Becoming who you need to be can be the result of finding out what the market demands.
I never lose my voice. At least I never had. But on a recent night I started having trouble speaking normally, and no amount of throat clearing or drinking water would fix it. I woke up with my normal voice, which was a very good thing since I had nine calls scheduled for that day, including a recorded interview.
When we first step out as thought leaders and influencers, we all struggle to find our voice, our true identity. Just go look at the early videos or blog posts from people who seem to have it all together today, people like Amy Porterfield, Gary Vaynerchuk, or Tony Robbins -- none of these folks was as polished as they are today. In some cases they lacked speaking or presentation skills and had to develop them. In other cases they didn't know who they were, or who they wanted to be.
In studying the stories of these individuals and other thought leaders and influencers, what I've found interesting is that in many cases the way they found their purpose and voice, and their biggest successes, wasn't the result of a well-thought-out strategy; it was by simply responding to demand.
I've been going through a bit of this myself for the past year or so. Since 1999 I've been running my digital marketing agency, but over the last few years I've turned most of the daily operations over to a team that can run the agency better than I can. This has freed me up to write articles and books which have promoted the business and helped it turn into a multi-million dollar firm with offices in the US, Asia, and Europe. It seemed I had found my voice, and it was by speaking to CMOs and other executives about the future of marketing.
Related: How to Hire a CMO When Marketing Has Nothing to Do With the Job
However, after I began building my personal brand through writing, other opportunities followed, like paid offers to speak at events around the world as well as on TV, radio, and podcasts. Then people started to interview me for their articles (rather than the other way around). Soon, people started to ask me "Josh, can you teach me how to do what you've done?" They wanted to know how to build their personal brands and harness that authority to grow their businesses.
At first I pushed back, because I didn't think I had much to offer, and I was busy running my agency. But as my time at my agency became less necessary, and as more and more people started offering me money to teach them how to become thought leaders, I realized I must have something of value, and I started to try and figure out how to distribute it. Coaching? Yep, I started doing that, but one can only work with so many individuals that way. Consulting? Same issue.
I figured a book would be the most efficient way to get the knowledge I had in my head out to the masses. Then, whenever someone asked me for advice, instead of telling them I didn't have time, or trying to sell them on coaching or consulting they couldn't afford, I could point them to the book. I decided to call it "Influencer Inc" and I began creating an outline.
The idea would be to teach people how to become thought leaders and get paid to speak, get into publications, build their personal brands, and grow their careers and/or businesses while doing it.
However, I knew that in order for the book to sell well, I needed to grow an audience first. After all, a few people had reached out to me, but maybe it was a fluke. I didn't want to invest my time in this and make it a large focus of my life if no one was interested, so I launched a Facebook group to see if people were interested in the topic, and to answer their questions about thought leadership. Over the past year that group has grown to almost 3,591 members with sometimes as many as 200 joining in a single week, and the pace continues to accelerate. I guess you could say there's some interest.
Related: How Interacting in Facebook Groups Can Help Your Brand Grow
As the group grew my coaching revenue grew as I trained executives on how to become influencers, so I hired on staff to help me with my own influence-related activities so I could focus more on coaching. Then it turned out my coaching clients needed the same services I needed, so my team and I helped them build their websites and optimize them, manage their podcasts, grow their email lists, and do marketing through social media.
Then, while still working on my book, I looked at other ways I could get my message out and help people grow their influence. I thought about launching an online course, but I wanted to create a great course, and that meant spending money on the production--money I didn't have laying around. Then, while talking to my friend and fellow entrepreneur Richie Norton, author of The Power of Starting Something Stupid, he mentioned how he had once pre-sold a course and raised $35,000, before he had even created it. That sounded great, but could I actually pull it off? What if I put the offer out there and no one was interested? But then again, what did I have to lose?
In the span of three days my team and I brainstormed an idea for a course or masterclass we could pre-sell, before we even created it, on how to become a contributor to top business publications. We opened up 20 spots, priced it at $6,000 per spot, with a 50 percent discount for this first beta round. Within two days of making the offer public we had sold five spots and brought in $15,000, and by the time the class started we had sold out all 20 spots, bringing in roughly $58,000 (after some additional discounts we offered), and we had more people wanting to get into the course who we had to push off for the next one. Once again, there appeared to be serious interest in what we were offering.
In addition to this course, we've launched an online conference, Influence Summit 2017, which has attracted over 60 experts to participate, including big names like Chris Brogan, Chris Ducker, Dorie Clark, Adam Grant, Mari Smith, and Jonah Berg. Within the first few days, with virtually no marketing yet underway, several hundred people signed up for a free pass, and we sold thousands of dollars in upgraded "All Access Passes."
We're now working on a live event, a full website and blog with contributors writing about influence and personal branding, and much more. Influencer Inc has gone from being an idea for a book to a full-fledged publishing, training, and events empire.
The thing is, I didn't intend for any of this to happen--I got pulled into it. I never planned to write this book. I never planned to do coaching. I never planned to launch a masterclass, a podcast, or a virtual summit or live event. But people demanded it. I responded by testing things out a little with simple offers, but people demanded more. I gave a little more, and bit by bit I got pulled along until all these things have fallen into place.
Of course I'm happy to go along with it all because it's a mission I believe in. I believe most people are good, and that if I can help people become more influential then they'll do good things with that influence and the world will be a better place. I now know what my new purpose is, who my audience is, and how to communicate with them.
Now that I'm in the thick of it I am more intentional and there is a blueprint for moving forward. But what if I had tried to create that plan before testing the waters? What if I had built my ship, so to speak, before recognizing that I was building it in the middle of a desert?
Related: This Founder Created a Genius Way to Do Market Testing on the Cheap
The easiest way to find your purpose and your voice is to let others tell you what they are. How will you know? Because they'll give you money. Money is simply a measure of value. The more zeroes you build up in your bank account, the more you know you're creating value for people (assuming you're not mugging anyone). If you've read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, his is the same approach. Create quick, cheap tests for your ideas, throw them out there, and see what happens, then respond. Along the way your purpose will change. The way you talk about it (your voice) will change. You'll figure out what people truly want and how to talk about it to get your message across and to produce the results you want.