Hear me out, because this is important.
You’re a thought leader.
Sit with that a second, and close your eyes.
What do you see?
Do you have visions of yourself sitting with a bowl of crystals, sage burning somewhere off camera? Sitting in full lotus, somehow wearing a mustard-colored yoga outfit?
Or can you not see yourself at all?
Maybe the phrase is too loaded. Too trivial. Too “millennial catch phrase bingo LinkedIn descriptors.”
Like the time someone came across my LinkedIn profile and started a conversation about how since I’m such an influencer, I should be interested in what he had to say.
I don’t always respond to LinkedIn conversations, but that one was too funny.
I’m not an influencer. Not in the Instagram-metric sense, anyway.
And actually, I have a hard time with the term thought leader. It sounds so pretentious. Like the time someone introduced herself as a poet at someone’s housewarming party. My initial reaction was a mix of bless-her-heart incredulity and awe. I knew she worked at Victoria’s Secret, but I loved how bold she was when introducing herself to a stranger.
How much she owned the term poet.
So if the term thought leader bothers you, think about it a bit differently. It’s similar to the subject-matter expert only the thought leader has multiple subjects they’re experts in.
It’s time to own your expertise.
If you’re working online, it’s because you have an idea that simply doesn’t fit within the confines of the corporate world.
If you didn’t have something important to say, you would have stayed punching the clock, getting your money, and moving on with your life.
But you didn’t do that. Something inside you couldn’t do that.
You’ve built a business around the way you do things. The special way you look at problems. The way you solve problems.
You’ve put in your 10,000 hours, to put it in Malcolm Gladwell speak.
If you’re still having trouble figuring out your expertise, try this
Get out a notebook and a pen.
Or if you haven’t written longhand since college, open up your favorite writing app. (If you want to check out my favorite writing app that syncs between Mac and iPhone, look at Bear. If that’s too much for you, I get it. Open a new Chrome tab and type doc.new. The point is to get to writing.)
At the top of the page, write “Things I know well enough to describe to someone who asks” and set a timer for ten minutes.
Write about all the things you know. Ten minutes is a really long time to write, which is actually the point. You’ll run out of Impressive Things You Know after the first few minutes, then you’ll start getting to the good stuff. The things that are so mundane that you’ll feel silly even putting them on paper. Don’t think about viability here. Just talk about the things that come naturally to you.
Here’s my list:
- Understanding the internet
- Knowing what fonts and colors look good together
- Knowing how to put together a pretty presentation
- Plotting out a marketing campaign
- Writing a sales page
- Writing follow-up emails to encourage sales
- Designing websites
- Writing in a way that encourages subscribers and sales
- Writing blog posts
- Writing journal entries
- Optimizing blog posts for social media
- Getting a toddler to do what I want (it’s all about finding something they want, and withholding it until they do what I want them to do)
- Getting a baby to sleep
- Reading every day
- Writing every day
- Actually wearing yoga pants to a yoga class
- Sitting in firelog pose in yoga
- Unloading the dishwasher in 45 seconds
- Making kombucha
Six minutes in I felt like I was done. So I paused my timer and went to the sent folder of my email. Boom! Unstuck.
- I know how to look at someone’s website and see immediate opportunities for increased conversion
- I know what kinds of opt-ins will work for a particular niche
- I know how people can get more subscribers
- I know how to create a workflow that ensures nothing slips through the cracks
- I know how to implement systems
- I know how to get the most use out of my project management tool
- I know how to work with virtual assistants to make my life easier instead of transitioning all my hours I’m saving from having another team member into micromanaging every aspect of what that team member does and when she works
- I can put together a good-looking website in record time
- I can take a darn good picture with my camera, and I know how to build a great collection of photography equipment
- I know how to look good with curly hair, and if this point seems trivial I will fight you because it took until I was well into my 38th year on this planet having had curly hair since puberty and better late than never okay?
That was what I came up with in ten minutes.
Some of it is embarrassing. Some is raw. It feels a bit… braggy. But that’s kind of the point.
You’re supposed to go from, “honestly, I don’t think I know enough to call myself a thought leader” to “holy smokes I do know a lot about a wide variety of things!” in just ten minutes.
Okay thought leader, ready for the next step?
Go back through your list and find products or businesses around each item.
This is intended to blow your mind.
Let’s do it with my list:
- Understanding the internet: Geek Squad, The Dummies Guides
- Knowing what fonts and colors look good together: Logo designers, brand designers, web designers
- Knowing how to put together a pretty presentation: graphic designers, presentation template designs on Creative Market
- Plotting out a marketing campaign: pretty much any marketing company (including my own)
- Writing a sales page: again, any marketing or copywriting company
- Writing follow-up emails to encourage sales: sensing a trend here — marketing, copywriting, email companies
- Designing websites: web designers
- Writing in a way that encourages subscribers and sales: copywriting
- Writing blog posts: content strategy, copywriting, freelance writing
- Writing journal entries: uh… companies that make blank or fill-in-able journals?
- Optimizing blog posts for social media: countless virtual assistants and software tools
- Getting a toddler to do what I want (it’s all about finding something they want, and withholding it until they do what I want them to do): parenting experts
- Getting a baby to sleep: sleep experts
- Reading every day: habit people
- Writing every day: writing companies
- Actually wearing yoga pants to a yoga class: yoga studios, yoga video people
- Sitting in firelog pose in yoga: yoga instructors
- Unloading the dishwasher in 45 seconds: home/lifestyle blogs
- Making kombucha: kombucha companies, DIY kombucha websites, kombucha kits
- I know how to look at someone’s website and see immediate opportunities for increased conversion: conversion companies, marketing agencies, copywriters
- I know what kinds of opt-ins will work for a particular niche: digital marketers
- I know how people can get more subscribers: digital marketers
- I know how to create a workflow that ensures nothing slips through the cracks: productivity experts, software companies
- I know how to implement systems: software companies
- I know how to get the most use out of my project management tool: plenty of online courses around project management
- I know how to work with virtual assistants to make my life easier instead of transitioning all my hours I’m saving from having another team member into micromanaging every aspect of what that team member does and when she works: “how to work with virtual assistants” courses
- I can put together a good-looking website in record time: web designers/template sales
- I can take a darn good picture with my camera, and I know how to build a great collection of photography equipment: definitely industries around photographers
- I know how to look good with curly hair, and if this point seems trivial I will fight you because it took until I was well into my 38th year on this planet having had curly hair since puberty and better late than never okay? I would have paid to learn this stuff a decade or two ago
My point is simple: for everything I could think of in just ten minutes I could find a product or company that was doing that sort of thing.
So, it’s a market test. When you do this for yourself, you’ll find that there are endless companies that do all of the things on your list.
Don’t let the voice in your head make that a reason for you to wait.
You might be thinking, “well, shoot, there’s simply nothing new under the sun,” after finding products and companies that do what you do.
But that’s just imposter syndrome talking. There was nothing new under the sun when Shakespeare was writing his plays, and yet he wrote and changed the world.
What’s missing is your take.
When you were going through this exercise yourself, I bet some of your ideas appealed to you more than others. Maybe you can tell people how to unload a dishwasher fast, but that’s probably not the best thing to build a business around.
However, do not let this list go away! It is PURE GOLD. This is a list of your marketable skills.
You can rearrange them however you want — from most interesting to least interesting — but don’t remove any of them.
It’s something you’ll refer back to a surprising number of times.