“5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry” With Tom DuFore of Big Sky Franchise Team

Becoming a thought leader can make a significant impact on your business if you do it. The key thing is that you do it and do it consistently. Becoming a thought leader helps identify you as an authority on a specific subject matter. It gives you an edge over your competitors which will lead to […]

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Becoming a thought leader can make a significant impact on your business if you do it. The key thing is that you do it and do it consistently. Becoming a thought leader helps identify you as an authority on a specific subject matter. It gives you an edge over your competitors which will lead to more opportunities for new clients/customers, increasing your prices, or being more selective on the clients you want to work with. It will also open up new opportunities to drive additional thought leadership streams. You can put together a book series, workshops, seminars, online training sessions, and other paid ways for your followers to consume more content from you.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom DuFore the CEO of Big Sky Franchise Team. The company was created to provide full-service solutions for companies of all shapes and sizes ranging from general consulting needs, franchise development, franchise marketing, digital marketing solutions, operations manuals, and many other solutions. Tom has consulted with and advised hundreds of businesses ranging from the largest companies in the world to start-ups. Prior to starting Big Sky Franchise Team, Tom spent 10 years as a Franchise Consultant working for multiple consulting companies. Current clients include: Jamba Juice, Massage Envy, Real Life Ninja Academy, modani FURNITURE, Children’s Miracle Network, Rosati’s, Romeo’s Pizza, and more. DuFore also served as the Vice President of National Business & Franchise Development for the Rabine Group, a National Facilities Maintenance Construction Company with 15 business units. In his role he oversaw company wide Sales, Marketing, and National Expansion initiatives, helping the company expand from $125MM to $185MM in annual revenue in just 2 years. He helped the company become regionally and nationally recognized three consecutive years as a Crain’s Fast 50 Company, and an Inc. Magazine 500|5000 Fastest Growing Company in the United States. Tom has been a guest speaker at the International Franchise Expo, International Food Service Show, Chicago Treasury Office Business Expo, and the Franchise Expo South. He holds a B.S. Degree in Management from Elmhurst College, and an M.B.A. degree from DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business.

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?

I grew up in McHenry County outside of Chicago. It was farming town and that was converting into a suburban community when I was growing up. In fact, I knew the family who had the last farm in city limits and remember how emotional it was when they eventually had to shut it down. I was always a good student and was a National Honor Society member in high school and I was very active in choir, theater, athletics and other after school programs. After high school I attended Elmhurst College and graduated a semester early with a Management degree. I think it was at Elmhurst where things really started to crystalize on my leadership development. It was there that I really became very active in learning how to lead and in thinking about new and innovative ways to do it. I served as a student leader in more than 7 collegiate student organizations including Student Government, Orientation, Concert Choir, and others. I also was a founding chapter member of a national music fraternity and set the record for building a new chapter in just one semester. I also created a fundraiser for VH1 Save the Music Foundation and wrote, recorded, and produced my own independent music album.

After college, I began working my first job where I eventually became the youngest Vice President at just 25 years old, and then helped lead the 35-year-old consulting company into a substantial revenue and growth path. I earned my MBA during nights and weekends while working full-time. At 28, I was later recruited by a client, the Rabine Group, to build and run its national business growth initiatives. In two years, as the VP of Franchising and Business Development and youngest leadership team member, I managed the sales and marketing teams and helped grow the business by nearly 50% by adding $60 million in top line revenue through new client development. This led the company to be recognized as a Crain’s Fast 50 Company, 3 years in a row, and an Inc. 500|5000 Fastest Growing Company in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

I was later bitten by the entrepreneur bug and partnered into a start-up consulting company. After that, I started Big Sky Franchise Team in 2016. Big Sky Franchise Team has been recognized in 2018 and 2019 as a “Top 100 Small Business” by The Best of Small Business Awards, “The Best Franchise Consultancy in the USA” by M&A Today, and a “50 Most Innovative Companies to Watch” by The Silicon Review. In 2016, I also launched a second business in the water restoration industry. In 2019, my restoration company was recognized by TopRatedLocal.com as the #1 company in its area and the #5 Restoration Company in the state of Georgia. This distinction was quite an honor as it is not based on revenue, but rather based on the aggregate online reputation of the company. In 2019, I developed, created, and launched a new innovative learning management system called FranLeadership to better educate, train, and develop franchise leaders.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I think that I am a thought leader as I have had a history of continuous improvement. So much so, that it is a core value of our companies. I am always pushing for new ways to improve and make things better. This is why I am learning every day. I am often asking the question “Why does [this] not exist?” or “Why hasn’t anyone done [this] before?” I know those are general questions, but these questions are always rattling around.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I think that most interesting thing that ever happened to me is when I first started in consulting. I had been growing steadily at the company and had started working with many great clients. The thing that is interesting is that of the hundreds and thousands of successful business leaders, CEO’s, and business owners I have met with, there is only one of them that I said I would ever go to work for. The interesting thing is that I do not recall saying this, but my wife remembers vividly because I only said it one time and it was the same day that I met the client for the first time (by the way he was just a prospect at that time). Then, two years after that first meeting, I was driving to his office for my first day as the newest member of his executive leadership team! That is truly one of the most interesting stories that has happened to me.

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?

Where do I start on this one? There are so many mistakes and mishaps that have happened over the years. I would have to say one of the funniest mistakes I made is when I was speaking to a prospective client on the phone, I kept calling him the wrong name. I do not recall what the actual name was, but it would have been if his name was Bob and I was calling him Jim. It was pretty significant. Fortunately, the person did not say anything to me on the phone, but we all got a great laugh about it at the office. The lesson that was learned and reinforced from that experience is that no detail is too small and that they are all important.

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?

In my opinion, a thought leader is a Servant Leader who has taken a more vocal and innovative approach to leading and sharing their messages. I say Servant Leader because that is someone that is putting other people’s needs and priorities first. They have a purpose which is greater than themselves and are real and authentic. They are out to serve their followers first. To help make them better. In general, a thought leader is someone who speaks from a position of influence and authority. I also think that a thought leader is someone that is sometimes pushing the envelope and leading some type of innovation or change. Now, whether the change and innovation is perceived as positive or negative is up to the audience. The differences between a thought leader and someone who is a leader or an influencer, in my opinion, is easier to recognize and notice than to describe in words. A leader is anyone person in charge of people, tasks, or things and is given that position by title or designation. This person is now in charge of leading and guiding but may not actually have the respect of those they are leading. A thought leader is someone who can inspire others to take action and drive results to change an industry, a business, or even the world. A thought leader is often viewed as bold or even provocative at times because they are pushing boundaries. An influencer may also be viewed as bold or provocative. The difference is that a thought leader has a very specific purpose for driving change whereas an influencer is often times being provocative and bold to attract more clicks, likes, downloads, subscribers, and other financial gains.

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?

Becoming a thought leader is something you have to have in your heart, mind, and soul. You need to be doing this for a driving force inside of you. For most, there is a greater “Why?” that is driving you. Think about people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. These are great examples of thought leaders driving their industries to change and make a difference. Consider the following of their respective companies compared to their competitors. If you intend to become a thought leader, you must stay convicted and true to yourself. You may change your mind or opinion on things over time, but the underlying purpose for you remains steady.

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?

Becoming a thought leader can make a significant impact on your business if you do it. The key thing is that you do it and do it consistently. Becoming a thought leader helps identify you as an authority on a specific subject matter. It gives you an edge over your competitors which will lead to more opportunities for new clients/customers, increasing your prices, or being more selective on the clients you want to work with. It will also open up new opportunities to drive additional thought leadership streams. You can put together a book series, workshops, seminars, online training sessions, and other paid ways for your followers to consume more content from you.

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.

Here are my 5:

  1. Be authentic. If you are not perceived as genuine and real your viewers and followers will see right through it. This gets back to having a real purpose or mission for why you are doing it. If it is to just make money most people will see through it.
  2. Be consistent. If you are not producing consistent content your followers will go somewhere else.
  3. Pick a medium. Many people think that you have to become a thought leader by displaying your content all over every social media channel, LinkedIn, blogs, podcasts, PR, YouTube, and other content outlets. The reality is, especially when you first get started, it is often easier to start in one platform. Focus on that one area. If the information you share is visual then consider a video platform such as YouTube. If you like to talk and your audience is listening in audio, then start with a podcast.
  4. Tag, Mention, Subscribe, Like, and Call Out. Make sure that you are tagging, mentioning, and calling out other users on your social channel of choice. Remind your followers to like your content, share, post it, etc. This will add new users and followers into your sphere of influence and will most likely increase your audience.
  5. Engage. Remember, social media and most of these out media outlets provide an opportunity for you to engage your audience. Ask them questions, give something away, offer up a contest, and other creative ways to get your followers to participate. This helps bring you closer to your followers and keeps them more interested in your content.

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.

In my opinion, someone that has done this extremely well has been Andy Stanley. He has been leading the way and innovating by getting back to basics with Christianity. He is so focused on his vision, purpose, and mission that it permeates through everything he does. Whether it is through his own writings, sermons, or steps his church is taking to bring “unchurched people”, non-believers, and longtime Christians down a pathway of following Jesus. With a focus on being more like Jesus will help make your life better and make you better at life.

Another great example is Grant Cardone. Grant has impressed me the most with the volume of content and relentless activity that he produces. He is always doing something, usually multiple times a day. Providing all sorts of content for his followers to relate to, learn from, and engage with. His approach is very real and authentic. He never appears to stray away from his underlying purpose.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

Well, that’s a tricky question. I think that just about any term can be overused and become trite. However, when used in a proper context, it is still a great term and description. Part of the overuse will come from people who are pretending to be a thought leader for their own personal gain. Again, authenticity is critical. Your follower can see if you are or are not being authentic.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Avoiding burn out is tough. I think that most people reach a point when they get tired. However, the best way to avoid burnout is by having a sense of purpose and a deeply rooted “Why”. This is critical to the longevity and consistency of your activity. This is that underlying purpose I spoke about earlier. If you are not clear on your “Why” and your purpose, burnout is inevitable. If you ARE clear on your purpose, you will be able to sustain during the more difficult time periods.

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 would want to focus on the purpose we have for our companies which is to: Inspire and Foster Greatness. I have a relentless drive to help other people be the greatest version of themselves. I believe we all have a God given purpose and we are to pursue it to maximize our opportunities and abilities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

For me there are several that have stuck with me over the years. I think the one that I will share for this interview is one my first mentor shared with me that has definitely helped shape me over the years. The quote is: “Luck is when opportunity meets a prepared person.” This small, but mighty, quote has been instrumental in keeping me focused. How many opportunities have passed each of us by that we never even knew were standing at our doorstep? Countless I am sure. That is why I think it is so important to keep learning and growing to be ready the next great opportunity that comes knocking.

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. 🙂

Wow! That is a great question. I am assuming they need to be living for this exercise (that was supposed to be funny if you didn’t catch my humor in there). I think I would want to have lunch or breakfast with Andy Stanley. Another close runner up is John Maxwell. Can we tag two? Maybe I’ll get a lunch and a breakfast.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me at:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomdufore/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tomdufore/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tomdufore

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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