A long-time friend of Content Factory, Leonard Kim, constantly inspires us with his personal branding insights. I recently sat down with him to learn how he became a personal branding leader:
What inspired you to work in your industry?
I tried a few different projects in the meantime until one day it dawned on me: I had already figured out a formula on how I developed my personal brand.
I tried it on a few clients as case studies- It worked, every time. I was sitting on a way to mentor others to duplicate my exact success, without being stuck working 120 hours a week, but I just didn’t see it earlier. The way to help others duplicate my success is through the course I have set up at InfluenceTree.com.
I saw on your website that you wrote a book on social media. Can you explain the primary purpose of social media for the average business?
What type of business you have doesn’t matter, whether it be a cancer center, nursing home, or even a manufacturing company.
You need to be on social media.
Social media isn’t just a way for you to talk to people who may potentially visit you. It’s a way of getting your name out there into the world. So when someone needs your services, they can find you.
There are many separate components to this, all equally valuable. The most important ones:
- Locations: these integrate into mapping software, which helps consumers find your business.
- Reviews: which help consumers identify which business they want to work with.
- Advertising: which helps get your business in front of more people who are actively looking for what you have to offer?
What exactly is brand management, and why is it important?
Your brand is the most valuable thing you have. It’s how your consumers see you — and what keeps you fresh in their mind when they think of who to speak to when they need services.
Let’s say you get into trouble and you need a lawyer. There are thousands of criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles. But how do you know which one to choose?
Let’s go into the mind of a future defendant. They will be scared and won’t know what to do. First, they might Google criminal defense attorney, but whose names will they recognize?
Why? By managing their branding properly, they became the sought after expert in the criminal defense field.
How do you stay ahead of the curve in the industry?
Have a proactive mindset.
You have to stay consistent with what you are doing, yet at the same time continually test new theories and concepts to see what works. When you find something that works, keep doing it, while looking for the next thing you can improve upon, then the next thing and the next thing.
Without constant improvement, you will never stay ahead of the curve, then you will become complacent and may end up being replaced by a competitor.
Do you have any advice for startups or entrepreneurs?
You’re an entrepreneur running a startup who’s taken the risk of a lifetime to go out there and pursue your dreams. You know the odds are against you and 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 anyways.
It’s applaudable but won’t get you to where you want to be. The only way you’re going to be able to increase your odds and achieve true success is to put your personal brand at the front of the company. Because guess what, it doesn’t matter how great your products or services are, no one cares unless they know who is running the company.
They want a leader who they can buy into, someone who knows what they are talking about who’s an expert in the field. Someone they can feel compassion for, an underdog that they can root on to victory.
Otherwise, you’re just another company in a pool of a million. And guess what, your unique selling proposition isn’t that strong when you’re just another face in the crowd. You need to work on your personal brand so that you stick out.
One book that changed your life?
“The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. The principles are simple. The execution is simple. All you have to do is adapt four new mindsets and daily habits, but the results are life-changing.
Three goals you’d like to accomplish (Note: they can be long-term and /or short term, serious, crazy, etc.)?
I tried having goals in the past. When I was 21, I wanted to sell 25 cars in a calendar month. I sold 22 or 23. I made five figure and was the #2 top salesperson that month. But when I went home, I was disappointed and angry at myself for not hitting my goal.
Les Brown says shoot for the stars and if you miss, you will still land on the moon. I think that’s bologna. You’ll land wherever you land, but you will be frustrated, angry, and disappointed in yourself for missing your mark and won’t be motivated to try again.
I don’t have goals. Instead, I create habits that I stick to each day. What I do is I reverse engineer what it takes to hit something, figure out what actions are necessary to get there, then work on those actions every day until they’re habits.
By focusing on the habits, I’m continually surprised with the results I get. I never thought I would have 2 million views on my content within the first six months, let alone 10 million a year-and-a-half into writing. Or that I would have a quarter of a million social media followers, or be featured in leading global media publications. But it happened because I was focusing on the habit, not on the result.
When you buy into the result, you are left with disappointment. When you let go of the result and focus strictly on the action, you’re continually surprised and happy with the progress you make.
What do you feel makes you stand out in the market?
People buy into me first, not my company. Once they buy into me, they want to learn more about my company.
But why do they buy into me?
I’m honest and genuine. I say things as they are and speak from the heart. I don’t do anything extraordinary to stand out, but do what all of us fear. I share pieces of myself and embarrassing moments that people can potentially ridicule me over. But for some reason they call me brave or inspiring instead.
You should try it. You’ll be surprised at the results you get by being open and vulnerable.
What challenges do you face when helping others build their brand?
People want to lead with their company instead of their personal brand. They understand that they need a personal brand, but they’re stuck thinking the company needs to lead.
Your company needs a leader that the world can buy into, not just your employees.
If you’re an inventor, share your vision on why you created the product. Not why it’s some revolutionary product that some company developed. No one cares about the company.
Companies don’t get medals of technology and innovation from the President. People like Mark Humayun from Keck Medicine of USC do.
But guess what happens when people get that medal? It automatically elevates the status of the company that they are associated with. So why keep trying to win when you’re playing with a self-imposed disability, when you can kill two birds with one stone by elevating yourself, which ultimately elevates your brand?
If you can collaborate with one major brand who would it be and why?
Do you remember how T-Mobile just used to be a discount phone company? Well, I’ve been with them for over a decade so I knew what their brand proposition once was. Nowadays, they are seen as innovators and are leading the market. But how did they do that?
They put John Legere in charge. When he walked in as CEO, he went out there and used his personal brand to revolutionize the telecom industry. He made statements and promises that a telecom company couldn’t make.
He spoke with a voice that the company voice couldn’t embellish. By utilizing his personal brand at the forefront of the company, he made T-Mobile one of the most sought after telecom companies in the industry.
If I could work with one major brand, it would be one in an industry that’s been beat up and criticized over the decade, and help them recover their positioning at the forefront, much like how John Legere did for T-Mobile.
What is one major failure that you’ve had and how did you overcome it?
Back in November of 2011, I had barely started living on my own again after almost going homeless and having to move back in with my grandmother. I was working at an entry level job at a Fortune 100 company, but I was still trying to be an entrepreneur on the side.
I tried to put together a few business deals, but they all fell apart. I started talking to my ex again and all she would do was call me a complete loser and make fun of me because of how unsuccessful I was. Then I started dating a girl who ended up kicking me out of my own hotel room and charged a love kit to my room.
I was so devastated that I didn’t know what to do. I felt like the purpose of my life was to continually fail. I had nothing.
All the startups I worked with failed. My business deals were poisoned. I was sleeping on a sofa and couldn’t afford to live on my own. I was mocked and ridiculed by the love of my life. The woman I thought I had something with slept with someone else in my hotel. I only earned $13,223.33 for the year. Things were so bad, I wanted to kill myself.
I wrote a letter to my ex saying goodbye. I planned out how to do it. I role-played every scenario in my head until I found one with a high probability of success. The day I planned to do it, my ex came and saved me and talked me out of doing it, by doing what she does best. Telling me how stupid and ignorant I am.
She helped me get out of my own mind where I was drowning myself into an endless pool of misery and helped me see hope at the end of the tunnel.
I used that opportunity as a second chance at life. I wasn’t in a hurry to go out and succeed. Instead, I wanted to go back and find myself. When you work in startups, you spend so much time working, you don’t have time to reflect. So I spent an entire year reflecting back upon all the decisions in my life that got me to this point, then searched endlessly for the lessons of each one.
By the middle of 2013, I had started to encompass what led me to where I was, what I learned and how to do better the next time around. I also dabbled in sharing a few of my thoughts, being more open with friends and trying to be as honest with myself as possible. Next thing you know, I gave writing a try, then shared what I learned in the process. Now, I’m here.
But I could’ve been dead at the end of 2011 without ever having achieved anything at all with my life. So it just goes to show you, that anyone can really go out there and make it, no matter how unsuccessful or scared you may be. Because trust me, I still feel fear every single day, but I do what I can to overcome it and push forward. Usually, I’m quite pleased with the results.
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