be the one
What does it take to be the go-to expert in your field? Find out in The Solo Thought Leader.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Don’t just be better than the competition. Be the only one.
Becoming the go-to expert in your field is not easy, but quite possible — if you follow the right path. This book decodes the secrets that successful entrepreneurs have used to become thought leaders and make a lasting impact in their industries.
The Solo Thought Leader will show you how to:
- Charge higher prices as the expert in your niche
- Innovate and rise above the competition
- Sell more by building a community of loyal fans
- Set industry trends as the voice people listen to in social media
- Leave a legacy with visibility, authority, and credibility
- Create a business that runs by itself and frees you to do what you love
Building upon his experience as a business consultant and B2B marketer, and numerous interviews with business practitioners, Diego Pineda lays out the strategies and tactics you need to climb to the top of your domain.
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This is the greatest time in history to be a solo thought leader.
The receptivity to different thinking, approaches, models and technologies has never been greater.
Solo thought leaders who:
1. Have a radically different Point of View
2. Bring Fresh Data, Frameworks, and Insights
3. Create with courage
Today have an unparalleled opportunity to make a difference, while becoming known for a category they own.
No longer are thought leaders dependent on publishers, social media or legacy media.
You can go direct. Create your own future.
“Sure, we expect industry leaders to become thought leaders – but what about the solopreneur – equally invested in his or her community, knowledgeable, influential. Why are they often forgotten in leadership books? I’m thrilled that Diego has written this book for this vibrant community. If you are a solopreneur and are ready to take your vision and visibility to the next level, get this book!”
“A lot of people have business ideas, but very few will ever take action. The Solo Thought Leader contains solid, practical advice for solopreneurs looking to take action. Read it and get started.”
“The Solo Thought Leader is a beautifully written book which is thought-provoking at the same time. The quotes from great leaders and lessons written inside challenge your current thinking and push you to be a different brand of thinkers, doers, and entrepreneurs. This book is a must read if you have a great and unique idea waiting to be heard by the world.”
“The Solo Thought Leader is a practical how-to guide for entrepreneurs looking to break through the clutter. Diego Pineda’s no fluff approach challenges conventional thinking through story-telling and a logical 7 step process anyone who is determined to succeed can follow.”
“Thought leadership on the surface seems so BIG. Isn’t thought leadership supposed to be a small community of people who are famous, who’s names we know? Nothing could be farther from the truth. In this book, Diego takes thought leadership to the street level and makes it make sense to the solo practitioner. In reality there are millions of extremely famous people spread across the world in small spaces. You may have never heard of them, but the small community they flourish in sure has. Carrying the mantle of thought leadership is important to every solo professional. In this book Diego takes you through the importance of that, and most importantly, how to get there.”
The 7 steps
Step 1: The Solo Expert
Become an expert in your niche.
Step 2: The Solo Innovator
Develop an innovative angle for your message.
Step 3: The Solo Artist
Find your unique voice.
Step 4: The Solo Educator
Educate your audience and dominate social media.
Step 5: The Solo Star
Gather social proof and media attention.
Step 6: The Solo Business Owner
Create scalable systems and processes.
Step 7: The Solo Author
Write a book or create an IP with your own system.
Chapter 1: Solo, but not alone
How would it feel to be called the father or mother of a new industry?
Or even a sub niche in your industry?
Amazing, wouldn’t it?
We’ve all heard about Ogilvy, the father of advertising, or Edward Bernays, the father of Public Relations.
They were legends. Geniuses. How can we compare? Is it even possible?
I think it is.
Look at Seth Godin. He is known as the father of permission marketing, a close cousin to inbound marketing.
In the 1980s, Godin was full-on in the advertising industry, where companies were blindly spending money on TV and print ads with no idea if their messages were effective or not.
In his own words, he was a witness to “a huge bonfire of money spent with no return on traditional advertising.” 1
Godin became a student of how companies used advertising and tested his own ideas to make it better.
In 1990, Prodigy hired his company to build a promotion for their online service. Instead of old fashion ads, they created Guts, “one of the very first online promotions.” Basically, an email newsletter with coupons for subscribers.
The promotions worked so well that he was hired to do the same for AOL, Delphi, Apple, Microsoft, and CompuServe.
“I realized that my journey was a metaphor for what millions of marketers at millions of companies were doing, or were about to do,” he said of that time. “I’d gone from spending oodles of money in traditional advertising to building something completely different, vastly more efficient, and measurably more effective. We’d honed the idea of Permission Marketing.”
What is common sense to marketers today, that it’s better to attract the attention of prospects through education instead of interrupting them with advertising, was his breakthrough idea.
He would later publish a book called Permission Marketing and his company was acquired by Yahoo! for $30 million.
Not bad, eh?
But that was just the beginning. Godin went on to write many more books, have the most read blog in the world at one point and be inducted in the Marketing Hall of Fame.
Seth Godin is a business thought leader because he chose the right path to thought leadership.
This is how he started:
He studied his field until he was an advertising expert, realizing what worked and what didn’t.
He practiced and tested advertising and marketing ideas until he found new ways of doing things.
He invented a new marketing category, built a business around it, and showed results.
So far so good: a successful business owner, but not a thought leader yet. But then he took the next steps:
He began educating and inspiring others through his books, his blog, videos, online courses and talks, creating raving fans around the world.
And as a result, his business and income have grown exponentially.
- He has published 20 best-selling books, translated into 35 languages.
- More than 60,000 people have taken his online courses.
- He’s in the Guerrilla Marketing Hall of Fame, the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, and the Marketing Hall of Fame.
- A daily blog for over a decade with 7,500+ posts and more than a million readers.
- He can sell high-ticket items, like the altMBA, an online workshop that sells for $4,450 (5,000 people have graduated from the altMBA at the time of this writing).
So, what is a thought leader? And what is a solo thought leader?
A thought leader is an expert who educates his or her audience to improve their businesses or their industry, and make a lasting impact.
Some people mistakenly use the word “influencer” to refer to them, but being an influencer is not the same as being a thought leader. The Kardashians are influencers, but not thought leaders.
You don’t follow them for their life-changing ideas.
B2C brands use influencers to get people to buy their products, but thought leaders use their influence to add value and produce lasting change.
In the B2B world, thought leader is a title reserved for someone with the power to persuade others and the status and authority to change the direction of a company or even an industry. Some examples include Gary Hamel, an American management consultant and the late Minoru Makihara, who was the chairman and CEO of the Mitsubishi Corporation.
In the academic world, a thought leader is usually a professor at a prestigious business school who does research and writes about a particular topic, such as the late Clay Christensen on innovation, or Michael Porter on strategy.
Until now, thought leaders have been those with important credentials and impressive resumes, like C-executives, famous consultants, or PhDs from Harvard or Wharton.
But there is a new breed of thought leaders who are using digital media and virtual networks to spread new ideas and transform their fields. I call them Solo Thought Leaders.
Solo thought leadership is about:
Results, not degrees.
Passion, not trajectory.
Innovation, not formulas.
Experience, not credentials.
Educating others, not hoarding knowledge.
And overall, it is about execution.
It all starts in your own industry, learning the ropes, mastering the foundations. Then you can branch out into innovative ideas.
The pathway to innovation
Aspiring solo thought leaders can learn the pathway to innovation from jazz legend Clark Terry, who summed up the art of improvising in jazz into three steps: imitation, assimilation, and innovation.
Just like jazz students choose a model to follow and imitate while learning the craft, you can start by imitating a successful innovator in your industry.
Ask yourself: Do I know all the details there are to know about my industry? Who are the innovators and experts that I can learn from?
Musicians practice what they learn until it’s ingrained to the point that they’ll never forget it. Assimilate the basics of your industry and apply them in your business until you see results.
Ask yourself: Have I put into practice what I have learned about my business? Have I documented the results?
Innovation in music happens after hours upon hours of imitation and assimilation. The same happens in business (although instead of hours, it takes years).
Leaning on your own practice and experiences, start branching out and trying new approaches to old problems.
Ask yourself: What is my stance on the different issues in my industry? Do I have a strong opinion about one of them?
“There’s no disgrace for any kid today to copy what their idols did,” said Clark Terry a few years ago. “Then after a certain point you can say, hey, I wonder what happens if I make a right turn here, let’s see what happens if I make a left turn here. Then you are getting into innovation.”
As we saw with Seth Godin’s story, and as I will insist in the rest of this book, it is not enough to become an expert or innovator if you don’t educate others about it. Otherwise, you’re a practitioner, not a thought leader.
If you have strong opinions and provocative ideas, the next questions you must ask yourself are: Are my opinions worth listening to? Can I communicate my ideas persuasively, both speaking and writing?
That way you’ll create a following, a community around your ideas. You’ll still be a solopreneur, but you won’t be alone.
Why should I become a solo thought leader?
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins, talks about the concept of the Hedgehog in relation to businesses.
The origin of the concept is the Greek parable of the hedgehog and the fox, which shows that the winner is not always the biggest and strongest, but the one with a winning formula.
The story is about how the smart and agile fox decides to eat the hedgehog. Day after day the fox uses his superior skills to sneak up on the hedgehog with the same result: just when it looks like the fox is going to get him, the hedgehog rolls up into a little ball with his needles pointing straight out.
It doesn’t matter how much better the fox is at everything else, it can’t beat the hedgehog in this contest. It is with the hedgehog strategy that the small, less resourced company or individual can outperform the bigger competitor.
Jim Collins defines the Hedgehog concept with three essential ingredients:
A Hedgehog must come from your passion, from something you want to give your energy to.
Business consultant, David Shriner-Cahn, says you need to understand what you most love to do and what you’re most competent at doing. “If they’re not the same,” he says, “you need to find the intersection between the two, like in a Venn diagram, find the sweet spot.”
Not sure what you are passionate about because you have too many interests? Perhaps you are a multipotentialite, someone who has many interests, who knows about different things, even unrelated things.
And that’s okay. It won’t stop you from becoming a solo thought leader. Here’s an exercise you can do, recommended by Steven Kotler in The Art of Impossible. 2
Write down 25 things you are curious about, things you would read books or attend lectures about. Be as specific as possible. For example, instead of just listing NFTs, write down something like uses of NFTs for books (that’s one of my interests, by the way).
Once you finish the list, look for places where these ideas intersect. Let’s say you are also curious about the history of successful tech companies. Perhaps you can end up creating a startup in the NFT space dedicated to book publishing.
Kotler says that the intersection of different curiosity streams creates the conditions for the brain to recognize patterns and link ideas, which results in more dopamine in the brain. And the pleasurable feeling caused by dopamine is a key to passion.
2. Economic Engine
A Hedgehog must drive the Economic Engine. In other words, it must be able to produce significant profit consistently.
In your search for a sub niche with little or no competition, be careful not to end up where there are zero competitors, but also zero customers. In fact, a better way to drive your economic engine would be to narrow your niche to target customers who are willing to pay a premium price for a differentiated product or service that is not served in the current market.
3. Best in the world
A Hedgehog must position you as the best in the world at what you do. This does not mean the “whole world.” It means being the best “in your world” as you define it.
Here’s a good example from marketing thought leader, David Meerman Scott.
“There’s probably more than 20,000 people in the United States who call themselves social media marketing experts,” David says. “So if you want to become a social media marketing expert, that’s great, go for it. But does the world really need one more social media marketing expert?”
According to David, it would be better for you to think, what am I really good at? What is my unique ability to make sense of the world? And can I create a business around something that only I can see and other people don’t?
For example, could you be the world’s number one expert on how dentists can use TikTok? That would be an interesting hedgehog, to say the least.
“In my case,” says David, “I saw very early that marketing on the internet was not about advertising but about content creation. And that’s what I wrote about for years, probably a thousand blog posts about that topic. It took a long time for people to consider that this idea made sense, but that’s my own. I don’t own it as in have a copyright over it, but I’m now known as someone who has been pioneering in that area and that allows me to be able to have a really interesting career as a result. If I had been doing what everybody else was doing, which was becoming an expert on banner ads, that never would have happened.”
Defining a hedgehog is a lot like becoming a thought leader: it will establish you as an expert in an industry you are passionate about, which will create profits for you.
To summarize, becoming a thought leader for your niche will:
Establish you as the expert — people in your niche will pick you over your competition every time.
Simplify your marketing efforts — you only have to market to your niche and not mass market and get drown in the noise.
Allow you to charge higher prices — because you are the expert, you can charge premium fees for your product or service.
One great example of the latter is Peter Diamandis, a thought leader in the fields of innovation and disruptive technologies. After giving TED Talks, publishing three best-selling books and spearheading high profile projects like the X Prize, Diamandis has established himself as an authority for tech entrepreneurs.
And one of the results? Annual membership to his mastermind, Abundance360, starts at $15,000 for virtual membership, with two upgrades for in-person attendance at $20,000 and $35,000 per year.
So, how do I become a solo thought leader?
Whether you’re a business consultant, a career coach, or a solopreneur trying to make it online, you can also become a thought leader, following the 7 steps in this book.
1. Become the go-to expert in your niche: research and keep learning so you can charge higher prices for your services.
2. Develop an angle for your message: innovate and lead with a unique point of view, rising above the competition.
3. Find your voice: let your personality shine, stand out and remain top-of-mind.
4. Educate your audience and dominate social media: create and share valuable content, consistently; pick your social network(s) and build a strong presence and connections so people will listen to what you have to say.
5. Gain visibility: give massive value and let others sing your praises through social proof and media attention, building a community of loyal fans that will buy everything you release.
6. Create scalable systems and processes: set up a business that runs by itself so you’ll have time to do the things that you love..
7. Write a book: gain instant authority and credibility with a published book.
This book is not like most business books out there (at least that’s my intention and you’ll judge if it is or not at the end).
For one, it’s short. I hate fluff and will make my points without going in circles and repeating myself to meet a word quota.
Second, unlike current books in the market, I won’t try to impress you by citing hundreds of research articles to prove my points. No, this is a practical book so instead of consulting academic papers, I interviewed practitioners of thought leadership.
You’ll read the stories and lessons of thought leaders who have gone through that path before you, including:
- Viveka von Rosen, who went from independent consultant to one of the top LinkedIn experts and then became Co-founder and Chief Visibility Officer of Vengreso, a digital sales training company.
- Justin Welsh, a former SaaS executive who left the corporate world to become a successful online solopreneur with a loyal community of followers.
- David Meerman Scott, a marketing guru and best-selling author of 16 books, whose innovative ideas make him a model for any aspiring thought leader.
- Jaime Jay, a former US Army paratrooper who went from homeless to 7-figure entrepreneur.
- Bob Goodwin, a sales leader with a background in corporate America, who went solo to help others find their dream jobs.
- Megan Bowen, co-founder of Refine Labs, a B2B marketing agency that is revolutionizing the way companies do marketing.
And many others like John Arms, Marcus Chan, David Shriner-Cahn, and Bernie Borges, whose stories illuminate the exciting journey towards thought leadership.
So, are you ready to go from solopreneur to thought leader? It’s a process of thinking, innovating, educating others, and leading. But overall it is about taking control of your destiny and creating your own future.
There is a new breed of thought leaders who are using digital media and virtual networks to spread new ideas and transform their fields. I call them Solo Thought Leaders.
About the author.
Diego Pineda is the author of two novels, 9 non-fiction books, and hundreds of articles and blogs as a science writer, a business writer, and a sales and marketing writer.
He started his career as a medical writer while writing fiction on the side.
He is also a book coach helping solopreneurs and business leaders write their first book fast so they can become thought leaders in their industries, gain authority and visibility, and make more money.
“I’ve read hundreds of books past decade, and The Solo Thought Leader has more actionable content than 99% of them.
Best book ever on how to leverage your time and actionable steps to start your solopreneur business! It competes with The 4-Hour Work Week because that one was relevant back in the day, this one is relevant right now and is just as straight forward and insightful.
The book will be a must read for any content creator or branding expert who seeks to increase brand awareness and systemize their businesses. Outstanding work, thank you!”
“If you are considering, or well into your venture as a solopreneur, I cannot recommend enough that you read this book.
This book is not for the savvy C-Level executive, this is for the savvy Solopreneur to learn what it takes to recognize what success means to you while remaining the master of your own domain.”
“The Solo Thought Leader offers a fresh approach to thought leadership with the belief we all have expertise to share, if done well and done right. This book lays out the exact steps in a no-fluff and interesting read. The personal case studies, stories and examples are both inspiring and practical.
Diego Pineda writes clear, crisp and to the point with fresh new concepts and actionable checklists that will inspire you to action. You have the entire process to get out there and be known in your niche and beyond. All you have to do is read and reap.”
“The Solo Thought Leader will give you pause and make you think about your approach to creating content. Diego makes it pretty evident that unless you become a thought leader in your domain, you will struggle to gain traction in your online journey as a solopreneur.
The book is packed with examples that show the difference between average content creators and thought leaders. In addition, you will find tangible steps that you can start taking today in order to make your brand an attractive one. Must read if you are looking to get to the next level in 2022.”
“The Solo Thought Leader is a brilliant read. Absent of the usual fluff from many a business book, this is straight to the point, packed with actionable advice, and insightful throughout. And if you’re curious at the start as to what a Solo Thought Leader actually is, you’re crystal clear by the end.
Diego builds that picture with solid examples and then lays out the framework to help you create your own path to become that leader in your space. Pick this book up to expand your thinking and help you take real control of your solopreneur journey.”
“I found The Solo Thought Leader an enjoyable and short focused read which I find useful when reading non-fiction ‘how to’ books. The exercises at the end of each section also helped to cement in the ideas as you go along. I felt the book highlighted the opportunity we all have to create a business that connects with what we believe in rather than just doing what the experts say.
Diego’s Solo Thought Leader’s Manifesto in the last chapter was a fitting call to action for the audience to get started on the journey… ‘I am a Solo Thought Leader…. I make the world a better place’. I’m certainly going to apply this to my coaching business. Thanks to Diego for having the courage to lead the way.”
As a writer, this book was a huge motivator to commit to writing my own book.
Diego cuts to the core of the topic and nothing he shares is unnecessary. Everything he shares leads forward to the next piece of the puzzle. It really gave me a fresh perspective on how to take my own solo-entrepreneur journey forward. I would highly recommend anyone building their business and credibility to seriously read this book.
I really enjoyed his perspective on Content marketing and the Solo Author, his framework for writing your book is practical by powerful. In fact I will be revising this book again as I continue work on my own book.”