[IMGCAP(1)]Reprinted with permission from Next-Level Accountants: Your guide to growing a firm of trusted advisors.

Tax lawyer Kelly Phillips Erb, aka “taxgirl,” has written for The New York Times and is now a staff writer for Forbes.com, but she never set out to be a famous blogger or national thought leader.

She became those, however, by sharing what she knows. And along the way, she’s gained trust (and business) from clients, prospects and peers. Erb, whose blog ranks No. 5 on WalletHub’s Best Tax Blogs, has good advice for anyone considering writing as part of their marketing or business development efforts. Even if you don’t like to write, her tips can help you share your expertise in other ways (e.g., videos, podcasts).

Why it pays to generate thought leadership content:

• Credibility
• Relatability
• Networking

Providing “thought leadership,” or sharing your expertise without necessarily charging for it, is one way to establish yourself as an essential advisor to clients and prospects. It can create trust and boost credibility.

What started as an effort to educate existing clients became a showcase of Erb’s expertise and a way to connect with future clients, too. “If you establish yourself as an authority, it allows you to stand out in a really competitive market,” she says. “It’s a really great way to get noticed.”

[IMGCAP(2)]Erb found that posting tax law articles on the Internet leveled the playing field relative to much larger firms, especially when she and her husband formed their own law firm in 2000. “We didn’t have $5,000 to update the website or place ads in Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine,” she says. “One of the great things about writing ...is [that] you don’t have to put huge dollars behind it.”

Another benefit of content marketing is that clients see her as human and likable—key traits for winning trust. “Writing helps people put a face to you,” she says. “My readers know I am a mom and have three kids. I talk all the time about how I’m a busy mom.”

Showing that you’re relatable is important for many service professionals, Erb explains: “Especially with CPAs and attorneys, people aren’t coming to you because it’s a great moment for them. It’s usually because something bad has happened, or they’re worried something bad might happen or they’re overwhelmed. They’re coming to you because there’s a problem. When those people are looking for who can help them, they want a human.”

Finally, Erb’s writing has led to strong networking with industry peers and with other important audiences. She first realized this when her blog was named in 2008 to the best legal blogs by the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal, and again when she was asked to speak to tax professors at a law symposium. “I realized that new media had the potential to affect not only my relationships with clients but also other professionals and colleagues.”

How to become a thought leader:

• Define goals
• Don’t overcommit
• Find your lane
• Get a system

If you want to write and develop thought leadership content, Erb has several tips.

First, define you goals. “What is it you hope to accomplish?” she asks. If you need the phone to ring immediately, an online equivalent of a Yellow Page ad might be more helpful. Writing articles for your company blog or newsletter is a longer-term play that can establish you as a resource, get you noticed and showcase your expertise when your firm shows up in Internet searches.

Second, don’t overcommit. A common mistake new writers make is to set expectations on the blog that articles will be posted daily or more regularly than schedules allow. “Don’t be afraid to know your limitations,” Erb says. Pacing yourself is also part of providing thought leadership content.

“Everything doesn’t have to be a journal article,” she says. One friend offers brief advice each week on Facebook in the form of a post titled Tax Tip Tuesday. You could create a brief list, or tell a story of a recent meeting that helps clients and prospects learn from others’ circumstances. Answering questions from readers once you’ve started to cultivate a following can generate terrific blog posts as well.

Another way to limit any burden is to line up guest columns or interview another professional who has expertise outside your realm. “Not only are you networking and possibly helping someone else with their business, which is a good thing because they might be happy to refer someone back to you, you’re also reminding people, ‘Hey, this is what I do.’”

Third, find your voice and your medium of communication. Don’t assume you have to write about everything related to accounting. Sometimes focusing on a niche is better than taking a broad approach to your writing. “If you only like to do sales tax, write about sales tax and become the authority on sales tax, and when ABC News is looking for an expert on sales tax, they’ll come to you,” Erb says. And if you’re not enthusiastic about writing articles, look for other ways to share your expertise: Facebook entries, brief videos on YouTube or podcasts addressing popular topics among your customers. “There are so many ways to put your 2 cents in,” she says.

Finally, work out a system. Erb likes to keep a list of potential article topics in her purse so that whenever ideas strike, she can record them. You may need to set aside a block of time each day to write or develop ideas. Learn to edit your writing or ask others in your office to be a second set of eyes.

Erb is a strong proponent of sharing expertise via thought leadership, because the cumulative impact is that it builds your practice. “Whether you’re blogging or doing a podcast or having a nice, updated website, it allows you to control how you present yourself to the potential client and gives the client the opportunity to understand you’re a real person and you [realize] your job is to help them,” she says.

To learn more about growing your firm through thought leadership and better client communication, download the complimentary eBook, Next-Level Accountants: Your guide to growing a firm of trusted advisors.

Mary Ellen Biery is a research specialist at Sageworks, a financial information company that provides financial analysis and valuation applications to accounting firms.

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