There's plenty of philosophers out there. Most of them have “day jobs.” It’s hard to…
Whenever I speak with a thought leader I always ask them what they are struggling with the most. The range of experience and levels of success that this group has achieved is varied – some have been practicing for 30 years and some for under 3 years. Some have 5 or more best sellers under their belts and others haven’t been published yet. Some have substantial businesses and others have a relatively small practice.
What I hear consistently amongst the entire groups are four themes. My hope is that we can all learn from the experience of others and increase our individual level of awareness of these issues so that we can deal with them as best we can.
The most universal challenge amongst the group is the difficulty they have prioritizing the many task and activities that need to get done to run their businesses on a day to day basis as well as all of the future projects that they would like to do. That’s a pretty broad statement so let me expand on it a bit:
This group, for the most part, has a longer list of things they would like to do in the future than any other group of professionals I’ve ever interacted with. It may be the next book, some new content or a new offering. The common denominator is they are passionate about what they want to do and want to reach a large audience and build loyal followers. However, they are often spending too much time on things that don’t yield the results and not enough time on higher value tasks. Many of them are performing tasks because they need to get done not because they are the ones best qualified to own these tasks.
Without having the clarity needed to help them understand where they want to go, prioritizing activities accordingly becomes a daily struggle. When measured against opportunity cost it is an incredibly expensive struggle.
2. Books – Past, Present and Future
If 5% of your total revenue could be attributed to an activity would you rationally spend 50% or more of your time on that activity? Probably not. Books however are a strange beast. The publishing industry is struggling (understatement) and attempting to invent business models that work for all of the players (including the authors).
In the interim the gap between the objectives of the author and the objectives and business interests of the publisher have never been wider. A book is often the only physical, tangible representation of someone’s work, yet marketing a book is part art, part science and part luck. Spending a year of your life writing a book that sells 2,000 units is incredibly frustrating.
Almost every author I know has been frustrated and confused when it came to deciding whether they should self publish or stick with a traditional publisher. That’s the wrong question. The question should be, “Where does the book fit into the overall strategy to market and leverage my content?” Is it about cache? Building a brand? Generating leads? Increasing speaking fees? An ego enhancer? Or does it have a well defined place in all of these things as well as new product introduction, pricing strategy and market differentiation?
The time to think about the offerings that can be derived from a book is before it’s published, not after. Do you have a large enough group of “fans and followers” to insure the book can have a predictable level of success? Is your strategy to use it as “the ultimate business card”? Are you proactively building relationships with other experts that have loyal followers or are you waiting for the call from Oprah to make your book a success?
There are no clear cut, universal answers to these questions but you should be able to clearly articulate why you are writing a book and what you think success will look like as a result of publishing it.
3. Portfolio Mix
Given that content is something that can be amorphous or vague and difficult to scale and monetize it isn’t surprising to me that the less diversified the portfolio of offerings the more thought leaders struggle with the business side of their business. For example, many rely on speaking as the primary path to generating revenue from their work. Given that the speaking market has tanked significantly and is not likely to return to pre 2008 levels any time in the near future this is a very valid concern.
Sure, you can lower your fees and be more flexible but so can everyone else. If you can only win an engagement by being the lowest cost provider you are in trouble. This isn’t only true for the speaking side of the business but many authors do not have a diverse portfolio mix of offerings that can whether economic cycles and generate income that is not contingent on them personally delivering the content. Assessment tools, virtual coaching, train-the trainer, certification, subscription based content models can be created from almost any content but it requires having a solid strategy as well as access to specific skill sets to develop, manage and sell and market effectively.
Let’s face it – there is a lot of “stuff” in the marketplace. Sales, leadership and communication skills are just a few of the dominant categories and differentiating is not easy. Thought leaders that believe their work can benefit “anyone” struggle more than those who have niched out into a specific industry or population. You can’t be all things to all people but your content can be modified so that it is the best in class against a smaller segment of the universe.
Even if your message is universal, those that customize it so that it has a unique and beneficial outcome are far more differentiated than those who have not. I’d suggest thinking about your work and doing some sort of an audit to help you understand whom it has the strongest impact on and why.