An expert in ‘getting noticed’ and building a platform of influence online, Leonard, is a successful content creator and influencer, as well as Managing Partner of InfluenceTree.
Let’s get talking – entrepreneur insights, building a personal brand, and growth hacking your social media following… with Leonard Kim.
BQ – What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as an entrepreneur? And what’s the worst?
Leonard – The best piece of advice: Plan out your long term success.
The key factor that got me to where I am today was going out and building something that would have long-term results. From 2007-2013, almost everything I worked on fell apart. I worked hard at marketing x product or y startup, but each time I put in my effort, I came to realize something: When the startup went under, so did my resume.
Trying to find a job, or even getting the motivation start anything else was heart-breaking. To top it off, I had no credibility due to the startup failures that I had poured my efforts into. There was no trust. There was no credibility. There was nothing.
When I started investing in my personal brand, something that actually would have life-long results, everything in my life changed. I used to market and make tons of cold calls. Now, people come to me.
The worst piece of advice: Fake it ‘til you make it. When you fake it ‘til you make it, you turn into a liar. Not just to the world, but also to yourself.
You can’t go out and build up something you know nothing about. This is especially true in today’s age, where people look for someone with a voice of authenticity and social proof to advertise what they have done. When you fake it ‘til you make it, you won’t only disappoint yourself, but your clients as well. That will cause long-term damage to your reputation.
BQ – In your opinion, how closely should entrepreneurs tie building their business and their personal brand together?
Leonard – Your business and your personal brand should be nearly synonymous. In December, I started a company called InfluenceTree. But no one really wants to feature my company, let alone any other company, in their publications, unless they are world class.
On the other hand, people like me as a person. They want to showcase my expertise and advice, so they ask me if I can write articles for their publications.
Within 30 days, I wrote one piece in Entrepreneur and had the opportunity to get featured in both Inc. and Fortune magazines. This generated well over 100 double-qualified leads for our business. They read the piece in the publication and wanted to find out more about what I did. So they looked up my business. Then they decided that they wanted to learn more about our program.
Why all the hoops to jump through?
Because it’s so hard to trust a company nowadays. With movies like The Wolf Of Wall Street and The Big Short depicting the horrors of the economy, people are extremely cautious about who they choose to work with. They want to find a company they can trust. But the only way they’re going to find a company they can trust is by looking to the leader of the company – you – and trusting you first.
BQ – Personally, what have you found to be the most challenging part of building your brand?
Leonard – The hardest part of building your brand is getting your message out there. Back in 2011, I tried creating a blog and figured that if I made content, people would read it. After writing three posts, I gave up. My simple minded strategy didn’t work.
As time progressed, I discovered networks out there that already had other prebuilt networks. A couple of examples of platforms with prebuilt audiences are Medium and Quora.
Medium has multiple publications with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of followers. Quora is an Alexa-ranked top 150 website focused on sharing knowledge.
Both these companies have prebuilt networks, and by investing in syndicating my content onto these platforms, I was able to go from 30 views on my sad 2011 blog, to garnering 2 million views on my content from May 15 to December 31, 2013.
Now, my content has been read over 10 million times, and I have picked up well over 100,000 social media followers.
BQ – When trying to build a reputation through content writing, do you believe the focus should be niche or on a wider variety of topics?
Leonard – When you are first creating your brand, you need a niche. At least, until you get around 10,000 to 20,000 followers. From there, you can shift and move to a wider variety of topics.
I started my brand with a niche that many people fear sharing. With zero credibility, I worked with the only thing I had: my personal failures. As soon as I built my initial social proof, I moved to creating content on a wider variety of topics.
The reason you need to focus on a niche is because you need to create a solid, loyal following as quickly as possible. Once you have that loyal following, you can create content about whatever you want. Your audience has already decided that they like you, making them more than willing to share your content.
BQ – Where would you recommend people start if they are looking for the credibility of being ‘published’ by top-name publications?
Leonard – It’s a multiple step process:
- Analyze the site
If you want to be in a top-tier publication like Inc., Entrepreneur or Fortune, you have to do some thorough analysis into what kind of content they already create on their site. How long are the articles? How are they formatted? What kind of content is on there?
- Practice writing content like the other writers
Stories are great for building your personal brand, but chances are, the story will not end up in a publication – unless you want to go with something like Thought Catalog. However, after your analysis, you will get an idea of what kind of content they publish. Usually, these are ‘listicles’ written in between 500-800 words.
Inc. and Entrepreneur may have more conversational voices. Fortune and Forbes, a bit more authoritative and refined.
Learn to match their style. The easiest way to do this is by copying word for word what someone else wrote, then trying to write your own pieces.
- Add value
What do you know that no one else in the world does? Or what would you charge $10,000 to teach someone?
This is the type of content that needs to be in your piece, your absolute best knowledge. You want people to be able to read your content and think, “Wow, I didn’t know that! I’m going to try that today!” or “Wow, that was so powerful! I need this person to implement this strategy for my company!”
If they’re thinking through your content in this way, readers will be geared up to tell their friends about your brand or even hire you for a project. That’s the type of content that publications are looking for.
- Place your content on a platform with a social syndication team
If you try to pitch the publication directly, it is highly unlikely you’ll get a response. However, there are many platforms out there that have media syndication teams. Quora and Medium are my favorite two.
Both platforms have people who work strictly with publications to syndicate their content into different outlets. If you’re creating content with actionable takeaways that are formatted in the same way the publication already uses, your chances of having your content being syndicated and featured in these publications will increase significantly.
BQ – What’s your take on social platform selection for building a following? Are there some must-haves? Should it be limited, or should you try to hit them all?
Leonard – Most people don’t realize this, but if you try to appear on all social platforms, that in itself is a full-time job. It’s probably easier to outline what I do.
I write content. I put it on my Inc. column or on Quora. My assistant takes the content I wrote and copies it onto my website, Medium and LinkedIn’s publishing platform.
She then shares links to the article on my personal site, on my public Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+. I have other social media platforms that I rarely use, but these are my bread and butter.
BQ – How do you feel entrepreneurs can break through the digital noise and make a real connection with their followers?
Leonard – People are sick and tired of hearing success stories. Everyone wants to be a hero, but most people forget about the back-story. People follow Batman and Spiderman because they have a captivating back-story about how they became orphans. It’s these back-stories that lit the fire on the path to their dreams.
The only way you’ll break through the digital noise is by building out your character. Do this through your own authentic voice and expand your audience. With all this in place, you will be able to blow people away with your expertise.