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The Hard Way: Building a Content Business

It’s a real jolt to look around and discover you’ve become the “guru on the mountain.” Few children say, “I want to grow up to be a thought leader!” and yet here you are, influencing and shaping the direction of business culture for the next generation.

Many of our clients didn’t expect to find themselves in the content business. We’ve worked with academics, gray-haired executives, and road-warrior consultants. Each one started by building in the lane they know. They had great ideas, and wanted to share their perspective. Maybe they wrote a blog, a book, started speaking, or found their ideas picking up traction almost all on their own. They were focused on the here-and-now, rather than thinking ahead and creating a content business that would be relevant and authoritative for years to come. But, suddenly, clients were leaning in, and everyone wanted to hear more.

I often joke that if there’s a hard way to do something, most first-time thought leaders will find it. It’s not their fault! There isn’t an established path for creating a content business. There are no rules about what to do and what not to do. You can’t go to school or earn a degree in thought leadership.  Starting out, most thought leaders don’t get a chance to stop and ask themselves, “What’s the content business I want to build? Will it produce consistent revenue and achieve growth for years, without leaving me drained at night?”

If you were step back and look at your current content business, what would you see?

Would you say you’ve built a solid business with scalable products? Or, as many thought leaders discover, did you stumble into the field, creating custom work for each engagement?

A lot of thought leaders build content “on demand” for each new client. In doing so, they quickly lose focus of their core content and soon have a giant knot of vaguely related ideas and strategies. If you create your thought leadership without a framework, you can easily tangle yourself in a field of approaches. And that’s absolutely the hard way to build a content business.

When you’re in the field of thought leadership, it’s wiser to go deep on one piece of content than span broadly over many topics. One good idea—one simple piece of content—can be worth millions of dollars if you develop it properly.

Like most first-step-processes, first, you have to admit that you have a problem! Accepting that you designed your business the hard way can be tough. Your products are often tied to good work that you’ve done for clients, and you’re proud of that success. And you should be. But if you find yourself constantly exhausted, plagued by inconsistent or disconnected content, and re-inventing the wheel for every client, you need to admit that you’re doing things the hard way.

Don’t do it the hard way!

Step back, look at your content comprehensively, and find ways to stress your original insights while coordinating everything into a consistent whole.

Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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