Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Nicolas Cole, and I’m 28 years old. I’m a writer and founder of a thought leadership writing agency for executives called Digital Press. My writing journey began when I was 17 years old. I was one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America and one of the first gaming bloggers to command a large audience on the Internet. I attended Columbia College Chicago to study creative writing, and then worked in digital advertising for four years. When I turned 26, I published my first book, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, and “took the leap” to become a full-time freelance writer, where I fell into the world of executive ghostwriting. After a few months of working with nearly a dozen different executives, I convinced one of my closest friends to quit his job so that we could start a company together. A little over a year later, and Digital Press has grown to 20+ full-time employees.
How do you position yourself as an influencer in your industry?
I don’t call myself a marketer. I am a writer. When I first graduated college, all I wanted was for people to read my writing. That’s it. I wasn’t interested in becoming a “business success,” as much as a successful author. I stumbled onto a website called Quora, a Question/Answer site where I found hundreds upon hundreds of incredibly interesting people sharing what they knew—almost always in the form of a story. I saw Quora as a creative writing platform, and the questions people asked as writing prompts. I started writing on Quora every single day, and 9 months later I became one of the platform’s Top Writers. To date, I’ve accumulated over 25 million views there on my writing alone, and had work republished in major publications such as TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, CNBC, The Chicago Tribune, and many more. My success on Quora is what has allowed me to speak on the power of writing highperforming content—a skill that everyone, in every industry, could benefit from.
How did you decide what you wanted to be known for as a leader?
When I first started writing online, I thought you had to know the answer to this question before you started. The truth is, you never know what you’re going to be known for—the community and the world at large somewhat defines this for you. When I first started writing on Quora, I wrote a lot about health and fitness, because at the time I was very into bodybuilding. It wasn’t until much later that I realized my most popular writing didn’t really have to do with fitness, but rather mindset, habits, and broader personal development topics. As soon as I started to gather data on what was resonating with people, I shifted what I was writing about to be more in line with what the community had decided was my most valuable content. That’s what I’ve “become known for.” I am a writer, and my most popular content almost always is centered around a larger life lesson.
What is the most important attribute of an influencer and thought leader?
Consistency. A lot of people in the world want that title: influencer, thought leader. But the truth is, those are titles you can only earn. You can’t buy it with press mentions. You can’t have someone give it to you. People only see you as an influencer or a thought leader if you’re actually influential. And in order to be influential, you have to question yourself and your industry deeply. And in order to ask those deep questions, you have to be consistent over the long term. I’ve been writing every single day online for the past 5 years. When someone comes across my work, it’s usually not the individual piece that impresses them (or makes them see me as a “thought leader”). What they’re impressed by is the fact that I’ve been consistent for so long. That’s the true measure of what it means to be at the forefront.
What do you do to sharpen your ideas to remain an authority in your space?
I’m a writer, but my business is in the content writing and marketing industry. Most founders in this space don’t write their own content. This means they understand the value of content marketing, but they don’t practice the art themselves. As a result, they lose touch with all the little nuances that change in their industry. They make false promises, or paint a picture to clients that isn’t an accurate reflection of how the game is played when you’re in it. One of the primary reasons my company, Digital Press, has grown so quickly is because our process and recipe is exactly the same as the one I utilize and practice on a daily basis. I didn’t come up with a clever idea and then sell it to people. I created a process that has proven itself to be successful, and I’ve offered that same process to others. Continuing to practice your craft is what keeps you an authority in your space. Nothing else.
You walk into a room, on a chair is your 18 year old self. You remember his passions, goals and fears. What advice would you give him?
To be perfectly honest, my 18 year old self wouldn’t listen to any advice. I thought I knew everything back then. Of course, I didn’t. But at the same time, I had some sort of unwavering confidence in myself that I was sure, no matter what, I’d end up wherever I wanted to end up. I don’t regret anything on my path. Even the hard lessons, I see as incredibly valuable moments. And I don’t think anything I would say now to my 18 year old self would have gotten through—but then again, it wouldn’t need to. 18 year old me knew where he wanted to go, even if he didn’t know how to get there. And where I am today, I suppose my 18 year old self was right.
Nicolas Cole is the founder of Digital Press, a content marketing agency that turns founders, executives, and entrepreneurs into world-renowned thought leaders. As an author, Cole is a 4x Top Writer on Quora and Top 30 Columnist for Inc Magazine with over 50 million views on his work. His writing has appeared in TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, CNBC, The Chicago Tribune, and more.