*This article is also published on Huffington Post.
Leonard Kim (’LK’) is the Managing Partner at Influence Tree, where they teach you how to build your (personal or business) brand and growth hack your social media following. If you don’t have the time, they do can it all for you as well. He also does digital strategy for USC’s Medical Enterprise. A keynote speaker, Leonard has been featured in a plethora of publications and blogs, per LeonardKim.com. He resides in Los Angeles and loves cupcakes. Hon. Pauline Truong (GlobePreneurs – ‘GP’) recently discussed with @MrLeonardKim regarding how he went from ‘rock bottom’ to having a large following on social media.
GP: What was it like to be ‘almost homeless’?
LK: I almost went homeless at the tail end of 2010. My grandmother let me live with her rent free. It was the sweetest thing she ever did, especially since she disowned me before that. By the middle of 2011, I decided that I couldn’t be a burden to her any longer, so I borrowed a few hundred dollars and moved out. I got a job about a month later and spent most of that year getting situated and trying to stabilize out my life. It didn’t go too well, but by 2012, things were getting a little bit better.
GP: What are three main skills that brought you to where you are today?
LK: The three main skills that got me out of this mess are:
In order to stabilize my life, I had to stop spending what I had grown accustomed to spending. I started to learn how to budget and trained myself on how to have a mindset of frugality. I knew I needed to do this just in case everything were to crumble apart again. By finding out what the floor to my earnings were, I now know exactly how little money I need to survive.
I was bitter and angry at what happened in my life. But if I kept living my life that way, I wouldn’t ever succeed. I’d always be living in the glory days wishing that I could relive those moments instead of looking towards the future. If I kept this up, then I wouldn’t get anywhere. So I had to change my mindset. Since I was so bitter about failing continually, I lacked confidence in myself. I felt like I was a complete loser who had no chance of succeeding at anything. Every chance I got, I discounted myself. I didn’t think it was possible to achieve anything. To sum it up, you could say I was defeated.
If I wanted to overcome my feelings of defeat, I needed to change my mindset. To do this, I started to think about what I was grateful for. The people who were there for me. The air I was able to breathe. The roof over my head. The little things I saw each day. Then I got more in touch with nature, watching the birds chirp and the squirrels climbing up trees. I started to appreciate my life and I began to adapt to the lifestyle I was given. This helped me get out of my mental prison and get back to living my life.
I was barely making enough money to survive, but I was happy. I take glimpses into the future often and I knew that if I kept living the way I did, I would end up falling down further and further as inflation rose up. Doing nothing would end up causing me to fall into debt as my apartment and other necessities continued to raise in price. I was working at a menial job doing menial tasks. But I had a story to tell and lessons I learned throughout the failures in my life, so I felt that I needed to get them out there.
I took my stories to the Internet and started putting them out there for the world to see. I wrote from my heart and was as vulnerable as possible. I even shared the darkest moments of my life. By doing this, I unintentionally caused people to reach out to me requesting to be my friend or offering their business support to me.
GP: How did you grow your social media following?
LK: When I started writing my life stories out on the Internet, it became a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I enjoyed what it was like to share different parts of my story and I continued to get bolder with the type of content I would share. I couldn’t stop nor could I walk away. It became a passion to continue to write. By being consistent and committing to write every day, I was able to increase my readership to 2 million views within the first six months, 5 million views by the end of my first year, then 10 million by a year and a half.
Before I hit 10 million views, I had some of my content picked up by Huffington Post and Inc Magazine. I also wrote a book and had a few quotes picked up from various sources like the BBC, the Los Angeles Times and so forth. I used that to stack my success. Each win I used for another win. At the same time, my social media following grew to six figures.
GP: What are three key attributes and strategies that entice people follow you on social media?
LK: People follow me for three reasons. I’m happy. I’m unique. I’m real. People like pleasant people. If you’re happy, then they want to talk to you. I look friendly in my profile picture. My content has a sense of light-heartedness to it and I’m friendly.
Another reason people follow me is because I’m unique. People want to talk to unique people who are different. They want someone who is relatable, who shares the same interests, who isn’t all business all the time.
The third reason people follow me is because I’m real. I will talk from my heart about what has happened in my life without a filter. I’ll be vulnerable and weak and use information that people can use against me, such as discussing my biggest failures, how I lost clients and things I did wrong in life. It’s not all happiness and sunshine my world. I let others experience what I’ve gone through by sharing my deepest and darkest feelings and laying them all out for the world to see. I’m scared to share my true self, just like anyone else is. In fact, the first time I did it, I was trembling in fear for 20 minutes before I clicked publish. The only difference between me and other people is that no matter how scary it is, I still do it anyway.
GP: What is your advice for people who have been involved in startups that have not been successful?
LK: You’re an entrepreneur running a startup. You’ve taken the risk of a lifetime to go out there and pursue your dreams. You know the odds are against you. You know that 95 percent of businesses fail within the first five years. You know that you will have to sacrifice everything you have ever loved to get to where you want to be, but you are doing it anyway.
That in itself deserves an applause, but it will not get you to where you want to be. The only way you’re going to be able to raise those odds and achieve true success is to put your personal brand into the front of the company. It doesn’t matter how great your products or services are, no one cares what your company does until they know they can believe in the person who is running it first. They want a leader who they can buy into. Someone who knows what they are talking about, an expert in the field, someone who they can feel compassion for. If you fail on your business but you built a personal brand first, you still have the opportunity to succeed and bounce back, because only the business failed. So you can work on another project and maintain the reputation you worked so hard to build.