Thought leadership is all the rage. A select group of people have made it look easy and now everybody wants to be a speaker, to build an easy revenue stream, to write a book and change the world. I’m a believer that everybody has a story worth sharing. Everyone has overcome insurmountable odds that give them the right to tell their story and impact the lives of others. But I’m also in a business where I constantly see people step up to the plate and then make huge mistakes that eventually land them miles away from their intended destination. So based on my 20 years as a storyteller who has been supporting thought leaders to make a significant shift in their life from success to significance, here is a list of mistakes to avoid as you embark upon your own thought leadership journey.
1. Structural Deficit
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 the growth of your platform and the launch of your brand. In my experience, when I have clients who can spend time on this every day, the following is a two-year process that culminates in the national release of a thought leader’s book:
- 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
- Public Relations
Too many people get caught up in the book writing phase and trying to determine who they are and what their message is and that prevents them from moving forward into all the other structural work that is required. In my experience, year one should focus on the book writing to help you articulate your brand value and position in the market, but you should also be developing items 1 through 14 above during year one.
2. Starting 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 needs to be considered in 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 everything else that remains to be done. You simply cannot begin to assemble the right people too soon. Get moving.
3. Wasting Time or Money Working with the Wrong People
As a thought leader, the people you surround yourself with are going to determine your success. Trust me when I say you are looking for your “soul family” when you’re 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. Thinking Small
Size matters. Thought leadership by definition 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 here 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 is that you’re playing--from little league to the Olympics--you set the bar.
5. Fear of 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 and going it alone, you’re going to need resources in place to establish yourself. Money is energy and you’re not only building the airplane, you then have to fuel it, get it off the ground, and fly it towards an intended destination all while servicing your passengers and maintaining the aircraft so it performs. Over the two to three years of setting yourself up for launch you should 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 year one 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 the risk 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 at your disposal. That being said you’re going to need to get comfortable seeing infrastructure expense going out before cash starts coming back to you.
6. Sacrificing Quality
Every step of the way, your growing tribe is going to be evaluating your value in their life. From the writing of your book, to the look and flow of your website, to the quality of the free ebook download that invites them into your funnel—every aspect of your brand must scream quality. Exceed their expectations. This is where working with fantastic people plays into your success. Your job is to nurture your people 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. Refusing to Get Vulnerable
Vulnerability is sexy. We connect with leaders who are vulnerable. In fact, talent and perseverance coupled with vulnerability is the winning equation. You are not a superhero, you are a thought leader. The way to connect with your audience is to openly share the real moments of your life with them. This approach to building your business is not a “fake it til you make it” approach. Be a human brand if you want to inspire human beings.
In summary, you get one shot a decade if you’re lucky. If you’re aggressive, you might create a major shot for yourself every 5 years that can bring about a major transition in your life. As you prepare to take on the responsibility of a thought leader, ask yourself, “Am I preparing myself for success?” Yes, this shift will require an immense amount of time, energy, and investment. But it’s also the ride of a lifetime. Get to work.