Stick to what you know. The number one rule in being a thought leader is to be authentic. Don’t try to speak about topics you aren’t well-versed in, as people will be able to tell that you aren’t being transparent.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure to interview Julia Lytle.
Julia is a self-proclaimed brand catalyst, Julia’s love for socializing long ago developed into a passion for connecting people and brands with symbiotic goals. Since graduating from Boston University’s College of Communication in 2014, she has worked in public relations, digital & social media and event marketing across a variety of industries, including nonprofit, consumer products, sports and tech. Her work with Kellogg’s in Battle Creek brought her from Boston to Chicago in 2016. After leaving agency life and completing a seasonal contract with Turner Sports in Atlanta, Julia entered freelance life full-time in Chicago. She started Che Consulting in July 2019.
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?
Iam originally from Boston. After graduating from Boston University in 2014, I moved to a rural town in Argentina to teach English. That experience completely changed my life, and I like to think it set the bar for my standard of happiness and what I would and would not accept for myself. After becoming fluent in Spanish and solidifying lifelong friendships, I moved back to Boston, where I was miserable. On paper I had it all — I was living with two of my best friends, had a desired entry-level job and my family lived close-by. But I really missed Argentina, was in a toxic relationship and was pretty unhappy at work. So when a friend told me his digital & social marketing agency was hiring, I applied for the job and ended up leaving my PR job after just eight months. The new job brought me to Chicago (more on that below!), and it was the best decision I ever made. Chicago is such a hub for entrepreneurs, freelancers and small business owners. I began surrounding myself with people who were creating their own career paths and following their dreams, and it really inspired me. I had always wanted a job where I could work remotely, so when I had a chance to go out on my own, combining my professional experience in PR & marketing, I jumped at the opportunity and have been hustling while traveling ever since!
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
When I first started Che Consulting, everyone asked me what my “niche” was going to be, and I had no idea. I just took the work that came my way. It happened that, in doing that, I ended up working directly with a lot of entrepreneurs and founders, all of whom had started their company to meet some need in their respective industry. As a bi-product of working to secure media coverage for these clients, my “niche” slowly became establishing these “disruptive” innovators as thought leaders in their industry. By establishing them as credible sources in their respective spaces, we then garnered exposure for their brand.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was living in Boston working for the small digital & social marketing agency I mentioned above, and we scored a huge account with Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Michigan. In order to establish a presence closer to where our client was located, our CEO announced he would be sending a small team to start a Chicago office. I was newly single & coming up on the end of my lease in Boston, so the idea of moving to Chicago briefly crossed my mind. Well, that weekend I coincidentally was headed to Chicago to visit friends and see Red Hot Chili Peppers at Lollapalooza. After spending just 36 hours in the city, I was hooked. Sitting at brunch — probably a few mimosas in — on my last day in Chicago, I texted our agency’s Creative Director (who was part of the team moving to Chicago) and told him I also wanted to go. He already had a lot of pull in our agency, so when his text back read “just say the word,” I knew there was an opportunity. That was a Sunday. By Thursday of that week, my move from Boston to Chicago was finalized and signed off on by our agency president & CEO. This whole process was so sudden I didn’t even have time to be nervous or scared. Like I said, best risk I’ve ever taken.
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?
The first client I secured on my own under Che Consulting, I was SO excited. So excited in fact, that I did not make her sign a contract. She came referred through a former co-worker and was a seemingly sweet older woman, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. When it came time to invoice her for my first month’s work, she argued with me over the entire invoice. She nitpicked every hour of my work and claimed my hourly rate to be $10/hour less than what we had agreed on. We ended up terminating the relationship, and she wrote me a check for $500 (which was significantly lower than what she owed me). While I was disappointed, I walked away having learned an essential lesson: never EVER begin work until you have a signed contract. I also realized that — as an entrepreneur — this would not be my last disappointment or uncomfortable situation. That day I promised myself that I would look at each negative situation I encountered as an opportunity to learn something new about myself and my business.
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?
A thought leader is someone who — throughtheir time and experience working in a specific role or industry — has become a credible and trusted source of information. They are looked to by others for insights and interpretation around specific topics. While thought leaders tend to make up our population of “typical” leaders and influencers, not all leaders and influencers can be considered thought leaders. Being a thought leader is heavily dependent on your authenticity, transparency and ability to disseminate information to others who are not as well-versed in your area of expertise. Very few people actually have the ability to share their insights in a way that influences the thoughts and behaviors of others. This element of charisma and being personable is not widespread and it’s difficult to teach, so that pool of legitimate “thought leaders” is really small.
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 allows you to promote your company, product, service, etc. in a way that is both authentic and beneficial to your followers. Instead of pushing products, as a thought leader, you can frame your offering in a way that offers tangible takeaways to your audience. You want to provide something that they can take and apply to their own personal or professional life. This, in turn, will make your marketing & PR efforts much more fruitful. Not only that, but if you do a really good job at providing value for your followers, they will become ambassadors for your brand, spreading the word on your behalf with no additional energy or money spent.
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?
As I mentioned, thought leadership is all about helping your respective audience and providing them with tangible takeaways they can use in the personal or professional lives. Whether sharing your favorite cleaning products as a well-known residential and corporate cleaning company founder or providing tips to throw a Kentucky Derby themed party as a trusted party planner, sharing your expertise in a way that is tangible and useful will expand brand loyalty. Even if someone doesn’t require your product or service at that moment, when they find themselves in need, you will come to mind.
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.
- Be honest. Being a reliable source of information for your followers is of utmost importance, and that means being honest. Sometimes you may have to deliver information that people don’t want to hear (i.e. my event planning client helping people realize what to do if they have to cancel their wedding due to COVID-19). But your honesty and ability to be straightforward will be appreciated in the long-run.
- Stick to what you know. The number one rule in being a thought leader is to be authentic. Don’t try to speak about topics you aren’t well-versed in, as people will be able to tell that you aren’t being transparent.
- Ask for feedback. If you’re trying to figure out what your thought leadership niche is, ask those around you. Sometimes your expertise is such second nature to you, you don’t realize that it’s not for other people. (i.e. for myself, I constantly remind myself that people pay me to manage their PR & marketing because they don’t know how to do it themselves. If they knew how to do it, they wouldn’t seek out a consultant. It took me a long time to realize that what comes easily to me — based on my education and professional experience — is extremely foreign to other people).
- Look at current events to stay relevant. Based on what is going on and relevant in our world today, where can you lend your expertise? (i.e. one of my clients manufactures his products in China and is seeing huge impacts to his business based on coronavirus/COVID-19). People want to hear what people like him (as the CEO of a lucrative business) are doing to stabilize their businesses during this period of turmoil.
- Put yourself out there. It can be scary at first, but ultimately, the more exposure you get, the more people will trust you and look to you for answers. Submit your name as a contributor or expert for articles relating to your area of expertise, sign up to speak on panels or at events, or simply begin by writing blog posts or submitting to Medium. As long as you stick within your actual area of expertise, you will be engaging and authentic, causing people to seek you out down the line.
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?
Ariana Huffington is one of my favorites. Her image has become synonymous with strong, effective and balanced female leadership. She embodies the idea of “work smarter, not harder,” which is essential today. As we continue to become more connected through technology, it’s more and more difficult to relax and take breaks. But Ariana has proven through her own story that working “harder” isn’t always the answer. Not only that, but it will lead to burnout and inefficiencies in your company. Learning to set boundaries and committing to time for ourselves are both essential in being successful today.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I think the term is absolutely overused, but that does not stop me from wanting to push true thought leaders to the top, providing them with the platform to share their expertise and impact others.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take care of yourself first. This means understanding your limits and setting boundaries. “Burning the candle at both ends” (as my father puts it) is something I have often been guilty of. I don’t want to rest until I feel I’ve done everything in my power to succeed. But starting my own company, I realized there is ALWAYS more to do. If I judge my level of success solely based on the completion of a “to-do list” or by comparing myself to other people, I will never be satisfied. Also, enjoy the journey. Have your end-goal in mind, but enjoy the ups and downs. You only get to do this once, and all of it is part of the experience!
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. 🙂
VOTE. Please vote and make your voice heard. I’m a millennial, and my generation (the largest generation today) has so much potential influence when it comes to who is in power in this country. I hear so many people complaining about the way things are politically, yet they are not taking action. Whatever your views are, just please vote.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
When I was younger, I had awful FOMO. Truthfully, I still have FOMO. I want to be everywhere, all the time, and I want to please everyone. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized my time and energy are precious gifts, and I’m not longer willing to squander them on things that don’t matter in the long run. Over the years, I have learned my worth, and I have learned how to set and maintain boundaries with friends, ex-boyfriends, family, clients, etc. I believe people will take you more seriously and have greater respect for you when you know what you want, define that clearly and then stick to your word. Enough of trying to be what other people want you to be.
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. 🙂
Michelle Obama. I love the work she is doing to empower young women around the world and hope to someday start a non-profit affiliated with Che Consulting that does something similar.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.