How to Define Your Area of Subject Matter Expertise

The success of your thought leadership marketing strategy hinges upon starting at the right place.

Knowing where to start comes down to understanding where you are on the spectrum of subject matter expertise for the core topics related to your profession.

I have built a four-stage process for brainstorming all of your areas of knowledge and proving them using examples from your professional life.

Before we get into the process, the tool you will see in my screenshots is called a mind map.

I use Ayoa, but there are free mind mapping softwares out there. You can just copy the template I’m going to share into one of those.

Anyways, let’s get started on the first stage of our thought leadership strategy.

Map Out Your Broad Topic Areas

The first layer of your mind map is for brainstorming all of your broad topic areas where you have knowledge that relates to who you are professionally, as well as who you want to ultimately become.

The goal here is to be as broad as possible. You really want to think about all of those cross-areas of knowledge that aren’t directly related to your profession, but enhance your ability to do or think about your job.

Let’s use me as an example.

I want to be known as a thought leader on the theory of thought leadership, as well as on the art and science of writing impactful long-form content. I have been a professional writer for over 10 years, so I wouldn’t call myself an “expert” on anything, but I definitely have a solid amount of knowledge acquired through direct experiences.

The map above shows my four broad topics:

  1. Marketing
  2. Writing
  3. Communication Theory
  4. Human Behavior

You can tell if a topic is broad enough if it encompasses several subtopics. Marketing, for example, has over a dozen sub-topics at least.

Develop Your SubTopics

The next layer of the mind map is for the sub-topics that fall under each broad topic.

Each of the broad topic boxes will have corresponding subtopics branching off of it. Below is an example of some subtopics for marketing topics.

The list includes:

  • Social Media Marketing
  • Content Marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Web Development
  • Graphic Design
  • Audio & Video

Some other subtopics for marketing include:

  • Product Design & Marketing
  • Account-Based Marketing
  • Revenue Operations
  • Paid advertising
  • Influencer Marketing

Notice how these topics are more specific, yet you could still go deeper into the components of knowledge involved with each subtopic.

This brings us to layer 3.

List the Components of Each SubTopic

Each subtopic will have the components that make up that area of competency. This is where you define the nitty gritty of each subtopic.

Now, you will notice in my example that the components are specific, yet still leave some room for “sub-components” if you wanted to get that detailed. I didn’t do that in mine because I didn’t want the mind map to get too cluttered. Below are the main components of content marketing that I came up with.

This layer asks and answers “what are all the components involved in the day-to-day of implementing this subtropical knowledge?”

Once you have these mapped out, the final stage is to add your proofs of competency.

List Your Proofs of Competency

Your proofs of competency are the evidence from your life that shows your level of expertise within a specific component of a subtopic.

A proof of competency can be academic. A degree in marketing would be a proof of competency in marketing, for example. Try to be as specific as possible, though. List the specific class that taught you a specific component.

So for content marketing strategy, an example would be “learned how to develop a content strategy through the completion of the content marketing course in the Digital Marketing Certificate at manhattan college”.

Academic proofs of competency are on the bottom wrung of the proof ladder when it comes to thought leadership, though. Thought leaders need a solid amount of tangible, real-world experience to be taken seriously.

Professional proofs of competency are the ways you have used a specific component of knowledge to succeed in a professional capacity.

So for content marketing strategy, it shows a higher level of expertise if you can also say “developed and facilitated the execution of content strategy for [client] that led to a Y increase in [key performance indicator].”

Neither is “wrong”, rather they just indicate different levels of expertise.

Just be honest above all else. This is not a job application. You are not trying to impress anyone. It is only for getting a true assessment of your current subject matter expertise.

Once you have listed all of your proofs of competency for each component of each subtopic, you will have a detailed map of your expertise.

This will show you the most logical area for you to pursue thought leadership. It will also help you define and close your knowledge gaps, which is what we will cover in detail in step 2 of my 8-step strategy to becoming a thought leader in your niche.