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At the Run Like Clockwork event a few weeks ago, Mike Michalowicz had us do an interesting exercise to try to identify our most important role in our business.

He asked us to write out several roles on sticky notes, and then one by one, we were told to eliminate those roles — not delegate them or train someone else, but completely eliminate them — until there was only one role left.

Believe me, there was a lot of internal debate and hand-wringing going on for a lot of people!

When it came right down to it, my biggest contribution to my company — the thing I couldn’t possibly delegate — isn’t sales, it isn’t even delivering strategy sessions. It’s thought leadership.

What I mean by thought leadership is the marketing strategy that I sometimes refer to as “show up and be useful.”

When I write a blog post, or an article for another website, or do a webinar, or come in as a guest expert in someone else’s community, that is thought leadership. And that drives leads and referrals for me.

But what was happening for me is that thought leadership has fallen into the “important but not urgent” quadrant of my to-do list. It’s not an activity that directly leads to more money in the bank for me the way working on a project for a client does, so it tends to get pushed down and put off — until some weeks it falls off the to-do list entirely.

But when I look at it through the lens of Mike’s exercise, it’s clear: nothing else in this business exists without me putting myself out there.

If I don’t do the thought leadership work up front, if I don’t take the time to “show up and be useful,” I won’t have a steady stream of new leads and referrals coming in, and before long, I won’t have those tasks that do lead to money in the bank on my to-do list, either.

That’s a sobering and important realization.

The difference between selling blog posts and customers

Last week I was having a conversation with my CFO, and he said to me, “You don’t sell blog posts. You sell customers.”

He was trying to point out the difference between what we do and what any other random copy writer does.

If I just sell blog posts, I’m competing with every copy writer on UpWork who wants to sell blog posts. And I can’t — and don’t want to — compete with every freelancer out there on price. I will lose that game every time.

If I sell content marketing strategy, on the other hand, I’m in a much smaller pool of competitors. If I sell a strategy that will get you more customers and clients in the next six months… I’m in an even smaller pool of competitors.

But the only way I can convey that what I deliver is more customers and paying clients is to show up and be useful, to talk about it, to toot my own horn and explain to people (sometimes over and over again) why what I do is different and useful.

Are you a thought leader?

If you are a coach, or a speaker, or an author; if you provide some kind of strategy as a service; if you have a strong personal brand or soapbox that differentiates you and your business from the competition — AND if your perspective, point of view, opinions, strategy, formula, framework or vision is what helps you sell your products — then you are a thought leader.

My CFO’s analogy is apt:

  • Freelancer who will write a blog post for you — not a thought leader
  • Strategist who will write a blog post for you that fits into a big picture strategy to attract more clients — thought leader.

See the difference?

If you are a thought leader and your unique selling position is predicated on that, then the next question becomes: Are you prioritizing your thought leadership?

Or is it falling off the to do list in favor of more “urgent” tasks with alarming regularity?

Prioritizing thought leadership (with a little help)

So many times, I hear business owners talk about how much time it takes to write their blogs, create their videos, record their podcasts, etc. And often, if pressed, they can’t even really say with any confidence whether all that effort is “worth it” — whether they’re actually gaining any traction from creating content.

Because it’s difficult to see the ROI, and the task seems overwhelming, it’s easy to convince ourselves that it’s OK if it falls off the radar. It’s OK if we don’t write a blog post this week.

(Until this week becomes next week; and next week becomes three weeks; and suddenly it’s been a month since we posted anything — but we were so busy!)

Yet if you go back to Mike’s exercise… Does your business even exist without that engine churning underneath, sending you new leads and customers?

The thing is, just because it’s your thought, your leadership, doesn’t mean you have to be the one to produce it.

I have many examples of personality-driven brands on my client list that have engaged us to help them produce the content that will be a vehicle for their thoughts.

It’s still their thoughts. It’s still their vision, their formula, their framework that we’re sharing.

But they don’t have to be the one to write the post.

A great writer can take your thoughts, your vision, and put the words to the page to make them sing.

A content strategist can do that and work with you to fit it into the big-picture strategy that helps you get that message out to the world, bringing in more traffic, more leads, more customers.

One writes a blog post.

The other is a partner in launching your vision.

Which one you choose to support you is up to you.