Becoming a so-called ‘thought leader’ is all the rage; now, everybody wants to be a speaker, build an easy revenue stream, write a book and change the world. I do believe that everyone has a story worth sharing. Everyone has overcome insurmountable odds that give them the right to impact the lives of others. But I also see people step up to the plate only to make a huge mistake that lands them miles away from their intended destination.
Based on my 20 years as a storyteller who has been supporting thought leaders, here is a list of mistakes to avoid as you embark upon your own thought leadership journey:
1. Understand the structural deficits.
Building a sustainable thought leadership platform requires an incredible amount of infrastructure. Think of yourself as a large commercial airplane. There is absolutely no way you’re going to build your thought leadership business alone. You are going to need some of the best minds in the world to support your platform’s growth and your brand’s launch.
Below is a two-year process to follow. It culminates in the thought leader’s national book release:
- Writing your book
- Creating your brand identity
- Building your website
- Developing your funnel
- Developing your pricing model
- Marketing strategy and execution
- Social media strategy and execution
- Speech design and coaching
- Sales strategy
- Merchandise design and creation
- Long-form content creation for email capture
- Short-form content creation for traffic generation
- SEO for organic traffic
- Advertising for paid traffic
- Working with an agent
- Working with a publisher
- Developing a public relations strategy.
Too many people get caught up in the book writing phase. They try to determine what their message is before tackling the required structural work. In my experience, during your first year you should focus on writing to help you articulate your brand value and position in the market. But you should also be developing the other strategies mentioned above.
2. Don’t start too late.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb
Hopefully the above list gives you an idea of all that you should consider when building a successful thought leadership business. Obviously, there is a huge amount of work that needs to be accomplished. If all you’ve done in year one is write your book, you’re likely to feel insanely overwhelmed at all that remains. You cannot begin to assemble the right people too soon. Get moving.
3. Don’t waste time or money working with the wrong people.
Trust me when I say you are looking for your “soul family” when building your team. These are people who are going to need to care deeply about your message and your mission. You are going to ask them to bring their A-game and go to bat for you in big ways. They have to be exceptional human beings with a combination of talent, professionalism, discipline and heart. You’re going to assemble a round table of professionals and every one of them has to be there working to impress everyone else. That’s how the tide rises for all of you.
4. Stop thinking small.
Size matters. Thought leadership implies you’re working to change the world. You’re not one of those people who says, “If I change one life I’m satisfied.” You’re in this to shift global consciousness and impact millions of people over the rest of your life. Don’t dip your toe in this pond and expect to make waves. Release your self-limiting beliefs and recognize that you are on this planet to do something extraordinary. Only you can take the responsibility of this entire platform because you’re the leader. You decide how big the game you’re playing is — you set the bar.
5. Don’t fear spending.
Building this kind of infrastructure takes investment. Whether you’re hiring major firms to handle each aspect of the work required or you’re bootstrapping alone, you’re going to need resources in place to establish yourself. Money is energy. You’re not only building the airplane — you have to fuel it, get it off the ground and fly it towards an intended destination, while servicing your passengers and maintaining the aircraft. Expect to invest well into six figures of your own money (or your own time). But you can also expect to start driving revenue back into the business model around the end of your first year if you establish your platform and start executing on some of your strategies and funnels.
What I see over and over is a fear of spending. That mentality is a killer. You should absolutely come to every negotiation with a vendor with a huge sense of fiduciary responsibility to protect the assets you have. That being said, you’re going to need to get comfortable seeing infrastructure investments go out before cash starts coming back.
6. Never sacrifice quality.
Every aspect of your brand must scream quality. Exceed your team’s expectations. This is where working with fantastic people plays into your success. Your job is to nurture your team so they are encouraged to pour their hearts and souls into helping you create quality and drive value for your audience. But you are the final say, so set a standard of excellence from the start.
7. Get vulnerable.
Vulnerability is sexy. We connect with leaders who are vulnerable. In fact, talent and perseverance coupled with vulnerability is a winning equation. You are not a superhero; you are a thought leader. Connect with your audience by openly sharing real-life moments with them. This is not a fake-it-til-you-make-it approach. Be a human brand if you want to inspire human beings.
You get one shot a decade if you’re lucky. If you’re aggressive, every five years you might be able to bring about a major life transition. As you prepare to take on the responsibility of a thought leader, ask yourself, “Am I preparing myself for success?” This shift will require an immense amount of time, energy and investment. But it’s also the ride of a lifetime. So get to work.