I decided to just be myself at a time when everyone else was very buttoned up and professionally polished. This opened up a lot for me, because I became real and relatable. But there is a balance here- I don’t need to bare my soul or share everytime I get a fever. I simply became conversational in my brand message. My blogs got snarky, fun and easy to read! They would go low-key viral because it was refreshing. That was a strategy I adopted to attract my ideal client, knowing my tone would repel the people I didn’t care to work with, but I discovered it related on a B2B level as well, catapulting me in a way I hadn’t expected.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amber Anderson. As a former personal trainer, Amber fell into the wedding industry quite by accident. When the economy crashed in 2008, Amber took the nearest desk job she could find at Deloitte. With grit and determination, she survived 7 rounds of layoffs working her way to a corporate event planning role in their Dallas office. Eventually, one event led to another and after hiring a “day of coordinator” for her own wedding, she realized she could do it better. So she did and along came Heavenly Day Events in Austin, Texas.
Amber’s philosophy on creating opportunities served her well in becoming a local leader, looked to for expert advice by her peers. After a decade in weddings and events, Amber pivoted her career to coaching others on a national level. As the host of Refine for Wedding Planners, Amber mentors new, aspiring and struggling planners via the largest Facebook group exclusively for wedding planners. She offers a course, retreat and templates that are known for being unlike anything else on the market!
Community over competition is important to Amber and she is proud to have helped start the Associated Wedding Planners of Austin, a conglomeration of local planners seeking to grow and excel through ethics and standards. As a Public Speaker with regular interviews and publications in sources like Bustle, Pop Sugar, Style Me Pretty and Martha Weddings, Amber brings fresh perspective. Known for her radical honesty, Amber often says what most people are thinking but won’t say, striving to elevate the industry one conversation at a time.
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 basically fell into my career as a Wedding Planner, turned influencer in the wedding industry, by accident! I was a personal trainer, applying to grad school to become a Physical Therapist when the Great Recession hit. So I got the nearest desk job, in a Big Four accounting firm, no less- and just kept my head down, surviving 7 rounds of layoffs. I knew I didn’t want to sit at a desk for long, and worked my way into their corporate events division, which allowed me to move around and be more active during the day. One thing led to another and I eventually started my own Wedding Planning business, and a decade later, I’m now an educator in the space.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
The success of the planning company is largely due to personal initiatives I made in our local market. I put the company on the map by asking hard questions, leaning into controversial topics and being the first in my market to use my own voice in branding a decade ago. As an educator, I continue to do all of those things. I don’t look to the right or left and worry what others are doing. I’m an idea person, and I often say what others are thinking, but aren’t willing to say. The combination has opened so many doors for my career and I love teaching and empowering others on how to find their confidence in this.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Among the most interesting experiences is also one of the more empowering. I once had a mother of the bride that was emotionally abusive to the bride. She made her cry on and off while getting ready, and would then coddle her like “momma was there to fix it.” It was so gross. Well at one point, she was incredibly rude to me and I don’t know what came over me, but I stood my ground and told her she was not permitted to speak to me in that manner. I had never and have since never done anything like that! As I left the room, a bridesmaid chased me down, thanking me profusely. And from there on, the mother was pleasant the rest of the day. I’m here to serve and love on my couples and their families, but I’m not a doormat nor am I going to let a bride be treated like that before walking down the aisle. Job aside, I spotted abuse and I stepped in. I grew up a lot that day, and I hope it impacted my bride as well.
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?
Given I can’t think of anything, I’m going to chalk it up to pure trauma that has been blocked, because surely I made plenty of them! But I will say, the mistake I’ve never made but often dream about is no-showing for an event. It’s legit my worst nightmare!
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?
By basic definition, a thought leader is someone that is viewed as having the authority on a topic or in a space. But I’ll take that one step further — a thought leader creates space and opportunity for conversation, movement, growth and overall change. Thought leaders make themselves known! They facilitate ideas from one area of an industry to another, connecting leaders and business owners into a school of thought. I think the difference in thought leadership versus standard leadership is expansion. A great leader is there for morale, troubleshooting, being a calm force in a chaotic moment or season and simply being willing to take charge. But a thought leader is one that is thinking two and three steps ahead of everything and everyone at all times. Thought leaders see a bigger picture and want more for their clients, staff, market and industry as whole. They aren’t going to rest until their audience explores new ways of doing things together.
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?
Thought leaders have audiences that are loyal and further spread ideology, only growing the audience all the more. Becoming a thought leader means less hustle and grind, as things just start to fall into place. Thought leaders don’t have to go find people… people come to them, knocking on the door for opportunities to engage.
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?
When I decided to put myself out there, taking the risks to challenge and expand thought in my industry, I noticed how attracted people were to it. They want that kind of leadership, and when it’s in front of them, they latch on. I have women tell me all the time “take my money, take it all!!” Of course, they are being silly, but the idea is that I have become so ingrained in their lives, that anything I put out there, they trust and want. Thought leadership fast tracks that feeling of like, know and trust! It makes people feel safe and when they feel safe, they buy! A business can really hit auto-pilot when their consumers trust them. It cuts out so much drama and it frees up so much headspace for that next big idea.
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.
Sure! Here are the things I did that worked well.
1. I decided to just be myself at a time when everyone else was very buttoned up and professionally polished. This opened up a lot for me, because I became real and relatable. But there is a balance here- I don’t need to bare my soul or share everytime I get a fever. I simply became conversational in my brand message. My blogs got snarky, fun and easy to read! They would go low-key viral because it was refreshing. That was a strategy I adopted to attract my ideal client, knowing my tone would repel the people I didn’t care to work with, but I discovered it related on a B2B level as well, catapulting me in a way I hadn’t expected.
2. I got very clear on my brand alignments. I looked around me, identified who the best of the best were and I entered their eco-system as if I knew what I was doing. While it requires confidence, what I discovered is that everyone else in the room wanted someone else to carry the small talk, so I was there, relieving that burden for them.
3. I also started talking about the big things I knew we were all thinking, but not willing to talk about. You could feel a collective sigh of relief as people in our market began to share and connect in ways they hadn’t in the past.
4. I simply took a lot of people to lunch and ASKED what I could do for them and their business. I wanted to know how I could better educate my clients on their behalf and set us all up for success. Paired with lunches, I also sent surveys from time to time. I would use that information and share the results with the community. It allowed us to unveil things that needed further unity and discussion. The whole goal is unifying!
5. I stopped letting the big players introduce themselves to me multiple times “like they didn’t know who I was.” That’s a social power game and I wasn’t playing. By doing this, I took myself to the next level. I showed people my confidence, and that they couldn’t intimidate me into an exit.
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.
On the entertainment side, I’m going to point out a celebrity that has really impressed me over the years but specifically in 2020. Kristen Bell has stepped up to the plate to use her platform in a way that I find inspiring. Not only is she full of brilliant talent, she’s just authentic. She’s not worried about a perfectly done face or what others think. She shows up everyday as an activist, leading by example, stretching and training new mindset among her followers. I’m a better person for following Kristen Bell on a platform as simple as Instagram. She risks her career everyday to uncover injustice and carve a path to a better society. There is so much to learn from risk takers like this. Maybe we can’t all be celebrities, literally changing the world, but she models confidence and chooses joy. Confidence and joy are how we as humans can change our own corners of the world.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
As for my industry- it’s a newer concept and not talked about enough! Our industry tends to be behind in so many ways and this is yet another example. Wedding pros don’t understand that they can and should be thought leaders. We often find ourselves in this career because we love serving people, are good at logistics and enjoy making pretty things. I find that companies are more comfortable looking to national names, forgetting that they too can create change. And by doing so, their businesses will excel.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take time off! Like real time off. A true leader is one that can let go, delegate and show trust in their people to do their jobs. And beyond taking time off, always surround yourself with people infinitely smarter than you are.
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. 🙂
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
To harp on the joy thing a bit, it’s the crux of my favorite quote. “Joy is a decision, a really brave one, about how you are going to respond to life.” — Wess Stafford, former President and CEO of Compassion International. I’ve lived a pretty hard knocks life. To the tune that I’m honestly not very phased by COVID-19, even on a mass scale. I genuinely have peace about it. When you’ve gone through enough cycles of up and down, you know that you never stay down forever. Even if it looks like “down” to everyone else. Happiness is fleeting, but joy is eternal. You can have joy, even when you don’t love your circumstances. And it’s like medicine- so uplifting and empowering. Yes, I’m absolutely heartbroken for the pain and destruction of trajectory that all of us are experiencing, I’m not dismissing that. But I’ve been through so many of the things people are experiencing right now, and while those experiences also altered my life, I still had to put one foot in front of the other … and the only way I am ever able to do that is by choosing joy. I think the world could come unhinged and be restored with this shift in mindset. It’s not for the faint of heart, but yes, it’s very powerful.
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. 🙂
Ohhh fun question! By general personality and then design of a career that is well trained to look past stardom, I don’t fangirl over scenarios like this very much. But I would be remiss not to say Kristen Bell … and we can totally invite Dax along. Or well, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt- they are equally as incredible both in talent, business acumen, human soul and thought leadership. Could we just swing the whole crew- surely we’d all have fun together?!
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.