This interview is part of an on-going series of articles I am doing about how people make the journey from leader to thought leader. See my previous interviews with Priya Huskins of Woodruff and Sawyer and Holly Hamann of Tap Influence.  This time, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jo Miller, CEO of Be Leaderly, one of my favorite thought leaders and speakers in the world of women’s leadership. Over the last few years, Jo has built a significant following in her niche and I wanted to understand how she went about this. Below are some excerpts from the second part of our interview. You’ll find the first part of the interview here.

Be of Service By Sharing Your Expertise Widely

Denise: Being of service, I think, is really the key. That’s part of the role of a thought leader. I really believe that’s a key component. Yes, we are trying to build our businesses or our careers, but we are also trying to share our ideas for the benefit of others.

Do you feel that there is a conflict between this idea of selling our services and growing our business versus really sharing our ideas more broadly?

Jo: There’s this tendency, often, when we create our intellectual property, to want to hang onto it and not give it away to anyone who hasn’t signed an NDA and to say to our corporate clients, “No, you can’t record this. No one’s allowed to get the PowerPoint slides. They’ve all got my copyright notice on them.”

Then there’s just giving it away and being of service to people and saying, “Hey, if you like this presentation, download it here and go share it with 10 other people in your office who you think might benefit.”

When I decided to not hold onto stuff too tightly, but instead to share it out in the world, that changed everything. I think if you’re trying to build a presence on social media and put yourself out there as an expert, you’ve got to show your expertise. Otherwise, how will people know? How will they discern whether you’re truly an expert with something of value if you’re holding onto your intellectual property too tightly?

Share Your Expertise, But Don’t Let Other’s Steal Your IP

Denise: That’s the biggest conflict for so many of us. Yet, on the other hand, recently I was at an event where some woman shared, “Someone took my entire content and delivered it somewhere else and then, at the very end, gave me credit. Then, she told me about it, not even understanding she had done something wrong.”

Jo: Well, that’s a really shitty thing and I don’t hesitate to call out people publicly who do that. I recently had a colleague plagiarize an article of mine too, and I went after her very aggressively, legally, because that was so shitty. But, I think that’s different.

Denise: I do too, but I do think it’s hard for people sometimes to see that difference. So now when I give a talk and I post my slides, I put a notice on the page that says, “Here’s what this is . . . Here’s what the intention is. Absolutely, I want you to have this. I’m so glad you came to the program, but you don’t get to go share this as a public program. If you want to share with a few friends, that’s fine.”

Jo: Yes. You are welcome to share it with others, but don’t cut and paste it and teach it, especially if you are getting paid for it or pretending it is your own work. There’s a difference between sharing your expertise and letting other people take advantage of you and use it. That’s just a sign of a really un-creative professional, that they need to go steal someone else’s work.

Denise: I also look at it as somebody who’s really scared, and they don’t feel like they’re enough, and I can be a little sympathetic about that. And yet, god damn it, cut it out. Right?

Jo: Right.

Writing For Other Venues Does One Thing…Build Your Credibility

Denise: There are many ways in which you get your message out now. You write for a number of different outlets as well as for your own site. Why do you choose the ones that you choose? And how do you develop so much content, which most people find quite difficult?

Jo: Finding the outlets has been easy, to be honest. I signed on as a columnist with The Muse. They would then syndicate their content and my articles would show up on lots of different sites, Life Hacker, Inc., Forbes. My stuff just magically shows up, and there’s no way to predict it. It just kind of happened.

And of course, I put that on my website because it looks really good.

Denise: Do they pay you?

Jo: No, sadly, they don’t.

Denise: No. Most of them don’t. It’s not just you.

Jo: Unfortunately what is even worse is that a couple of websites don’t even credit me as the author. They just say syndicated from The Muse. So I don’t get any credit. And you know, let’s be real. That stuff never ever leads to clicks back to my site. It never leads to a newsletter signup. It never leads to clients. It only looks good in one place, which is on my bio.

Denise: So you don’t find that people come back and go, “Wow, that was really interesting. I want to find out about her.”

Jo: No. Sadly, nothing.

Denise: Okay. And yet, you’re still pursuing it because . . . Why?

What Does It Take To Build A Large Following? Content, Content, Content

Jo: Oh, because I can repost all the articles on my blog. Reposting on my blog and sharing the blog post on social media is a tremendous generator of all the good stuff, like clicks and newsletter signups and ultimately speaking engagements. It’s just been an awesome funnel that works and works and works.

Denise: Great. Can you talk to me about how you built that blog trajectory? For one thing, I know you are very consistent in posting to your site; that you have these other experts who guest blog on your site; that you regularly share everything on social media. Right? And you post content on social media five days a week. How do you set your calendar? What does it take, as far as time and energy, to scale in such a significant way, in such a short time?

Jo: The good news is that my brain works in this way … it just generates content on a regular basis, whether I like it or not. So I kind of started with a blog and I posted something once a month and put it in a newsletter. I quickly realized this is not enough. I’m having these ideas and I’m seeing great leaders and I have access to events and panels that no one else attends and I hear things that have never been said before. Someone just said it in this moment. I have these ideas all the time. I just said to myself, “I’ve got to create a blog where I have an outlet, like a creative outlet for all of this.”

So a couple of years ago, I started this new blog, I launched it, and really the goal was to use it not only as a showcase for my content and a creative outlet, but really to drive increased newsletter signups on social media.

It just is all that and more, and it’s been fabulous.

So for the first 18 months, I was incredibly conscientious about posting. Every Monday, I post a new motivational quote. Every Tuesday, a guest author article. Those things happened without fail. So if all else fails, I’ve got two pieces of content up every week.

But then I was doing two additional posts myself every week. Lately, I have a lot going on so I haven’t been hardly writing anything, but I have this backlog of content that I can keep sharing and sharing and sharing.

Mix Structure With Creativity

Jo: I don’t think anyone knows or cares, but I haven’t really been posting as much new content. I’m trying to get back to it — I posted something this week. But having that backlog of content to draw from has been great. But yeah, I’m not following the editorial calendar right now.

Denise: But you had an editorial calendar? Did you think strategically for like three months at a time? Or was it just the dates you wanted to get it out? In other words, did you think about topics? Did you think about those three categories? How did that come about?

Jo: I’m always looking for an even mix between the three categories, and that’s just a bit more of an intuitive thing. I’m not really tracking it exactly.  But every Monday, I was posting the motivational quote. Every Tuesday, a guest author post. It’s really stuff that I just see from people, like yourself and others, that I think is going to be of value to the audience.

Then for myself, I have four different types of posts that I do. One is “Ask Jo,” where I answer a question. One is “Ask an Executive,” where I interview an executive. I forget what the other two are, off the top of my head. I would kind of switch it up between those. So every week or every month, I would know it’s “Ask Jo” this week, or it’s “Ask an Exec” this week.

Denise: How did you keep track of new ideas?

Jo: If I had an idea for new content, I would track it in a little note in Evernote. So I always had an idea to go back to when it was time for “Ask Jo.” I would have a question. “Ask an Exec,” I always had an exec interview that I could pull from.

Denise: Got it. And now you’ve created a strong personal brand and a large following.

Jo: What worked for me was having a structure that was not too structured. It kind of allowed some creativity within the structure. That’s just the perfect structure for me.

Speaking Allows Deeper Connection With the People You Serve

Denise: You do a lot of speaking now. How did that come about?

Jo: When I was doing individual coaching, many, many years ago, I recognized speaking would be a good marketing activity. You know? Send around the signup sheet at the end and see who wants a free coaching session with me. I started to quickly realize maybe I was better at speaking than I was at coaching.

I feel like it chose me. I didn’t choose it. It just kind of happened that way.

Coming back to my target audience, these are up-and-coming women. They’re individual contributors, first-line supervisors, managers of small to medium teams. There’s often not a lot of budget for their leadership development. So what I love is that this is a way to help them. I disagree with this idea that once you’re an executive, you get executive coaching. Well, okay. But how do you get there? So I love that my speaking is a way that I can meet and work with the audience I care so deeply about.

Denise: Jo, thank you so much for your great ideas today! I really appreciate your time. Learn more about Jo Miller here and read her blog here.


Denise Brosseau is the CEO of Thought Leadership Lab. She is a thought leadership strategist, speaker, and author who helps entrepreneurs and executives become well-respected thought leaders in their niche so they can make a meaningful impact in their industry and leave a legacy that matters. Read her book, Ready to Be a Thought Leader? (Wiley) to learn the 7 steps from leader to thought leader. Find her on TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook. Learn more and join her mailing list at