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5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry, With Ty Kiisel

Business is personal. We do business with people we trust or respect. We look for people who can help us succeed. In many industries it’s important for a business to establish a reputation of expertise. Because business is personal, we tent to relate to people more than institutions. In addition to having a bigger voice […]


Business is personal. We do business with people we trust or respect. We look for people who can help us succeed. In many industries it’s important for a business to establish a reputation of expertise. Because business is personal, we tent to relate to people more than institutions. In addition to having a bigger voice within the market, if your customers, or potential customers, trust your thought leader, they will in turn trust your company, and share their loyalty with you.


I had the pleasure to interview Ty Kiisel. Ty is a Main Street business evangelist, author, and marketing veteran with over 30 years in the trenches, and has been writing about small business and small business finance for OnDeck since 2014. He endeavors to make the maze of small business lending accessible by weaving personal experiences and other anecdotes into a regular discussion of one of the biggest challenges facing small business owners today.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Ty! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I’ve been writing about small business generally for the past 10 or so years and the last 6 or 7 years about small business finance and credit. I try to share insights I’ve learned over a nearly 40 year career working in or owning a small business including lessons learned from both successes as well as failures.

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

I’m not sure how to answer this one. “Authority” seems like a pretty strong word. Like a lot of people, I have opinions and insights into the small business world. I think I’m able to share and articulate them in a way that resonates, informs, and enlightens people. My motives are to help my audience be successful and make informed decisions. If I can help someone avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve experienced, I feel like my efforts have been worthwhile. I don’t know if that makes me an authority on thought leadership or not.

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

I had a great boss years ago that encouraged me to create a podcast for our company. This was something I had never done before, but in addition to our corporates blog I gained a certain level of notoriety. I sat down at a table of customers at a user conference one time and started to introduce myself to the table, as they said something like, “We know you, we read your blog and listen to your podcast.”

Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, it was kind of surreal. Those experiences certainly changed the direction of my career.

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’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, but none of them ever felt very funny at the time. I tend to be really bad with names though, and one time I had neglected to write down the name of someone I was interviewing on a podcast. A dumb, rookie, mistake to be sure. Since the interview was live, I conducted the entire interview trying to remember his name.

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’m convinced that a thought leader is someone who has something to say that will be beneficial to someone. It might be a point of view or information the will benefit the reader or the hearer. The insights might even establish a new way of looking at things or set a new trend. But I think the difference between a thought leader and an influencer is the goal is not necessarily to influence, but rather to potentially convince people of the value of looking at circumstances or decisions from a different perspective or a new paradigm.

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?

Part of thought leadership requires a person to actually be thoughtful. Sharing ideas compels a person to dive below the service of things. I think it fosters contemplation. I’m sure I’ve learned much more over the years than I’ve been able to share. I think it’s made me better at what I do because the process of putting it down on paper, recording a video, or broadcasting audio compels you to focus on what’s important and jettison the fluff.

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?

Business is personal. We do business with people we trust or respect. We look for people who can help us succeed. In many industries it’s important for a business to establish a reputation of expertise. Because business is personal, we tent to relate to people more than institutions. In addition to having a bigger voice within the market, if your customers, or potential customers, trust your thought leader, they will in turn trust your company, and share their loyalty with 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.

1. Be thoughtful about your industry. You need to have a perspective or point of view to share that will benefit the marketplace. Spend time following what’s going on in your market so you have some kind of common ground regarding what’s currently being written or otherwise shared in the market. Over the years I’ve slogged through a lot of content that is as interesting as watching beige paint dry to keep informed about what was going on in our space. I don’t think there’s a shortcut to this.

2. Find your voice. In other words, spend time thinking about what you want to contribute to the conversation and how you want to present it. The Russians say, “The first pancake always fails.” Most people don’t come out of the gate and capture a big audience. It mike take some time to get past your first pancake. You will struggle the most when your audience is the smallest.

3. It won’t happen overnight, so be prepared to invest your time and energy into sharing your perspective. This is not a silver bullet approach and requires investment in writing (if that’s what you do) or recording or speaking. At one point I was publishing something every day. If you aren’t regularly in the marketplace of ideas, you will never become any kind of thought leader.

4. Make sure you want to personally invest your energy into it. It’s a lot of work. There aren’t any shortcuts. You have to spend the time to study, formulate your opinions and perspective, and create. I don’t think this is something you can take with a casual approach.

5. Be genuine. Because people relate to other people, you will have to share a part of yourself. It’s not about a corporate voice, it’s about your voice — and it can’t be faked. I share a lot about the things that define who I am and how those things color what I do and how I see the world. Those experiences are valuable fodder for sharing ideas that people can relate to.

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.

Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute is a great example. I met him a couple of years before the CMI and have watched him elevate the idea of Content Marketing through books, events, and speaking. He’s taught us that you can basically create a new discipline by regularly and consistently evangelizing your ideas. When I started my career, the idea publishing “content” as a marketer didn’t even exist. Now it’s an integrated part of most marketing efforts.

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

I agree. It feels kind of self aggrandizing to me. Steve Jobs was a thought leader. Warren Buffet is a thought leader. Richard Branson is a thought leader. Most of us are trying to promote leadership in our industry, but that doesn’t make us thought leaders. It’s not a moniker one bestows upon oneself. I think it’s something that evolves over time and is identified by others.

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

Share the ideas your passionate about. Be genuine. If it’s nothing more that a marketing tactic, you will burn out. If it’s something you’re really jazzed about, you can go the distance for the long haul.

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. 🙂

Life is personal. Business is personal. How we interact with people is what really matters. I would like to see more than lip service to that idea in the corporate world.

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

Your brand is not your logo or your colors. It’s not what you say about yourself. It’s your values and how you act on those values with everyone you associate with. That includes your customers, your colleagues, your friends, and your family.

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. 🙂

I think lunch with Virgin’s Richard Branson would be very interesting.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My LinkedIn profile is http://linkedin.com/in/tykiisel

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