Elevating your students, clients, or customers can have a knock-on effect. I place a lot of value in my students. I celebrate their wins and successes like I would my own and I feel their losses deep in my soul. I also regularly shout-out my students on social media for the incredible work that they’re doing. While I do this because they deserve it, it also helps my thought leader status because other industry leaders see that the people who work with me are doing incredible things. It builds my credibility and cements a community founded on loyalty and good vibes.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hannah Dixon. Hannah is a Business Strategist and Mentor who has helped over 8500 people create location independent lifestyles through education in freelancing and entrepreneurship via her company Digital Nomad Kit. After 11 years of continuous travel, she is considered a “digital nomad thought leader” and expert in all things related to virtual assistance. She also works one on one with influential entrepreneurs and celebrity figures in training and managing their remote teams. Having worked previously in the NGO sector to elevate entrepreneurs in poverty-stricken areas, she now offers accessible online & global in-person workshops, training future virtual assistants and freelancers. She finds her passion in helping people realize alternative ways of achieving and expressing success. Hannah focuses on creating standards of excellence in the digital recruitment space, tackling issues such as fair pay, diversity and communication within remote team cultures. She has been featured in/spoken at The James Altucher Report, DNX festival, Women Digital Nomads, Nomadtopia Radio and numerous other blogs, podcasts, and events on travel and entrepreneurship. You can usually find Hannah in a hammock, eating a burrito.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Hannah! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I have had quite the rollercoaster ride to where I am today! I’ve been traveling nearly full-time for the last 11 years. I started when I left an abusive relationship in my early twenties, knowing I needed to escape. So I booked a one-way flight to New York City and started working at a fancy perfume counter, followed by coming home to the UK where I landed a job in a high-end fashion house where I rubbed shoulders with top designers and celebrities. As successful as my career path would have made me, I wasn’t happy and I again escaped — noticing a pattern here?
The next few years saw me hopping across the world picking up random jobs through work exchange platforms like WorkAway. I worked in permaculture, with animals, in bars, I volunteered, and I even trained as a dog sledder. My experiences were plentiful and life-changing, but this wasn’t sustainable long-term. I wasn’t making money and I was lonely. I began to want for more. To make more impact, money, and to have a true sense of community in my life.
That’s when I learned about working online. I started humbly, providing admin and social media services to business owners, learning on the job. My first ever online gig was for $5 and took me three days to complete — cringe. However, it turned out that I quite quickly grew a small virtual assistant (VA) service into a money-making machine. I discovered that I was really good at landing big clients, providing exceptional support and networking my way to the top. I carried on traveling the world, albeit in a little more style than previously, and working for myself while sharing my story with a Facebook group I had started. I had attracted a wonderful group of individuals who were all very similar to me, somehow outcasts, weirdos, people who lived fringe lifestyles, and I really came into myself through them.
As the group and business grew alongside one another, people began asking me how they too could work online and create a business that allowed more financial and geographic freedom. Soon enough, Digital Nomad Kit was born and here I am today, 8500 students later, massive impact, and a thriving community of weirdos that I love to death. And for clarification, the term ‘weirdos’ is much appreciated in the communities I lead, I’ve done talks on ‘Embracing Your Weird’ and people wear my ‘Embrace Your Weird’ branded T-shirts. It’s kinda my jam.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I think a huge part of my authority comes in the form of guiding others into leadership positions. My vast experience and knowledge cumulates to empower future leaders to be better and to lead through unconventional excellence, every step of the way. From the moment they first try their hand at working online as a VA, to the moment they step foot on a stage to talk about their agency empire, or more recently, the moment they produce a large scale conference teaching what they do best.
I think there’s something to be said for leaders who see the full picture with no ‘end’ in sight. Who don’t limit their own potential, nor the potential of those who look up to them and can expand, adapt and grow as more is demanded of them. As a successful, openly queer, female business owner who carries mental health issues, I also believe that my position is one that has an extra layer of significance in under-represented communities and I have not taken this lightly. If anything, it has given me a reason to be bolder, louder, and to lead with more conviction and dedication than perhaps some of my peers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Through entrepreneurship, I have found healing from deep wounds stemming from my history of abuse and toxic environments. I found that by taking charge of my life, I didn’t have to escape from much anymore. I began mingling with people who held higher values than those I had been used to. They talked about this thing called ‘vulnerability’ and helped me face my demons by simply asking for help in the right places.
Learning the value of vulnerability has been a game-changer for me. I recently hosted my first ever retreat and had 10 of my students attend. It was the very first of its kind, a vacation for virtual assistants and freelancers, aptly named VA-cation. No work, all play. Often freelancers aren’t given time off, so we have to take it. Throughout the week, we shared our vulnerabilities, mental health struggles, and how we really feel about being freelancers… and you know what? Every single one of us is a bit messed up.
I was so fascinated to learn this because I do attract a certain type of person, it’s almost as though they found me in the very same way I found my mentors. Spending time getting to know some of my students better really made me realize that I should be more open about my struggles — because everyone else is struggling, too. Discovering the power in vulnerability has been instrumental in creating a bigger positive and healing impact. All of this was an unexpected bonus that came with working for myself.
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?
As a virtual assistant trainer, I have to connect with my audience as often as possible online. As mentioned previously, I’ve attracted a lot of people who aren’t afraid to let their freak flag fly by being unapologetically weird, so they have definitely come to expect… strange… live streams from me. So one of my very first live streams where I was pitching my brand new virtual assistant training, I actually electrocuted myself after a plug exploded. Yes, really! Before I reconnected to the live session, someone had bought my course, my very first sale! This experience taught me that when you find the people you truly connect and resonate with, they will invest in what you’re selling because of who you are, even if you make a fool of yourself on the internet. There was another time where I fell into a lake while on a live stream, but I still think the electrocution mishap tops all the ridiculous things I have done.
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 an expert in their industry. Someone whose opinion is valued, respected and sought out. Thought leaders differ from other leaders because they’re often the go-to for paving the paths in any given industry, they are the ones inspiring typical leaders with frameworks and ideas to work toward.
They’re different from influencers as they don’t necessarily need to have a large audience in order to make waves. They are more quality vs quantity and influencers generally, at least in my understanding, can be the face for multiple themes, brands, products in order to amplify their income rather than impact. Thought leaders have their ‘thing’ and can be relied on to be at the top of their game within that.
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 leadership takes time. I believe it’s something that can be cultivated by mastering your art and forming a true passion for it, and then not stopping there. Questioning the status quo in any given field and creating new, more efficient and helpful ways of doing things. It’s worthwhile investing in this path when you realize what a difference you’re making in people’s lives. It’s the changes you’re making that are directly impacting your industry and people all over the world that make all the time and energy worth it.
For online business owners, I have an additional note. It’s really easy to flip flop between ideas and trajectories, there is SO much you can do online. I’ve thought numerous times about switching lanes, but what has given me the success I see today has been sticking to my path and area of excellence, and instead of switching lanes entirely, just shaking up the industry to keep things fresh. Demonstrating consistency is powerful in a world where we can be so easily distracted.
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?
The type of thought leadership I’m in is all about business strategy and remote work life. I’m now creating opportunities to work with bigger clients on longer-term projects. I’m also finding more media opportunities that are allowing me to spread my message further. I’ve been invited to talk on stages (much to my horror), had plenty of opportunities to mentor some incredible people and have been on all expenses paid trips to meet with clients and partners. There’s a lot of trust held in those considered thought leaders, this naturally leads to a higher income and a lot of personal growth too. I’ve found that the more success I’ve seen, the more internal work I’ve had to do to accomodate my expansion. I love it.
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. Lifting up your audience. Elevating your students, clients, or customers can have a knock-on effect. I place a lot of value in my students. I celebrate their wins and successes like I would my own and I feel their losses deep in my soul. I also regularly shout-out my students on social media for the incredible work that they’re doing. While I do this because they deserve it, it also helps my thought leader status because other industry leaders see that the people who work with me are doing incredible things. It builds my credibility and cements a community founded on loyalty and good vibes.
2. Taking what people assume about your industry and flipping it on its head. Literally inspiring new thoughts and ideas around a specific subject. For so many business owners, virtual assistance is viewed as an undervalued and severely underpaid career. In fact, you hear of many VAs in some countries working for a couple of dollars an hour. I believe that virtual assistance is a skilled career — and one that should be priced and valued better. I’m working with VAs from all over the world, educating them on how to charge higher rates and why they should, along with educating employers on hiring ethically and intelligently. We live in a world where modern slavery is at an all-time high, so creating standards in an unregulated space is one way that I’m questioning the current state of affairs.
I’m also a strong advocate for gender equality and there’s the general assumption that virtual assistance is ‘wonen’s work’. Through using gender neutral branding across the board, I have the highest number of male (and non-binary) students in my training program compared to my peers. This is something I am very proud of.
3. The lost art of humility. Everyone learns from someone, and we all need to take more time to thank those people who have helped us. This not only keeps you in good standing with your mentors, leaving you access to plenty of high-value networking opportunities, but also is a demonstration in humility. Not letting your successes go to your head and keeping you on a ‘learning path’. This goes with what I mentioned earlier about vulnerability and authenticity. You don’t have to have it all figured out in order to make changes and create amazing things. When you share your process with your audience, they see that you’re accessible and just like them. They learn that they, too, can start to achieve great things and will be inclined to let others know about how you have helped them on their journey. All-round good energy.
4. Collaborating with ‘competitors’. Rising to the top while staying on good terms with your peers. I’m a firm believer in collaboration over competition. Why spend time fearing your competitors are going to copy you or speak ill about you, potentially damaging both your reputations, when you can work together to grow and achieve more? I am confident in my ability to lead the weirdos, the queers, the travellers, but less so other communities. I am always so happy to collaborate with people who are confident in their brand and offerings so that we can have greater impact collectively. I’m constantly reaching out to those who do similar work, to see how we can complement one another, understanding that we have unique teaching styles.
This is often met initially with resistance, but then adopted enthusiastically when they realize how much nicer everything is when you’re not operating out of fear. When you are the one unifying people, you instantly elevate your reputation as a thought leader.
5. Showing up consistently, even when you’re not feeling it. Consistency is important in any line of business, but when you work online connecting with other people, it’s even more essential. I’ve seen the value of hosting regular live streams, Q&A sessions, and posting on social media, even when I feel like I don’t have anything to give. You always know more than you think you know and your audience, students, and clients want to learn from you. So even when I’m feeling sorry for myself, with no make-up, and jet-lagged arriving into a new location, I make the time to check-in and connect with my people on a regular basis. I always say that in order to be an expert in someone else’s eyes, you only need to be a couple of steps ahead. Do not take your expertise for granted!
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 think Selena Soo is a fabulous example of a thought leader at the top of their industry. Selena is an approachable, friendly and honest person who has made the idea of connecting with the media very accessible to a huge variety of people. I’m most impressed with her humility. I had the chance to meet her a couple of years ago and she was such a down-to-earth person who did not allow her authority to dictate the way she spoke to her audience. I especially resonated with her unique brand of introversion and her talking candidly about the struggles that came with rising to the top while being on the quieter side. This is what eventually led me to invest in her as a mentor. Her commitment to helping people grow through landing media opportunities is an inspiration, and her consistency in showing up for her audience in a very real way is notable. Selena is a good representation of someone who is championing others on her rise to the top and I think this is a really good lesson for us all.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I can see why some people might think it’s an overused term. Much like industry leader, expert, and influencer. However, like the other terms, “thought leader” has its place. I think we all get too hung up on semantics when essentially they are helpful in expressing ideas. One could argue that ‘digital nomad’ is an overused term, and while I’d agree, it certainly makes life easier when it comes to explaining my lifestyle. People will always bicker when it comes to labels!
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Have a strong team to support you when you’re feeling the pressure. Be honest and transparent about your feelings. We live in an age where having feelings is way less taboo, so let them out. If you’re feeling close to burn out — tell your people. Explain what’s going on. They might even have some awesome advice for you! And create a life that allows you to take breaks, time for yourself, and practice self-care. As a leader, you’ll be helping more than just yourself by being generous in your transparency.
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. :-)
I believe the current learning procedures of many schools are not up to scratch for the modern world we live in, where innovation is paramount to not only the way we live, but like, you know, the actual survival of life on Earth. Let’s give children the tools to create beyond the confines of the current mandated curriculum.
Implementing education on entrepreneurship and money management would be super beneficial to society on a whole. Not only because it would give kids who don’t fit in a fighting chance at creating their own paths from an early age, but I also think it’s just downright sad that people are so out of whack when it comes to simple money and wealth management practices.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My quote comes with a short story. When in secondary school (high school for the non-Brits) I was pretty terrible at Math. By pretty terrible, I mean the bottom of my class, and that hasn’t changed all that much over the years. We had a big exam coming up and I decided to put all my efforts into studying Math like my life depended on it. I revised day and night and when it came to exam day, I thought I nailed it.
That was until the results came in and I discovered I had a grading of ‘U’. In the UK, ‘U’ literally means ‘ungradable’. It’s as though I didn’t take the test at all. I was sorely disappointed, I’d actually studied for this and I still failed miserably.
When I handed my grade papers to my mum, I told her about my frustration and she said something powerful that stayed with me for life. She said:
‘You don’t need to be good at math. That’s what other people are for’.
MIND. BLOWN. Of course, the people who were good at math would go on to be bookkeepers, and bankers, and the people who were good at art would go on to be painters and creators. Who on Earth was I to be encroaching on an area that I wasn’t naturally made for?
From then on, I focused on what I did inherently well, for when we shine our unique lights, we allow others to do the same. I see this quote present in the way I teach my students, coaxing out their inner genius and helping them stand out in a crowded marketplace by capitalizing on these assets.
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. :-)
Ellen DeGeneres. Because she’s someone who has unashamedly been herself, embraces her weird and consistently elevates and celebrates others as she grows herself. She displays all of the qualities that I myself subscribe to, to the best of my ability and…well, she freaking rocks.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Group for freelancers/nomadic folks: https://facebook.com/groups/digitalnomadkit
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.
Thank you! Very thoughtful questions. Nice break from the norm.