How to Build an Effective Thought Leadership Program to Attract a Top Buyer At this year’s Enterprising Women of the Year Awards Celebration and Conference, there was a lot of discussion around succession planning. We heard from women entrepreneurs who successfully sold their companies and some of the lessons learned along the way. It was clear that business owners need to be actively working towards their exit long before they reach the negotiation table, anywhere from five to ten years before they want to sell. According to a survey by the Exit Planning Institute, 80% of business owners rely on the business as their largest retirement asset, yet 72% don’t know or don’t think their exit will impact their lifestyle. In addition, the rate of planning for an exit remains low as 83% of business owners do not have a transition plan in place. One aspect that entrepreneurs should focus on three to five years before they plan to sell is building their business reputation with the intent to attract a top buyer. This can be done through an effective thought leadership program including media relations, speaking engagements and awards. We have done this for clients who were approached by a competitor saying, “we’re seeing you everywhere, let’s talk.” Sharing your expertise in a variety of ways establishes credibility and elevates your brand in the market among prospects, clients and competitors. The good news is you already have the knowledge, experience and insights to share—it’s just a matter of packaging it in a way that is digestible and relevant to your target audience. Here are a few tips to get started creating a thought leadership program for your business: ■ Determine the two or three topics to own. It’s tempting to create a list of dozens of topics that you could talk about in media interviews and at conferences. I recommend focusing on a set of two or three core topics that you could scale depending on the format and outlet. You can evolve these topics over time but it’s a good starting point so you don’t get overwhelmed. These topics should represent the main problems that you solve, industry trends or key issues that you have successfully overcome. Keep in mind thought leadership is not selling but should be educational and create value for audiences who can learn from your expertise. ■ Identify media targets that matter. It is neither necessary nor possible to saturate the market by reaching out to every online, print, broadcast media target that exists within your sphere of influence. Think about what sources your prospects and competitors rely on to make decisions and prioritize those media outlets. You can start by submitting contributed articles, guest blog posts and Q&As in industry print and online publications and participate MANAGEMENT by Julie Lilliston Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com 24 enterprising Women