…The TEDx talks I gave last year were a big deal for me, as is guest lecturing at two universities and a college. And without being a thought leader — without having that knowledge that’s ahead of others, I may not have bagged these opportunities as I did. Having this has allowed me to develop a membership group, work with big organisations and I’ve just launched my first digital course. Without all this groundwork, why would someone pay money to listen to me? They wouldn’t!
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rhea Freeman. Rhea is a social media and marketing expert who coaches a variety of small business owners on how to market themselves better using free opportunities. Creator of the Small & Supercharged Facebook Group for small businesses and influencers in the equestrian and rural sector, Rhea also runs a membership group for small businesses, produces a weekly podcast by the same name, has given two TEDx talks on the subject of social media, guest lectures on the subject and lots more besides.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
OK, fasten your seatbelts! I started off working with horses when I left school, then started writing for magazines, and the marketing side of things grew from there! Copywriting lead to PR work and that took my business in a whole different direction. I’ve built everything from the ground up and learnt on the job, and as the landscape has changed (mostly the reduction in printed media circulation and opportunities, and the rise of social media and content marketing), I have evolved and grown with it. I’ve always been passionate about relationships and what amazing free opportunities are available if you just look. I don’t like to waste my money and helping clients to keep theirs for the things that matter brings me a lot of joy!
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
It’s such a funny title because, being British, saying we’re a thought leader in our field feels arrogant and boastful, but the fact that I do advise so many businesses and influencers, have given two TEDx talks and receive such lovely compliments each day about how the content I produce- whether that’s blogs, podcasts or even just social media posts- has helped people or inspired them, makes me feel like I’ve earned that space. My Facebook group was the first (as far as I’m aware!) to cater to this niche, as is my podcast and membership group.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Oh gosh, there have been a few! I think the first time the power of social media and content marketing hit me was when I was at a big trade show. I was chatting to someone and was very aware that a couple of people were behind me and assumed they wanted to speak to the person I was talking to as I was on the corner of their stand. Turns out they didn’t, they wanted to say hello to me. Now that doesn’t sound that interesting but the way they spoke to me was. I didn’t know who these people were, genuinely, but the way they were speaking was like we were friends- you know, that conversational style, and they obviously did know me. And then it came out. They’d been watching my videos on social media and they knew all about me. It struck me then, the power that we have to make these incredible connections.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m not sure if it’s funny (it certainly didn’t feel it at the time!) but I had a brief phase when I managed to invert a phone number and it didn’t get picked up by me or the client at sign off. From then on I told clients exactly what they needed to check when they signed something off. I guess it taught me to not expect people to be mind readers which is a valuable lesson!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
I think a Thought Leader is someone who leads the way with their thoughts and actions. This means that they’re the ones to push the boundaries, try new things, test things and develop their learning ahead of others in terms of strategy and ideas.
Typical leaders, I think, are more company directors who make the big moves and changes and drive businesses forward.
And as for how influencers differ to thought leaders — well I think a thought leader should have influence, but that should be based on hard won knowledge, work, trial and error. That should be what drives the following and the engagement. Influencers can develop the following (and therefore become an influencer) through a range of channels- literally their ability to make slime, or the fact they wear a certain colour can create an influencer potentially, so it’s a bit different.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
I think it’s a great thing to be and, also, the best way of marketing yourself and your business. If you’re ahead of the herd and are out there learning, pushing boundaries and challenging yourself, you’re the one that people want to speak to, listen to at conferences, be taught by and work with.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Absolutely. The TEDx talks I gave last year were a big deal for me, as is guest lecturing at two universities and a college. And without being a thought leader — without having that knowledge that’s ahead of others, I may not have bagged these opportunities as I did. Having this has allowed me to develop a membership group, work with big organisations and I’ve just launched my first digital course. Without all this groundwork, why would someone pay money to listen to me? They wouldn’t!
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Learn. Seriously — learn. I am always listening to podcasts and audiobooks, watching videos from people I respect and can learn from, reading books and taking courses. Exposing yourself to all this knowledge and then trying, testing and applying is massive.
- Look beyond your industry. Look at experts outside of your industry and learn from them. If you want to be the thought leader in your space, you need to take inspiration from others.
- Share your thoughts. Obvious, right? But sharing our thoughts and ideas and helping others is the way to become a thought leader- you need to show what you’re doing so people know you can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
- Accept you’ll get it wrong — or not as right as you’d like — but do it anyway. When you’re a thought leader, you’re pushing into new areas. So will your first YouTube video be amazing? Probably not. Your first blog? Probably not. But you’re a leader and if you’re treading a new path there’s a point when you have to say ‘yep, I just need to try this, let’s go!’. I look back on my first YouTube videos and cringe… but then I’m also really proud I got over myself and did it.
- Push yourself. When I applied to do my first TEDx talk and then got accepted, I had this awful feeling of dread- excitement but also dread because I had told myself for years I wasn’t a good public speaker. And I’m not amazing, but I’m far from awful. Pushing myself to do it and get my voice, thoughts and ideas out there was a big deal, and I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t given myself a kick.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
The one person who comes to mind instantly is Steve Jobs. I appreciate he was a leader in other ways but his vision was next level. And more than that, his insights into business. I love a motivational of inspirational quote and Steve Jobs’ quotes are very high on my list!
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
Not if it’s true! There are always buzzwords that people adopt when they aren’t in that category and that is possibly why the term is getting a lot of stick. You have to put in a lot of work to become an expert/authority/thought leader, and often people like to wear these badges without putting in the graft. And that’s not good for anyone.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Find your tribe. Working alone can be great but working with passionate people can help you achieve even more and can make the journey more fun too.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like people to realise that they are capable of incredible things if they just get out of their own way. I see so many people hold themselves back for a variety of reasons, especially when it comes to their businesses, and the thing is, they really can do it! I obviously spend a lot of time helping businesses promote themselves on a shoestring but so often I hear people say things aren’t possible — from doing a video because they’re afraid or getting into a particular magazine. But they are. It’s a case of how you’re going to do it not if, that is, if you put your mind to it!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘What amazing things could you achieve if you got out of your own way?’. I have this sitting on my desk. And when I start to think ‘who am I to…’ or ‘I can’t because…’ I’m reminded. Another would be ‘she remembered who she was and the game changed’. We can all have confidence knocks but inside us all is something pretty special, when we find it and harness that- even if it’s hiding for a bit- we’re pretty amazing.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Gary Vaynerchuk. I’m in awe of Gary Vee. I have all his books and have them on audiobook too. He’s just always so on the money! I’m also a massive fan of Jasmine Star and Jenna Kutcher.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on Instagram @rheafreemanpr and on Facebook too /rheafreemanpr. They’re the places I hang out the most, particularly Instagram!