Startups possess all the key ingredients of thought leadership: big ideas, disruptive perspectives, outrageous talent. But with time devoted to product iteration, market analysis, investor pitches, and strategic planning, it’s not easy to spread the genius behind your innovations.
What strategies can you use to become an innovation evangelist for your brand and ideas?
Today, I’ll share three (often overlooked) keys for startup owners and investors interested in growing their businesses through thought leadership.
These three insights emerged as I scaled my startup, Untold Content from one solopreneur to five full-time staff and a nationwide network of contractors. At Untold, I guide our team of writing experts in helping thought leaders tell memorable, impactful, research-driven stories. In other words, we transform scientists, doctors, engineers, founders and tech geeks into innovation evangelists.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned about scaling a startup and pursuing thought leadership simultaneously.
Key #1: Develop a Productive Startup Content Strategy
Our rapid growth has occurred in large part thanks to a clear and systematic approach to planning and tracking the time we spend on thought leadership work.
Most entrepreneurs give a lot of thought to their business vision, core products, and management structure. However, a strategic approach to thought leadership isn’t always prioritized in the beginning.
But it needs to be. Communicating your startup’s innovators and innovative products is critical to the success and growth of your company.
The challenge is that thought leadership work is directly linked to human input and output. Time is always a challenge for leaders and team members alike. Add the need for highly creative, deeply researched deliverables to the mix, and you see how challenging it can be to scale the workflows required for mind-bending work like deep thinking, researching, ideating, writing, revising, and communicating your startup’s innovations.
There’s a dance we play as startup leaders to balance the story of our innovations with the actual production of our innovations.
Identifying and sharing your startup’s story means that you must devote consistent, strategic time to creative thinking and writing. Press releases, 1-pagers, perspectives pieces, editorials, interviews, blog content, social media interactions, conference presentations and speaking opportunities all take time.
By carefully planning the number of hours each of your team members devotes to thought leadership each month, you express organization-wide commitment to the pursuit of sharing your startup’s story.
Our strength with team collaboration and time planning recently allowed us to scale beyond one-to-one services and create robust professional development courses like Wordsmith: A Grammar and Style Refresher for Busy Professionals. Now our insights can be implemented by professionals everywhere who want to level up their professional game through more effective, impactful writing and communications.
Key #2: Get Strategic about Startup Content Creation
Content marketing plays a critical role in successfully launching your company and growing your community of raving fans. To consistently share creative thought pieces, email insights, and social media messages, you need to build a robust library of content ideas and plan out their creation in an organized editorial calendar.
A key insight we discovered over the last year is the strategy of selecting an annual theme, and building monthly micro-themes and content deliverables aligned toward that larger vision. For example, last year’s theme was public intellectualism. Each month, we read, researched, discussed, and wrote about one key aspect of what it means to be a public intellectual. We chose our monthly mini-themes during our winter retreat. Our current theme is #untoldinnovation. We’re inviting thought leaders to share their innovation stories using this hashtag. (You can join our community of thought leaders to make sure that you don’t miss an innovation story). Thought-based work like this requires institutional commitment, including time dedicated for reading, writing and collaborating.
Creative exercises like those we guide our clients through during content strategy sessions help energize and activate new ideas. Beyond strategy and ideation sessions, you should commit to bettering your writing skills. Professional development should happen not only outside of work, but as an integral part of our team’s growth and collective development. This, of course, relates back to Key #1 because it requires a careful dance in time management—a negotiated balance of creative thinking and Lean process efficiency.
Key #3: Devote Time to the Work of Thinking
If you’re serious about innovation, then your organization should dedicate consistent blocks of time to the work of thinking. That’s not an easy commitment for Lean startups like ours, which must stay on the tips of our toes when managing our time. On a weekly and monthly basis, we analyze and reflect upon the current and potential future value of how we spend our time. We track our time to the 15 minute interval in the program Forecast, so that we can analyze trends and better understand the time-labor of a highly creative activity like writing.
Another useful strategy we employ is making a strong choice about the amount of monthly time we each commit to content and thought leadership Our editorial calendar is structured around our capacity, and then strategically aligned with our annual theme. It is a privilege to make time for growing your team’s expertise and thought leadership. And yet, it is critically important to the world that more and more experts make the time to translate what they know. They just have to do so in deeply reflective, highly intentional ways that harness productivity and maximize time management.