Will: Hello, Peter. Welcome to the show.
Peter: Hey. Thanks for having me, Will.
Will: Peter, what are some common mistakes that people make when they think about thought leadership?
Peter: Oh, that’s a great question. I think there’s a few. I think one would be setting the bar too high and one might be setting the bar too low. In terms of setting the bar too high, it’s in order for me to be perceived as a thought leader I have to write a book and that’s a monumental task. That’s like waking up January 2nd and haven’t exercised and saying, “Today I’ll do an Iron Man.” That’s a big deal.
Will: Just to start getting in shape, right.
Peter: Yeah. Just to start, yeah, like maybe you’re right. “I need to lose a few pounds and I think I’ll do an Iron Man.” That’s the equivalent. And then, the other side would be setting the bar too low in terms of, “Oh, I’ve got this great thing to say. Let me say it once and only once in an article, and then people will beat a path to my door.” The reality is that investing in thought leadership needs to be a consistent investment over time of not just money. Money is the small piece of it, but energy, and thoughtfulness, and consistency, and a series of experiments to find your voice, and find your tribe, and connect, and resonate. That would be one, there’s several others.
Will: That’s very insightful. Don’t say, “Okay, I have to be a world authority on this.” And also, don’t just say, “Okay, well one tweet and I’m done. I’ve got my thoughts out there.” What are some other mistakes as people think about saying, “Okay, I want to build a thought leadership platform and build visibility.” Any other mistakes that you’ve observed?
Peter: Well, I think the biggest one is to choose not to. I think a lot of folks say, “Well, listen, I’m really good at what I do. I’m a great consultant. I come from a big consulting firm. I’ve got the Ivy League degree. I don’t need to do that. I’m just really good at what I do.” And I think the reality is, that’s a big mistake because if you think about how people are consuming information and content, it’s everywhere today. It’s on LinkedIn, it’s short-form video, whatever, and if you don’t have a voice, if you’re not in the conversation, you’re out of the running when it comes to choosing a service provider to help someone.
Will: Great. Let’s talk about your work for a little bit. So, you work with experts and help them take that expertise to build a real and a business around it. Tell us a little bit about your service.
Peter: Sure. We are a boutique consulting firm and we work exclusively with authors, and thought leaders and speakers from all around the world that have content that has typically an obvious business application. In an instance or two it’s a step less than obvious. That’s our core focus. We have clients that are CEOs, we have clients that are consultancies, we have clients that are elite academics. Ultimately, the methodology is the same for all, in terms of developing a strategy, and then helping them build out their brands and platform.
Peter: Which a lot of people are … How do I put it? You’re a great professional services provider, you’re anti-brand, there’s a little bit of elitist, “I’m really good at what I do, I’m a great attorney, I’m a great consultant. I don’t need the whole branding thing.” This is not necessarily personal branding but it’s using content and thought leadership to build your brand to attract the right people that you want to build your practice. And then, ultimately, it’s thinking about what are the other ways that people can pay you?
Peter: A lot of your audience are consultants and ultimately the consulting business is fairly simple. You buy a body at wholesale and you hope to sell it at retail before it expires, and rinse, lather, repeat, move on. One of the things that I find amazing today is that if you’ve got the framework, or prophecies, or methodologies there are other ways to deploy those and monetize those that are not dependent on rinse, later, repeat of the consulting world. You can turn that into validated assessment instruments or organization diagnostic tools, or video enabled trainings. The list goes on, and on, and on, but often times, when you’re a hammer, you’re a nail.
Peter: If you’re a consultant you think everything’s a consulting gig as opposed to looking at the assets that you’ve created, vis-a-vis, your intellectual property and saying, “How else might I port those into other modalities, into business models to yield a net benefit?”
Will: Give me a little bit more exhaustive list. Let’s spend a little bit more time on that about ways that a consultant could think about monetizing and productizing their expertise in ways other than the standard consulting engagement.
Peter: Sure. One thing, I called it the democratization of your content. Often time, top consultants are not really aware that where they exist and where they operate is at the top of the house. The oxygen’s a little thin up there, so if I’m a great marketing consultant, if I’m a great strategy consultant, I’m a great change management consultant, often times, the client base that I’m dealing with, where in that client organization I sit tends to be higher than lower. So, you’re dealing with CSO, you’re dealing with someone that owns a billion dollar P&L, et cetera, et cetera. And you go in there and you get paid a high price to solve a problem for that client at a specific point in time based on specific data points, and variables, and all that sort of stuff.
Peter: And you go in and you’re getting paid to do that. And the client, in those situations, typically doesn’t care what are the tools that you’re using to get the job done. The horrible analogy I use is, “My toilet’s clogged up, I’m getting the plumber and all I care is it’s unclogged when he leaves. I have no idea what he’s doing, what the tools are.” When I say democratizing the IP, often times, what we find is the things that you’re doing at the top end of the house could be ported over into some learning tools that could help folks further down the food chain in the organization. One, two, three, four, five levels down, even the front line.
Peter: Although that’s not where you typically play at the individual level when you think about … I don’t want to say deluding the content, but bringing it down to a level of relevance at the front line, there are far more bodies at the front line than at the top of the house. Even though it’s a lower per capita sale, it’s a massive amount of volume. It’s a difference from being Target, or Bergdorf Goodman, or something like that. I think, often times, we’re high on our own fumes a little bit thinking, “Oh, I stroll into the CEO’s office and he loves my PowerPoint and my whiteboard, and blah, blah, blah,” and you don’t think about the other 399,000 employees he has.
Peter: Wow, imagine a world where 100,000 of those were, you were selling something that was even $100 or $200 a year, game changer.
Will: What are some ways that you’ve seen people democratize that? What kind of productizations have you seen?
Peter: Sure. Well, at the risk of sounding like a consultant, it depends. I’m assuming we’re allowed to say that.
Will: Only once. Only once on the show.
Peter: Only once? I’ve used my it depends card.
Will: That’s right.
Peter: Which probably doesn’t sound good. Examples that I’ve seen is going back to your framework and methodology in intellectual property and that you used, because every consultant has tools, whether they’re well documented or not, that they use to solve the problems that they solve, and saying, “How could I convert those into teaching?” And when you convert it into teaching, we move into the realm of instructional design and adult learning theory and there is art and science there that most of us just aren’t fluent in because it’s not our forte, it’s not our expertise.
Peter: Often times, you have to partner with someone that has that expertise to say, “Is there something teachable here? Is there something here that’s teachable to folks at the frontline, to folks at maybe newly minted managers, maybe frontline managers or something?” And it might be as basic as language and definitions. It might be as basic as your framework as a frame of reference, as a starting point. It’s not that we’re claiming that in, you know, “Watch these, spend a half hour online and you can have the expertise that I, the expert, do after 30 years of practicing.”
Peter: No, it’s about awareness and a certain level of fluency, and then it goes to understanding the mastery, and then the ability to execute it. We’re not saying, “How do you train someone to do what you do in 20 minutes or less?” It’s how do you teach them to look through the lens that you look through to extract some value for them.
Will: Creating some kind of a training program or maybe some model or tool?
Peter: Yeah, it could be tool based. It could be some sort of a validated assessment instrument that says … I have clients that have a whole bunch of personality type assessments and if you’re working at the organizational level, you’re dealing with the head of HR and you’re dealing with fairly sophisticated folks, how do you take that and convert it down into … And we’ve all seen these, some sort of assessment that says, “All right, Peter. Your personality is this. And Will’s personality is that. When you guys interact these are the things that you need to look out for and these are the things that will go well.” And just start to turn it into language.
Peter: We’ve all seen Disk or one of those. It’s getting it down to that level of simplicity and it’s incredibly difficult to make complex things simple and understandable.
Will: Creating some kind of assessment that then you would say to an organization, “Hey, we have a retail branch assessment check list,” or, “We have a organizational health assessment checklist or a digital readiness health assessment.”
Will: Something like that, that you would then license to an organization, is the idea?
Peter: Sure. It could be licensed. It could be in the form of train the trainer. It could be in form of an online tool. The modalities are almost endless. The question is, and I think this is an important part, if you ask your clients, they’ll tell you. If you put some thought into what you’re thinking about and say to your top level clients … And often times we do this with our clients, we go back with them to their client and say, “Hey, you know that big problem that we solved for you and you gave us these great accolades and we saved the day and we’re your favorite and all that sort of stuff, imagine if … Right, we were able to push that down at a level that cost, whatever, $100 a head and your frontline people would have some level of fluency in that times 50,000 of them, would that be of interest to you?”
Peter: Often times, their eyes grow wide like, “Holy cow.” Like, “We never thought about that because you’re really expensive and maybe there’s only one of you and you don’t scale that well.” I think the other piece of this is making sure, as professional service folks, as consultants, that our clients know that we can scale, because often times, they don’t, because we’ve never shown them that we can scale and their perception is, “Hey, you’re pretty expensive. You come in, you crack the code, but when I need to have something that touches everybody I’m going to go to the same old supplier for that.”
Will: Let’s talk about the process that your firm works with. Let’s say, an elite academic or a CEO was maybe going to retire and now she wants to build a consulting practice or an academic who’s done some really great leadership and has published academically but hasn’t really broken out to the general public of population. Walk us through your process, and then for those people who want to do this, do it yourself, it will help us think through the steps that we should follow. I’d be interested to hear, how do you start and what’s the sequence of events?
Peter: The first thing I’d say is, there is a process and what I mean by that is, more often than not people find themselves in this thought leadership place in a way that they didn’t intend or that they weren’t necessarily thoughtful about. It could be there’s someone in your company that’s known for ads, “Hey, could you write an article? Hey, could you go speak at our conference?” There’s a bunch of these, “Heys,” and then you wake up one day and you’re like, “Wait a minute. I’m speaking about this. I just wrote a book about this.” And all the tools that we use in business, we forget to use when moving into this space. What I always say to potential clients and clients is, “Listen, if you were going to open a pizza shop in your local community, there’s a series of things that you would do.”
Peter: “You would figure out, what are the margins in the pizza business? What does my brand represent? Do I want to be low priced high volume or do I want to be upscale and differentiate because the environment of my pizza shop serves wine, or is vegan, or whatever? How do I want to staff the place? What are all the different things that I should do and not do? How am I going to market? How am I going to do all those things?” And then, I think with contract and thought leadership we just wake up one day and go, “Wow, I’m sort of making a living at this now.”
Peter: Where we come in is say, “Okay, let’s pause. Let’s take a deep breath.” Whether they’re wildly successful, just thinking about that or moderately successful or struggling and saying, “We need to develop some sort of a strategy. We need to go in here and take a look at, what are you doing, how are you doing it, who are the clients you’re going to serve, how are you going to differentiate it, what is your product roadmap, how do you define your platform and own that, what’s the competitive landscape look like, and quite frankly, what are you qualified to do and what are you not qualified to do?” Because we all anoint ourselves as CEO of Us Inc, but it doesn’t mean we’re actually qualified for that job down the road as that entity evolves.
Will: You worked through a strategy where you’re saying what clients are you hoping to serve, do you want to target in terms of both, what types of companies and even what specific level of individual within that company, what products are you going to offer?
Peter: It could be demographic. It could be psychographic. It could be newly minted managers in the Cloud software space or it could be high potentials at a Fortune … There’s lots of ways to slice and dice it. I think that’s part of the process, too, is developing the equivalent of a client avatar based on where you’ve had success and where you think you can add future success and validating those hypotheses by seeing if you can actually find those sort of folks.
Will: And then, seeing if you can find them, and then what other kind of validation would you do then? Do you encourage your clients or do you actually help them actually reach out to some of those types of people and test, “Is this appealing to you or how interesting is this to you?”
Peter: Yeah. We work with a very minimum viable product mindset because I don’t believe that in this space, in the thought leadership content consulting, whatever space you want to put this in, you need to invest a ton of money in developing quote, products or solutions, without talking to the market. In fact, more often than not, you can be thoughtful around blueprinting some product roadmaps and having some solid hypotheses, and then going out to the market. When I mean the market, you’re existing in former clients and saying, “What do you think of this?” And they’ll tell you, this whole co-creation process works really, really well. I never walked into a friend or neighbor’s house and they had the neighbor’s kid’s macaroni art on the fridge because the neighbor’s kid’s not a good artist, but there kids is. This pride in that ownership of creating solutions with partners.
Will: You start with a strategy session, and then let’s say you’ve developed that, you’ve come up with a psychographic, and who you want to serve. What are the next phases of your work?
Peter: In some instances, instead of doing just a strategy session on the front end, we will do what we call an enterprise readiness assessment. The difference really there is that the enterprise readiness assessment is designed more for organizations that are a little bit bigger, a little bit more experienced, as opposed to, potentially, an individual author or a thought leader and there’s some other nuances there. But the enterprise readiness assessment is basically taking a look at, “Let me take a look at your organization today and let me take a look at what large scale entities are looking for, and let’s understand that gap and figure out how to close it.”
Peter: That gap could be brand, it could be product, it could be offerings, it could be solutions, it could be pricing, it could be lots of things in the gap and figure out how to close it. Because, for example, a lot of my clients are keynote speakers. Most of my clients do at least some keynoting. Some of them, it is their primary revenue source and one of the cool things about being a keynoter is, just by the very nature of the business, you’re working with a different client every week. One week you’re in Scottsdale, the next week you’re in Orlando, blah, blah, blah, and people are falling in love with you.
Peter: You got 500, 1,000 people on stage and you do your thing for an hour, an hour and a half and it ends in a standing ovation. You’ve created demand but if the only thing you have to supply with that is another keynote, that’s not going to work well because I’m not going to need another one of those next week. Thinking about, based on what your content or intellectual property is, what else might the market want?
Will: That makes sense. Figure out, so when you have 500 people that just signed up for your email and your notifications, other than just giving another speech, do you have some kind of product that they now can download and they can license or they can train the trainer to roll out [crosstalk 00:17:39].
Peter: Yeah. And I’m not talking about the days of, go buy this horrible DVD in the back of the room sort of thing, but in our world, in the world that most of our clients live in, we’re selling to the enterprise and the organization. I don’t want your money, Will, as an individual. I want your firm’s money because the customer acquisition cost and selling to individuals and the lifetime advice, that’s a whole different game. That’s Tony Robbins’s business and that’s all fine and good. That’s not what we do.
Will: All right. You do the enterprise readiness assessment, and then what’s next? Now, you’ve done your strategy, you’ve done the assessment, tell us what comes next.
Peter: Well, I used my it depends card, so I’ll say this … You don’t have the lifeline here?
Peter: There we go. There is no one path, so depending on where you are and where you need to go, typically there may be some sort of development into the brand and the platform, because you need to be known as the X person. If you’re in a competitive space and, by the way, we’re all in a competitive space, so if you’re a change management consultant, if you’re a supply chain consultant, guess what, there’s 100 or 1,000 other people that do what you do. The first thing is, how do we brand you and develop a platform to make, Will is the X guy, whatever X is and whatever that X is that you want to own? There might be some investments there.
Peter: There may be some further investments in developing, at least, preliminary blueprints around your tools and your instruments. Depending on who your market is, that will dictate the level of … What’s the word I’m looking for? The requirements in terms of does that need to be a validated assessment or not? If you’re selling into the Fortune 1000 your instruments need to be validated. You can’t just say, “This is the world according to Peter because Peter thinks that the sky is purple.” You need to have academic gravitas underneath it and show that your tools have been validated. Because if I’m selling you a ruler, well, I need to be able to prove to you that, that ruler always measures 12 inches and 12 inches.
Will: What’s that mean? That means that we ran this assessment at 20 companies and wow, it turns out that the high growth companies all scored high and the low growth companies scored low, and therefore it’s [crosstalk 00:20:02] …
Will: Or something.
Peter: It could be that or it could be, I have an individual test assessment that measures someone’s communication styles, or leadership strength, or whatever it is based on the competencies that I’ve defined that are underneath that. It doesn’t even have to be that you’ve it live at companies but we’ve done paddle testing, and fuse sorting, and all these sort of things to say, “Yes, we’ve measured this across 1,000 people that look like the people that work at your organization and it works.” Nobody wants an instrument based on motivation or charisma. There’s a place in the world for motivation and charisma but it’s not embedded at scale at the organization.
Will: By the way, I have to ask because I always ask when I’m ignorant about something, queue sorting, what’s that?
Peter: It’s a technical … I might grump this up, but it’s a technical way to look through the data that an instrument purports to measure.
Will: All right. Some kind of statistics things that I forgot.
Peter: Yes. Yes.
Will: I missed that in class. You’ve gone through, you developed. You’ve done the assessment, you now developed some of the content if they don’t have it all fully to go.
Will: What next?
Peter: Well, next is … And this is where, the way we sequence things a little bit different. Before you build it, sell it. Don’t spend a ton of money building the perfect thing. I’ve seen far too many people do that and go broke or build it in the laboratory then take it out into the real world once it’s done. It’s iterate, it’s talk to clients, it’s talk to people, it’s get commitments up front from your clients. Most people are overly focused on getting new clients and the reality is, if you’re good at what you do, and I assume most of you are, you’ve got equity embedded into current and former clients.
Peter: And going back to them … And we have a whole methodology around this, so we call it customer advisory council, where we go back to our current and former clients and tell the story of what they’re trying to do to transform the business, and offer them various solutions that are derivatives of content that they’re familiar with because they’ve cracked a big problem for them and ask them what they think. And we do it under the guise of, “Hey, can you give us your input from a research and development perspective?” It is clearly a business development activity, as well.
Peter: And often times, their clients will say, “Wow, that’s interesting. Do you have a version of that, that works for onboarding? Do you have a version of that, that works in the same group, whatever?” “Oh, yeah. Interesting. How many of those would you be interested in if we did that? That wasn’t in our development plans, but we might be able to adjust that.” I find that people get scared at the development cost of high quality tools. You could spend 100,000 bucks. You can spend a half a million bucks. To take away that fear you fund your development dollars with your client’s dollars.
Peter: If I said to you, “Will, I need a half a million dollars to build The Will Program,” your eyes are probably going to go wide and you’re going to get a little scary. If we talk to your clients and have a conversation and we come up with, I don’t know, whatever, seven, eight hundred thousand dollars worth of pre-commitments and you get a $500,000 spend, kind of becomes a no brainer at that point. We’ve just neutralized the risk.
Will: A customer advisory council where you’re showing something that’s maybe not actually fully developed but here is the prototype or the outline of it to get their feedback?
Peter: Yeah. Exactly. And then, the other piece is we’re focused a lot on product and solutions but let’s take this in a different path for a moment is, what do we need to do over the short-term and the long-term, vis-a-vis, thought leadership to increase brand awareness, to attract net new clients and to find the clients that look like the ones that are most valuable to you? There’s a product development path here, there’s a branding path, and then there’s a marketing path. We call it thought leadership marketing where we’re trying to figure out the best way for each client to get that content out in front of the right people in the right modalities, to get the impact that they’re looking for.
Peter: Whether that’s getting and speaking in front of the right conferences. Whether it’s creating short-form video to put out into the universe. Whether it’s articles in a more scholarly place, in HBR, or something like that. Whatever the right fit is, how do we create an editorial calendar and consistently put content out there in a way that’s meant to attract clients? I think where people get exhausted here is they’ll say, “Oh, I did that,” and then we’ll probe a little bit. “So, what do you mean you did that?” “Well, back two years ago I wrote three articles and I put them out and here’s the response I got.” “Okay, and then what did you do, and then what did you do?”
Peter: And the reality is, when you combine thought leadership and marketing, it’s best practices of both. So, marketing knows that you need to consistently get your message out in front of people in order for them to feel comfortable and respond to it. Whether that’s a bubblegum, a restaurant, or thought leadership. You’ve got to consistently get your content out in front of the right people in the right way. And, a lot of times people are just impatient.
Will: What are some of the ways that you suggest of, once you have some of this content, how do you recommend to people the channel that they go through? Whether they’re putting articles on LinkedIn, or Medium, or their own blog, or a podcast, or a video, or trying to give speeches? Or all the palette of possible ways of getting your content out there, how do you help people think through and evaluate those different options?
Peter: Got it. It’s a great question and it’s one that overwhelms and exhausts a lot of people. “Should I be on Instagram? Should I be on Twitter? How often should I be doing this?” I think those are the wrong questions. I think the first question always needs to be, “Who am I trying to reach? What’s the outcome I’m looking for?” You’ve got to develop a handful, two, three, four client avatars with as high level of specificity as you can. The beautiful thing about the web and the world that we live in today is if you go back 20, 30 years ago, however many years ago, you had three things to watch on television, CBS, NBC, ABC, whatever. Now, you’ve got 3,000 things to watch and broadcast times are irrelevant. “I watch what I want when I want to watch it, where I want to watch it, on the device I want to watch it.”
Peter: You need to put your avatar up center and say, “If these are the type of people I’m trying to serve, let me get into their heads and say, where do they consume content? How do they consume content?” And that dictates everything. For some of my clients, Instagram is not a place to be. Instagram works for things that are more visual, things that are maybe if you were a little bit younger. For some of my clients places like SlideShare, which is a little bit more obscure but started as an academic place to basically share PowerPoints and presentations might be the better place, so it always starts with the avatar of who are your people, where and how are they consuming content, both online and offline?
Peter: In the offline world, the real world, what are the events they’re going to? What are the trade magazine they’re reading? Think about it from a long tail perspective. I’d rather be on eight podcasts or blogs that have very, very small readership, that’s highly engaged but lines up dead on to my avatar, than on a zillion where it might be more impressive to talk about it at a cocktail party or something like that, but is it really going to get me any impact or results, if so, deluded. Does that answer your question?
Will: So, it’s developing this client avatar and finding out where that person is getting. And how do you do that? Let’s say, once you develop your client avatar, I want to serve heads of strategy of Fortune 500 companies, or whatever.
Peter: Great. Let’s use that as an example. Heads of strategy for Fortune 500, let’s do a bunch of research and find out is there a Chief Strategy Officer conference. There probably is. What are the groups on LinkedIn they’re following? Who are the people that they’re following? What are the types of books they’re reading? Which one of those people are out on the speaking circuit more? Events that they go to, maybe it’s some of the head hunters that are supporting that population? Where are they? Where are they hanging out? What are the types of … Are they reading strategy and business? Where are they getting information from? What are they following?
Peter: And again, go big and then go small. What are some of the obscure, there’s probably a handful of folks that you or I don’t know of that are really big in that space but it’s a small space.
Will: Do you find that out by going and asking some of them or how do you try to get that sense of what conferences they’re going to?
Peter: Asking is always good, and then there’s just good old block and tackle market research.
Will: What are some of the benefits that you’ve seen people achieve as a result of investing in thought leadership and building a whole marketing around that?
Peter: Ultimately, if you can’t answer the benefit after investing some period of time in it through the lens of net new clients, or revenue, or growth of your business, then it’s all ego and fluff. Initially, it’s about brand and awareness but brand and awareness will only take you so far and most of us, us professional services folks, do not have the marketing budget of the Deloitte’s, the McKinsey’s, whatever. I have yet to see a small consulting firm, five million, 20 million, 30 million try to go toe-to-toe with Deloitte and buying billboards at O’hare or LaGuardia.
Peter: That’s just not going to happen, so you need to come up with a budget that makes sense and some assumptions against that budget, meaning if we’re going to put, whatever, $200,000 over the next year into this thought leadership, how many net new clients do we need based on our average lifetime value of that client, and then advertise that out. That’s going to be different for everybody but you got to figure out how to make that math work.
Will: It’s one thing to talk about CEO or an elite academic, someone who’s amazing and to almost get back to your point when we started about setting the bar too high. How would you … It sounds like most of your clients already are well on the way to establishing some thought leadership and they’re getting your help to really blow it out and expand it. What kind of counsel would you give to a more ordinary mortal, who maybe they were at a top tier consulting firm for four or five years.
Peter: By the way, that’s probably 20, 25% of our client base is the single shingle that’s been at the big firm, whatever that is, or at the big organization. They’re out on their own. They’re doing well, so they’re probably equal to or a little bit better than they might have been inside, but they’re looking to grow now. Let’s parking lot all the issues of that there’s tons of them going from being in-house to on your own but I think what you’re saying is, “How do I, as little old me, start to play in this game in thought leadership in an effective way?”
Will: Someone who’s not written a book or hasn’t published but someone who’s four or five years maybe at Bain or McKinsey and they’ve done some procurement or change management, or operational improvement. They’re a solid consultant, they haven’t maybe even written in the McKinsey Quarterly, so they have some good knowledge but now they’re saying, “Okay, how do I even start at the thought leadership game and start building it up. By the way, I’m busy. I’m actually doing client work most of the time, so I don’t have five days a week to do this.”
Will: How can someone do something that’s actually going to be meaningful and not waste their time but do enough so it’s not a drop in the bucket?
Peter: So, we’re all busy. The first thing you need to do is be disciplined and say, “I can allocate X percent of my time to this. 10%, 15,” I’m not talking 50, 60, 70%, that’s unrealistic, but, “Can I put in whatever, a day, a month against this thought leadership for at least a year to push it out?” You can start small. The first thing I would do is start following others. I think that first thing to do is say, “Listen, I’m thinking about investing and being in the content business, so who else is out there that I admire?” And I would cut that in two.
Peter: I would say, “Who’s got content out there that just, I dig it. Every time they write something, wherever they write it, I’m the first one that wants to read it. It resonates with me. I believe in what they say.” That’s one path. The other thing to look at simultaneously is who else is out there that’s everywhere. I might even hate their content. I might even disagree with everything they say but they’re doing something right because everywhere I go, bam, they’re in my face, and understand what those people are doing. I would start studying others, and then testing things.
Peter: You might start by finding the places where people are sharing information and start commenting. The thoughtful commenting, not trivial. I’ve had clients that are … One client that comes to mind that was a strategic HR professional that came from a Fortune 500, went out on her own, blah, blah, blah. One of the things that she started to do was really being thoughtful and commenting on blogs at HBR that we’re very strategic HR focused. It wasn’t like, “Hey, great article. Thumbs up.” It was a thoughtful probably six to eight paragraph response.
Peter: She did that six or seven times, and then HBR blog invited her to say, “Wow, we’ve been watching your comments, they’re quite thoughtful. Would you mind writing a piece for us?” You’ve got to start there. The other thing is you don’t have to do it alone, it’s collaboration. One of the things that I find interesting is there’s two phone calls that you can make to someone that’s a potential client. One is, “Hey, I’m Peter, and I’d like to sell you some stuff.” And we can guess the likelihood of that call getting answered.
Peter: The other one is, “Hey, I’m Peter and I’m writing an article for … or a blog, or a whitepaper,” you put on your thought leadership, journalist, author, or whatever hat and, “I want to talk to you, Will, about something that you’re passionate about. About helping professional service people be better at what they do?” Which call do you think you’re more likely to respond to if you got two on your voicemail and you could use the process of content creation to develop relationships with people that may be clients or people that are more interesting and have bigger names than you?
Will: So, start by collaborating, write a piece together or interview the person.
Peter: And don’t be shy. I think one of the things people find they’re surprised at is if you’re a fan of, if you’re enamored by … I’m reading a New York Times Bestselling Business book right now. As I was reading it there were a couple of things in the book that stood out to me, so I tracked down the author and sent him an email and said, “Hey, there are a couple thoughts I have.” I got an email back in five minutes.
Will: That’s amazing.
Peter: Yeah. And I think people think like, “Oh,” not everybody is that receptive or reachable but I find, more often than not, if you get the right message to the right person, particularly around their content, because that’s their baby, and you’re thoughtful, not just some foo foo, kudos, or whatever, but give them a thoughtful, “You know there’s some things … I’d love to have a conversation. What do you think about this? Or when you wrote it … I disagree with you on this.” It’s a great way to engage and people do want to share ideas.
Will: That resonates and I’ve had that experience, as well, on this podcast. I was a big fan of The Art of Mingling by Jeanne Martinet and I just reached out to her on LinkedIn and she responded and had her on the show.
Peter: And you mingled.
Will: She was on the show.
Will: And Ethan Rasiel with The McKinsey Way, he was on the show and here of mine.
Peter: Some people are jerks and unapproachable but that’s life. But I find that, more often than not, people are incredibly approachable. As long as you’re not calling and saying, “Hey, could you coach me for …” Don’t be a jerk to them but if it’s done in the right way, in a sincere way, in an authentic way. A little admiration and a little platitudes go a little bit, too.
Will: Would say that having an email list is fundamental to all these different techniques that you want to capture email addresses of people that are interested in your stuff, so that you can own that relationship and send them direct content? What’s your thoughts on that?
Peter: Say the last piece of that one more time. I missed the last half.
Will: I’ve heard some people have the point of view that anyone who’s doing thought leadership should, not necessarily exclusively, but one of the things they should be doing is have a email, a newsletter, kind of thing …
Peter: Got it. That was the part I missed.
Will: So that people can opt in, and then rather than relying on people just randomly coming to your blog or your videos that …
Peter: Sure. The answer is yes and. Back in the quaint old days of pre-email, 20 years ago, everybody had a mailing list. Remember the mail? And it was Will or current resident, so if you moved whoever moved into your apartment, J. Crew is now sending their mail to, or whoever it was and there was one place that you kept your database, whatever that was for your own marketing purposes. Then, we moved to email. Now, the real question is, how do I manage followership? You’re going to need, vis-a-vis, social media followers on Twitter. You’re going to need to build friends or connections on LinkedIn.
Peter: You might have friends on Facebook, if appropriate, Instagram. Each of these has their own vernacular and own followership, as well as, your newsletter and each of them has their own rules of engagement. It could be a bit of an overwhelming rabbit hole but I think you need to figure out, number one, “Okay, how am I growing my list?” When I say growing the list, I’m not talking about buying 100,000 followers on Twitter but developing the right people to follow me for the right reasons, and then pushing content out there in a way that is logical.
Peter: An email list is just one way. You clearly should have some sort of an email list, but don’t be the guy or gal that only emails me when you want something. The worst thing you can do is say, “Oh,” you signed up for someone’s email list and you don’t hear from them, and then it’s three years later and, “I have a book out.” And, “Dear Friend,” air quote, “Please buy my book.” Consistently give away, and be generous, and give out good content and thought leadership and don’t ask that much. It doesn’t mean that you send out a newsletter or something and don’t have any sort of ask or contact me, but it should be three to one, five to one of give, give, give, give, before you ask for anything.
Peter: And there’s a realm of this, by the way, where this is where people start to get headaches going, “Oh, geez. I don’t want to be a social media maven.” There are people that do this that you can hire and it’s not particularly expensive. Stay in your lane. Only you can create the content that you can create. A thousand yous can figure out how to manage your social media. It’s not the same skillset and I think the mistake I see people make is one week they’re reading all the best of articles on Best Practices on Instagram or When to Post on LinkedIn. Don’t mess with that.
Peter: Build a wall around what you do best, which is creating great content and solving client’s problems, and get the help that you need on deployment, and social media, and graphic. There’s so many things that you … Ask yourself, “Is this really the best and highest value use of my time?” We all tell that to our clients, I would imagine.
Will: Fantastic. Peter, for anybody listening that wanted to learn more about your firm’s work, what’s the best place for them to go?
Peter: The best place is the website, which is thoughtleadershipleverage.com. Or you can obviously email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will: Fantastic. And we’ll include that link in the show notes. One other area, aside from work, is … Or aside from the direct discussion that is, any kind of productivity habits that you have long practiced or recently developed that really work for you?
Peter: Yeah. That’s a good question. It depends how you define productivity. One would be, I try to not do things that I shouldn’t be doing. You move into this space on your own, particularly, as a solo practitioner and there’s nobody else to do it, so you have to do it. As the business is growing and things have evolved, my first response now is, “Who else could do this, but me?” Whereas, my first response used to be, “I need to do this.” That would be one. I think some other little silly ones are when you send a meeting invite out to somebody change the default to a half an hour. Sometimes we’re slaves to Microsoft Office or whatever the tools that we’re using that says every meeting needs to be an hour.
Peter: Most meetings, or calls, or interactions I do don’t need to be an hour. If they do, they do but I think we waste a lot of time because the default setting on something was an hour, killing an hour at a time.
Will: Yeah. Or 20 minutes.
Peter: Yeah, right. Change it to 20 minutes. The other trick I’ll do is I’ll often set up a call with someone to start at the quarter hour because at the top or the bottom of the hour everybody’s five minutes late. If I set it at 10:15 people tend to be on time.
Will: I like that one.
Peter: Because you always get the, “Oh, I’m sorry. I was running late on a conference call.” “That’s fine.” And you’re sitting there listening to … If I hear Air Supply one more time on a conference call I think my head’s going to explode.
Will: Yeah, I like that.
Peter: Air Supply, if you’re listening, I’m sorry. No offense. I doubt they’re listening.
Will: Yeah, and start meetings at 10 after the hour maybe. And then go for 17 minutes.
Peter: Yeah. Right, exactly, exactly.
Will: I’m curious, being so much into the thought leadership world what are your media consumption habits? Do you use any particular apps to follow the people that you follow, like Feedly or some other tool? I’m curious how you consume content.
Peter: One is, I’m still the dork that reads at least a book, if not two, a week. Remember books, if you don’t know what that is, Google that, but they’re awesome. I’m a big fan of using podcasts, and TEDx, and TED, and such as the appetizer. Before I invest in a book, I don’t care about the money, but four to six hours of my life, can I get a little taste of what you’re about in 15, 20 minutes or something like that, or a couple of articles. There aren’t that many tools I use to curate but I love HBR, TEDx, Strategy and Business, pretty dorky, nerdy stuff. But I’m also always looking to see what are folks doing that’s new and what are people doing that are a little bit out there?
Peter: So, like a Gary Vaynerchuk, for example, he’s big in the business world but he violates every, quote, rule, and it works for him. He’s dropping the F-bomb, and wearing the hoodie, and whatever, works for him. I think the other piece is looking at what other people are doing from a style standpoint, from a format standpoint, et cetera.
Will: The book or two that you read per week, I’m curious, how do you fit that into your schedule? Do you wake up early and do that, is that something in the evening and what format? Are you reading actual book books or on a Kindle or some kind of reader?
Peter: It’s funny. I get books sent to me all the time from PR people, and clients, and friends, and all that sort of stuff in hard copy. What I typically will do is actually buy it on my Kindle because otherwise I’m carrying around 10 books at a time. I, actually, just last week, read a physical book that was given to me for the first time in a while and I was thinking about the tactile experience and all that. I typically use a Kindle but I know that my ADD kicks in and I get distracted, so the Kindle that I have it is the cheapest, dumbest, black and white one and I never keep it online because I know the next thing I’d be watching, I don’t know, giraffe videos or something five minutes into it.
Peter: I’m able to be disciplined and stay in book mode because it’s this gray black and white Kindle and it’s got a little leather case on it. It feels booky to me, so I get into book mode. But I usually try to find an hour or two a day, airplanes, early in the morning. One of the things that I try to do is, often my day is like everybody else’s, you’re really busy, you’re on calls, you’re on calls. You have that 20 minutes in between A and B where you know you’re not going to get much done but surf Facebook, that’s a good time to spend 10, 15 minutes reading in small chunks.
Will: Do you try to document your learnings at all or take notes on things?
Will: Write in the margins, what’s your practice there?
Peter: Well, I’m always taking notes and I’m really fortunate in that my vantage point is I work with some of the world’s smartest and greatest thought leaders, so often times, it’s rare that I’m reading a book that I don’t know someone that wrote a testimonial or can’t relate that to something else, or whatever. I use it every day in my business, in my practice. I’ll give you an example. I had a client that came to me about five, six, seven years ago, business guy, COO type, had bought companies, sold them, CEO and public companies taking them private and he decided to write a book on change management. So, I said, “Great, who’s influenced your thinking on change management?”
Peter: And he said, “Well, I decided I wasn’t going to be influenced by anything, so I didn’t read anything on change management.” He wrote an 800 page book on change management without having been exposed to anybody else’s stuff. I read it and I said, “This is garbage. This is the best of everybody else’s thinking. Why would you not look at what everybody else is doing? I just don’t understand.” He was like, “Well, I wanted to just do it my way.” I was like, “Okay, well, good luck with that.” And he spent two years of his life, writing 800 pages. Your typical business book is around 230. That’s like writing three or four books. It’s a crazy endeavor without being thoughtful enough.
Peter: Any time I bring on a client and whatever their domain expertise is, I’m going to look at content that’s competitive to it, once removed, congenital to it. We’re working with a client now that’s big on systems design and systems thinking. Not my sweet spot but now I’m just sort of dive in and become a micro-expert on that for a little while to understand it.
Will: That’s the opposite of the desire to stand on the shoulders of giants approach. “No, I’d rather just stand right here in the back.”
Peter: Yeah. Right. And by the way, do you think someone like that is going to take any feedback?
Peter: Whatever. And it’s different to not want to regurgitate what everybody else has but I think the key piece of thought leadership is the leadership piece where you’re adding to the conversation in a domain that you’re passionate and have something to say about. And you have to acknowledge that others have come before you unless you’re the first person to ever write about AI or blotch, whatever it is. There are new things, but by the way, there’s really nothing new under the sun other than the technology and the implications.
Will: Don’t make the bar too high, don’t make the bar too low. Stand on the shoulders of giants and find out what other people are saying in your space. Peter, it’s been great having you on the show. Thank you so much for joining.
Peter: Great. This has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.