The Ultimate Guide to Thought Leadership

Strong brands build strong companies, strong brands have die-hard customers and have an easier time growing and increasing revenue year after year.

Our businesses need to stand out from the crowd, yet the world is a noisy place, to a ridiculous level. We’re bombarded with emails, messages, news, and opinions. We tune it all out, yet somehow we think our message is different. But it’s not. In this article, we’re going to talk about how you can be different, how you can stand out, cut through the noise, without just talking louder and more often than everyone else.

There isn’t some secret headline or message that will do it, no magic tricks. The secret is in stories, being able to pull people into a story, into a movement they believe in, and ultimately delivering on that dream the movement is built on. To do this, you need a good product, but also the ability to show empathy and a deep understanding of who they are, and showing them a way to get there. Enter thought leadership marketing.

Thought leadership, or influencer… buzzwords for sure. But to me it’s not about being famous, it’s not about being on stage, it’s not about followers and being the center of attention. It’s not about sending everyone your new book or telling them about your new webinar.

I also don’t care about your podcast, everyone has one. 

To me it’s about innovation, it’s about building a greater future, it’s about creating a movement people want to belong to. This is how we help people care about our message, our webinar, or our podcast in the first place. It’s building a trusted brand and a reputation that you’re the one that can bring buyers to their success. How? By telling stories, not about you, but stories your buyers can see themselves in. Stories where they achieve their dreams and overcome their biggest hurdles. Stories that create empathy and authority, to show you understand and that they can trust you to guide them through a process to success.

Again, we’re really talking about building a beloved brand, a movement. So your skill in articulating a future through a compelling story, and interweaving how your individual story intersects theirs is crucial. Like two people meeting on intersecting roads, having a quick conversation, and helping your buyers choose your path to success, but really their path, the path they were destined to travel. A good brand will show the right people (your ideal clients) down the right path, and everyone else will say, “Nice to meet you, talk to you later.” And everyone will be happier because of it.

A good brand will look like a growing movement of like-minded individuals all migrating down a path, who meet more and more people, who convey the same stories to more and more like-minded people. A good brand will create a group of people all telling the same story, with a similar goal, with the same understanding, with the same “why”, and the same reason they trust the “guide” (you) to get them there.

And when you have that, you’ll stand out, you’ll have others advocating for you. Your message will be unique and it’ll cut through the noise. And when you have that, more people will be talking about you, you’ll have more referrals and people will reach out to work with you, and then revenue growth.

I get the frustration of wanting to stand out, feeling like I have a voice and it being drowned out by the noise. Seeing buyers go with the competition even though I knew I was the better choice.

But I’ve learned how to break through. I’ve learned how through a lifetime of entrepreneurship, building multiple businesses, including a technology company that won awards from Inc. Magazine, a company with millions in annual revenue and a team of 25.

It took me 12 years to build that company, and after the fact, I knew it could have been done even faster.

It opened my eyes to the world of internet marketing, marketing funnels, social media, and content marketing. I combined those learnings with everything I had learned and developed strategies and tactics to build a modern company, rooted in first building amazing products, but also in ensuring people could learn about those amazing products, buy them, and also get results.

There was a lot to learn and it was even harder to apply, but the best things in life come through trial by fire.

Ready to go through the mountains and valleys to achieve a modern digital company ready for an ever-changing world? I have your back.

Let’s start at the beginning, so we can see what a strong foundation looks like, and set the stage for future success.

Enter thought leadership, what is a thought leader?

Let’s drop all the jargon, let’s make this practical. If you have ideas, if you can see into the future… and identify risks and opportunities… you could be a thought leader. The only final requirement is that you can bring those ideas back to the public, and outline a way to take advantage of those opportunities, and avoid the risks.

Simple, right? You see the future, can articulate why it matters to others and can help people make the best of that future.

I think it’s vital we not tell ourselves stories that being a thought leader requires being on stage, giving talks, writing books. It could be, but that isn’t the point. Content, ideas, and process can be shared in any number of ways.

Extroverts may prefer the more flamboyant, front and center approach, but introverts also have a medium to convey their ideas, carefully crafting their ideas in private and presenting them when they are ready.

Who can use thought leadership?

CEOs and Founders who want to create attention, authority, and trust in the marketing place to generate inbound opportunities for their sales team. Small, medium, and larger organizations, even startups, can leverage thought leadership to drive new business for their services, products, and even software or SaaS products.

Professional service-based businesses who want to stand out, cut through the noise, and establish themselves as the trusted advisor, the trusted brand in order to grow their business.

Marketing directors and teams who want to develop unique ways to build a brand and use content marketing to generate new leads and grow revenue.

Independent thought leaders (consultants, professional speakers, and authors, etc.) who would like to generate revenue and share the unique perspective of their personal or professional experience.

Strong Foundations

Every good thing has a strong foundation. When I started learning piano, a lot of teachers would let me do things beyond my skill. I would struggle no matter what I did. It was all because of foundations. I was lucky enough to have one teacher who insisted I slow down and get back to the basics. We spent a bunch of time playing very simple ideas (even single notes) over and over with a metronome. Turned out my rhythm wasn’t great, and that fundamental error created all sorts of artifacts in my playing that kept it from being professional. I was lucky enough to have him slow me down, as I couldn’t see how these fundamental problems were linked to all my frustrations. After I slowed down and patiently focused on the fundamentals, every aspect of my piano ability was increased by several factors.

So let’s discuss the basics.

Ideas

Thought leadership is based on ideas, insights, concepts people can use to take advantage of some opportunity or to avoid risk. Not all ideas need to be original, we’ll get into all of that, but you need ideas to be a thought leader.

Brand

The purpose, the why behind your thought leadership, is important. It’s the story that provides context to anyone that interacts with you. There need to be clear points of intersection between you and your audience that create interest, energy, and reason to pay attention to you. It’s less about your story, but how you’re the guide, the leader in someone else’s story, their journey.

Content

We’ll need material for our audience to read, view, and consume for them to understand our perspective. We’ll need to consistently talk about our ideas, our story (their story) from various angles so that over time we can establish ourselves as the trusted guide. We want to establish a level of trust with our audience so they will choose us to follow in order to achieve their dreams.

Interaction (experience)

In order to create real relationships, we need to actually interact with our audience. This can be in person, a speech, a book, a workshop, a podcast, or even consulting services.

I’m not talking about the content itself, but the interaction of someone viewing that content, or using our service that creates an experience. A tangible result in their life, direction, movement, transformation, revenue generation. Interaction is when your ideas, your brand, your content, or service actually creates an experience with someone and provides tangible results.

Why thought leadership?

Thought leadership is a great mechanism for building a well-known, loved, and trusted brand.

At the core of it, we’re talking about how to use content marketing to build a brand and reputation with a specific target market and using thought leadership as the basis for our content.

Content has the ability to scale, to reach audiences far beyond our 1-on-1 on conversations. It can be seen by your existing network on social media and social algorithms can organically show it to other people. You can use paid ads on social platforms to put it in front of people. It can be shared by your peers, it can be a resource for someone else to use in their business. Sometimes content can be shared deeply into networks you don’t even belong to. It continues to sell for us when we sleep, 24/7.

It creates awareness we exist, of the products and services we offer. It creates consideration to buy those services, and it can even call views to action to make a purchase. And we don’t even need to be present in the room to make it happen.

Becoming A Brand Builder

Breaking down the process of building a brand on thought leadership is a series of steps any company, organization, or individual must take.

Engaging Content Creator

Creating high-quality content that produces “aha” type moments is critical in content marketing. When someone finishes reading, view or interacting with your content, you want them to walk away saying, “Wow! I’m glad that I watched that.” Beyond that, you want them to think, “Because I know this, my life is now better.” You want them to know what risk they avoided and help give them an emotional reaction and understanding that these steps you’ve provided will provide them tangible results.

To achieve this, you’re really looking to create a transformational change in their life, business, or perspective that creates a positive result.

Again, a great way to convey transformational change is through the use of stories. Like I did with my struggles with regard to piano. I had a dream, but a problem getting there. The problem was properly diagnosed, and through effort, I achieved my desired results and learned a valuable lesson I can teach to others.

So, what are some questions we can ask ourselves as we develop content to make sure it’s high quality and engaging?

Continuity

Once we start making content, we want to make sure the content connects, relates, and resonates with your brand, with your stories, with your ideas.

Framework

We also want to create a clear concise idea, a framework that someone can place themselves in and instantly see themselves achieving this change. It’s great to have ideas, but we need to connect those ideas with outcomes that people can relate to and ultimately envision themselves taking advantage of. Your models and content should be teachable.

Impact

Are you able to produce high-quality, engaging, and impactful content? It’s vital that your content addresses a need in the market and that it’s useful. Make sure the content provides a thorough explanation of the insights you want your audience to understand by ensuring “aha” moments are experienced.

Consistency

Are you creating a clear strategy that will produce a consistent message for your audience? The experience with your content should be much like your brand, a consistent experience. It’s important to document and codify everything so as you develop content so the structure remains consistent.

First steps

One of the most important parts of your content is that it’s actionable and offers a clear initial step for beginners. If someone is new, does it provide the steps they can use to take action and begin? Are you providing a step-by-step approach? We often underestimate the detail needed to enable someone to walk the walk and achieve the vision. If the information is too vague, the viewer may be interested, but unable to see themselves taking the required action.

Center of Influence

Being seen as a trusted advisor, with prospective clients, and other centers of influence in and around your industry.

Community builder

Being able to inspire and lead a group of people who look up to you for ideas and leadership, but also someone who listens, takes in feedback, provides support, and is a bridge for people to come together and thrive as a group.

Getting Started

Now after talking at length about not focusing too much on ROI, I know we do want to see results. So the focus needs to be getting results as quickly as possible, with the least amount of work. And at each leg of the race, defining what those results are and ensuring we get there quickly to keep our energy and momentum. We want to maintain excitement about where we’re going and its overall promise.

So the focus should be on implementing a minimal functioning system that lets you measure some result. That is, we want a functioning system that is running, works, and can be measured in some way to improve from there.

My only requirement for an MVP is that your content marketing system is:

  • Sustainable
  • Consistent
  • High quality (engaging)
  • Has measurable results
  • Can be improved over time

Think of your MVP as a simple operating system for your content marketing.

We’ll do the least amount of work to get 6 key areas defined and running:

  • Content strategy
  • Pillar long-form content
  • Post production to repurposing content
  • Distribution
  • Community (brand advocates)
  • Feedback System

Let’s dig in.

Content Strategy

How you think about your content strategy is vital. It doesn’t need to be perfect to start, but you should think a few things through first.

Understanding the buyer’s journey:

Awareness: education, products, features, beignets, results

Consideration: testimonials, results, ease of use, what the experience offers

Buyers need to see 6-14 pieces of content before they are ready to reach out.

Intended Audience

We obviously want our potential buyers to see our content. We all have that dream our ideal client will see our video, blog, whatever, and instantly fall in love and call us. It happens, but don’t think quite so narrowly, because that situation is more uncommon than common (at least when starting out). 

But who else may benefit from your content, how can you help other professionals do their job better? What resources can you provide them that can help them with their customers? Information that not only positions you as the expert but keeps you top of mind and also visible to their customers.

If you do home loans, it might be hard to consistently provide value to home buyers to stay top of mind, only because most people don’t continually buy new homes. So emailing past buyers or potential buyers talking about interest rates could make you an annoying content creator.

However, you could be providing valuable resources to realtors so they can better serve their customers, making you top of mind to the individuals who are talking to active buyers, who do care about interest rates or any number of other things relevant to an active buyer.

The point here is, whether you sell products, services, technology, or even software, who are the relevant people in your industry beyond your customers? Sure, create content for past and future customers, but think more strategically about all the spheres of influence in your ecosystem. Who are all the players? How can you stay top of mind with valuable content that serves them?

Niche or Industry Focus

This is different for every company, but it’s important you think carefully about who is consuming your content. You may have valuable information when applied, but value is subjective and the viewer determines what is valuable or not.

Some companies can talk directly about their niche expertise and their audience finds it interesting. A good example here is a marketing company that helps grow your business. There are always exceptions, but most companies want to grow, most CEOs like hearing about tangible advice on doing so. So in this case, a marketing company can talk openly about its own expertise, and its audience will consume it and find it valuable.

Other industries aren’t always as lucky. Let’s take CPAs and accountants for example. As a business owner, I really don’t care to hear about the latest tax strategy or how to deduct more expenses. I hired a good accountant to take care of and handle all this information for me.

Now of course I do care if they understand how to help me take advantage of all these opportunities, so some content around this subject is good, but talking about it too much can be overwhelming for the audience to consume. Other topics may be more interesting and hold their audience’s attention longer.

For example, I’ve seen many CPAs and accountants talking more about leadership topics, personality tests, business models, and how to handle sensitive financial information with employees. These topics may not be the nuts and bolts of what they provide as a service, but they may be more interesting to potential customers, or enough of a variety that you can speak to them more often. By proxy, they will eventually learn about your services and may purchase them.

Many accountants also have industry expertise, maybe in manufacturing or in startups. This type of information may be more digestible on a more regular basis and may capture and hold interest in your target market long enough for them to become aware of your services and then buy them.

I’ve seen similar issues in the technology sector. Technology companies love talking about technology, but often businesses only care about the business results. The discussions on technology can attract other technology professionals, but that content may not attract the people that would actually buy your services. Of course, other technology professionals may spread the word about you, sure, which is great, but it may take longer and it’s not like you’re talking directly to potential customers.

In the end, you’ll want to create a mix of content in the right proportions, covering your core competency, but also keeping your target market interested so you can speak to them regularly and not bore them.

Macro or Micro Focus

You’ll also need to think carefully about how wide or focused your content will be. Some companies provide a wide array of products and or services. Some provide a very narrow and specific service based on research.

Your content strategy should provide the appropriate variety or focus to match what service you provide. If you provide more general services, you may need to cover a wide range of topics over time to establish the kind of authority in the market you desire.

If your product or service is extremely niche, then the content may need to be equally as niche or you may not stand out from the competition, looking like a more generalized company than you really are.

Company-Wide Or Individual Effort

Another important question to answer is who is actually responsible for creating the content? In some companies, there is a principal expert or logical content creator who will produce most of the content, whatever that is. In other companies, there is enough expertise throughout the company. This needs to be intentional and all responsible parties need to be given the time to create.

Creating content is hard. The company can’t just make this another thing on the to do list. Content needs to be good, engaging, and creative. So deciding who will be responsible for the creation of content is critical.

Developing Ideas

You may or may not have ideas ready to roll. Either way, it’s good practice to have a framework to think about those ideas. This will allow you to articulate them better and increase their value. Ideas are great, but it’s in the articulation of those ideas where you have the chance to make them more and more valuable. So let’s talk about the different types of ideas.

Original Ideas

This is the rarest type of idea, a completely new and original idea. It doesn’t really happen often, and it’s not vital to the success of a thought leader to have original ideas. If you have one, great, if it solves a significant problem great. In this case, your content will likely revolve around this single idea or research.

Refining Existing Ideas

When you refine an idea, you simply take something that already exists and improve it. This is one of the more common approaches. You take something that works well and make it even better.

Combining Ideas

Often masked as a brand new idea, many ideas are simply the combination of two or more ideas to make something new. This is a common approach that I’ve personally used a lot in my career.

Transporting Ideas

Transportation is when you take an idea that is very familiar in one industry and introduce it to another. A good example of this is Agile software development. Originally designed for the software industry to stay nimble and focused on results, other industries have adopted similar systems for all things related to process.

Mix and Match Ideas

And of course, you can mix and match all the above. In truth, most of my best ideas are a combination of refinement, combination, and transportation.

Let’s use my Thought Leadership Accelerator program, which helps you implement our Content Distribution Framework™. This program helps you implement a minimum viable set of systems and processes to produce and distribute content for your company, and most importantly, improve over performance over time.

Content marketing is not new, but what I did was refine how it was done, combine multiple skills into one product, and introduce the idea to businesses that did not traditionally use content marketing. It’s quite common in the startup space, but more traditional businesses often still rely heavily on simple networking and referrals to grow their business.

Refining the ideas, bringing them together, and also introducing them into new markets increases their value.

Pillar Long Form Content

Creating content is hard, especially when you think about all the various platforms involved, YouTube, social media, Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram… and yes, TikTok… and on and on… Few companies, even the best, can produce original content at the platform level. So the trick is to develop a single engine for your content creation, a Podcast, a Webinar, a Workshop, an ongoing event…. Something that can be recorded (ideally in video) and then repurposed to other platforms.

A lot of the time entrepreneurs and businesses push aside the idea of a Podcast as too much work, wondering how they will get subscribers to listen. But getting subscribers doesn’t have to be the main reason to start a Podcast. The Podcast itself doesn’t need to be a revenue source. That can always come later after you get momentum.

The best reason to start a Podcast is the content you create, the content you can then repurpose and distribute.

For instance, each week I produce a 30-45 minute podcast (that is also video)…

That turns into:

  • A video on YouTube with optimized title and description for organic search.
  • An embedded video on my website, with a 5,000+ transcription to help with SEO.
  • The audio is pushed to 10+ audio platforms as a Podcast.
  • The video is cut up into a daily video I can publish to LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
  • The video clips are also sent to my guests (with me next to them) so they can publish them on their social channels. It’s a great way to say thank you and also get exposure to new networks.
  • I can send prospects videos when I see they need more information on a given topic.

And that’s just the beginning. And best of all, my team can do most of that behind the scenes without my help. That is an extremely high rate of return for that single hour of my time.

And remember, this doesn’t have to be a traditional Podcast. It can be a webinar, workshop, event… internal meeting… Anything that you can record and that has value to your potential audience. Don’t box yourself in, the potential is right there if you just expand your mind to what is possible.

I personally do interviews with people I’d love to do business with, who are also subject matter experts. So I don’t even need to produce original content each week. My guests do most of the talking.

It also helps me reach out to people I’d love to work with, create awareness of who I am, create curiosity and interest. It’s also a great resource you can send someone when you meet them so they can check out an interview that goes deeper into the conversation you’re having with them.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you on this part of the process is not to overthink it. Not to overthink what you’ll talk about, just start, give yourself a break, and just allow yourself to improve it over time. Even if no one shows up to your webinar or workshop, I’d still call it a success because you’re moving, and now you have early feedback to improve your approach.

Post Production and Repurposing Content

So you’ve got some sort of show concept now, a vlog, a Podcast, ongoing webinar series, or a workshop? SOMETHING! Yes… amazing. You’re now a part of the 1% (soon to be the majority, so be satisfied you’re ahead of the game now).

The next major hurdle to conquer is repurposing this content effectively so it can be distributed.

Where I see companies go wrong is:

  • Biting off more than they can chew
  • Not supporting their team with the required processes & skills
  • Not outsourcing repetitive tasks

Start small, value the processes and skills over business results right now. This is a complex process, and while each step is pretty easy, it’s all the various steps that make it hard. Not only the number of steps but the number of assets, video files, audio files, clips, etc. And sometimes the number of people involved also makes it complex.

Be extremely careful, patient, and meticulous as you set this up. Start small, and make the processes and systems the priority, so everyone knows their roles, what to do, and that there is a place to drop every media file, and an easy way to find everything. That means a structured shared folder on the cloud, links to files, everything.

It’s at this stage you’ll prepare the video files for uploading. That might mean clipping the beginnings and the end (where there was small chit chat before the event). Identifying what might be a good clip for social media. Clipping the long-form video into clips, creating headlines, thumbnails, etc., for any place that you plan to publish the content. You might argue there is overlap here with content distribution, but the key is… every platform is different. LinkedIn is different from YouTube, TikTok is different from someone viewing content on your website. Podcasting is different from YouTube. So as you think about reformatting content to those various platforms, you need to make sure the content is packaged correctly so the viewers will digest your content there.

You might also need to “rip” the audio from the video for publication on the various podcasting platforms.

The goal here is to be minimal, value process, organization, and having a strong foundation to improve. You don’t want to lose morale or create stress in your team.

Content Distribution

This part of the content creation process is often overlooked by companies. The most basic example I can share is companies taking their blogs and simply reposting them to social media like LinkedIn. It’s a blatant misunderstanding of how content should be distributed. In general, people don’t visit social media in order to go to your website and read your blog (sorry, no offense). So simply logging onto LinkedIn, dropping in your blog, saying you’re welcome, isn’t going to work well.

Social media like LinkedIn works as a news feed, people consume content in the feed. They want to take away value in the feed, and move on, not go somewhere else to read more. So a simple technique can improve the consumption of your blog content overnight. Instead of posting a link to the blog, pull some of the insights out of the blog, and let people consume the content in the post itself. Most blogs make 3-5 strong points, turn that single blog into 3-5 posts, with short-form content. Then you can say, “to read the whole article, I linked the full blog in the first comment.” This provides the value in the feed and it’s far more likely the content will be consumed. People may or may not click the link to read the full blog, but they consumed something and will remember you if they value the content. There are other reasons not to link to external sources in the post itself (the algorithm punishes you because they don’t want people leaving the platform to your website), but the main reason to do it this way is to ensure people actually consume your content in the feed.

The concept example above about your blog applies to your video content as well. On YouTube, people expect to watch longer-form content. On social media, they consume short clips, ~ 60 seconds.

If you publish a long 10+ minute video on LinkedIn, chances are no one will actually watch it. So you need to package the content in such a way that people will watch it on whatever platform you’re publishing to. I will say this takes practice, so the objective is not to be perfect. But to be aware, and see it from the eyes of someone consuming it. How often do they log in to social media, how long are they there? Is the length of the clip appropriate? Does it contain the gem of information that will make them walk away and say, “Wow I’m really glad I randomly saw that today, my life is better because of it”?

That is the type of thinking you have to have to make this successful. The goal is not to dump as much content on the world as possible. It’s to dump as much relevant content, that will drive a real impact and actually be consumed. This takes a lot of attention to detail, your audience. And it’s what most companies are NOT doing, so it’s a great opportunity for you.

Content should feel like a selfless act. Once your mind switches from providing value to ‘I need to get this out to get it off my plate,’ you’re headed in the wrong direction.

You need to assess each platform you’re pushing to, decide how people consume information, and update the content to fit that need.

Again, that is why you should start small, get the systems and processes in place to cater to that platform, and value doing it right, then business results as you get going. Business results will come from being consistent and doing it right.

Community Building

Community is vital in a modern noisy world. In the old days, marketing channels were dominated by large companies who could buy up the ad space to reach customers. People were exposed to a limited number of brands and messages, choice was limited. Now everyone is segregated and choosing where to put their attention, on various social platforms, groups, forums, etc. Instead of communicating generic messages to everyone, like-minded people are grouped together, with similar language, interests, and concerns. We need to be integrating with these communities and helping build them, or our own, to ensure we can deliver a message that resonates with the group we want to talk to. It’s never been so easy to reach people, but everyone’s guard is up as well. Word of mouth marketing is more powerful than ever, with people ready to rave about our products and services assuming we speak to them, provide value and deliver results. Word of mouth will likely become more and more important as the trust of new untrusted brands flood the market asking for our attention. We want to be intentionally building a group of brand advocates that support us, spread our mission, values, and story.

A lot of people talk about building an audience, but I think that term is antiquated. An audience sits and listens, and doesn’t respond. Like a TV ad talking to someone sitting on the couch, the audience certainly doesn’t talk with each other either. With social media, with workshops, with podcasts, people want to interact with us. They want to talk to you, and they want to interact with your team, and they even want to interact with each other. They come together not only to hear you but also to talk to each other and learn from each other. They provide you feedback and help you further define your own ideas.

In fact, these communities will openly interact with other communities as well, sharing and growing through interaction. Your members may join other communities, tell others about yours, etc. The idea of being threatened and controlling people is long gone. The goal of any community is to put the members first and to do anything and everything to provide them value.

But what is a community more specifically, in terms of marketing, building a business, and building a brand? Like a local community group, it’s just a group of people that share common goals, or interests, and want to learn the same thing. Community can be built in any number of ways. It can be a regular Zoom meeting, or in person event, they can exist on various chat platforms or across social media, in groups, forums. It could even be done across an email list. It’s really going to depend a lot on the audience. How are they used to doing business? Where do they hang out? What would feel natural to them?

The key is you create a channel to communicate with the members, you organize them, and you may create ways for the members to interact as well.

I always like to encourage community builders to ensure they can contact their members, ideally by gathering their email addresses. So if you find them on social media, or on your podcast, gradually getting them to subscribe to your email list is a good idea. You’ll want to make sure not to abuse that channel, only providing value, advice, information, but you want to stay connected to your people if algorithms change, the platforms disappear, become irrelevant, government steps in, whatever the case.

You don’t want to build your marketing machine on rented land.

So there are all sorts of techniques to do this. In general, the tactics are to be persistent, invite them to join the email list, explain why it might be valuable, don’t be forceful, and be patient. Being intentional about how you want to grow, what value you provide, and being patient is the winning combination.

The community can be almost anything these days. 

But again, start small, get started. Put in the most basic systems to start to build out your community. Most communities start with one person, then two, and grow from there, so don’t overthink or engineer it.

You want momentum and the system and processes your team can implement more than anything else at this early stage.

Optimization

Optimization is probably the most important part of your content marketing operating system. I’ve stressed keeping things simple to start, with systems and processes that can be improved over time.

This practice is often overlooked. People are so busy they forget to check in on how things are going and ensure the work they are doing is worthwhile. When you start, it’s impossible to know everything, how people will react, if the content will resonate, if it’s actually reaching your intended audience, etc. So this final piece is vital! You need to be monitoring each channel where your content is published so you can review and improve over time. Some platforms like YouTube will give you a lot of information about your content. How many people watched, how much they watched, where they dropped off, etc. You can review likes and comments. Comments can provide a lot of insight. What do they say? Do you get additional questions? Questions can make great ideas for future content topics.

On social media, you can see similar metrics. People can also reach out to you and DM you, thank you for your effort, etc. Sometimes it’s subjective data, either way, someone needs to be in charge of monitoring these channels and bring that data for conversation and discussion. You need to develop the muscle that gives you control over what you’ll do next. Not only do you need to improve the content itself, but your ability to grab attention.

What Skills Do We Need?

So what does a person or organization need along their journey?

Growth mindset

The following 5 competencies encompass the capabilities that especially support the well-being of solopreneurs.

Sustaining Motivation

Creating resilient avenues that leverage your grit and passion while maintaining consistent accountability, discipline, and patience in execution.

Finding and Sharing Authenticity

Tapping into your vulnerability to uncover your purpose and align your inner and outer stories. Courageously sharing with others, despite how controversial or risky it may feel.

Connecting Heart to Heart

The ability to move and connect deeply with others through displaying strong emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, psychological understanding, communication, and people skills.

Fostering Learning & Change Mindsets

Actively engaging your drive to learn, experiment, and be curious so you stay on the leading edge of your purpose.

Navigating Anxiety

The skills to effectively cope with and navigate the range of anxieties solopreneurs face, including uncertainty, ambiguity, faith, trust, loneliness, indecisiveness, imposter syndrome, among many others.

Influence

The following 3 competencies encompass the capabilities to grow your reach, thus influencing at scale.

Creating Short Form Content

The skills to write, design, and/or produce compelling media appropriate for your chosen social media channel(s), at a consistent, meaningful frequency in ways that speak to your audience.

Examples: being able to create videos, podcasts, or social media posts that get engagement.

Mastering Social Media Platforms

The knowledge of how your chosen social media platform(s) work behind the scenes and the technical skills for how to stand out.

Examples: SEO, tagging, referral relationships, etc.

Managing Community

The skills to build a strategy with an intentional focus on growing followership and their interaction with you.

Business expertise

The following 4 competencies encompass the capabilities to execute and operate your work as a business.

Sales & Marketing Expertise

The skills and techniques to convert your community into clients through building a brand and sales funnels.

Business Model & Strategy Expertise

The ability to envision, develop and make decisions aligned to a strong business model including a value proposition, target audience descriptions, revenue streams, consumer channels, and mission/vision.

Business Systems & Management Expertise

The technical skills for basic business operating tools such as accounting, web conferencing, relationship management, and project management.

Scaling & Automation Expertise

The skills to manage your business at scale via automation of tasks/processes, recruiting freelance or full-time team members, and/or leveraging strategic partnerships.

Thought leadership

The following 3 competencies encompass the capabilities to grow your authority via unique thought leadership.

Engaging Speaking & Publishing Opportunities

The knowledge and skills to navigate the systems behind paid speaking opportunities and publishing processes.

Developing Your Unique POV

Reflecting on and articulating expertise in an area into a clear, definite, original, unique point of view, that people want and need to hear, but may not be common.

The readiness to share potentially controversial ideas.

Researching & Producing Complex Content

Developing books, training, speeches, in-depth podcasts, movies, or other longer form content using researching, storytelling, logical organization, complex idea simplification, synthesis, and intellectual property development skills.

Achieving Success

Road Blocks

It’s not as hard as it seems. Most of us have what it takes. The question is, will you do what it takes? The biggest hurdle is the commitment and jumping in without having it all figured out ahead of time. Being committed to setting up the systems and processes to put you in the position of figuring it out, and having them support you until you get some direction and hone your message.

One hurdle I see many companies get stuck on is ROI. When will I see a return? When will I get my first lead, the new business? Important questions for sure, but not as a gateway to get started. Especially because ROI on brand can be hard to measure. Word of mouth is a major channel for Brand marketing, so tracking exactly how and where someone heard about you is hard. Direct referrals are easier, but sometimes people tell other people, “Hey you should check these guys out. I saw an article the other day and I know you’re looking for X.”

We want to see measurable results in revenue growth, but when you are starting from square one, it’s not smart to tie ROI to the final metric that you want, because it’s just too far away. How much would it be worth to have confidence you’re on the right track, to wake up and say, I’m getting this, I see how this works now, I can double down here… I don’t need to be doing that. Think of how you and the team will feel. What is the ROI in being able to articulate your story, the value behind your services, and learn what customers really want?

I’d argue focusing too strictly on ROI and having everything perfect to start is your biggest obstacle to making this work. ROI puts a huge emphasis on measuring a return when brand and reputation are hard to measure. How do you measure a referral, etc.?

Revenue is also focused on your growth, wanting new business is all about you. Brands are focused on their customers, proving value, and knowing the business will come. Brands think long term. Being focused on leads is a false business god. It sounds smart and clever but it just shows where your focus is. Brands focus on relationships, all the time, not just when the public is looking. In public they talk about how they can provide value first and foremost. 

And truthfully, we know brand works anyway. Look at Nike, look at Coca Cola, or Apple. Look at personal brands like Gary Vaynerchuk. Brand works, content marketing works, social media works. If you need to be convinced, maybe this article isn’t for you. I’m starting with the assumption it works, and that figuring it out as quickly as possible is the best way to get a good ROI.

If we decide brand works, that content marketing and social media work, how much is it worth to figure that out? How much is it worth to speed up that progress? To do it twice as fast? How much is it worth to finally get the processes in place so you’re executing every day? So the team feels like they are making progress and no longer just debating it, day after day? How much is team morale worth?

Risks

Not owning it

Thought leadership is rooted in ownership in all ways. It’s you who carries out the plan. It is you who needs to be consistent. It is you who needs to find the right messaging. It is you who needs to find the right platform(s) that best fit your style and ability. It begins and ends with you. Blaming your audience or the market for not connecting with you is not owning it. It’s your responsibility. 

Perfection

Perfection is a form of procrastination. It’s a justification to push the deadline. To put off posting consistently. You will find something wrong with your content or process, so you will delay it until nothing is consistent or moving forward. Content is not meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be improved over time. Content is not an engineering problem to be solved with the right formulas. Forget being perfect, go for being authentic, which is imperfect. 

Resistant to change (Not pivoting)

Content marketing is an ever evolving process. The market and your audience are always changing. Prior to COVID, there was a certain mentality to the market. During COVID it totally changed. It will change again post-COVID. What worked last year might not work this year. Learn to be fluid with your processes. Change when the feedback you get from your campaigns says you are not producing the desired results. 

Not listening to your audience

It’s not about you. It’s not even about what you think is right or wrong. Only your audience can tell you that. Your audience will respond to whatever content you put out there. This doesn’t mean you change to please everyone – an impossible task. It means that you should be looking for patterns in your audience of whether they are responding to your message or not. Pay attention to how they comment or not comment. Your audience is the market. 

Not generating value

Are you leaving people with something to walk away with and use? Or are you just providing fluff? Thought leadership isn’t about holding back until they pony up the money. It’s about improving lives right now. They can read, listen and watch everything you produce but content cannot replace the true value of working with you in the end. Before they get to the end with you (or without) find ways to improve your audience today. 

Not generating enough content

It takes, as I mentioned, 6 to 14 pieces of content before your buyer decides to work with you. And that’s only for one person. How much content do you need to produce? Hard to say. Once or twice a week, for certain, is not enough. Daily content is how you stay on top of mind for your entire network. You can’t know when certain people come on to the platform and when certain people don’t. You need to produce enough content to be around for when people hop on. 

Not being able to grab attention

Whichever platform you are on, you’re not the only one there. You are competing for attention in a very crowded space. The ones that capture attention are the ones that have a chance. There are lots of ways to get attention. Many folks resort to click-bait headlines. There is no need for that. Build a powerful presence, with ways that authentically grab attention, and hold it. 

Bring It All Together

Thought leadership is based on ideas, insights, concepts that can reduce risk for others or be a guidepost to the future. Thought leaders begin with establishing a brand. A brand is what you stand for. What you want to be known for. What problems you solve. And from the brand, you create content to connect with your target market. From your content, you create a community. The community is where you will find your buyers. 

The guide above has taken you from A to Z. It has shown you the risk involved, the roadblocks that could be coming. It’s given you the materials you need to build your machine. Read the guide again. Jot down thoughts of how you will put this all together for yourself. 

And then begin.

Huge thanks to my friend Bill Sherman from Thought Leadership Leverage for much inspiration, knowledge and information that supported this blog.

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