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Libby James: “Never stop learning”

Never stop learning; To become and maintain ‘Thought Leader’ status you need to have your finger on the pulse of the latest developments within your industry. Attend workshops, meet peers for coffee, read as much as possible. Thought Leadership is a journey, not a destination. As a part of our series about How To Be […]

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Never stop learning; To become and maintain ‘Thought Leader’ status you need to have your finger on the pulse of the latest developments within your industry. Attend workshops, meet peers for coffee, read as much as possible. Thought Leadership is a journey, not a destination.


As a part of our series about How To Be a Thought Leader, I had the pleasure to interview Libby James.

Libby James Co-Founded Merchant Advice Service in 2016, after seeing a gap in the market for straight-talking, simple financial advice for business owners particularly start-up companies. In the years to follow Libby has become somewhat of an expert in the card payments industry and the fees surrounding payment processing. The mother of two has dedicated years learning and developing knowledge in what could be seen by some as a complex trade. She shares with us her experiences and why becoming a ‘Thought Leader’ is predominantly important to her.


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?

Hi, it’s my pleasure, thank you for asking to interview me. It’s always very flattering and still takes me by surprise to this day.

My backstory in a nutshell… after leaving education I worked in retail and finance, however, I have always had an interest in business and knew I’d work for myself at some point. I met my now business partner David after my marriage broke down, which really propelled me to stand on my own two feet and provide for my children in a way that I never thought possible at that time. My priority was to give them a life that was financially stable, without having to sacrifice time with them.

David and I saw a gap in the market for providing business owners free of charge advice when it came to making financial decisions. We saw how complicated it can be for entrepreneurs starting out to source suitable card processing and business loans, many blinded by complex terminology, resulting in paying too much for financial products or worse still ending up with products not suited to them. Merchant Advice Service was born…our straight-talking, non-biased website.

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

When starting Merchant Advice Service, our mission was simple — to become the experts — the people that were turned to in times of need or uncertainty. For example, acquiring banks are constantly assessing their attitude to risk, meaning that they could serve notice to a business accepting card payments to balance their risk portfolio or because the business is no longer within their criteria framework. This leaves the merchant (business) without card processing and can cause problems with cash flow which can in the long term be detrimental to the company. Our service provides solutions to these types of merchants, offering alternative processing.

At the time when the business receives notice, it can feel like there are little or no options for them. It’s at points like these that being a Thought Leader is vital, let’s face it the trust for people within our industry has been broken, they are disappointed and sometimes angry with the circumstances forced upon them. Thought Leadership helps gain trust between you and the client, but it also reassures them that they have come to the right place to resolve problems.

We deal with complex situations like these daily, which has forced me to become a ‘Thought Leader’ I want to know everything there is to know about our industry in order to help others.

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

Although it sounds very cheesy, every day is interesting at Merchant Advice Service because no two are the same. We meet and speak with business owners and share their journeys at various stages of development. From large corporate businesses to smaller start-ups — the quirky ones are always my favorite.

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?

Now let’s be honest, finance isn’t very funny and can be seen as quite boring! However, we’ve made many ‘mistakes’ when starting up. My biggest lesson when co-founding Merchant Advice Service was learning patience and not to rush — and boy that was tricky! When starting a business it more often than not takes a little longer to get off the ground. In the early days, I would fill my days with learning and writing, when our first client called I was over the moon and when we were referenced by Visa and MasterCard on their site I realized our hard work was starting to pay off.

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?

From my point of view, a Thought Leader is a true expert. Someone who is consumed by a topic and makes it their mission to know everything there is to know in the chosen field. For me, a Thought Leader never stops learning and always shares their knowledge with the aim to help others, social media channels such as LinkedIn are powerful content platforms to do so. You can become a ‘leader’ or a boss by promotion within a single company, however, being a Thought Leader often requires broader experience and thinking a little outside of the box.

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?

Without a doubt becoming a Thought Leader isn’t something which will come easy, it takes huge amounts of dedication and hard work, in reality, it’s a never-ending job. However, once you’re seen as a Thought Leader by clients and peers the benefits to your business are huge. As a true expert, you gain trust and respect, more people want to do business with you, and more people want to work for and with you. You can then work with other Thought Leaders growing your knowledge and sharing each other’s expertise.

If you commit to becoming a Thought Leader, everyone wins…you, your customers, your peers.

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?

Yeah sure. We’ve had numerous occasions where our competitors have approached us with clients they can’t help. Communicating our knowledge via social media and through blogging has meant that companies worldwide regularly ask us for help. This has without a doubt had an impact on our profits. The important thing to remember when monitoring the results of becoming a Thought Leader is to have patience, simply put — as your reputation grows so will your profits.

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

  • Never stop learning, to become and maintain ‘Thought Leader’ status you need to have your finger on the pulse of the latest developments within your industry. Attend workshops, meet peers for coffee, read as much as possible. Thought Leadership is a journey, not a destination.
  • Share your knowledge for free. A huge part of becoming a Thought Leader is sharing content and building your reputation. If your content is readily available without cost it will have a bigger outreach.
  • Don’t rush!! Developing into a ‘Thought Leader’ is a commitment which will in most cases take years. Yeah sure, some outrageous posts online may get immediate interaction but this is about playing the long game. My tip, steadily builds trust and prove you deserve the title of Thought Leader by showing the world your knowledge in regular and informative content.
  • Work with people who are better than you…everyone’s got to start somewhere right? Don’t be afraid to approach experts in your field and learn from them. At Merchant Advice Service we made it our priority to work with people who knew more than us, and as a result, we naturally become Thought Leaders. If you’re given an opportunity to work with experts, don’t waste it — ask as many questions as possible with the intent of growing your knowledge base.
  • Not everyone will understand your ‘why’ and sometimes you’ll question why you want to be a Thought Leader, especially when it takes longer than you originally thought, remain focused — not everyone will get it, but who cares!

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?

I’m a massive fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, I love his personable yet no-nonsense approach. He shares tips for followers because he wants others to succeed. I think this is a lesson most entrepreneurs can take away from his content — just because others succeed doesn’t mean you won’t. Finding happiness in other accomplishments is important to me.

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 people can become comfortable with being a ‘Thought Leader’ and not understand that it is consistent professional development. There are varying levels of success within Thought Leadership, for example, Gary Vaynerchuk who we’ve just discussed is one of the most successful Thought Leaders in the world, but that doesn’t make the smaller ones less of a Thought Leader. If you’re asked advice from peers and you have an expansive knowledge base which you’re regularly developing within your field, to me that makes you a Thought Leader.

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

Know what it is that ensures you switch off and do it daily. For me it’s going to the gym at silly o’clock in the morning before I’ve even started to think about work or getting the kids to school, I make sure I don’t check my emails until I get home at 7 am. Also, I have tech-free time with my children, disappearing into their world for a few hours in the evenings and at the weekend makes me smile and feel rested — simplicity is often key to relaxation.

Understanding that time off is vital in order to thrive is difficult for most business owners to get their heads around. However, this is the most important thing to avoid burnout — learn how to say no.

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. 🙂

Wow-what a question!!! Love it. Health is so important to me, so I think some sort of movement within children’s diet/exercise would be great. Although it’s been done before I think a fresh and less boring approach is required — maybe something techy. As a Mum of two girls, I think ‘treats’ are given far too frequently and there is still a lack of education within our future generation. I constantly talk about how foods make us feel — so that would be a great starting point.

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

‘A strong woman accepts both compliments and criticism graciously, knowing that it takes both sun and rain for a flower to grow’

This quote I think is not just relevant to my life, but most others too. We learn and grow from valid criticism and compliments. Plus I want to raise two very strong women!

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. 🙂

Tim Ferris or Gary Vaynerchuk

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My LinkedIn profile here!

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