The Consultant’s Path to Thought Leadership
This is what a solo consultant told me recently on a call. A single article on his website turned into a massive growth engine for his business.
Yet this story is not typical of most consulting firms and agencies. More often than not you hear stories of “We tried writing some articles on our website but nothing came of it.”
So what’s the difference?
How does one firm generate $500k+ in sales while another firm sees zero results?
That is the question we are going to answer in this guide.
This will not be a fluffy article of generic tips.
Instead, this is going to be an actionable plan. I will teach you how an expertise driven company such as a consulting firm or agency can use content marketing to explode their business at a rapid pace.
Below you will find a Table of contents to help you navigate through the guide with ease.
Table of Contents
The Value of Thought Leadership
The Consultants Path to Thought Leadership
Your Content Strategy
Ongoing educational content
Promotion & Pipeline Nurturing
Find your Support Systems
The Consultants Path to Thought Leadership
The unrecognized expert…
There is a problem most consultants face today.
You are an expert at your craft.
You are amazing at what you do.
But not enough people know it…
When you sit down with a prospective customer, they are wowed by your brilliance.
But you struggle to generate enough sales conversations.
And even when you do have conversations, prospects don’t trust you enough to give you a chance.
While you know you are an expert, the world doesn’t believe you…
You are the unrecognized expert.
The goal of this book is to transform you from ‘Unrecognized Expert’ to ‘Industry Thought Leader’.
When you are an industry thought leader, everything is easier.
New customers gravitate toward you.
Prospects trust you because they understand your point of view.
You have assets to back up your expertise.
This is not an easy path, but it is one worth taking.
Generating 1,721 leads by giving away the secrets
1,721 leads… that is how many inquiries we have received on our website over the past 2 years at Lead Cookie. Lead Cookie is my done-for-you LinkedIn outreach business.
And when I say lead, I mean someone who actually filled out the contact form on our website and inquired about our services.
Yet two years before the writing of this guide, Lead Cookie didn’t exist…
So how did I transform myself from an Unrecognized Expert into an Industry thought leader?
Well, while we had multiple sales channels working for us, as of January 2019, 68.56% of our leads came as a result of content marketing and thought leadership.
And even when leads were not generated from thought leadership, we heard many prospects from other channels say to us “I read through your content and it’s amazing. I tried doing it myself but realized that it was easier to hire your company to do this for us.”
The value of the content we created for Lead Cookie was two fold:
Content & thought leadership became one of our largest growth channels
Even when leads came from other channels, our content built trust which enabled us to close more deals
So the question is, how did we do it?
How did we generate so many leads for Lead Cookie?
And how did this solo consultant generate over $500k+ in sales from a single article?
The answer is simple… we gave away all the secrets.
Should I really give away my secrets?
When I first started working with Dan Kelly, he was reluctant to my approach to content marketing at first.
Dan runs a consulting firm called ‘The Negotiator Guru’ where he helps companies negotiate their contracts with big software players like Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, etc.
In his area of focus, Dan is an absolute expert and leader in the space. He’s worked on deals that generated $53M+ in savings for large corporations! That is $53 MILLION dollars.
So needless to say, Dan was an expert in his field.
Yet Dan had a problem.
He was an unrecognized expert…
He couldn’t figure out how to get new business for his firm which is why he hired my company to help.
One of the first things we did with Dan was to decide on a specific niche and focus. We chose Salesforce negotiations because he had the most experience and results working on these contracts.
Second, I told Dan “We are going to interview you, and then give everything away in a massive guide on ‘How to negotiate with Salesforce’.”
Dan’s response was typical of what I hear from most consultants…
Dan and I clashed a bit about this topic. In the end, he trusted the process and gave away all of his secrets. We did this through a series of podcast interviews that we converted into audio and written content for his firm.
In this content, Dan walked through his entire process and framework for deals with Salesforce. He gave away the nitty gritty details and held nothing back.
BUT, Dan realized something during the interview process.
No matter how much he gave away, he knew that he could never fully explain the nuanced elements of these deals in an article or interview. The value that Dan brought to a deal was handling the unique situations and organizational dynamics that arise in every negotiation.
Someone may pick up great tips from Dan’s content for their own Salesforce negotiation. Yet it would still not be the same as hiring Dan to support them.
Give away the secrets, get hired for execution
At Lead Cookie, we took a similar approach. Upon starting the company I decided my approach to growing the business was going to be “Give it all away. Let people hire us for execution.”
So I wrote up an article called “A How-to Guide for LinkedIn Lead Generation”. This guide gave away EVERYTHING. It included the scripts we used, the exact tactics we used, and the frameworks for how we generated leads for ourselves and our clients.
Someone could take everything I wrote and implement it themselves… and the truth is that many people did.
BUT we also had a lot of people on calls say
Or others would take our guide, run it themselves and see great results. Then they would become advocates for our brand and tell their colleagues about us. We had countless people who downloaded the guide that never hired us. Yet they started sharing our guide everywhere and sent us referrals.
By giving our secrets away, we established ourselves as the leaders in the field. This built incredible trust among clients and referrals from our audience.
How one article turned into $500k+ in new revenue
When Dan and I first published his guide on ‘Negotiating with Salesforce’, he was skeptical. At first, we used the content to send out to his existing leads and prospects in the sales pipeline.
This helped build trust but still did not make a massive impact overnight.
But over time something started to happen… Dan started getting inquiries about the article.
People were finding the article online. Large corporations were calling him to renegotiate their Salesforce contracts.
Dan took a look and realized that his article was now one of the top ranking results when someone searched “how to negotiate with Salesforce”.
The article ranked above any content from Salesforce. It even ranked higher than huge consulting firms like Gartner and Forrester who offer services in a similar space as Dan.
We didn’t ‘hack’ our way to the top search result by writing some cheap article filled with keywords.
Instead, we set out with the intention of writing the best resource on the internet. As a result, Google rewarded our efforts with a higher ranking, and Dan’s firm won over $500k in new business
SEO companies are lying to you
5-10 years ago, it was possible for a company to use some specific tactics and increase the likelihood that your content would rank well on Google.
But Google’s a bit smarter than them. Eventually Google put an end to nearly all of their tactics.
While you can still “optimize” your content for Google, any company who tells you that they can “get you ranked at the top of Google” is full of it. Google is a system that is 100% out of their control.
So how did Dan’s content get to the top of Google?
Simple. It was the best content on the internet about the specific topic we wrote about.
This is what Google wants. They want their users who search on their platform to find the best and most relevant links to their search. Google’s algorithm rewards the best content, and weeds out low quality articles.
Even if Dan had hired an SEO firm to write low quality articles that did rank, would it have produced the same business result?
The internet is full of '5 Tips' articles that are fluff and leave the reader in no better position than when they started.
Even if one of those articles had ranked on Google, would it have converted to a lead the same way as the comprehensive guide on ‘Negotiating with Salesforce’?
It’s not just Google rankings that matter.
It’s the quality of the content that matters.
Quality is what builds trust with the reader and converts them from visitors into customers.
If you want to rank on Google AND see results, then you need to create the #1 resource on the internet for your topic of choice.
True thought leadership and business results come from great content
If you want to grow your business, and become an expert in your field, then you can’t game the system.
Instead, you need to seek to create the best content in the world on your topic of choice. You must pick a narrow area of specialty and focus. Sure, there may be other competitors and providers in your space, but you can beat them with better content.
Dan’s small boutique consulting firm outranked companies like Gartner, Forrester, and Salesforce on Google. These are massive corporations with massive marketing budgets. They could outspend Dan on marketing all day long.
But Dan has something they don’t… nimbleness and guts.
Can you imagine walking into a massive consulting firm like McKinsey and saying “Let’s give away our best ideas for free.” You would be laughed out of the room. These firms live and breathe by selling their expertise, so they hold it close to their chest.
And since they have such a high volume of deals flowing, it is not strategically advantageous for them to give away their secrets.
On the flip side, for a small firm, your trade secrets can create far more value as marketing materials than you can by holding them close to your chest. You can teach everything you know, and use that to attract more deals and opportunities your way.
But you can’t fake this.
You must teach everything you know. You must do this to an extent that it will make others in the industry uncomfortable.
That is the path to 10xing the growth of your firm and establishing yourself as a thought leader.
The Value of Thought Leadership
Thought leadership is about more than just leads
So far we have been talking a lot about leads and direct business growth as a result of content. While that is the ultimate goal for most firms, it’s worth noting that it takes quite a bit of time for content marketing to actually convert into leads.
Dan’s article didn’t produce any tangible results for his business for 6-12 months.
Lead Cookie’s ‘How To Generate Leads on LinkedIn” guide generated some initial results. The real traction occurred 3-6 months after it was published once it lead to many podcast and webinar interviews.
So if you are looking at content as “write content today, get leads tomorrow” then you are going to be disappointed.
With that being said, there are several other key benefits to creating content. The value of content goes much deeper, even if it isn’t leads.
Thought leadership creates trust. Trust closes deals
Trust. This is one of the quickest ways that thought leadership content will bring value to your business.
Your content can immediately begin to support you in your sales process. Whenever you engage with a new prospect, send them content that is relevant to their needs.
When you are able to show your prospects content that is relevant to their needs, it’s powerful for building trust. It shows that “we are already experts in the problem you are facing today”.
Sending over a '5 Tips' article to a prospect who may be worth $250k+ per year to your firm would be silly. If you are able to send them an ultimate guide that demonstrates your firm’s expertise, that will win over their trust.
Content nurtures customers and keeps you top of mind
Think of the prospects in your CRM (hopefully you have one). For many consultants they struggle to keep these prospects engaged over time.
Yet for a consultant, engagement over time is an absolute necessity. I speak with many consultants who have a 6-18 month sales cycle. Budgeting season only comes once per year...
With such a long sales cycle, how do you keep someone engaged? How do you do more than send them emails every two weeks saying “Just checking in”.
It’s simple, you put out quality content through email newsletters, LinkedIn content, and personal updates to your highest value leads.
In fact, one consulting firm I spoke with who had done this well had a very simple content creation process.
“Whenever we met a new prospect, we would take notes on the questions and challenges they faced. Then over the next two weeks I would write an article addressing their challenges and send it to them.
This showed expertise on our part and increased our close rates. It also helped build up an archive of content that addressed our customer bases’s most pressing questions.”
Content is a tool to help you nurture your sales pipeline and increase your close rate. It’s not a stand alone thing that exists separate from your core business.
Instead, content should be a core component of your business.
How thought leadership enhances your outbound
Some people never invest in content because it’s harder to measure than outbound sales. (Cold email, LinkedIn outreach, cold calling, etc.)
With outbound sales you can say “We contacted X prospects, booked Y calls, and closed Z deals.”
While that is measurable, it also tends to be harder than most people imagine to make sales that predictable. This is especially true for boutique consulting firms who do not have full time sales teams.
Outbound is great, but it shouldn’t be your only channel.
And you should also recognize that your outbound efforts will be enhanced if you are a thought leader with content to back you up.
Think about it this way...
Imagine that someone reaches out to you with an offer via cold email or LinkedIn that hooks your interest.
While their offer may be of interest, you know nothing about this person or their company.
At this moment, you have ZERO trust with this person.
But their offer interests you, so you respond.
The conversation progresses and what they have compels you enough to connect over a call.
You are interested in the offer, but still don’t quite know if you can trust this person.
So you decide to do some background research. You start diving through this individuals LinkedIn profile and their website. You start researching them to see if they are legit or full of baloney.
And then during that process you come across a piece of content that speaks exactly to your needs. You read it, gain value from it, and are blown away by it’s quality.
You now are more trusting of this prospect and continue the conversation with less skepticism than before.
Counter that story with another one…
Imagine that someone reaches out to you with an offer via cold email or LinkedIn.
While their offer may be of interest, you know nothing about this person or their company.
So you visit the sellers LinkedIn profile and website. Both are horrendous or lack any real substance. You click through a few pages of “marketing promises”. Yet you find no real substance or expertise to back up their marketing claims.
You don’t know if you can trust this person, so you drop off and never respond to them again.
This is the value of thought leadership content in outreach. It builds trust.
And for outbound sales, this is one of the hardest parts of closing deals. While you may reach out and get a meeting, people will be skeptical that you can actually do what you say.
Your content minimizes that skepticism by demonstrating your expertise and building trust.
Thought leadership content helps you close more outbound sales.
Content demonstrates expertise
This is a quote from one of our customers at Lead Cookie who shared why he chose us over any other alternatives. Our content was the defining element that separated us from the competition and won us the deal.
Simply put, our content demonstrated expertise, and customers want to work with experts.
You are already an expert in your field.
You know you are an expert, but the world doesn’t.
That is the value of content. It demonstrates your expertise to the world and shows everyone how smart you actually are.
This helps you close more deals and opens doors to opportunities you never before imagined.
Thought leadership content leads to speaking opportunities
Want to speak on stage? Be interviewed on podcasts? Or appear on webinars in your industry?
It’s not hard to land these opportunities… if you have something interesting and compelling to say.
At Lead Cookie, I wrote a ‘How To Guide To LinkedIn Lead Generation’ that opened the door to so many exposure opportunities.
As of this writing I have done:
15+ podcast interviews
5+ webinar appearances
Since we are a remote company, I focused on podcast and webinar appearances so that I did not have to travel.
A good friend of mine AJ Wilcox has built himself up as a thought leader in LinkedIn Advertising. AJ gives away a ton of free expertise and resources around LinkedIn Ads. As a result, AJ spoke at 17 conferences last year!
These conferences prove to be one of the largest lead generation channels for his business.
When you put in the work to create amazing content, it creates a clear path for people to book you for various formats of speaking engagements.
Your content becomes the outline of the interview or presentation. This enables people to book you with confidence that you can deliver value to their audience..
It’s time to take the long view
Thought leadership is something that most consultants fumble their way through. They dabble in creating some content, or posting on social media… but they lack a cohesive strategy at a high level.
They get caught up in the tactics of “what’s working on the internet” instead of focusing on the bigger picture.
Here’s the truth.
The internet is changing faster than you can imagine. If you are trying to attract attention by “hacking” the system, then you may see short term results. This is not a long term business strategy though.
If you want to become a thought leader, you need to take the long view. You need to invest in actions and activities that will be relevant 5-10 years down the line.
So how do you take the long view?
That is what I seek to answer in the rest of this book. I am going to be giving you a clear and straightforward path to becoming a thought leader.
At first, it may seem like a lot. But remember that you don’t have to dive into the entire process at once. Instead, this is going to be an evolution over months and even years to building out this full system.
If you want results tomorrow, then go somewhere else.
If you want to invest in a thought leadership strategy that will change the trajectory of your life, then keep reading.
The Consultant's Path to Thought Leadership
This diagram gives you the vision and the long view. This is the system to follow to turn yourself and your firm into thought leaders and experts in your field.
In this section, I am going to go through each item at a high level. Then we will dive into the details in future chapters.
Content Strategy - If you don’t build a plan from the outset, then you will not make it far. While content is agile, you want to have a decent plan of action in place before beginning.
Cornerstone Content - This is where you give away all the goods. This is the “How To Negotiate With Salesforce” article or the ‘How To Guide To LinkedIn Lead Generation’ that I mentioned in the intro. This is where you teach everything you know and create the #1 piece of content in the world on your topic of expertise.
Education Content - On an ongoing basis, you need to be putting out thought leadership content. That may be in the form of audio, video, or articles which demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership. These all drive traffic back to your cornerstone content.
Networking Content - Your network is your net worth. One of the biggest misconceptions most people have about content is that it is all about the audience. Here is a secret… use your content to interview, feature, and network with strategic partners, prospects, and peers in your industry. (Ex. Interview them on a podcast, feature them in an article, share their content on LinkedIn) This tactic alone will elevate you to another level.
LinkedIn - The cornerstone and educational content you create should be repurposed and promoted on LinkedIn. This creates more leverage out of the content you already have, and keep you top of mind with your prospects on LinkedIn.
Email Newsletters - You should be sending an email newsletter once or twice per month. This will promote the new content you create and keep you top of mind with the most valuable prospects who have opted in to your email list.
Speaking - Speaking opportunities are a natural result of the content you create on other mediums. Speaking is simply a way to have your message go much further. It builds significant trust with large audiences of your prospects.
A second path you can take
What I just shared with you is the high level path for a consultant to become a thought leader. But for some of you, this may have seem a bit overwhelming. That is why I also created a second scaled back path.
What you just saw is what I call the path of “The Guru”
But for some of you, you may prefer the path that I am going to lay out below which is the path of The Guide
What is a Guru?
A guru is someone who is an unrecognized expert in their field.
They have deep experience, and years of working hands-on with customers and clients. They are the master of their trade, yet they have never taken the time to document their expertise. They have great ideas, but they just never have time to share those ideas with the world.
Dan of The Negotiator Guru is a guru in his field. He had been working on massive IT negotiations as a consultant for years. The results and case studies he has are off the charts.
Dan was an industry expert in his field. The problem is that no one knew it. For Dan, that means he needed to take the path of The Guru.
What is a Guide?
A guide is a humble practitioner of their craft.
The Guide also has deep experience and years, working hands-on with customers and clients. They may also very well be a master of their trade.
The big difference is that The Guide doesn’t feel comfortable putting their own ideas out into the world. They may say things like “I don’t believe I have anything profoundly new to say yet.”
Often guides are consultants who are implementing the concepts created by someone else.
A great example of this is my friend Xander Pollock. If you have ever heard of a Google Design Sprint, well that is the type of work Xander does. And he is an absolute expert at it. Jake Knapp, the author of the Google Design Sprint book, has given Xander a testimonial and regularly refers work to him.
So Xander is implementing the concepts created by another Guru. There is nothing wrong with that. He helps tons of customers and is one of the top consultants in his field.
But since Xander’s consulting is based on implementing the practices of another expert, he has not felt comfortable putting himself out there as The Guru. Instead, he prefers to take a back seat.
When it comes to creating content, he likes to feature the stories of his clients. He prefers to interview others, as opposed to doing solo content. Xander likes to keep himself out of the spotlight in his content. Instead, he guides people to interesting conversations and stories of others.
Xander still builds thought leadership throughout, but he does it in a different way. He becomes a thought leader as “A Guide” instead of “A Guru”.’
You can evolve from a Guide to a Guru
When I started my podcast years ago, I lacked the confidence to put my own ideas out into the world. So I started off by interviewing a lot of people.
This is ok and a great place to start. Over time, as you master your craft and become an expert in your field, then you will begin coming up with new original ideas that you can teach to the world.
If you don’t feel ready to put a stake in the ground and say “this is my expertise, this is what I believe.” Then that is ok. You can start your thought leadership path by simply putting the focus on others, and guiding your audience to insightful conversations.
You will learn a tremendous amount by creating content as a guide, and one day you will wake up and find yourself in The Guru role.
The one key difference in the Path of The Guru vs The Guide
When it comes down to how the path changes for The Guru vs The Guide, there is one fundamental difference.
The Guru starts with cornerstone content
For The Guru, you will start off with a focus on creating cornerstone content. You begin by writing your book, guide, or resource that is going to become the foundation for everything else that you do on your content journey.
This cornerstone content will be the foundation of your content strategy. You will point back to this and use your cornerstone content as a way to build trust and reel people into your brand.
The Guide skips cornerstone content
If you don’t feel comfortable creating cornerstone content today, that is ok. You can start with the path of The Guide.
With the Guide, everything else stays the same, except you skip the cornerstone content. You may still create a small email course, or lead magnet, but you recognize that this is a short term asset.
The Guide is best suited to put their initial focus on influencer networking. This will expand their network with other thought leaders and raise them as an expert in their field. They see massive benefits without having to put completely fresh ideas.
The Guide may mix in educational content that is focused on answering the questions their clients ask during consulting engagements.
Choose your path
There is no right answer to which path to take. Starting down either path is forward progress and better than doing nothing.
The simple question is: “Are you ready to document your best ideas into a piece of cornerstone content that will live on for years?”
If yes, then take the path of The Guru and build your cornerstone content.
If not, no worries. You can take the path of The Guide and come back to your cornerstone content in the future when you are ready.
Just know that once you create this cornerstone content, it will amplify the rest of your efforts. But if you are not ready, then don’t force it.
Choose the path that is right for you. If you are in doubt about creating your cornerstone content, then start as a Guide. Wait until you are ready to create an amazing piece of cornerstone content.
Implementing the path
That is the path and the system at a high level. This is not a short term hack to produce results tomorrow, and this is not something that takes no work on your side.
In fact, it’s a lot of work…
But here is what I have learned after years of building myself up as a thought leader.
You can’t do all this alone.
Any thought leader you meet has some team or support behind them. If they tried to do all of this on their own, they would be overwhelmed.
I have a team behind me who helps write, edit, produce, share, and distribute all of the content I put out. Even though I write a lot myself, there is some content where it is better suited for my team to put together the words based on audio files or briefs that I give them.
Your goal as a thought leader is to spend your time on the highest value activities. You should be sharing your unique ideas and insights with the world.
So if you are going to go down this path, plan on getting a support team in place to help. I promise lots of it can be taken off your plate so you can focus on sharing your expertise and ideas.
If you need help navigating this journey, then download the accompanying workbook below
Your Content Strategy
Fail to plan, plan to fail
You know the story too well… you decide to go down the path of some marketing project or content initiative with a freelancer.
You tell them what you want and explain the vision in your head.
And when they come back with results, you are disappointed…
They seem to miss the mark and never live up to the expectations you had.
This is the experience so many consultants have when trying to hire marketing consultants or freelancers to work with them. The reason is that these inexperienced consultants don’t have the expertise or knowledge to think strategically for your business.
Sure, they may be able to write and implement marketing tactics. That is useless unless it fits into a bigger picture vision for your business.
This is why it is essential to define a strategy for your thought leadership platform before diving in and getting started.
Here are some of the questions you need to answer before getting started.
What do I want to become known for?
Here is a hard truth. People will put you in a box. While you may be a creative and versatile person, that is hard to explain to someone else.
So people want to say “she’s a supply chain expert for transportation companies.” Or “he’s an expert in negotiation for IT software contracts.”
You need to think through exactly how people will describe you and who you are to the world. This is no easy task, but here is my litmus test for if you are on the right track.
If you can look at your niche and positioning and see yourself becoming one of the top 3 experts in the world on this topic, then you are on a good track.
To give you an example, I have personally become a world-renowned expert in a handful of niche topics over my career.
Phase 1: I help agencies and consultants win their dream clients through outbound marketing
For the first 3 years of my career as a consultant, I focused on working with agency owners and consulting firms on building outbound campaigns.
This was my core focus for 3 years and I became “the outbound guy” that nearly all agencies and consultants thought of when they needed help.
Sure there were other outbound experts far bigger than me, but they were teaching to everyone. I learned from them, and then applied their expertise a smaller niche of agencies and consulting firms.
Phase 2: I help B2B companies generate leads via LinkedIn prospecting
Being “the outbound guy” was great, although as my offerings developed, I pivoted. Eventually, I launched a niche company called Lead Cookie that specialized in done-for-you LinkedIn lead generation.
As I looked at the competition in the LinkedIn space, I saw an opportunity. I knew that LinkedIn was an exploding channel and it was completely possible to emerge as “one of the top 3 experts on LinkedIn prospecting”.
Others were experts on profile optimization, LinkedIn content, resumes, recruiting, etc. I didn’t try to compete with those people.
Instead, I owned one small sliver of B2B prospecting on LinkedIn and made that my focus. Over the next two years, I created cornerstone content and owned this niche and message.
As a result, if you do any research on B2B prospecting on LinkedIn, you will see my name plastered everywhere.
Phase 3: I turn consultants into thought leaders through content marketing.
What you are reading right now is the cornerstone content that is defining me as an expert in thought leadership for consultants. After living this for years, and helping multiple companies do this on a consulting basis, I am finally taking a stand here.
What you are reading is the tip of the iceberg of an entire thought leadership strategy that is underway.
What you are known for can change over time. Just because you make a stance today doesn’t mean you have to stay focused on that forever.
You may get worn out of space, or see greener pastures elsewhere after getting into the weeds of a current position in the market. That is ok.
But you do need to plan on committing to positioning for at least a few years. From my experience, if you choose your niche wisely, you can become a leading expert in a 1-2 year time frame.
Answer the question “What do you want to be known for?”
Feel free to brainstorm many options.
Finally, test each of them against the question “Could I realistically become one of the top 3 experts in this area of focus?”
What question are you trying to answer?
Another way to look at defining your niche and focus as a consultant is through defining a question that you are trying to solve.
For example, for years I set out aiming to answer the question “how do agencies and consultants win new clients?”
This big overarching question became the ongoing challenge and North Star for my consulting career. I did podcast interviews on these topics. I researched what others were writing. And I wrote article after article all with the intention of answering this one big question.
The key to your question is that it needs to be something that you can’t ever solve. Instead, it’s a question that has so much abstract nuance in detail that it will require you or your firm to answer.
Today, the question I am chasing is “How do consultants turn themselves into thought leaders?”
It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s something that I can pursue and work on answering for years to come.
Dan’s question is “How do companies achieve the best deal possible when ‘Negotiating with Salesforce’?”
Define your question and use it as the North Star for your consulting career.
What is the question you are trying to answer?
Brainstorm ideas below and match those up with your answers to “What you want to be known for?”
Who do you seek to serve?
A few years back I did some consulting work with a UX consultancy called Hanno. They are an amazing firm and absolute pioneers in their field. But in our work together, we uncovered a huge strategic problem…
Hanno had been investing in creating tons of content about how they ran their UX firm. They taught about the UX tools they used. They shared their processes, playbook, and resources about how they ran their business.
They even created a crowdsourced interactive website that showed salaries of UX Designers in different countries of the world.
Hanno was creating tons of thought leadership content, but there was one problem…
Their customers did not care about any of it.
Hanno had hundreds of UX Designer applicants lined up at their door, but they were struggling to keep their sales pipeline full.
Hanno was creating content for their peers, instead of their prospects.
As I shared this insight with them during our work together, it created a fundamental shift in the strategy of their organization.
Over the months that came to follow, Hanno shifted from a generalist company to a firm that focuses specifically on the healthcare market.
They created less content about UX, and more content about innovation and UX design in healthcare.
They launched a podcast called Health Redesigned where they interviewed design leaders, product managers, and entrepreneurs in the healthcare tech space.
And about one year later I got an email from the founder Jon saying that they were busier than ever.
This is a common problem that many people make when starting down the path of thought leadership. They spend their time writing and creating content for their peers, but that investment is a waste if their end prospects don’t care.
If your desire is to grow your firm, then you need to get crystal clear about who you are targeting and what you are saying to them.
Turn your best customer into your persona
The easiest way that I have found to do this is to pick a favorite customer you have today. Then imagine that you are creating and teaching everything for them.
For the purposes of writing this book, Dan Kelly of The Negotiator Guru is my target persona.
Since I have worked closely with Dan, I understand his objections, thought process, and worldview.
This enables me to write content that is hyper-targeted to the exact mindset and worldview that Dan has. This works because I have seen his thought patterns replicated across conversations with others who are similar.
Dan also represents my ideal buyer to a tee.
He is a highly paid consultant
He is an expert in a niche field
He recognizes the value of hiring support
He does not fully grasp marketing but knows he needs it
He is busy, but still responsive and will do the work on his end required to move projects forward
I know that if I build a firm with 20-30 “Dans”, then I will have an incredible business.
By keeping Dan in mind as I create content, it lets me get laser focused and speak in specifics. When you write or talk to a wide audience, then your ideas and content get caught into wandering generalities.
Who is your target audience member and customer?
Is there a customer you have today that can act as your ideal persona?
Are you a guru? Or a guide?
The next question you need to answer when building your strategy is who you want to be. When it comes to thought leadership, there are two distinct personas that often appear.
The Guru - This person is the unrecognized expert in their field. They are one of the best in the space and the idea of interviewing others makes them feel inferior.
Often when they think of interviewing most others in the field, the thought “honestly, I don’t think there is too much I would be excited to learn from them” is an objection that comes to mind.
The Guru is the true expert who has never had the opportunity to turn their expertise into marketing content before.
The Guide - This person is still a practicing consultant or agency in their field, but they are comfortable recognizing that they are not the best yet. They are humble and feel uncomfortable putting out new ideas.
Often when it comes to creating content their objection is “well I don’t have anything new to say. We are just implementing what we have learned from others.”
This isn’t a bad thing but is worth recognizing. A guide will create a lot more content that features and interviews others as a way to study and learn more about their niche.
As you start your path as a thought leader, you should ask yourself if you are The Guru or The Guide.
You can also be a mixture of both. But recognize who you are as it will help you pick and choose which of the tactics throughout this book are the most relevant to you.
Answer the question “Am I a Guru? Or a Guide?”
What is your point of view?
One of the biggest problems that many consultants face is that they say “I’m an expert in X”. While it helps to have a niche and focus, it doesn’t have the same power unless you have a point of view.
To explain what I mean, answer this question:
“What do you believe about your area of focus that most others would disagree with?”
Now, let’s dive into some examples of answers to that question.
As an expert in LinkedIn outreach, I put forward a very clear point of view. I put out content that said “This is how to generate leads on LinkedIn. This is my approach and you can follow it to a tee.”
I didn’t go out and just start talking about LinkedIn prospecting. Instead, I gave people a specific path to follow which was my approach to LinkedIn outreach.
I took a stand and put a stake in the ground saying “Do this if you want to generate leads on LinkedIn.”
It can be scary to put a definitive opinion out there into the world like that, but as a consultant, this is what you must do.
As a consultant, your point of view is what will attract and repel people away from you.
Some people probably saw my LinkedIn approach and disagreed. Others saw it and said, “Finally, someone has laid out a clear system for me to follow.”
Lead your prospects and audience
There is a famous quote by Jay Abraham that has stuck with me for years…
“People are silently begging to be led”
Your thought leadership, your point of view, and your content… all of these must lead your audience and prospects.
If you show up with general education about a topic, no one cares.
People need actions.
They need to be told what to do.
They WANT to be told what to do.
Business is hard, and it’s impossible to be an expert in every field. If you can lay out a framework and system for your area of expertise, then people will gravitate toward you and follow.
Dan’s point of view
If you were to ask Dan his opinion on ‘Negotiating with Salesforce’, he could talk your ear off for hours. He is loaded with opinions, experience, and insights about the entire process.
For Dan, we distilled this all down into his guide on How To Negotiate With Salesforce. This wasn’t a bland article with general tips about ‘Negotiating with Salesforce’. Instead, it laid out Dan’s approach and beliefs about how to negotiate with Salesforce to achieve the best possible outcome.
If you want people to follow you and buy from you, you need to lead them with a clear point of view.
This guide is a point of view
What you are reading right now… it’s a point of view. It’s my perspective on how consultants should turn themselves into thought leaders.
A point of view is much bigger than a single sentence or your positioning. It’s a combination of everything you believe. Here are some of the statements that I strongly believe that many others would disagree with.
Teach everything you know. Hold nothing back. People hire you for execution & advising.
Using podcasts or content to interview and network with strategic partners and prospects is the single most underutilized growth channel.
Your niche and value proposition is a multiplier on all other marketing efforts.
Crappy content is worse than no content at all.
95% of SEO firms are liars.
The value of content is more than just lead generation. It’s in the intangible benefits it brings to the sales process. Also, the networking effects of content when done properly are massive.
Every business should have both an outbound and inbound marketing channel in place.
Marketing tactics change so fast. It’s hopeless to try and keep up. Focus on having a strong strategy and message at the core, and then dabble in tactics that are working today.
LinkedIn is the only social media channel worth paying attention to for consultants. Everything else is a waste of time.
Hiring a salesperson to fix your sales problem is a horrible idea. Fix it yourself first, then hire someone to replace you.
Invest in thought leadership today and you will thank me in 2 years. Having a strong personal brand is like cheating at business. Everything becomes easier.
That list embodies my many points of view about how to build a successful consultancy. If we got into niche topics, many more ideas could emerge.
But the key is that I have a clear and contrarian opinion that goes against the grain for what a lot of the market is saying and doing.
Dan has a clear and contrarian opinion about ‘Negotiating with Salesforce’.
You need a contrarian opinion as well. And once you find it, it’s time to wrap that in a framework.
“What do you believe about your area of focus that most others would disagree with?”
What is your point of view? List out as many bullets as you can think of.
What is your framework?
Consultants create frameworks. You’ve seen these all over the place, and probably use many yourself.
A framework is a simple model that enables someone to take a complex challenge and simplify it into something orderly.
Frameworks take a chaotic problem and turn it into order.
This book and “The Consultant’s Path To Thought Leadership” diagram I have shared with you is a framework. It takes the complex challenge of “becoming a thought leader” and puts a clear frame around the actions you should take to do that.
It lays out a path for you and guides you along a journey.
Remember the quote “People are silently begging to be led.”
A framework leads them.
Examples of famous frameworks
Let’s dive into some well-known examples of frameworks to crystallize this in your mind.
Steven Covey’s “4 Quadrants” Framework
This framework is legendary in the realm of productivity and entrepreneurship. Yet it simply came from the mind of Steven Covey. There are no facts or data surrounding this. It’s simply a model that you can use to think through for day-to-day productivity.
Entrepreneurial Operating System / Rockefeller Habits
Anyone who has been around EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) will be familiar with these two frameworks.
Both are systems for how to run your business. They say “Meet X days per week with your team. Here are the agendas you should follow. Here is what you should do on a quarterly and monthly basis. These are templates for communicating your vision to your team. Etc.”
These frameworks are the points of view of the authors. They are concepts and ideas distilled down into frameworks that others can follow.
A recent framework that has exploded as a movement is Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. Mike came up with a simple concept that has become a movement among entrepreneurs.
Instead of letting profit be the last thing on the balance sheet and whatever is left, flip that around.
Mike says, determine your profit percentage up front, transfer that to a separate bank account, and then figure out how to run your business on the rest.
It’s a contrarian idea. It’s edgy. And many accountants hate it.
Yet as a result of taking this stance and building frameworks around it, Mike has created an entire movement and business around this.
The Consultant’s Path to Thought Leadership
This entire book you are reading. The chart I have shared with you. It is a framework.
It is meant to demystify the path of thought leadership and give you a clear actionable framework on how to move forward.
Some will disagree with the path I have laid out. Yet that is part of taking a point of view.
I could have filled this book with general advice about all the thought leadership possibilities… instead, I am choosing to focus your efforts on that which I believe are the highest value activities.
Define your framework
All of the various points of view that you have as a consultant need to be packaged up into a framework.
This shouldn’t be complex. Instead, it needs to be something simple that you could pull up on a single slide and walk someone through.
And you may end up with more than one framework. In fact, you may have many.
This entire guide is one big framework.
This chapter on strategy is a sub-framework of that.
The chapter on networking content is another sub-framework.
Dan has frameworks on how to negotiate with Salesforce at a high level.
He also has frameworks for “communication plans” for internal team members.
He has frameworks for “negotiation templates”.
As a consultant, you must create frameworks.
Start today, and you must continue to build them over time.
Frameworks enable you to lead others from the complex chaos of their daily challenges, into the simple orderly path you have laid out for them.
What is your framework? Can you draw a diagram of your high-level framework on a single page?
What sub-frameworks do you have?
What am I going to create?
Leading up until now you have been focusing on figuring out:
What you want to be known for
The big question you seek to answer
Who you seek to serve
What your point of view is
What your framework is
Once you answer these big questions, then it’s time to get into the fun part. This is when we get to start planning out what you are going to actually create to back up the thought leadership you are desiring to build.
What you will create will take on a few forms:
1. Cornerstone Content - This is the book, the ultimate guide, or the resource that will blow people away. It will give away so much information that it makes you feel uncomfortable. This will be the foundation of your thought leadership.
2. Educational Content - This may take the form of regular articles, podcasts, or videos. These dive deep on niche topics and answer questions your customers keep bringing up to you on a regular basis.
3. Networking Content - You will use your content as a means to network with strategic partners and prospects. Think of a podcast or interview based blog series. Networking content gives you a platform to build relationships with key partners while establishing you as a thought leader.
The rest of this book is going to dive deep into these areas, so for now, just keep reading on. We will dive deep into understanding each of these so that can build a plan of action for what content you are going to create.
Download the action guides and workbook to go with all of the questions from this section below
It’s time to take a stance.
At the start of this book, I shared stories about the power of Cornerstone Content.
Cornerstone Content is exactly what it sounds like. It is the cornerstone of your entire content strategy. It is the best of the best. It is where you share your best secrets, expertise, and insights.
It is a guide, article, or book that is going to make your prospect’s jaw drop at how much value and information you give away.
For Dan, cornerstone content turned into over $500k in new business for his firm.
For Lead Cookie, our cornerstone content generated over 1,721 leads.
For Content Allies, this book you are reading now is our cornerstone content.
Your cornerstone content is going to be the foundation of your entire thought leadership platform.
Over the course of your career, you may create multiple cornerstone pieces around niche topics. For right now, you are going to choose to go deep on one topic.
To start, let’s hit on one fundamental concept that you must always keep in mind when creating cornerstone content.
Create the #1 resource on the internet for your topic of choice.
The path to creating high performing content is simple…
Create the #1 resource on the internet for your topic of choice.
If you do some research and realize that you can’t do that, then you need to consider niching down or selecting a more narrow topic.
If Dan had tried to write a guide on “Corporate Negotiation” he would have fallen short. His content would be lost amidst a sea of other negotiation books and authors.
By choosing a narrow focus of “‘Negotiating With Salesforce’”, Dan was able to stand out. He was able to create something that was better than anything else that existed on the internet.
If I had tried to write a guide on “How to get more out of LinkedIn” then I would have fallen short.
By focusing on B2B LinkedIn Lead Generation, I was able to own a small subset of the many uses cases of LinkedIn.
Creating the #1 resource on the internet accomplishes two things:
1. Google rewards this - Google wants to return its users the best possible search results for a specific topic. When it sees a long-form piece of content on a niche topic, from a credible site, then they reward that in their rankings.
2. People share amazing content - The other benefit of putting out amazing content is that people share it. At Lead Cookie, we would have days where I would randomly wake up to an inbox of 20+ leads. When I looked in the “How did you hear about us?” field I would often see comments like. “Someone posted this in a Facebook group” or “Reddit” or “My boss sent me your LinkedIn Guide.”
This content is being shared among friends, colleagues and inside communities without any provoking or work from me.
If you want something to go viral, make it so good that people can’t believe it. That is when they will share it with their friends.
Give away your secrets.
The key to creating an incredible piece of content is to give away more than people expect.
We’ve all been let down by an article or book in the past. The incredible headline hooked us, but then when we got into the content we were disappointed by the quality of information.
Don’t do that.
Instead, you want your content to overdeliver. You want to give away so many secrets that people are shocked when they read what you put together.
At times you may think “Gosh, but people pay me a lot of money for these kinds of insights.” And that may create some fear you have with putting your ideas out there. That’s ok. The fear is normal.
But here is what you must realize… information alone is not enough.
We live in a world where there is more information consumed than ever before. Yet the consulting and marketing services industries are still growing faster than ever. This may seem counterintuitive. If all the information is out there, then companies should have no need for consultants.
But that’s not quite how it works.
Simply put, people don’t have time. Even if they read your content, they are not going to have time to execute on it. And even if they do execute on it, it will take them 10x longer than it will take you as a niche expert in your field. Or they will produce 1/10th of the results due to lack of experience.
So teach all you know. Even if people read it all, they will still need your help to deliver.
And for those who do read it and implement it themselves, that is great. Many of them will become advocates or fans of you. They may need your services in the future, or refer you to someone else they know.
Give away all your secrets and your message will spread like wildfire. And when that happens your firm will experience incredible growth.
Keep it evergreen
When you think about creating your cornerstone content, a concept to keep in mind is the idea of “Evergreen”.
Evergreen content means that it will not become outdated anytime soon. To keep content evergreen, avoid references to time, date, trends, or anything else that will make this content look dated.
You are investing a lot into this content piece. Write it in a way that you can still gain value of it 5 years from now. That is the mindset of Evergreen.
Formats for your cornerstone content
When it comes to formats of your cornerstone content, there are a few options to choose from. Each has it’s own pros and con’\s.
A Physical Book - A book is the ultimate thought leadership content for consultants. The challenge is that books are hard and take a long time to put together. These are great but if this intimidates you, then start elsewhere.
eBook - An eBook is far less intimidating than a printed book. It’s much more fluid and can be changed if needed without much difficulty. eBooks are a good middle ground before a printed book.
Long-Form Content Piece - My favorite form of cornerstone content is the long-form content piece. This takes the form of an article or page on your website that is in depth on your topic of choice.
Throughout the article, you will also include “Content Upgrades”. This is a very specific free giveaway relevant to the cornerstone content that you offer in exchange for the visitors email.
At Lead Cookie, we used our scripts as the content upgrade.
For Dan at The Negotiator Guru, we used a negotiation template as the content upgrade.
Another benefit to a long-form article is that it is searchable and most likely to rank well on Google.
Long form content pieces paired with a content upgrade are powerful.
Your website is crucial
One final point I will make as you start this journey is that your website is crucial. But fear not, you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a website these days.
Resources like UseSixty and The Consultants Website Template Kit make it incredibly easy to have a website built in a matter of days, not months. And for a price point of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Not ten thousand dollars.
Your website should accomplish a few simple things.
Clearly articulate who you serve
Share the benefits you bring your customers
Provide social proof of past customers
Make it easy for someone to contact you
Provide you with flexibility to post ongoing content such as articles or podcasts.
Beyond that, there is a whole world of depth we could dive into on website strategy, but at this point, just focus on the basics.
Ongoing Educational Content
Turning your customers' questions into content
After you have created your cornerstone content, you can actually take a break for a bit. The amount of promotion and sharing you can do on your cornerstone content will last a few months.
But you don’t want to rely on your cornerstone content alone for too long. Once someone is reading your cornerstone content, you need a way to keep them active, engaged and continue to deliver value over time.
This is where ongoing educational content comes into play.
Education content can live in a few different formats:
Which format you choose is not important. Creating on a regular basis is important. This gives people a reason to keep coming back to your website. But the big question is “what do you say?”
If you have already given away all your secrets in your cornerstone content, then what else is there left to talk about?
The answer is simple. “What are your customers and prospects asking you?”
Try this, over the coming week write down all of the questions that your customers or prospects ask you. You will be amazed at all of the expertise you have to share.
Or another way to look at this is “what advice am I constantly repeating to my customers?”
These two questions will fill your content pipeline with content ideas for years to come. It takes some work on your side to pay attention to these trends, but this is where your best content comes from.
These answers may not be directly related to the service you deliver. They may just be the insights and expertise you have about the industry. So many consultants think that 100% of their content needs to relate directly to their service.
When you try to tie every single piece of content directly back to your business, it often feels forced and unnatural. With content, it is ok to create content that is tangential to your offer yet not directly tied to what you sell. That is ok as it will build trust with your prospects as long as it is still in some capacity relevant to them.
For example, Lead Cookie sells done-for-you LinkedIn Lead Generation services. Yet I have written articles about my experience building the business, managing our finances, hiring virtual assistants, mindset, personal development, etc.
As you can see, I don’t just write about LinkedIn prospecting all day. Instead, I teach what I learn on a variety of topics which hooks people into my message from different angles. Then many of them eventually find out “Oh, and he runs this LinkedIn outreach business? This looks interesting.”
Suddenly a blog post on managing business finances turns into a lead for the company. That is how ongoing educational content can work.
One consulting firm I know had a brilliant approach to content production. The Principal of the firm was always in the field having sales meetings and conversations.
After every meeting, he would sit down and write an article addressing a key problem that the prospect brought up. Then he would send the article over to his prospect. This helped him build trust, demonstrate expertise, and nurture his sales pipeline.
He created content on the fly as he was having sales conversations.
Eventually, many topics repeated themselves and he was able to send the articles he had already created.
When your customers bring you a problem and you can say “I have an article on that”, it puts you in an incredible place of thought leadership.
Content formats & repurposing
There is no right or wrong content format. Audio, video, text. All are great mediums so pick whatever comes easiest and most natural to you.
You may choose to work with a writer who interviews you and extracts your expertise out of your head. (This is what we do at Content Allies).
Or you may enjoy talking into a mic and turning that into a podcast.
Choose whatever feels natural to you. But one thing to consider is the massive value of repurposing content. For example, if you record an audio file, it can be used as both a podcast and as the content for a writer to create an article from. The same is true of a video.
When going down the route of creating content, do what feels natural. Then pull in support resources to help you repurpose your content to increase its traction.
The most underutilized growth channel
There is one tactic that I recommend to nearly every agency owner and consultant I talk to, yet hardly anyone listens…
This tactic is so simple, so valuable, and anyone can utilize it. And it consistently proves to be one of the highest ROI marketing channels I invest in year after year.
The channel is networking with other influencers through content creation.
At first, this may not seem super straight forward. So let me explain.
What is an influencer?
An influencer is someone who you desire to be. They are a thought leader, a public speaker, a writer, the head of a notable company in your industry, etc.
These influencers are key hubs in your industry. They often have audiences of your ideal customers already built up, or relationships built with your ideal partners.
These influencers may sell the same service as you or complimentary services. This makes them amazing referral partners. And these influencers are often experts in their fields and full of knowledge.
These influencers are the center of your industry and everyone gravitates around them. Building relationships leads to introductions, new business, and partnerships that could never happen without them.
Not sure who the influencers in your industry are? Do a quick search for speakers at the leading conference in your industry. Or search for the top podcasts in a particular niche. Or authors on Amazon for your topic of choice. Or the founders of leading companies in your industry.
Anyone in one of those categories is most likely an influencer with weight and connections that would be worth networking with.
So then the question is, how do you network with them?
How to network with influencers through content
As I write this, I have more than 135 episodes of my podcast published.
Over 90% of those podcasts are interviews.
Can you guess who I am interviewing?
You nailed it. I am interviewing the influencers and thought leaders who are in the space that I am operating in.
If there is a LinkedIn thought leader, I’ve interviewed them.
If there is a thought leader for consultants and agency owners, I’ve interviewed them.
And you can bet that as I write this, I am working on a campaign to interview leaders in personal branding, thought leadership, and content marketing.
So as you can see, my approach to networking with influencers is to interview them on my podcast. I find this to be a super great way to build a relationship since you talk over a live call.
Also, since podcast exposure is one of the most sought after marketing channels, over 90% of the people I ask to appear on my podcast say yes.
In addition to each interview, you can chat for a few minutes before and after the interview. Often these short chats are the start of what become amazing strategic partnerships.
When I was acting as a solo consultant, I did an analysis on my revenue. I found that over 50% of my revenue was a direct result of the relationships I built with the influencers who I interviewed on my podcast.
Sometimes the people I interviewed hired me.
Sometimes the people I interviewed referred me to others.
Sometimes the people I interviewed decided to also interview me which exposed me to their audience.
Each interview created value in so many forms that it became a massively high ROI marketing activity… and it was a ton of fun at the same time.
Other tactics for influencer networking
While podcasting is my favorite channel to network with influencers, there are other ways for those of you who may be intimidated by public speaking or don’t feel that podcasting is the right medium for you. In this section, I will give an overview of a few other tactics and approaches you could take.
A lower pressure way to build a relationship with an influencer is to interview them for an article that you are going to write for your website. You could simply reach out to them for a single quote to plug into a bigger article, or you can do a full fledged Q&A interview with the influencer to feature them on your site.
The full Q&A article is actually easier to do and even more valuable for the influencer as you are spotlighting them on your website. This content is very simple as you come up with a list of questions you have for the prospect, send it via email, and let them answer.
It is low pressure for the prospect and low pressure for you.
It is a great way to open the door, but the main challenge is that you can do this entire process without ever connecting on a phone call with the prospect. This means you end up building a bit less of a relationship and at some point, you are going to need to ask them for a call to take that relationship further.
Regardless, text-based interview content is easy to produce and a phenomenal door opener.
Create articles that feature others
This email from Tsavo Neal is an absolutely incredible example of how to use content to open the door with several influencers at the same time.
Tsavo is a web designer focused on consulting firms. So he decided to put together an article on The Best Podcasts For Consultants.
He went out, researched all of the top podcasts and my name showed up in the list.
He then reached out to me with the email you saw above to let me know he was going to feature me and ask my input.
Tsavo did this for 18 podcasts in a single article.
With one piece of content, Tsavo opened the door to strategic partnerships with 18 podcasters who had audiences of consultants who were his ideal customers.
Since that email, Tsavo and I have spoken and become strategic partners. We have collaborated on more content and both have referred business to each other.
This tactic is so simple, yet so powerful.
Create content that features your target influencers. This could be in the form of a list post like Tsavo, or by quoting or referencing their business in the narrative of another post.
Then reach out to them for a quote or to clarify that you are representing them properly.
This opens the door and starts the relationship in a way that creates value for the influencer and positions you in a positive light.
Tagging influencers & sharing content on LinkedIn
Another simple tactic that is incredibly powerful is to share the influencers' content and tag them on LinkedIn. This tactic is so easy and takes virtually no work, yet it gets you on that influencer's radar very quickly.
Every time you tag a prospect on LinkedIn, that prospect gets a notification in their LinkedIn alerts notifying them they have been tagged.
When they click into that alert, they see that you shared an article or resource from them along with commentary about how great the article was.
This gets them familiar with your face and name and makes it much easier to open the door in the future for interviews or other strategic partnerships.
To do this, simply built a list of 25-50 influencers who you would like to network with or whose content you would gladly share.
Then post one piece daily and tag the influencer. Do this over and over again and soon you will see doors start opening up between you and these influencers.
Most people spend all day promoting their own content. Instead, promote others and you will be amazed at how the value comes back to you.
Create a content series that features others
One of the most genius marketing tactics I have seen in a while is from Tom Schwab of Interview Valet which is a podcast guest booking service.
Tom decided to launch a content series called Daily Podcast Discovery.
Each video consists of a 60-90 second clip with Tom on camera talking about a particular podcast along with the artwork for the podcast.
Every day, Tom uploads a new video, text description, and then tags the podcast hosts on the post.
Now, let me put you into the psychology of a podcaster…
I am going about my day and hop on LinkedIn. I see a notification and I find that I have been tagged by Tom on LinkedIn. I’m interested so I click in to see what this is all about.
In the post, I see Tom on screen with my podcast artwork next to him. He’s literally talking about how great my podcast is for 90 seconds…
As a podcaster, I’m blown away. Someone has gone to this extent just to feature and promote what I am doing without any prompting at all.
So of course, I share the post on my LinkedIn feed as it’s a matter of pride that my podcast has been featured.
Then I write to Tom and reconnect since we haven’t spoken in a while. And now he is constantly on my mind as the go-to person for podcast booking (and he just got some free exposure in this book).
Tom came up with a creative way to build a content series that regularly features his target prospects and strategic partners. It wasn’t sleazy or manipulative. It was actual value creation up front that builds tons of relationships between him and his network of influencers.
Why influencer networking is absolutely essential
The value of this influencer networking cannot be understated. It is one of the highest value and highest ROI channels and tactics that you can invest in.
If you network with even one influencer per week, then you will have 52 new connections at the end of the year who are high profile individuals that can influence your business.
But the value is more than just the connections…
Distribution for your content
You can create all the content in the world, but if no one reads it, does it really matter?
This is why it’s essential that you network with influencers. When you start rubbing shoulders with other people who already have audiences, they will naturally take an interest in your content.
And if your content is actually good, then many of these influencers will share this out to their network or interview you about your expertise.
When I created my guide on LinkedIn lead generation I gave everything away. Then when I interviewed people, they would often research me and see how much expertise I put into that content.
As a result, I appeared on 20+ podcast interviews and webinars where I taught the LinkedIn Lead Generation tactics that I wrote about.
Nearly all of these were people who I interviewed first, and then they interviewed me in return.
Easy content to create
The other great part about networking with influencers through content is that it makes the content creation process extremely easy. You don’t have to think a ton or come up with new original ideas.
Instead, you just interview people who are interesting and ask questions that you are genuinely curious about. This process of content creation is 10x easier than coming up with original educational content on an ongoing basis and it still provides massive value for anyone who consumes it.
Interviews position you as a thought leader
John Lee Dumas is the creator fo the Entrepreneur on Fire Podcast. When John started, he was literally a nobody.
Yet by holding interview after interview, he started to make a name for himself. People started to regard him as someone intelligent and worth following.
John wasn’t putting out a ton of his own original ideas. Instead, he was simply interviewing others. Through that, he elevated his status to their level.
The lesson in this is simple. Put yourself next to the influencers and leaders in your industry, and soon people will start to consider you one as well.
Several years ago, when I started my podcast, I was a nobody.
Yet a few years later, after putting out content, and interviewing nearly every other influencer in my space, I have become a go-to name in the agency and consulting niche.
It’s a weird transition, but you start interviewing all of the influencers in your space and then one day you look around and realize “Hey, all of these people who I was interviewing are now my peers. I’m one of them.”
When you start having that feeling, the rest of the world around you does as well.
Interviewing and featuring others is a great way to get started
One objection I hear from even the most expert status consultants is “I don’t have anything new or original to bring to the table yet.”
Even leaders in their field will often feel this way because they may just be consulting or implementing the frameworks they learned from others.
While I personally believe they are being overly humble, I understand their desire to “Not feel like a fake guru”.
In these cases, interviews are the perfect solution to their content marketing. They are able to create content that features others which helps them expand their network, and lets them study and learn from others who are ahead of them at the same time.
Because of this, I often recommend interview based content to people who are early on and don’t feel like they are ready to dive into cornerstone content or publishing their original thoughts.
It’s easy, it’s valuable, and you will learn a ton along the way.
You will learn through interviews
Imagine being able to go to all of the people you look up to and ask them whatever things you are curious to learn from them… well, that is what interview based content is.
You can go to people who are further ahead of you in your industry, or influencers who have niche expertise in your space.
You can ask them whatever is on your mind that you want to learn from them. As a result, you not only walk away with a new connection and great content. You also walk away with incredible insights and knowledge that make better at what you do.
When I decided I was going to go down the path of starting up a content marketing business, I went out and started interviewing the top content marketing agencies in the industry.
The calls are full of me genuinely asking tons of questions that interest me about how they run their businesses.
They get free exposure.
I learn from them, create content, and establish myself as an authority in content marketing at the same time.
Interviews are powerful and there are so many benefits.
If there is any one thing you take away from this book and start doing, it is to begin interviewing your target prospects for content in some capacity.
1. Start a list of your Dream 100. This doesn’t actually have to be 100, but just start writing out a list of people in your industry who you would love to interview or build relationships with.
2. How are you going to open the door with them? Will you interview them? Start a podcast? Create content that features them? Come up with your approach to content that will help you open those doors.
Promotion & Pipeline Nurturing
Content is created to be consumed
If a tree falls in the woods, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If you write content and no one reads it, is it even worth it?
Your content alone will not make an impact on your business.
Your content in front of many of your target prospects, partners and customers… now that will create a massive impact.
In this section, we are going to talk through some basic principles of content promotion for B2B companies. We are going to tell you where to focus your time and energy, and what is a huge waste of time.
Your promotional channels
When it comes to promoting your content there are five primary channels relevant to consulting companies.
Public Relations / Guest Posting
Sure, some businesses may find value in Facebook, Twitter or other social channels, but for 95% of you reading this book, they will be a waste of time. Unless your business involves these other social channels, they are probably not worth your time investment.
So stick to these core channels and that is where you will see your highest ROI.
How to think about content promotion
One mistake that I see many people make is that they turn content promotion into a bigger challenge than it needs to be.
They feel like every LinkedIn post needs to be a prolific world-changing idea. Or that every email to their list must be completely original.
Here is the truth. Promotional content should NOT be original content. Why?
The lifespan of a LinkedIn post is less than 48 hours. After that, it dies in LinkedIn’s algorithm and will probably be seen again unless someone looks at your historical posts.
99% of people who open an email will open it in the first 48 hours it was sent.
This means that these promotional pieces of content will literally be born and die within 48 hours of when you create them. Once they are done, they disappear into the ether never to be seen again.
So if you are not meant to create original content for LinkedIn or email, then what do you do?
It’s simple. You repurpose and promote your cornerstone, educational and networking content.
First, you create an article, video, podcast, or cornerstone piece of content. Once you do that, then you take that piece of content and repurpose it into 5-10 LinkedIn posts. Then you write an email newsletter to promote and launch that piece of content.
One piece of original content is then turned into multiple pieces of promotional content. These promotional pieces drive back to your original content and help you leverage and gain more traction out of your existing content creation.
Alright, now that you understand the high-level principle for how to approach promotional content, let’s dive into the primary promotional channels.
The value of an email list
An email list is gold in today’s day and age. Someone who gives you their email address is a person who is giving information to say “I’m interested in continuing to hear from you.”
That is a powerful gesture as it shows intent toward buying, or becoming an advocate of your brand.
When I started out, I couldn’t even comprehend the value of an email list, but everyone was talking about it so I began building one up.
7,000+ subscribers later I get it…
Having an email list really is like having an ATM machine that can print money on demand.
When you have a new product offer, you can launch it to your email list.
When you want to run a promotion to generate short term sales, you can launch it to your email list.
And even if those two channels are not relevant because you do high ticket B2B sales, email lists are still valuable because they keep you top of mind.
Without an email list, people may just forget you exist. But if you are consistently putting out quality and helpful content to your email list, then they are much more likely to think of you when they have a need, or refer you to others who have a need.
As an example of this, I have subscribers to my email list who are in no way a good fit for any of my products or services. Yet they love my content so they become an advocate of my brand and often refer me to others.
When you give away your best ideas and nurture your email list, you create massive goodwill at scale and that turns around and provides value back to you.
For an email newsletter, make sure you are sending at minimum once per month. Ideally, you are sending to your email list at minimum weekly with new or curated content. But for many small consulting firms that can be hard. So start with a minimum of monthly. If you can do that you are already light years ahead of your competition.
How to build your email newsletter when you are just starting out
If you are reading this and are worried because you don’t have an email newsletter, fear not. It’s easier to get started than you think.
While having an opt-in on an email newsletter is ideal (and legally required in Canada and Europe), for many consulting firms you can get started by simply adding your existing customers and prospects to your email list.
My rule of thumb is that I will add anyone who I have actually been on the phone with or who inquires through my website or email.
If I am doing outbound sales, then I won’t add that prospect to my email newsletter until they get on a call.
With this approach, you will naturally build up hundreds of new subscribers every year just by adding all of the people you have conversations with.
This keeps you top of mind and helps you build up an asset while you go about your normal course of business.
The next channel for promotional content is your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn content is constantly changing. Every few months the algorithm like to favor new trends like “building groups” or “native video” or “long form text post”.
So be cautious of any article that offers you the perfect LinkedIn hacks. What worked yesterday may not work today.
Instead, you should focus on creating quality content on LinkedIn. You can try to mix it up with different formats such as text, video, graphics, etc.
But recognize that ultimately it is the quality of the content that you share on LinkedIn that really matters, NOT the hack you use to try to get your LinkedIn post more traffic.
Here are a few tips on ways to use LinkedIn content effectively.
Tag your Dream 100 - Go find your Dream 100 list and begin sharing articles from them and tag them in your reshares. This creates value for them, positions you as a thought leader, and helps you start relationships with them.
Write a hook - The first line of your LinkedIn post needs to hook someone's attention. Start it off with something catchy and you will see 10x engagement over a boring post.
Be helpful - No one likes someone who pitches all day. Try to put out content that is useful and helpful to others and then sprinkle in a small amount of promotional material. Our rule of thumb is 80% helpful, 20% pitch.
Encourage engagement - Ask people to comment. Ask a question. Provoke opinions on a contrarian topic. These are all ways to get people engaging with your content.
Curate - Use your LinkedIn feed to share articles that you find interesting and compelling. Sharing and curating from others is a powerful way to be seen as a thought leader even if you are not publishing your own content.
There are countless approaches you can take to LinkedIn content and there is no perfect formula. The most important thing is to create quality content that actually helps people. Do that and you will see far better results than cheap promotional content.
Content distribution through influencers
One of the best ways to distribute your content is through other influencers. These are individuals or companies with their own email lists or audiences of your target prospects.
This is why it is so important to have an influencer networking strategy outlined as we discussed before. When an influencer you know shares your content, or interviews you about the content you recently released, then they are pointing their entire audience to your message.
Influencer content distribution is not an easy task so this is something best utilized for cornerstone pieces of content.
For example, when I launched my LinkedIn lead generation guide, I went on an entire podcast and webinar tour with influencers where I taught the same tactics over and over again.
Each interview dove into me teaching the LinkedIn outreach tactics, and then I had the chance to point everyone over to the LinkedIn guide if they wanted more details.
Recently, my friend Michael Zipursky published a large research study where they surveyed their email list of 34,000 independent consultants about their various marketing channels and results.
They published their findings in a massive guide and statistical study. He then reached out to me to ask if I was interested in sharing this or doing an interview about it. I was so blown away by the content that I asked him back on my podcast for a second time!
When you put out amazing content, influencers will want to share it with their audience. But in order to make this work, you need to build these relationships far in advance of when you want to make the promotional ask.
Start building relationships with your Dream 100 today so you can leverage them months or even years down the line.
The amazing thing about all of the work you are putting into interviews, educational content, and your cornerstone content is that it creates a foundation. It builds the perfect foundation of an incredible speaking platform.
Here is a simple truth about most speaking opportunities. They rarely want you to present something totally new and original. Instead, they want you to bring proven and relevant messages to their audience.
For example, when I put together my guide on LinkedIn Lead Generation, I shared this with all of the influencers in my network. As a result, I did a tour of 20+ podcast and webinar interviews teaching the EXACT SAME thing.
All of these different platforms simply wanted to bring proven expertise and actionable information to their audiences so I was booked on speaking opportunity after speaking opportunity.
My friend AJ Wilcox of B2LinkedIn spoke live at 17 marketing conferences last year. He didn’t pitch some new creative idea to each conference, instead, he brought the same deck about LinkedIn Advertising to each conference.
Your speaking career is built on top of the cornerstone content you create. It is literally a repurposing of that content into a presentation format.
So how do you get started with speaking if you have no past gigs to show?
Simple, put together an amazing piece of cornerstone content that you can send over and say “This is the message I have to share, I’m happy to turn this into a presentation for you.”
Or even better, do what AJ did and turn some of your cornerstone content into a presentation and share that with the conferences upfront.
As you can see, speaking is simply another promotion channel to repurpose all of the other efforts you have put into content along the way. It is also one of the most powerful channels as well. When you speak in front of a room of people or appear on a credible podcast or webinar, you build immense trust with the buyers and viewers of that presentation.
Leads that come from presentation content tend to have a far higher close rate than leads that come from outbound or other channels due to the trust you build. In addition, once you build a breadth of speaking opportunities you will also be seen as a more credible thought leader in your space.
Find Your Support Systems
The hard truth
Here is the hard truth. You can’t do all of this alone.
In fact, no reputable personal brand or thought leader has gotten to where they are alone. Gary Vaynerchuk has a massive team behind him who helps take all of the content ideas he comes up with and distributes them out to the world.
This is the model behind nearly all reputable personal brands and thought leaders. The expert spends as much time as possible doing the work they are an expert at and then turning their expertise into ideas and media.
On the backside of that, a team of experts helps take all of those brilliant ideas and raw media files and turns them into content that is distributed out to the world.
Any expert or aspiring thought leader needs a team alongside them. Some could say you need “Content Allies”. *Cough cough* (Shameless pitch)
In this section, I am going to dive into multiple paths to finding support systems for thought leadership initiative.
Offload your lowest value work first
When it comes to looking for where to hire support systems, you want to first start by offloading the lowest value work from your plate. Things like updating your website, creating thumbnail images, sharing content you create on social… these are all quite low-value tasks that you could easily hire someone to take over.
As you go through your content creation process, figure out the things that feel absolutely mundane to you first and begin by offloading those to a Virtual Assistant or someone who can take on those repetitive tasks.
This is step one as it will free up your time to create more original content which is where you should be spending your time.
Find a creation & support flow that works for you
Everyone has a different style and approach to how they create content. Here are a few different ways people create.
The Writer - This is the person who actually finds incredible joy in sitting down and writing out their own content. In this case, the writer simply needs a copy editor to clean up their work and then to get it published on their site.
Support needed: Copy Editor, Publishing Support, Graphic Design
The Speaker - Some people hate writing, but they could talk all day. This person is best suited to just turn on a microphone, start talking about their ideas, and then have a writer turn those into articles, and an editor to turn those into podcasts and Youtube clips.
Support needed: Writer, Audio / Video Editor, Publishing Support, Graphic Design
The Drafter - This is someone who likes writing, but they don’t feel that their writing is of a high enough quality to publish. They can get rough ideas or outline down on paper, but then end up with 10 rough drafts of articles saved, but nothing published. The Drafter needs a writer who can come in behind them, clean up their draft and turn that into a polished post.
Support needed: Writer, Publishing Support, Graphic Design
The Interviewee - This is someone who struggles to come up with new ideas on their own. They are so close to their expertise that they struggle to realize just how much insight they have to share. The interviewee is someone who needs to be prompted via written questions or a live interview to extract and pull their expertise and insights out of their brain.
Support needed: Interviewer / Writer, Audio / Video Editor, Publishing Support, Graphic Design
Everyone is different so there is no perfect flow. The key is to figure out what works best for you and then build a support system around you.
Do I hire an agencies, freelancers or niche provider?
When it comes to building yourself up as a thought leadership initiative, there are three primary paths you can take. The agency, the freelancer or the niche provider. I will dive deeper into each over the coming pages.
Working with freelancers
Freelancers can be great as you start off your journey into thought leadership. They are lower cost, and you can find niche experts in whatever area you need support in. You can choose to spend money and hire someone from a primarily English speaking country, or you can save money by hiring someone offshore.
In either case, you won’t need to spend too much to hire a freelancer to help you with your thought leadership initiatives.
Where to hire freelancers?
Tips for hiring
1. Put an Easter egg in your application - Add hidden in the text of your application something like “write banana as the first word of your cover letter.” This will weed out 80% of applicants.
2. If relevant, ask to see samples of their work - This is especially important for writers, audio/video editors, and any other creative support.
3. Hold a quick interview - The general rule of thumb I follow is “Would I want to hang out with this person at a BBQ?” If the answer is no, then you probably don’t want to bring them on as it won’t be a good long term cultural fit.
4. Start with a small test project - Begin by giving them a small project that should take no longer than 3-5 hours. Check-in after that project to see how things went. Provide any feedback and align. They may not be perfect on the first attempt, but the first few hours of working with someone are a good indicator of future performance.
The downsides of freelancers
While freelancers may be the most inexpensive way to find support for your thought leadership initiatives, they do come with downsides.
The biggest downside is flakiness. Before I grew my business to a state where I was able to hire support services full time, I experienced the pain of flakey freelancers first hand.
In fact, I experienced it 4 times… I taught 4 freelancers how to manage and support my blog process. They came and went before I finally handed the job to a full-time team member whom I knew could rely on.
It was a horrible experience and I had so much downtime with my content because these freelancers kept getting busy with other clients or landing full-time jobs. My 3-4 hours per week was a low priority to them when bigger opportunities came along.
This was horrible after the 3rd time it happened, I literally threw in the towel on my podcast for almost a year. I had 20+ episodes recorded that were unpublished… And I let them sit for almost a full year before I finally got up the energy to hire and train someone new again.
Freelancers can be great, but just be aware that if you aren’t giving them full time work, then they may not be with you forever and you might have to retrain someone 3-9 months down the road.
Working with Content Marketing Agencies
On the flip side, your other path to thought leadership support is through a content marketing agency. There is no shortage of content agencies out there who will work with you on an ongoing basis to handle your content.
Some of the benefits of working with content marketing agencies.
Stability - You don’t have to worry about freelancers flaking out on you. You have a company who spreads responsibilities across multiple individuals to ensure the work gets done.
Quality - With freelancers, you may be hand checking their work yourself. Any decent agency you hire should have copy editors and quality checks in place to ensure a high standard.
Strategy - The other benefit most agencies bring to the table is that they can help with strategy. Anyone who has built a content marketing agency has reached a level in their career where they are much more strategic than a freelance writer. They know how to use content in a strategic way to achieve business results. As a result, you have an actual entrepreneur who is consulting on strategy as well as supporting you on your journey.
The downsides of content marketing agencies
The biggest downside of content marketing agencies vs freelancers is the cost. When you work with an agency, you are going to be making a larger financial commitment.
But assuming you choose your partner wisely, this should be offset by the future ROI your business makes from the content. This is the price you pay for a partner who can actually think strategically on how to create content as opposed to just writing fluffy '5 Tips' articles.
With that being said, there are certainly plenty of low-quality content marketing agencies out there who will still charge a lot and never generate results for your business.
When it comes to interviewing agencies, here are some things to consider.
Look at their actual work - Ask to see a portfolio or examples of their work for past customers. Samples of their writing will show you if they are doing fluffy content, or in-depth quality work.
Ask for case studies or references - Any quality agency should have case studies documented or be able to provide references to happy customers.
Ask about their process - You want to learn and understand what their process is and how they work. Do they interview you? Come up with ideas on their own? How do they work with you?
SEO Content or Quality Content - There are countless firms out there that will write page after page of low-quality content that is stuffed full of keywords and meant to rank high on SEO. Companies that focus on this value proposition are far different from the firms who focus on creating high-quality content that you need to become a thought leader.
Strategy up front, or dive in - Another red flag is companies who just want to dive straight into writing articles with zero strategy. If they don’t take the time to really understand your business, then they are just going to be cranking out low-quality words that offer zero value to your business.
Working with niche providers (Ex. Podcasting service / Article Writing Service)
The final option when it comes to support services are niche providers of individual support services. Examples like this would be podcast production services, social media agencies, blog writing services, etc.
There are many companies out there who specialize in just one of these support channels. These can be great resources if you are looking to specifically offload your work in one core area.
The benefits of working with niche providers are:
Quality - Someone who focuses on one core area tends to do high-quality work in that area.
Delegation - When you hire a niche provider, you are able to take one segment of that thought leadership path and hand it over to someone else.
The downside of niche providers
While these niche providers are great at their core area, working with them does come with downsides. The primary downside is the disconnectedness with your other providers.
Imagine you have a podcast production company, a blog writing company, and a social media company. All three of those each have their own processes and struggle to work together to create any sort of cohesive plan and strategy.
Sure it can all get done, but it is going to require you to orchestrate the strategy across all three and make sure they are coordinating with each other to leverage what each company is creating.
The other downside is that most of these niche providers are not looking at your business holistically.
For example, your social media team can only produce so many results if they don’t have great content to work from. And your content writing team is useless unless you have someone promoting your content via email and social media.
Many of these niche providers fulfill their one piece of the equation, but often what you need is a much more holistic approach from someone who can help handle it all.
Find your support
How you go about building your thought leadership initiative is up to you, but one thing I will tell you is that it is impossible to do this all alone.
And even if you did do it all alone, you would be wasting countless hours on low-value tasks that would be better suited for someone else.
Even if you are building a personal brand and solo consultancy, you need support. You need someone behind you who can help take all of your expert ideas and share them with the world.
Evaluate where you need the most support and take the action to get those support channels in place.
There is a famous quote from Ried Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn.
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, then you launched too late.”
This same quote is true of your thought leadership platform and personal brand. When I started my own platform in 2013, I had no idea what I was doing.
The home page of my site featured a photo of me holding an Iguana… and mixed in with my brand was my artwork, business, and random musings on the meaning of life. I was all over the place and as I look back at those early days, it’s pretty horrifying.
But getting started somewhere is essential. That first step forward is better than no step at all. Because you learn, grow and improve your platform over time.
You may not nail it perfectly out of the gate. In fact you probably won’t. But if you keep investing into your thought leadership platform, then you will be putting deposits into an asset that will pay you for the rest of your life.
“Start investing in thought leadership today, you will thank me in two years.”
This is a quote that I tell so many consultants and entrepreneurs who are early in their journey. At first, it may seem like a daunting task or a lot of work, but you have to remember that thought leadership is a long term investment.
In your first year, you may feel like an imposter or think “Is this working?”
You look up to all of the other “thought leaders” in your field and aspire to someday be at their level.
Then one day, you look around and realize you are hanging out with those thought leaders. You have become one of the “in crowd” at conferences and events. People are gravitating toward you as a powerful individual in the room.
This doesn’t happen overnight, but by investing in thought leadership over the long term, you create a slow and steady build toward a status that can never be robbed from you.
Thought leadership is not a physical asset.
It’s not a piece of equipment that can be destroyed.
It is an investment that you make.
And once you invest in it, it will keep paying returns for years and years to come.
Where to go from here
Now that you have seen the full picture of the path to thought leadership, it’s time to take the first step. While this may all seem overwhelming at first, you have to remember that everyone starts out somewhere.
Everyone starts out as an unrecognized expert.
I was there once just like you.
You won’t become an industry thought leader overnight, but if you start taking the actions outlined in this guide, you will begin establishing yourself as a thought leader bit by bit.
And trust me, it won’t take long to start seeing the benefits that it will bring your business.
To make this all straight-forward and simple, I have outlined all of the actions and questions presented throughout this guide into a series of workbook pages that follow. These are meant to help you think through each of these sections and exercises in more detail so that you can build a plan of action for your thought leadership platform.
Once you’ve answered the questions, the next step is to simply dive in and start building your platform.
If you need help on the journey, then download the Consultants Path to Thought Leadership Workbook or reach out to our team for hands on content support.