Most people—especially marketers—understand the importance of thought leadership, but that doesn’t mean everyone is doing it right. Simply sharing your opinion doesn’t make you a thought leader, and broadcasting isn’t the same as participating. To truly become a thought leader, your goal should be to become a part of the conversation and, ultimately, a trusted resource to your audience.

The Difference Between Thought Leadership & Sales

Consider what Michael Brenner says in his Forbes article on thought leadership: Branding is all about being associated with the questions our buyers are asking. Thoughtfully answering your buyers’ questions and not continually touting your products and services is actually one of the most effective ways to get your audience to trust your brand.

Unfortunately, there’s no short cut to becoming a thought leader. It takes a dedicated effort across many channels to really become a credible influencer. However, a key strategy is to start contributing bylined articles to relevant outlets within your industry—like this article right here on Relevance, for example.

Proceed with caution and good intentions, though. If you’re going to contribute, it needs to be in a way that truly adds value to the community. Answer your audience’s questions and address their pain points; don’t just be self-serving. Overly promoting your business is an easy trap to fall into, but it’s a waste of time for both you and your readers.

To be sure your next bylined article is on the right course, ask yourself these two questions before pitching it for publication:

1. Who Is This Written For & Why?

Who do you expect to read this article? Other people in your industry? Maybe someone with a similar role to yours? Potential clients and customers?

Hopefully you know the exact audience before you start writing the article, but thinking of them in terms of buyers and sellers helps keep your intentions in check and determine if you’re really trying to become a thought leader or just make a sale. Whatever you do, don’t try to veil your sales intentions behind thought leadership because most people see right through that.

Once you’ve defined your audience, think about why you are writing it. Are you sharing an experience, giving an opinion or providing a solution to a common problem? No matter what method you use in your piece, the goal should be to educate or inform.

For more help in making sure your articles are well-written and impactful, check out these tips from Entrepreneur (another great byline about bylines).

2. What Am I Linking To?

It’s easy to fall into the SEO guest posting habit of linking to as many product pages as possible to earn “link juice,” but there’s a good reason that’s not a white hat practice anymore.

Read back through your article and count how many times you link to something. Are those links beneficial resources that add value to the overall purpose of the piece, or are they linking to business homepages and product pages?

A link in your bio to your company’s site is fine, as is a relevant blog post or content piece on your company’s domain, but watch how many times you include those and give consideration to why you’ve included them. If something helps further explain a point you’re making or is an educational resource, go for it!

Earning opportunities to write bylined articles aren’t easy to come by. Even worse, bylined articles that drive measurable traffic, awareness and leads are even less common. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though.

To learn more about how to successfully write, pitch and promote your content, reserve your seat for our upcoming webinar, How to Grow Your Thought Leadership with Bylined Articles.