Today, we are talking about thought leadership! I’m really excited for this conversation because becoming a thought leader and building a career as a thought leader is something that so many of us secretly aspire to be. But we don’t see how that could possibly be possible for us.
For many of us, we’ve all come across thought leaders we really, really like, admire, and consume heavily from, because we value what they have to share.
Whether it’s a speaker, YouTuber, author, Instagram content creator, entrepreneur, political leader, academic, musician, or any other thought leader in any traditional or non-traditional industry… I’m very sure that all of us have at least a handful of individuals who we LOVE to hear from because we value what they have to say.
To a certain extent, we want to be like them too. To have a voice, to have a platform, to have a community of people who care about what we have to say.
But at the same time, this vision feels unrealistic. And this is exactly what I want to discuss today.
I want us to recognize that the dream isn’t as far out of reach as we think, and to start percolating on the next steps you can take starting now to inch closer and closer to that dream.
Let’s talk about your brand story.
I want us to really get our minds behind the idea that your story is worth 6 figures. Even if you haven’t hit a 5 figure month in your business yet.
Because in order to see more consistent clients in your coaching business, it starts with sharing your thought leadership and becoming known for your 6 figure story.
One thing I really believe in after building my own business for 4 years is that becoming a thought leader in the industry is how you create not just your next 5 figures, but also your next 6 figures.
And right now, you already have your own unique thought leadership that can create clients and lets you build a career as an entrepreneur and thought leader.
More specifically, a big part of your thought leadership is your story. And guess what? Your story doesn’t have to be solely related to your coaching niche or what you do in your business.
If you’ve quit a traditional path or way of thinking to pursue something different – That’s your thought leadership.
If people are constantly asking about how you made a difficult decision in your career or personal life, that’s your thought leadership.
If you have strong opinions about something that you really care about and it has inspired what you do today, that is your thought leadership.
All that to say: Your thought leadership isn’t something that you need to spend hours and hours to craft and formulate. It’s already there. You already have your own unique thought leadership.
Your own unique *6 figure* thought leadership, I should say.
How I know that your brand story is going to carry you through to your first 4 figures, 5 figures, and even 6 figures and beyond, is because at each stage of my business, my audience and clients knew me for my brand story.
Although my brand story evolves and new layers are added to it each year I’m in business, the core of my brand story stays the same.
Here’s what I mean:
I quit law school in October 2018. I spent the next few months sharing my experiences and thought process behind quitting law school.
Then, I launched my first paid offer ever on March 6, 2019. On March 19, I signed my first client ever at $1,497 USD and they paid in full that day. That’s pretty fast to sign my first client ever, in less than 2 weeks.
On the application form, the client said I really resonated with your story of quitting law school, even though they were not in a legal career and didn’t quit their own career, yet. she eventually left her career in engineering a year or two later, I believe. But she was still able to extract nuggets from my story that could apply to her, even on the surface, it seems like entirely irrelevant circumstances.
Here’s the first perspective I want to highlight: your audience is intelligent. They will extract what’s relevant to them, from your story. It’s really the thought process and values embedded within the story that matter most, not the surface level “this is what happened” details.
So please, share your story. Especially if you’re still in the process of developing your own unique thought leadership as a coach, right now. Lean on your story. Leverage your story. Tell your story genuinely and openly. This will make a world of a difference in your content and marketing especially at the beginning.
Back in 2019, my brand story consisted primarily of my story of quitting law school.
Fast forward to 2023, my brand stories still include quitting law school, but it now also includes a few other key stories, including: my business burnout story in 2020, and quitting my PhD in 2022 to move to Singapore to be with my husband and become a full-time entrepreneur.
How I know that these are my brand stories, because:
1) I decided that they are
2) I recently asked a few of my current clients what they think my brand stories are, and all of them cited these stories. Some of them did mention a few other things, such as cats and my long distance relationship with my then-boyfriend now husband
But the common thread among all of their answers were:
1) quitting law school story
2) business burnout story
3) quitting PhD story
Your brand story or stories will see you through your first 4 figures, your first 5 figures, your first 6 figures, and beyond.
The reason is simple. Your brand story is part of YOUR story, as a person. It makes up who you are and influences why you do what you do today. You can’t get rid of your story. It is part of you and it is what differentiates you from all the other coaches in your niche or industry.
Your story is not only a powerful marketing tool and what will uniquely differentiate you, but it is also, the way I see it, something that we’re proud of. It proudly shapes us into the person and entrepreneur we are today. So please, proudly share your story.
Now a question that might come up is, “Okay… But how do I know what my brand story is?”
To help you percolate on your brand stories, I’d like you to first zoom out and think about your story. The overarching life stories that make you, you.
The questions I’d like you to take some time to marinate on are the following:
Then, let’s zoom in a bit and think about how each of your responses to the above questions relates to your BUSINESS, BRAND, or your IDEAL CLIENT.
For example, does it reflect a core value of yours, which your ideal clients also hold for themselves? Did you navigate a challenge that your people might be navigating themselves, even if it’s not a 100% identical situation? Does this event or experience highlight the why behind your business or why you help your specific ideal client?
Each of us, as a person, has thousands and thousands of stories to share. But not all of them are relevant to our business, brand, or ideal client.
Also, I’m sure each of us have many stories that we may not necessarily feel inclined to share publicly online. Your story and brand story are different.
Rather than being just any story that captures an experience or event you’ve gone through, your brand story embodies specifically the values or key messages that you want to be known for.
To illustrate this further, here are several examples:
Quitting law school is part of my brand story because of the values that this story embodies. Specifically, whenever I tell my law school quitting story, I emphasize the following key messages:
1) Sometimes, creating a life that is truly aligned with you and what you want is NOT what others expect of you. This means you have to stand firm when pursuing what you truly believe in and always take full responsibility for your decisions and actions.
2) It is okay if people don’t support you in the beginning. Stay committed to your vision and goals.
3) Ultimately, creating your dream life, career, and business is a choice you have to make. There’s no right or wrong. Just make a decision and move forward!
These are honestly my 3 guiding philosophies in not just life, but they also influence how I make decisions within my business. That’s why this is part of my business’ brand story.
On the other hand, a story that is NOT part of my brand story is during the first two or so years of my business, I experienced a number of cyberbullying / harassment incidents from someone I used to be friends with in university.
It was a personally very difficult series of incidents to navigate especially because I was also getting started with building my business and brand online. Showing up online and putting myself out there felt very, very unsafe at times because I was constantly scared of when I’d be harassed again. This was something that went on behind the scenes for maybe two years.
But one thing I’ve learned from these events is that I can literally handle anything and that my committee to what I do in my business trumps any Internet hate, judgments, unkind comments, or cyberbullying that might ensue.
From these events, I realized my dedication for helping others the way I do through my business, which is what gave me the strength and courage to keep going ESPECIALLY in the first two years of my business.
But there’s a reason why literally no one knows about this part of my story. It’s because even though there are clear connections to my business and why I do what I do, I intentionally chose not to position it as my brand story, or share it publicly for that matter.
I didn’t share it out of my own privacy and also it was a very, very triggering and sensitive series of events for me that took place for two-ish years. So I sure as hell did not feel ready to share it.
Even in the present day, I still don’t share it or leverage it as part of my brand story because not everything has to be shared for marketing purposes. You always have the choice of what to share and what not to share. You get to respect your own privacy and honor your own need for safety, always.
Finally, an example of a story that does hold a lot of weight and is significant to me and my life, but doesn’t necessary relate to my business, brand, or ideal client, is how each of my past romantic relationships might have taught me a lot of life lessons that shaped me into the partner that I am today.
Or how I used to be very overweight and I told myself that I’m just someone who can never lose weight, but I ended up overwriting that story I was telling about myself and lost 40 pounds in about 5 months.
Or my journey with depression and anxiety.
These are all stories that shape me into the person that I am today, but the direct relevance to my business, brand, or ideal client isn’t necessarily as clear.
One might argue that you can extract helpful nuggets from every story, which I agree with, but again, I simply chose not to translate these stories into my brand stories.
I hope those examples have been helpful to you when it comes to identifying and choosing your own brand stories.
One thing that I’ve observed that often comes up for coaches and entrepreneurs who are deciding on their brand stories is the thought that their selected brand stories aren’t good enough compared to other coaches or other entrepreneurs.
I think the reason why this comes up often is because for many of us, throughout our academic and professional careers, we also felt like we straight up just weren’t good enough compared to these super bright, super talented people.
For me, I sure felt like an “average” high achiever throughout my time in a traditional career. Maybe you can relate to this as well. Maybe you knew that you were good at some things and you had the results to reflect it, but you still didn’t feel good enough.
For example, maybe you got into a really great university but your friends got into an even “better one” or got a fancy entrance scholarship (and you didn’t).
Maybe you got a 3.8 GPA but your friends got a 3.9. And now, the same pattern is repeating itself in your business. Literally.
Perhaps you’ve just signed your first paying client, but you see that other coaches signed their first 3 clients even though you started your business around the same time.
Or maybe, you kind of like the recent Instagram post you posted, but then you see another coach in your niche post about the same thing and you feel like they went way more in depth and showcased their thought leadership better than you.
Right now, as we’re talking about the topic of brand story, you’re thinking of all the other coaches or entrepreneurs who have a “bigger” brand story.
Maybe they have a “bigger” rags to riches story, and you feel like you’ve been relatively privileged your whole life and didn’t experience any major financial difficulties.
Or maybe you’re thinking that you didn’t make any major career pivots like quitting your 9-5 job, and all these coaches are talking about how they took the leap of faith to quit their corporate jobs to pursue their coaching business full-time.
The underlying common thread between all of these examples is that you are constantly comparing yourself to others who *seem* better than you.
What will soon end up happening is that because you feel like you aren’t a good enough entrepreneur, you think you have to work twice as hard and do twice as much as everyone else to become the best.
For me personally, it was this exact thought error that led me to overwork in my business in 2019. And I ended up burning out and had to stop my business for seven months just to recover. It was also this constant feeling of “I’m pretty good at what I do, but I’m not the best” that was stopping me from stepping into the role of a thought leader.
When I resumed my business around the spring of 2020, I knew I had to do things differently and learn to think differently about myself, my business, and what I brought to the table.
I had to first make a decision to stop looking around at what others are doing. I also made a decision to start doubling down on sharing my story, my ideas, my opinions, my perspectives, my values, and my lived experiences.
I made a decision to become known for everything already inside my brain. I decided that my story matters and was worth sharing. I decided that I had something of value and I could help someone else.
All that to say, even with all of my insecurities, self doubts and comparisons, I decided to become a thought leader. I had to first decide that my story was relevant and helpful, and committed to sharing it relentlessly. And by the end of 2020, I created my first 10k months.
This was followed by my first 6 figure year in 2021, and so on. It all started with me believing in my own story, and then sharing it. The same applies to your brand story.
Becoming a thought leader requires you to work on your self belief that your story is worth sharing. You have to first fully have your own back and back your own story.
You have to first recognize the immense value of your own story, before anyone else can appreciate your story. You have to go first.
Thought leaders go first. They share first, even when there’s no form of external validation telling them, “WOW that is SUCH a helpful story, thanks for sharing.”
You have to be willing to believe in your brand story first.
Being a thought leader is not just about the actions you take, such as building your body of work, but it also includes the identity work that underlies the actions. The identity and mindset work + action taking both go hand in hand when it comes to becoming a thought leader.
Becoming known for your unique thought leadership is how you’re going to create your first 6 figures, stand out among your colleagues in the industry, and ultimately build a business and career you’re truly proud of.
The first steps to becoming a thought leader include:
Right now, the very next step you can take in your business journey is to decide on your brand story, and choose to share it.
Then, continue to share your brand story through your growing body of work.
This body of work will also capture your thought leadership and you will continue to grow the breadth and depth of your own thought leadership with each new insight, lesson, or practical experience that takes place in your journey.
But right now, the very next step that’s totally within reach and very, very doable, is to choose your brand story, and share it.
Remember, your story is worth 6 figures. It will see you through to your first 4, 5 and 6 figures. It is part of who you are both as a person and entrepreneur.
One of the biggest mistakes I see coaches make when sharing their brand story is
1) They don’t share it enough in the first place. Like they literally would talk about it once or twice, and then for months you won’t even think to loop back to it, and
2) They’re worried it will either be “too much” OR “too specific”
What I want to offer here is, please remember that your story is what differentiates you from all the other coaches in your niche/industry.
No other coach has your story and also, your story is your culmination of everything that makes you into the coach and business owner that you are.
Meaning, it’s the foundation of your thought leadership. The more you share your story, the more you’re demonstrating your leadership in your industry. It compounds.
Be willing to repeat your story, and also play around with sharing your story from different angles each time! It’s not because your story isn’t life changing or kicking someone into action, but oftentimes, people need to hear the same thing over and over again before they kick themselves into action.
It’s usually not new information that people usually need, but they just need the information repeated over and over again before they start implementing.
Also, BE PROUD of your story. Your story helped you. It changed your life. It shaped you into who you are today. It led to the why behind why you do what you do today.
It is the lens through which you now view the world. It has helped you, which means it can help someone else too.
Think about it. How many times have you been impacted by someone else’s story? Maybe you watched a YouTube video that helped you feel more hopeful and less discouraged or less alone.
Maybe you listened to someone’s podcast where they shared a snippet of their story, and it gave you a perspective you never considered.
Maybe you listened to a TED talk and that sparked your curiosity to learn more about something.
Maybe someone you talked to in-person, who you recently just met, was sharing something about a past experience, and that led to a whole conversation about joining a local group that you never knew about and now you’re deeply entrenched in that community.
Your brand story helps people. It can offer someone else a new perspective. It can impact someone on an emotional or practical level. It can help someone envision possibilities that they didn’t think were realistic at first. It could spark change or action. And so much more. Be proud of your story and share it proudly.
And hey, this is also exactly what we’ll be diving deep into on our upcoming, brand new webinar: How To Become a Six Figure Thought Leader Without a PhD.
On this webinar, I will teach you the mindset and strategy to sign more clients and grow your income and impact in a way that matches your energy and time capacity.
We will be unpacking the following:
This live webinar took place on Sunday April 23, 2023.
To watch the replay, you can go to cheryltheory.com/webinar. I cannot wait to see you either live, or on the replay!
Join us in the Thought Leader Club 1:1 + Community Program is the exact room you want to be in if your 2024 vision is to:
✨ Become known for your unique thought leadership and build your career as a thought leader
✨ Build a body of work that not only showcases the depth of your thinking and the caliber of your skills, but also compels best-fit clients to want to work with you and you specifically
✨ Attract both clients and opportunities that you once felt were out of reach for “someone like you”… But you now see that you’re completely capable of
Step into the version of you who stops following else’s playbook of “traditional success” and instead, proudly create something that’s truly of your own.
Get all the details and apply. We’ll then book a sales call to make sure that the program is the best fit for you and you can enroll now to get early access to the program and other early bird bonuses. The next cohort of the Thought Leader Club will take place from March to July 2024. We kick off on March 1st, 2024. 👀
SOUNDS GOOD? AWESOME. LET'S GET TO WORK