influential thought leader. Delve into the core of who you are and what your business signifies. What voice do you envision for your brand? What are your intrinsic values? The Golden Circle concept by Simon Sinek can guide you through the process.

B. Your Story, Your Vision

Understanding your brand’s story and reason for existence allows for deeper resonance with your audience. Knowing how to describe yourself and your journey builds a connection with others and sets you apart.

2. Pinpoint Your Niche

A pie with cartoons representing people, with one person that is standing out in color red.

A. Solving Problems

Attempting to cater to everyone may result in an unclear and scattered message. To successfully engage your target audience, understand what problems your business solves and who benefits from these solutions. The idea of being a “technology thought leader” is far too broad, narrower might be “an AI thought leader” although this is still quite broad, the best might be “a generative AI thought leader, with experience analyzing regulations and law.” The last one allows for your thought leadership to penetrate and for you to establish a reputation, then one can branch out into broader areas of thought leadership expertise.

B. Understanding Your Audience

Investing time in recognizing the demographics and psychographics of your audience will make the path to thought leadership more achievable. Your ideal customer profile, current existing customers, and their pain points are essential areas to explore. WHO are you trying to reach as a thought leader? If you don’t understand your audience and ideal reader/listener/viewer how can you effectively craft a message? How can your thoughts lead if you don’t know who you intend to lead?

3. Cultivate a Network

a bunch of cartoons representing people and lines which represents interconnections.

A. Learning from Influencers

Building a network that includes existing thought leaders enables sharing your insights. Observing other influencers and mentors, engaging on social media, and introducing yourself at conferences can create meaningful connections.

B. Engaging in Person

While online networking is crucial, in-person interactions are equally vital. Attend local events, speak at industry meetups, and consistently place yourself before the right audience. When starting out, even the lowest circulation publications or podcasts, and low attendance events/conferences, are valuable for you to begin to build your reputation. They are also important opportunities to craft your message — don’t dismiss the “less prestigious” outlets where you will speak in person with journalists, podcasters, and conference attendees.

4. Provide Value Through Helpfulness

A pair of hands holding or showing a heart that says "support"

A. Offering Genuine Advice

Being more than a self-centered conversationalist allows you to stand out. Providing valuable tips and information that suit your audience’s interests makes you more approachable and appreciated.

B. Educate, Don’t Sell

Develop a business blog and create high-quality content focused on helping rather than selling. Offer ebooks, white papers, and tutorials to add value. Sites like HubSpot’s Blogging Guide can aid in this endeavor.

5. Leverage Social Media

A group of diverse individuals which are on their mobile phones, and showing social media connections.

A. Content Promotion

Your blog posts and premium content must be visible. Promote it on platforms where your audience is active. The key is finding the proper social media channels and being consistent there. Note how this relates to the prior step, requiring you to identify your audience.

B. Engage Actively

Interacting with your followers, responding to comments, and initiating conversations add to your genuineness as a thought leader. Engagement is a two-way street that builds trust.

6. Innovate: Think Outside the Box

A person holding a photo of a city and bubbles with the latest technology

A. Offer Unique Value

The cliché advice of thinking outside the box holds weight. Presenting unique insights and not merely echoing others distinguishes you as a leader. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel completely, but you should offer a unique take bast on your own experience, knowledge or analysis.

B. Continuous Pursuit

The journey to becoming a thought leader demands effort and adherence to the strategies above. With insightful information delivered to the right audience, you are poised to ascend as the next thought leader within your field. Guidance from renowned entrepreneurship platforms such as Inc.com, Entrepreneur.com, and Harvard Business Review can further propel your journey.

7. Constantly Innovate and Stay Informed

A trainer making sure everyone is updated.

Thought leadership isn’t a one-time achievement but an ongoing process. Here’s how you can maintain that position:

A. Keep Learning and Evolving

Staying Abreast of Trends

Regularly read industry-related publications, participate in forums, and attend conferences. Resources such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare provide free access to various subjects, keeping you abreast of current industry trends and thinking.

Collaborate with Other Thought Leaders

Build symbiotic relationships with other industry influencers and thought leaders in your field, forging connections that foster innovation and growth. Mutual sharing of ideas and collaboration on projects can keep you thinking fresh and innovative, opening doors to new perspectives and solutions. These relationships elevate your understanding and approach and contribute to a more vibrant and interconnected community within your industry.

B. Encourage Open Dialogue

Foster Community Engagement

Create platforms for open dialogue with your followers, embracing a collaborative approach that values their input and perspectives. Encourage them to share their insights, ask questions, and challenge your views, fostering a dynamic and engaging relationship. Using tools such as webinars, Q&A sessions, or interactive forums, you can create a thriving community where diverse thoughts are welcomed and explored, enriching your understanding and your audience’s.

Respond to Feedback

Being open to criticism and responding positively to feedback shows that you value different perspectives and demonstrates a commitment to growth and continuous improvement. This interaction fosters a trust-based relationship, keeps the conversation alive, and maintains an interest in your thought leadership content. By embracing diverse opinions and making necessary adjustments, you reinforce your position as an approachable and adaptable thought leader, enhancing your credibility and connection with your audience.

8. A Thought Leadership Strategy is also Avoiding Common Pitfalls

An instructor getting alot of engagement from the students

Here are common mistakes that can hinder your journey to becoming a thought leader and how to avoid them:

A. Avoid Being Overly Promotional

Balance Self-promotion with Value

Although promoting your business is essential, overdoing it can alienate your audience. Focus on providing value and solving problems, and let your expertise do the talking.

Transparency and Authenticity

Be open and honest about your business, products, or services. Misleading or exaggerated claims can erode trust quickly.

B. Don’t Ignore Your Followers

Engage Regularly

Ignoring comments, questions, or feedback from your audience can be detrimental. Regular engagement builds community and trust.

Show Appreciation

Acknowledging and appreciating your followers fosters loyalty. Simple gestures like thanking them for their comments or recognizing their contributions can make a significant difference.

9. Embrace Collaborations and Partnerships

A set if hands representing the partnership or collaboration gesture, also showing some virtual interconnections.

Building meaningful relationships with other entrepreneurs, organizations, and educational institutions can open doors to new perspectives and opportunities.

A. Engage in Industry Collaborations for Thought Leadership

Form Strategic Alliances

Partner with businesses and organizations that align with your values. Collaboration can foster innovation and provide opportunities to reach new audiences.

Utilize Academic Resources

Collaborate with universities for research, development, or mentorship programs. Such partnerships can enhance credibility and provide fresh insights.

B. Share Knowledge through Public Speaking

Guest Lectures

Offer your expertise as a guest lecturer at universities or industry events. Platforms like TEDx can be excellent venues, but don’t neglect the aforementioned podcasts, conferences with lower attendance but speaking gigs, and smaller more niche publications.

Webinars and Online Workshops

Hosting educational webinars and online workshops can widen your reach and reinforce your leadership position. These can also help you build your followers and continue to engage with them — providing value is the key to thought leadership success.

10. Invest in Personal and Professional Growth

A drawing and the word "growth" with a ladder and an arrow showing upwards direction.

A thought leader’s journey isn’t just about leading others but also about personal development.

A. Seek Continuous Education on How to Be a Thought Leader

Enroll in Specialized Courses

Investing in courses from platforms like Coursera or Harvard Online Learning can enhance your skills and knowledge.

Engaging with such structured and well-recognized programs allows you to tap into a reservoir of wisdom and experience that can shape your leadership style and approach. Investing in these tailored learning opportunities accelerates your personal growth and enhances your ability to inspire and lead others, further solidifying your position as a thought leader.

B. Embrace a Mentoring Culture

Find a Mentor

Seek mentors who have traversed the path of entrepreneurship and can provide valuable insights.

Become a Mentor

Share your journey and insights by mentoring others, offering guidance and wisdom gleaned from your experiences. This reciprocal relationship can be rewarding, as it helps others grow and provides fresh perspectives that can enrich your understanding. By fostering a continuous learning and mutual support culture, you create an environment where innovative ideas can flourish and thought leadership is nurtured, enhancing personal and professional development for all involved.

11. Adapt to Market Changes and Global Events

A man touching the screen and a world map which also shows interconnections.

The global business landscape is ever-changing, and thought leaders must adapt.

A. Monitor Global Trends

Stay Informed

Keep abreast of global trends, economic changes, and geopolitical events through reputable sources like The Economist or The World Economic Forum.

Leverage Data Analytics

Utilize data analytics to understand market shifts. Tools like Google Analytics can provide actionable insights.

B. Exhibit Agility and Flexibility

Be Open to Pivot

Embrace changes and be ready to pivot your strategies. Case studies from Harvard Business Review on successful pivots can be enlightening. I personally started my career in national security, evolved to national security and technology, then focused for a while specifically on drones, and then branched out to emerging technology, entrepreneurship advising and thought leadership. Careers are not static, and thought leaders should treat their expertise as something that is flexible and can grow.

Learn from Failures

Every failure provides a lesson, an invaluable opportunity to analyze what went wrong and what could have been done differently. Reflect, learn, and adapt, turning setbacks into stepping stones for future success. Embracing a growth mindset, as explained by Carol Dweck’s work, is essential in this process, as it fosters resilience, curiosity, and the ability to transform challenges into growth opportunities.

12. Uphold Ethical Leadership

A weighing scale that represents equality and a plant and gold on both the trays, the plant is more important than gold.

Ethics form the cornerstone of authentic thought leadership marketing now. Here’s how to integrate ethical considerations into thought leadership:

A. Commit to Transparency

Open Communication

Engage in honest dialogue with stakeholders and be open about your intentions and methods, establishing a foundation of trust and transparency in your relationships. You invite collaboration and mutual understanding by clearly communicating your strategies and welcoming feedback. This forthright approach strengthens partnerships and enhances your reputation as a responsible and ethical industry thought leader dedicated to fairness and integrity in all interactions.

Adhere to Ethical Guidelines

Follow industry-specific ethical guidelines to ensure that your business practices align with recognized standards of integrity and professionalism. Adhering to these guidelines demonstrates a commitment to responsible conduct and fosters trust among clients, partners, and the broader community. By making ethics a central pillar of your operation, you enhance your reputation as a thought leader who prioritizes innovation, success, moral responsibility, and accountability.

B. Champion Social Responsibility

Support Community Initiatives

Engage in local community projects or support non-profits aligned with your values, showcasing a commitment to social responsibility and positive change. By investing time and resources into causes that resonate with your beliefs, you can build meaningful connections within the community and enrich the lives of those around you. This approach reflects your brand’s integrity and strengthens your image as a thought leader who prioritizes the greater good alongside business objectives.

13. Influence on a Global Scale

Thought leadership can transcend geographical boundaries. Here’s how to extend your influence globally:

A. Embrace Cultural Diversity

Understand Cultural Sensitivities

Engage with diverse audiences by recognizing and respecting cultural norms and traditions.

Build an Inclusive Brand

Create inclusive content and products that cater to a global audience, guided by the United Nations Global Compact principles.

13. Collaborate with International Partners

A globe with the toys representing people are spread around it.

Forge Global Alliances

Build partnerships with international companies, fostering collaboration and shared growth.

Attend International Conferences

To network and share insights, participate in global conferences related to your area of expertise.

14. Leverage Technology and Digital Platforms

A person holding a super computer in his hands and from that shows all the latest tech we have in the modern world.

In the age of technology, digital platforms are vital in establishing and maintaining thought leadership:

A. Embrace Digital Transformation

Utilize Advanced Tools

Implement tools like Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT to enhance business processes and customer experience.

B. Build a Robust Online Presence

Create Engaging Content

Develop content that resonates with your audience using platforms like Medium or LinkedIn.

Utilize Social Media Strategically

Build connections strategically using social media channels relevant to your industry and audience.


Thought leadership is a multifaceted pursuit, encompassing ethical conduct, global influence, technological advancement, and continuous personal and professional development. It requires a dedicated, holistic approach, where integrity and innovation are at the core.

I frequently tell the founders I advise, that entrepreneurs can craft a pathway that aligns with their unique values, goals, and community. Resources from reputable sources, including Inc.com, Entrepreneur.com, CNBC.com, and Harvard Business Review, serve as valuable guides in this endeavor.

The journey toward thought leadership is intricate, constantly evolving, and requires relentless commitment. Yet, it’s a fulfilling path that offers an opportunity to inspire, influence, and lead in a way that transcends business, leaving a lasting impact on society and future generations of leaders. Whether you’re a first-time entrepreneur or an experienced business leader, these insights serve as a compass in navigating the complex terrain of modern entrepreneurship and thought leadership.

Gregory S. McNeal

Along with being a successful entrepreneur, I am a tenured Professor of Law and Public Policy at Pepperdine University. I teach courses related to technology, law, and policy, and serve as a faculty member with the Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship.


Material Connection: Some of the links in posts on this site are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, my company will receive an affiliate commission. This disclosure is required by the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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