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Are You the Shopkeeper for Your Content?

As a customer in the early twentieth century, when you arrived at the grocery store you would hand your shopping list to the white-aproned clerk behind an impressive wooden counter. That clerk would then go into the stockroom, gather your items, and bring them to you. If the store was busy, you’d have to wait in line until a clerk was ready to serve you.

Many thought leaders function like these grocery clerks. They’ve created high-touch, service-based business models where their content is located “behind the counter.” When the client wants access to the ideas, the thought leader personally presents a speech or delivers a workshop. It’s easy to feel like an overworked shopkeeper.

For thought leaders on the speaking circuit, fifty speeches a year can mean a hundred nights in hotel rooms, far away from family and loved ones. Other thought leaders sometimes deliver five or more workshops per week. The days pass by in a blur, but they’re constantly pulling the same content from the stockroom and delivering it to customers again and again.

Are You Blocking your Customers?

In 1916, a store owner named Clarence Saunders revolutionized retail when he invented the self-service grocery model. At his Memphis, Tennessee storefront, Saunders invited customers to “walk through the stockroom” and select their own items for purchase. Saunders recognized that stores could serve more customers when the clerks weren’t the gatekeepers for the product. With this revolutionary idea, sales boomed. Saunders opened over 1,000 Piggly Wiggly stores in just five years.

Saunders knew that his customers placed a higher value on the outcome (getting their groceries quickly) than they did on the service (someone gathering the groceries for them). And that’s a valuable lesson for thought leaders. While speeches and workshops provide a personal touch, both are exhausting to routinely deliver without compromising quality.

When thought leaders serve as the shopkeepers for their content, they’re working in a high-touch service business instead of an asset business. It’s neither scalable or sustainable.

Mixing it Up

How can you tell if you’ve positioned yourself as the shopkeeper for your thought leadership content? You’ll find the answer within your financials. Often, we look at the top-line and bottom-line numbers without looking at the revenue mix.

Examine your past two years of thought leadership activity.
How much of your revenue comes from the following categories?


Source of Thought Leadership RevenueExamples
Work you delivered personally to clients _____%Speeches _____%
Workshops _____%
Consulting _____%
Coaching _____%
Other _____%
Work others delivered personally to clients on your behalf _____%Certified trainers _____%
Certified coaches _____%
Consultants _____%
Licensees ____%
Other _____%
Sale of scalable assets _____%Books _____%
Assessments _____%
Training products _____%
Other products _____%


When thought leaders review their revenue mix, they typically see three trends.

  1. Much of their current revenue comes from high-touch work they personally deliver to clients. Often this number is much higher than they expected.
  2. Assets sales are currently a small fraction of their total revenue.
  3. Books take a large amount of development effort (writing and promoting), but they provide a relatively small contribution to revenue.

Typically, if more than 40% of your revenue comes from work you personally deliver to your clients, then you’ve positioned yourself as a shopkeeper for your content. Your clients may love you and your content, but you’ve created a business model that makes it difficult to scale. You have to serve your clients one-by-one, and that’s time consuming and often exhausting. Or, you can open up your storeroom. Create ways for your customers to interact directly with your content, and you’ll see your business scale beyond what you can fulfill as a weary shopkeeper.

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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