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Want to be a thought leader?

Want to be a thought leader?

brand architecture personalbrand Nov 27, 2020

Freelancers, consultants and one-person companies could represent nearly 80% of the workforce by 2030.

When the leap to solopreneurship means no more marketing, sales, operations departments (any departments at all), the “I want to go on my own” dreamers have to figure it out themselves.

One client of ours, Shawn Johal, an entrepreneur who launched a second career as a Business Growth Coach & Speaker on leadership. For a new start-up looking to democratize independent thought-leadership in the business world – traditionally monopolized by corporations, big consulting firms, and think-tanks – Shawn was, in many ways, the perfect case-study.

He was a massively-successful entrepreneur who had co-founded a fast-growing LED lighting business and scaled it from a tiny distribution business to an 8-figure, award-winning well-oiled machine. When he decided to launch his second solo-preneur-based business, Shawn had essentially re-started from scratch. The only thing he took with him? His business smarts, his experience, and his personality. The rest? Entirely to be constructed anew.

Another client, Paul Vital, had begun with a similar dream based on going rogue. A successful C-level career in tech leading hundreds of employees had left him feeling desperate for more. When he randomly announced his resignation to his CEO, Paul was ready to build a business for himself as a Coach & Motivator to bring out the best in people. The decision to resign was clear as day; but the next steps were anything but clear.

Shawn and Paul have never met – but they were in incredibly similar positions: both had transitioned to building a business of one; both had charisma and tons of energy; both had huge dreams and goals; and both had no clue where to start on the road to inspiring people across the world.


Uncover your WHY.


Simon Sinek’s ground-breaker is almost more important for personal-brand-building and solopreneurship: the clearer you are on WHY you do the things you do & exactly what propels you out of bed every morning, the more laser-focused you’ll be on your goals. Core audiences don’t just hear you; they begin to feel you. A WHY is an “uncovery,” and not a discovery: somewhere deep-down we all have a reason as to why we gravitate toward the passions and dreams we have – simply a matter of uncovering it, identifying it, naming it, and bringing it to the forefront of what you do.


Nail down your “UVP.”


Once your WHY is uncovered, it’s time to get to the “UVP” of your brand. Now that you know why you’re deeply passionate about x (business growth coaching, motivational speaking, financial consulting, mentoring career-driven women – whatever it is), it’s time to figure out what your “unique value proposition” is. It’s a “UVP” instead of a “USP” because the thought-leadership foundation hinges on providing value for audiences who need it; not selling to them. Defining what makes you unique is critical (another thing that, inherently, we all have within us) and is subject to another “uncovery.” Your unique value stems from anything that is entirely about you: it could be your experience (“I’ve grown a business to over 25M before, so I can help you do that, too”); it could be an attribute of your voice (“I’m outspoken always, even when it incites backlash”); it could be an expertise (“I know everything there is to know about personal finance – period”). There is something that makes you uniquely-positioned to bring value to your audience – find it and identify it.


Have opinions.


On the road to thought-leadership there is an inevitable point which occurs: the choice to take a “stance” publicly on certain issues or topics. Having a clear voice and standing for something is critical for anyone trying to build a personal brand based almost exclusively on…their voice. The stronger, clearer, and more engaging the voice – the better. Much of clarity often comes with knowing from the get-go what you stand for and what you don’t. Gary Vaynerchuk, as he scaled his personal brand as a leading marketer and modern business thinker, took stances on subjects which may have been divisive. He chose to use swearwords regularly in his videos, talks, and written content (despite backlash). He believed if you weren’t working 100+ hours per week, you were better off giving up (and spread the #hustle mentality to his audiences globally). For Gary, his swearing and his workaholism were authentic to him – and he couldn’t preach the opposite as he scaled his voice. He took stances on what his voice would represent and what it wouldn’t – and acted clearly and all-in in accordance to those opinions, stances and choices.


Find your medium.


On the road to thought-leadership, finding the medium that works well for you is key – then double-down on it. Usually, this comes out of sheer experimentation: we always have beliefs (often self-limiting) like little voices in our heads which say things like “you recording your own videos? You’d suck at that!” or “you’re not a writer: you can’t write blog posts, don’t even bother!?” We all have those little voices – but they only die out once we try and see what we’re actually capable of.

Short posts on LinkedIn, articles on Medium, an interview-style podcast show on iTunes, a video-tips series on YouTube, or livestreams on Facebook: they’re all up for grabs (and others, too). Try them all, find the one that feels most authentic and comfortable, and go all-in on that medium. As with anything, it’s when you become the best at something that people really begin to listen up.



Want to have a massive impact? Want to use your voice to help, teach, or fundamentally transform people’s lives? Your mission is worthy, and no matter what your self-doubt might tell you, remember this: there’s always room in the business world for authentic voices who have something unique and inspiring to say. Be one of them.




Marina Byezhanova is an entrepreneur, personal brand strategist & public speaker. A member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), she has been featured in Forbes, Success Magazine, Yahoo!, Fast Company and has given talks to audiences of entrepreneurs in Asia, the Middle East, Europe & beyond.


Stefano Faustini is a writer, university instructor & thought-leadership strategist. He founded Brand of a Leader, a personal branding & thought leadership agency, and holds a Master’s Degree in English & Creative Writing from the same university where he teaches blogging & social media.

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