How Thought Leaders Focus Their Efforts to Have the Greatest Impact

“I want to double my reach and revenue this year.”

I was sitting in my favorite hotel lobby chatting with a client about her goals for her business. “I’d love for you to show me how to think, make decisions and use my time in a way that will make that goal inevitable. Her answer delighted and surprised me!

It delighted me because she was focused on exactly the right things. It surprised me because so often the first thing clients want help with is something like:

  • Improving their messaging
  • Automating their sales with a funnel
  • Creating new offers
  • Growing their list
  • Launching a new content strategy
  • Optimizing their launch

These are all great, but it’s not where you start when planning and building the next level of business growth. This kind of continuous tactical and low-level strategic focus leads to a common problem I call “Frankenstein businesses” that struggle to break through growth ceilings.

Back to the story of my client-

“I’ve become the bottleneck in my business. Something needs to change if I have a prayer of reaching my vision.”

I explained to my client how the concept of create-relate-ideate focus (CRI focus) was a tool that showed her how to remove the bottleneck. We started making a list of specific CRI activities for her to focus on. We also made a list of things for her to ditch or delegate to give her more time for CRI focus. This included a product offer and a content strategy that were costing her more than they were earning in the end.

“What about sales? All the money I make ultimately is a result of me getting on the phone and having sales conversations with people.” I responded by asking her if she thought Tony Robbins did phone calls.

“I guess I see your point.”

I told her it was common for business owners to get stuck doing things they are good at and that feel high value, but that are really just robbing time from their unique genius and CRI focus.

“Oh crud! You’re right. I’m totally doing that.” She was starting to see what it looked like to go beyond thinking and operating like a lifestyle business.

“Okay. What are those higher value things I should focus my time on?” I asked her list all the tasks that went into finding and selling to customers. We put stars next to things that were her unique genius (for CRI focus).

The starred activities included things like…

  • Understand the unmet needs of the marketplace (RELATE)
  • Design and create content for marketing and sales (IDEATE and CREATE)
  • Research and imagine new unique solutions to those problems (IDEATE)
  • Do interviews and speaking engagements (RELATE)
  • Design and create new tools, resources, experiences, products and services for the business to sell (CREATE)
  • Stay up on trends and study new ideas (IDEATE)

She needed to put more time and energy into these things and get others to do everything else…including the sales calls.

“But what about the money that comes in because of sales calls?” I showed her how investing more time into these CRI activities would boost her income enough to hire someone to do sales AND still leave additional profit.

“I don’t know how I didn’t realize that before. But I’m ready to make the changes if you can help me.”

In this post- 3 Things Thought Leaders Do Differently– I explained why a create-relate-ideate focus is the key to maximizing the growth of a thought leadership business. The story above about my client explains what transitioning into a higher CRI focus looks like so that you can:

  • Unlock the next level of income and impact
  • Think and operate like a world-class thought leader (not a lifestyle business owner)
  • Create a lasting legacy with your work

Here are the key takeaways for how to make that leap.

  1. Identify and understand your unique genius
  2. Understand which activities are unique genius and CRI focus
  3. Uncover things you’re doing that are disguised as unique genius activities but that are actually stealing your time and energy
  4. Incrementally delegate activities and adjust your business model and structure to increase your CRI focus

Until you understand and put this process into action, strategic projects like building funnels, creating new products, and launching new content channels will fail to create the growth you’re looking for. Don’t get me wrong, you might make more money. But this is about more than money. The money means nothing if it takes you away from your vision and the work you enjoy most.

Now, keep in mind this is an ongoing process. It doesn’t all happen overnight or even in a single year.  This is an incremental process, but it needs to start today if you don’t want to find yourself trapped in a lifestyle business with your legacy out of reach.

What’s one change you can make to begin this incremental process of aligning your business with your vision?

3 Things Thought Leaders Do Differently

3 Things Thought Leaders Do Differently

We need to talk about alchemy.

Yep, alchemy.

Here’s a quick story to explain why this is so important to your success. The day after my daughter was born, I remember hungrily rummaging through the kitchen for something to eat (groggy from a long night of waking up every 45 minutes to see if the baby was still breathing).

I opened the fridge…nothin’

Looked in the pantry…meh

Checked all the cupboards…yawn

Somehow we’d forgotten to stock up on groceries! That’s when my mom (who had flown in to help out) walked into the kitchen and told me she’d handle lunch. Thirty minutes later, she’d magically turned bits of leftover rotisserie chicken, a handful of vegetables, and a few things from the pantry into a delicious vegetable soup. My mom has always been a sort of alchemist with food.

In 8th century Europe, alchemists believed they could make a common metal, such as lead, more valuable by turning it into gold. Much like these alchemists, my mom could take common resources (food items that seemed uninteresting and useless to me) and turn them into something of elevated value — a yummy meal that solved our hunger.

This is a lot like what entrepreneurs and thought leaders do.

Thought leaders and entrepreneurs perform alchemy by turning resources, knowledge, and relationships into something of greater value by using them to create unique solutions that solve problems and fulfill unmet needs.

Your intended audience is willing to pay and support you because of this.

The 3 things thought leaders do differently

The more you are able to invest your time and energy into this “entrepreneurial and thought leadership alchemy,”  the more your income, impact, and influence will grow. In your day-to-day, this focus consists of three activities:

Creating, relating, and ideating.

The more you get pulled away from focusing time on those three areas, the more you lose the value you could have otherwise created (impact) and captured (income) with that time and energy — even if that time and energy are spent on other areas of your business. This leads to an important point:

Everything in your business is part of a system with one sole purpose: to support you in being a needs-fulfilling, problem-solving machine that creates, relates and ideates in a way that only you can because of who you are, how you think, and how you show up in the world.

In other words, your business exists to maximize how much you are able to create, relate, and ideate (or your “CRI focus” for short).

Creating consists of activities where you imagine, design, and produce things like content and other intellectual property. This drives marketing, sales, and product development.

Relating has a few meanings. First, this is where you deliver (relate) the product or service to your customers (e.g. online training calls, retreats, events, coaching, etc.)

This also includes time spent interacting with your market for the purpose of finding and understanding unmet needs that you can solve.

Finally, it refers to developing key relationships that enhance your work.

Ideating is the often overlooked (or sacrificed) time and space invested into absorbing, researching, thinking, imagining, processing and synthesizing. This is what allows you to show up, think, and create in a way that only you can. This is what takes your brand from being one of many to being the authoritative and unique only one who does what you do, for the purpose of marketing, sales, or product development. For thought leader entrepreneurs this includes things like designing courses, content, or other products and services that you sell.

This is how leading thought leaders operate. This is how they become world-class brands with enormous reach, recognized for their unique voice and ideas. If you’re feeling like there’s something bigger for you and your business, this is how you make that leap.

CRI focus in action

Doing this requires understanding exactly what creating, relating and ideating look like in action. Then you have to identify what aspects of your work truly require your focus and which you can hand off to others. (This is where I see a lot of people get held back.)

You then increase your CRI focus by making key changes over time to your mindset, business model, and support systems. The problem is that so often we get pulled into adding tactics, team members, systems and other pieces to our business that don’t increase our CRI focus.

In fact, what typically happens is our CRI focus goes DOWN as time goes on. For a time our business grows, then inevitably we hit a bottleneck. We hit a plateau, burn out, lose sight of our vision, stagnate, and never make the leap from a lifestyle business to a business that fuels our big vision and legacy.

So take a quick guess:  What percentage of your time and energy do you focus on creating, relating, and ideating? Identifying how much time you’re currently spending on these areas is the first step to developing a more productive ratio.

This is Your Greatest Asset for Growth, Mastery and Impact

“I realized I’ve been trying to work on my weaknesses too much and not leveraging my strengths enough.”

That was the message I got this morning from a new client. I’m elated because this single insight will have a huge transformational impact on every aspect of her business and body of work.

Your strengths and unique genius are your greatest asset, not only for reaching your most important goals but also for making the greatest impact on others and securing the greatest fulfillment for you.

When you align your pursuits with your strengths, it infuses everything with a sense of ease. The results of your efforts amplify exponentially.

This is why I always spend some time with my clients exploring their strengths and unique genius before we dive into their business strategy.

Leveraging your strengths to their fullest requires that you continuously and relentlessly do four things.

1) Further your understanding of what your strengths are and how you can best use them to benefit others.

2) Fortify your belief in the value your strengths provide to others, especially those you serve with your work and business.

3) Focus as much of your time and energy as you can on things that align with and leverage your strengths (and always strive to increase the amount of time you are able to do so).

4) Consider how your strengths affect, align with, and can be used in every aspect of your business including content, marketing, sales, product development, business model, growth strategy, and so on. You should be thinking about your strengths with every decision you make every single day.

In my experience, most business owners have a lot of room for improvement in each of those four areas. I see them using content strategies and creating products that neglect their strengths. This is one of the greatest reasons they get stuck and their growth stagnates.

It’s so easy to get pulled towards what you think you “should” be doing when noise and dissonance bombard you from every direction — the comparison trap, well-meaning but ill-informed advice, the echo chamber of regurgitated ideas, noise from marketers selling their formulas, and the temptation to look outside of yourself for the “right answer.”

If you’re feeling dissonant or stuck in your pursuits, I recommend blocking some out time in the coming week to take an inventory of the “shoulds” that have infected your business and strategy. Reconnect with your strengths. Find one incremental way to better leverage them in your work.

The Real Reason Entrepreneurs Struggle to Find the Time to Do the Unique-Genius Work They Love

I hear business owners frequently say things like…

“My business never allows me the time I need to do the work I love most. There’s always a launch to do, decisions to make, and things to manage.”


“If I could only hire the right team and automate my sales funnel, I’d finally be able to properly focus on the work that will have the biggest impact.”

I sympathize with these frustrations. I’ve felt them myself even recently.

However, these statements miss the real reason why they are struggling to do their unique-genius work and realize their vision of having bigger reach, influence, and impact as a thought leader at the top of their industry.

Evergreen Sales Funnels, Automated Systems, and a Bigger Team Are Not the Answer

In response to these frustrations, I often see business owners decide they need evergreen sales funnels, automated systems, a more effective team, and productivity hacks to free up their time and energy.

This may sound familiar.

However, the real problem is an unseen force that immediately absorbs any freed up time and energy like a black hole sucking up light.

(And that’s not to mention that even though popular “scaling and automation” strategies might grow your income, they do little to establish you as a top thought leader.)

If this “time and energy black hole” isn’t recognized and dealt with in the right way, you’ll continue to find time to do enough of the unique-genius work and thought-leadership activities required to create a truly distinct and impactful body of work.

The Cause of the Time and Energy Black Hole


Our human mind is wired to seek quick results. As entrepreneurs especially, we crave experiencing wins that provide fuel for our motivation, confidence, and work ethic.

This fuel is of utmost importance to our success. I call this “Efficacy Fuel” because it makes us feel competent and gives us a sense of being in control of our destiny.

As a business owner, you are constantly making decisions about where to invest your time and energy — your most important resources. We are more naturally drawn to dedicating time to things that provide us quick results (i.e. Efficacy Fuel).

Heck, I sometimes take a break in the middle of the day to play a video game just because I get to dependably win — I’m pretty good at it 😉 — and feel a hit of Efficacy Fuel.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting that. It’s a human need.

However, because you occupy two critical roles — business owner and thought leader — inevitably you have to choose how to invest your time and energy into doing the work of each role. Down the road you may be able to hand the business owner reins over to someone else, but for now you’re probably handling both roles out of necessity.

The Thought Leader Dilemma (or One Person, Two Full-Time Roles)

I call this the Thought Leader Dilemma. The way you respond to this dilemma has a significant impact on your long-term success.

The truth is that we will naturally be drawn to doing the business-owner tasks rather than thought-leadership tasks. This might surprise you to hear since you probably wish you had “more time to do the work you love most.”

However, the reality is that, without realizing why, we very often choose to focus on business-owner tasks because they more dependably give you Efficacy Fuel in the form of numbers, dollar signs, a checkmark on a to-do list, or a pat on the back.

On the other hand, thought-leadership tasks have a much more ambiguous payoff. For example, you could spend two hours writing your book and very likely be left with nothing more than a lingering doubt as to whether anyone will care at all about what you’ve written.

Eventually, this unique-genius work might produce recognition, gratitude, feelings of confidence, and proof that you’ve had an impact, but these things show up much further down the road. As a result, it requires a lot of faith to invest energy into these activities and wait for the deferred results.

When faced with a choice between an immediate concrete payoff and a deferred ambiguous result, the former will win almost every time. As a result, thought-leadership (unique-genius) tasks get put off until someday later along with the opportunities and results that they would eventually generate for you.

This leaves you with a frustration that you never have time to do the work you love most. You’re left with the feeling that there must be something more than the daily hustle and brush fires you deal with in your role as a business owner.

You’re left wondering why your big vision and desire to make a big change in the world keep moving farther away, always beyond your reach like the horizon seen from a ship in the middle of the ocean.

We blame the problem on things like daily brush fires, a pressure to hustle, or a need to maintain cash in the bank because it seems that is what’s happening on the surface.

Yet in a very real way, the part of you that wants fast payoffs and the part of you that wants to have a long-term impact are competing inside of you all the time. No wonder it gets so exhausting and frustrating!

Once You’re Aware, Then What?

What is the answer? Once we are aware of this “black hole” force, how do we escape the pull of its gravity?

For this to change, we first have to realize that we give away our time and energy to the business-owner tasks because they feel safer; they give us the Efficacy Fuel that we crave and need right now just to keep going.

You’ll find the answer in this video I made recently with Michael Roderick.

You can fast-forward to about the 6m10s mark since the beginning of the video is similar to this post

We’ve worked with numerous thought leaders and business owners to help them overcome this dilemma in a way that is effective and feels authentic.

With a few key shifts in their work and how they make strategic decisions, they are able to attend to all the vital business-owner tasks while also giving attention to the thought-leader activities that will ultimately realize the big vision they want most. Not only that, they derive far more Efficacy Fuel (i.e. motivation, confidence, clarity, and fulfillment) and results on a daily basis from the things they choose to spend their time on.

Check out the video here.


Photos by Clark Tibbs,Daiga Ellaby, Yong Chuan on Unsplash on Unsplash

The Most Common Barriers to Growing Impact and Income with Your Ideas

My first marketing school was a brown 1988 Buick that I bought from my Grandma for $1500.

The velvety bench seat in the back was always littered with tapes and CDs by consummate marketers like Dan Kennedy.

It was 2002. During my commute to and from work, I’d listen to the audios to gain ideas for marketing my alternative rock band, Desmo.

That’s how I learned the three M’s of marketing.

The 3 M’s of Marketing

Message, market, and media.

Put the right message, in front of the right market using the right media.

These days, we have so many shiny new marketing tools and methods, it’s easy to forget the fundamentals.

In this series, we’ve been chatting about the common barriers that can keep your business from growing.

In this post, I list the most common business growth barriers to help you identify the greatest opportunities for boosting your income and impact.

It’s interesting to note that the key to breaking through income barriers is often going back to the basics – find the market, the right message, and the right media.

If revenue has slowed or plateaued, it’s because one or more of those needs adjusting.

Before we dive into the list of barriers, be sure you have read the first two parts in this series on how to grow your business in 2017. Everything builds on what we’ve discussed before.

Read part 1 here →

Read part 2 here →

To create the list of income and impact killers below, I looked back at more than 14 years of experience working with over 6000 students and clients

These are the exact things that I look at in my clients’ businesses to bust through barriers and slingshot their growth.

I’ve grouped the barriers by the three major growth areas that we talked about in the last post – attract more leads, convert more leads into customers, boost customer lifetime value.

I’ve given each barrier a short name that describes it, followed by a description. You’ll also find a few questions to help determine if you’re running into that barrier.

A Caveat

The list below is designed to bring you confidence and clarity about what to focus on right now in your business.

Do not get overwhelmed by it. You might feel like you’re dealing with all the barriers.

This does not mean you are failing.

Don’t get down on yourself if you notice a barrier that has been there a long time without you realizing it. You are doing the best you can.

Over time you get better at choosing and focusing on the best growth strategies for your business. That’s part of becoming a stronger leader (a CEO) for your business.

It gets easier as you gain experience, resources, and advisors.

You can’t fix all the growth barriers overnight.

A robust business model takes some time to build. Even the most successful and profitable businesses have “holes in their bucket.”

Here’s the key to getting the most from the list of growth barriers below.

Based on your current resources, goals, and stage of business growth, choose which barrier is limiting your growth the most.

In other words, ask yourself which one will produce the greatest ROI in terms of increased income and impact once it is removed.

This is where mastermind groups, mentors, coaches and consultants can offer valuable outside perspective.

Finally, realize that this is not a comprehensive list. These are just the most common barriers for businesses that are in the six-figure range on a trajectory to reach a million a year in revenue.

Growth Barriers to Growing Your Audience

Attention Deficiency (Message Mismatch)

We live in an “attention economy.” In other words, attention is one of the most valuable resources that you can acquire and leverage in your business.

Your marketing message must capture and keep the attention of your ideal prospects. Without their attention, you can’t earn their trust.

No trust, no income, no impact.

The challenge is that it’s getting harder and more expensive to gain attention online. People tune out more easily. They are jaded after repeatedly hearing the same marketing messages. The best advertising and marketing channels are getting more competitive.

For this reason, it’s increasingly important to craft a message that is highly relevant to and resonant with the thoughts, pains, and desires of a laser-targeted audience. That is how you cut through the noise.

And market attention can shift. It’s vital that you keep up with (or even ahead of) what’s working right now to gain the attention of your market. A marketing message that once got attention might not do as well moving forward. This requires refining and testing your message often.

Questions to Ask

  • Is your marketing message highly relevant to the top-of-mind pains of your ideal customers?
  • Is your marketing message unique enough to stand out in the increasing noise online?
  • Does your marketing message communicate your unique value?
  • Does your marketing connect with the top-of-mind pains and problems of your intended customer before talking about the solution?

Media Mismatch

Another facet of effective marketing is using the right media to communicate your message to your target market.

I see business owners mess this up all the time. They take on too many content and marketing channels because they think that’s what they should do to grow their reach.

Because each marketing and sales channel requires additional time and resources to maintain, you must be selective about which ones you choose.

Your media channels must work together in a cohesive way to create a customer journey that moves prospects towards a sale and maximizes your income and impact.

Another mistake I commonly see is that business owners don’t know which media channels are producing results and which ones are a waste of time.

The Pareto Principle (also called the 80/20 Rule) tells us that 20% of your marketing efforts are producing 80% of your results. So which ones are in the 20%?

While the numbers might not be exactly 80/20 for you, the point is still the same – to double down on what’s working and give up what’s not. This is a continuous process as you take on new media channels to grow.

Questions to Ask

  • Does your marketing strategy incorporate media that are most likely to get the attention of your ideal audience?
  • Do your chosen marketing and content channels work together strategically to attract your ideal prospects and move them towards a sale?
  • Are you wasting resources on media channels that do not directly contribute to attracting prospects and customers? Do you have a plan for better leveraging the ones that are working?

Leads by Luck

To grow your business, you must get to a point where you can buy leads (through channels like Facebook ads) and quickly earn back your investment plus a profit.

This gives you a dependable, predictable way to generate and grow your monthly income.

In the past, you could grow an online business by relying solely on free content channels like social media, search traffic, blogs, podcasts and video. Those days are gone.

Free traffic is the slow route to growth. It’s tough to track the results. It’s unpredictable because there are too many variables that are out of your control. Free traffic channels can disappear overnight leaving your business without a source of new customers.

If you use only free marketing channels to generate leads, then you are depending on luck to grow your business.

Questions to Ask

  • Is your business entirely dependent on free sources of traffic?
  • Do you know how much money you can spend attracting a new lead and still earn a profit within a reasonable amount of time?

One-Size-Fits-All Marketing

Perhaps you’ve heard it’s important to define a description of your “customer avatar” to create effective marketing and sales. While that’s wise advice, the often-touted methods for defining an avatar are inadequate for growing your business in the current digital marketing landscape.

Most avatar definitions are made up of no more than basic demographic info and a shallow description of their desired outcome.

But your intended audience is made up of different sub-avatars, each with slightly different pains, challenges, and desired outcomes, not to mention different language for describing them. Some are ready to buy now while others need time to warm up.

This goes back to the importance of relevance and resonance in your marketing message.

If your marketing and sales process is built around one single customer avatar, you are ignoring as much as 80% of your income and impact. The good news is that 3-5 sub-avatar descriptions is adequate to cover your bases.

You have to use different content, ads, lead magnets and follow-up emails for each sub-avatar.

Questions to Ask

  • Have you identified the 3-5 sub-avatars that make up your ideal customer base?
  • Do you know the primary hot buttons for each sub-avatar?
  • Do you have a different lead magnet and follow up sequence for each of your sub-avatars?

Barriers to Attracting the Right Customers and Having a Bigger Impact

Customer Mismatch

Working with the wrong customers and clients is draining. You can’t do your best work. It pulls you outside of your strengths and unique genius.

It’s tempting to make exceptions and take on clients or customers that feel like “easy money” even if they’re not an ideal fit.

Attracting and working with the wrong people is a recipe for burnout. You can’t sell effectively or get the kind of results that your business or your clients need.

It’s also common to start out serving on kind of customer only to find out that it’s not really who you want to work with. To fix this you have to pivot your branding and marketing.

Eventually, you reach a point where you must adjust your customer definition, marketing, and sales process to move away from customers that limit and drain you to ones that will ultimately lead to more fulfillment, opportunities, and growth.

The sooner you do this, the sooner you accelerate your growth.

Questions to Ask

  • Do enjoy working with your clients? Are you energized by your interactions with them?
  • Are you able to do your best work and use your biggest strengths to deliver results for your customers?
  • Do you attract enough of the right leads to stay fully booked with your ideal clients, or do you make compromises because you’re afraid of not earning enough revenue?
  • Is it getting harder to attract the right clients?

Customer Capacity Limit

At some point, every business risks reaches the point where the demand for their products outpaces their ability to fulfill the product or service. One the one hand, this is a great position to be in. However, it immediately creates a barrier to increased revenue.

This is common occurrence when the offer is a service and you’ve capped out on how much time you can dedicate to delivering the service.

This is when the service needs to be productized (e.g. turned into a scalable course) or additional service providers much be brought on to increase customer capacity.

The other common limitation is when one person (such as the owner) is the only source of ideas, content or the final sign-off for new products. If this person becomes a bottleneck in the process, due to limited time and bandwidth, it will limit quickly limit revenue growth.

Questions to Ask

  • Does your business rely 100% on delivering 1:1 services to generate revenue or do you have scalable offers as a part of your product suite?
  • Does your business require a single person to deliver, create or sign-off on products?
  • Is there a cap to how many customers or clients you can take on because of limited human capital?

Boost Customer Lifetime Value

As a quick note, customer lifetime value is most often used to mean “the amount of money generated from a customer over the period of time they do business with you. I find it important to look at this from the perspective of value exhange. You’re not simply “extracting” as much income as you can from each customer. This line of thinking quickly becomes problematic. You must look at maximizing the value (or impact) delivered to each customer as a joint focus as you maximize the income you generate from the value you provide.

Incomplete Customer Journey

This one is the most important barrier to understand.

In fact, this one can make or break your entire business model. Get the customer journey right and all the other barriers fall away much more easily.

For that reason, I’m going to dedicate my next post to understanding this powerful leverage point for growing your business.

One final note.

The barriers listed above recur multiple times over the lifetime of your business. As your goals change and the market shifts, barriers that you dealt with once before can re-emerge.

Okay. You’ve made it to this point in this meaty newsletter. It’s worth reviewing this one regularly.

Whenever you sense a barrier holding you back, look over the list above to identify the most important thing to focus on next to grow your income and impact.

Take Action

Choose the barrier above that feels like it could generate the biggest growth if you were to remove it. Look for the low-hanging fruit.

And don’t get overwhelmed. Focus on one at a time. Next thing you know you will be at that one-million dollar a year mark, making an impact the way you’ve always envisioned.

Next time, we discuss the customer journey. It’ll be a juicy one!