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Cultivating Connections Beyond Social Media w/ Branding & Marketing Expert, Leslie Stevens

Krystal J [00:01:07]:

Today we have the incredible Leslie Stevens. She is the CEO of Cultivated Vision, and she is this just incredible branding and marketing strategist who gets this, allows you as a service-based business owner, to find and convert clients without having to rely on social media, which we all know can be this rabbit hole that we kind of fall into and rely too heavily on. So I'm so excited to dive into all of the good things that she's about to share with us today. Full disclosure, I am getting over a little bit of a cough. So if I sound kind of crazy in my throat every once in a while, I do apologize. But I did not want to delay this episode because, again, Leslie is just full of so much insight and so much value, and I wanted to be able to share that with you all. So, Leslie, first and foremost, thank you so much for joining us. I'm so excited to be doing this with you.

Leslie S [00:02:02]:

Oh, Krystal, thank you so much for having me. I've been excited ever since I met you to come onto your platform and talk to all of your people.

Krystal J [00:02:11]:

I love it. So, for those of you listening, we actually did an interview on her podcast, which is Not an Influencer, an Impact Maker. First of all, obsessed with that title, because I resonate with it so much. And it's something that, it's part of my pep talk that I give to myself every now and then. Where it's like it's not about the following and the numbers. It really does come down to this impact that you're making on a day-to-day basis. And even if it's just a one-to-one connection, even if it's just within your local community, it doesn't have to be all of these big grand visions and goals all of the time. So obsessed with that, I could go on and on and ramble about you, but obviously we're here, so let me pass the mic on to you. Tell us about your background and everything that's led up to the point you are at today and what is it that you do?

Leslie S [00:03:08]:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, you could go on if you wanted to. You could take this over for me. I specialize in branding and marketing strategy, mostly for coaches and service-based providers to, like you said, book clients without the pressure to post on social media. And this is because I learned this the hard way. And it's like your pep talk that you give yourself. It's like we've fallen so deep into this social media world where especially when we start a business, we feel like we need to grow our following. And so many people put pressure on growing this giant audience first and then having people to sell to.

Leslie S [00:03:50]:

Whereas it's not about the followers, it's about helping people and it's really easy to get lost in that. Oh, I need to post so many times. I need to gain this many followers. That's how you grow your business and you look successful. But I love to challenge people and say, do you just want to look successful or do you want to actually be successful? Because I know plenty of people with hundreds of thousands of followers who struggled to get five or six people in a program. And I know people with no social media presence at all making millions of dollars. So when I started my very first business, I'm actually a registered dietitian and a personal trainer. So after I got all the letters behind my name, I had all the credentials, I had every business coach, every mentor, friends and family tell me, okay, all you need to do is post on social media and you'll get clients.

Leslie S [00:04:44]:

And I was like, okay, I'm not very much of a social media person, but if that's what it takes to get out there and help people, you know what, I'm going to do it. And I'm one of those people who, if I'm going to do something, I'm going to go all in. So, I mean, I invested a lot of money. I obviously invested a lot of time and energy, trying to keep up with all of that content, trying to make sure I was being consistent, showed up on stories, everything they tell you to do, and then keep up with the changes and the algorithm. So I was at the will of that ever-changing algorithm. And after four years of that, I was really exhausted. And yes, I had gotten clients here and there, but I never felt like I really knew where my next client was coming from. I didn't have that sense of security of like, oh, if I make this post, I'll definitely get a client.

Leslie S [00:05:39]:

So it was that constant scramble for years, and I was like, okay, there has to be a better way. And I was talking to my husband about starting a family, and I was like, there's no way I can continue to run my business in this way and start a family because I was working such long hours. I felt like every part of my life was turning into content because I was like, oh, I talk about stress. I talk about sleep, I talk about eating. Like, oh, I have to show up and lead by example. And it was so much pressure all of the time that I really burnt myself out. So I naturally transitioned into branding because I had this lifelong love of art and design, and I got connected with this woman who did the branding for Versace and the Met and American Express. And she kind of took me under her wing and taught me a lot about branding, and it was like this natural evolution.

Leslie S [00:06:42]:

But also I had people coming to me before it was like a live business for me to do this work for them anyways, so I started doing this work, and I had no social media presence at all. And I was fully booked for the first three months of that business. And then I had this thought come back in my head, and I was like, oh, my gosh, I need to start an Instagram. I need to get my social media profiles up. And I was like, Leslie, wake up. You haven't had a social media presence at all, and you've been fully booked. Like, you have to look at what you're doing instead of what you feel like you're expected to do, instead of following somebody else's path and feeling like you need to just go, go and be busy all the time. So I was like, okay, what the heck have I been doing? And I really leaned into my relationships that I had, and I just started talking to people, even people I haven't talked to before.

Leslie S [00:07:47]:

I just started talking about what I did and getting in front of the right groups and collaborating with people. And I was like, I have to teach other people how to do this, because I knew I wasn't the only one who struggled with social media because I was in groups of entrepreneurs and some of them didn't even start their businesses because they didn't want to post. And I was like, you are incredible at what you do and you're extremely intelligent and you have this magic to put out into the world and you're just not doing it because you don't want to post or because you feel like you can't stay consistent with posting. I was like, your business is not social media. So I've made it my mission to show people that, yes, social media marketing is a great tool, and it's just that it's just one of so many tools in the marketing toolbox, and you don't have to let it hold you back from creating a thriving business and honestly living the type of life that you want that doesn't revolve around content creations. It's more about making connections and having conversations than just making more content.

Krystal J [00:09:01]:

So much good things that I want to dive into, to what you just said and so many things that I was resonating with also, and how you really put at the forefront of your mind, like, what are all these connections I've been making? And you mentioned even putting yourself in front of the right groups. And I think that's so important because like you said, you can have 100,000 people that are following you. That doesn't make them the right people, that doesn't make them your people, that doesn't make them interested, actually interested in what you're doing and potentially want to work with you. You do see all of those big brands that have this incredible following, and it feels so intimidating. But if you really dive into it, some of them, they barely get any kind of engagement at all on their feed, and they're just pretty pictures, right? People might be there just for the aesthetic, and then there's those smaller brands that you might feel a little hesitant about, or maybe they don't have a small following. But like you said, that absolutely does not mean that they're not doing so incredible outside of social media. Maybe that's why they're not posting, right? Because they're so busy, like actually doing all of these things that are moving the needle forward. So before we dive into the other strategies outside of social media, how do you feel about social media now? Do you still have this plan in place where you are still showing up consistently, and where does it fall on a tier of how you're marketing yourself, like email marketing or whatever. Personal connection, social media, where does that fall in line?

Leslie S [00:10:36]:

So I have social media platforms and I use it as a method to just communicate with people. So a lot of my ideal clients are very comfortable talking in the DMs on like Instagram or Facebook, things like that. So I have profiles there to make communication easy. I really only post when I feel like it. So I've taken the pressure off of myself completely to not have to post with any timeline, with any kind of strategy or anything like that. If I feel like posting, it'll go there. If I have something that I'm a part of as a type of collaboration, yes, I'm there to support a group, so I'll show up there. But again, it's probably on the bottom tier of my marketing strategy, just because my focus right now is still in collaborations and having more intimate conversations.

Leslie S [00:11:37]:

And that's not to say that I won't lean into social media more later, because at different stages of your business, you have different goals, so they all have a time and place if you want them to be a part of your strategy. But right now, it's just not my main focus, and that's totally okay with me. When people come in and work with me and we talk about all of these strategies that don't depend on social media marketing, I always tell them it's setting you up to have the choice whether you want to post or not, so you don't have to completely get rid of it. If you enjoy social media, that's awesome. But if you're not getting the amount of clients that you want from it, well, here are all these other strategies that you can use to just amplify what you're doing over there.

Krystal J [00:12:24]:

I love that. And I love that you referred to it as a communication tool, and it's not necessarily a marketing tool. That's not really necessarily how you're using it, but it is just one of the ways that you're communicating with your clients and continuing to build those relationships. I think that's so beautiful. I use it in the same way, but I've never really referred to it in that way. But I love that so much.

Krystal J [00:13:44]:

So you talk about how you focus on collaborations and getting in front of the right people, but how are you doing that? Where are you finding these people and how are you getting yourself in front of them?

Leslie S [00:13:56]:

Without social media, there are a ton of opportunities out there. You can look locally. A lot of people kind of disregard local opportunities because it doesn't seem grand enough or big enough, but starting local, even starting with the people that you know around you. A lot of my first branding and marketing clients were past clients from my personal training business, and it's just because they asked me what I was doing and they were like, oh, that's great. I know of so and so. So it's starting there and then kind of opening yourself up to looking for the opportunities. So you can look on Google, you can look on Reddit, you can look on social media platforms. People are posting opportunities for collaborations all the time.

Leslie S [00:14:46]:

I really like to go in more of kind of tight knit groups now. I've built out my network pretty far that I now know people who have created their own groups. So I could come into their groups or their teaching platforms or their podcast, things like that, where you aren't just getting yourself out there for the sake of getting out there. You're not kind of just throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping it sticks. You're talking to people who you know could benefit from what you have to say, who you know you can provide value to. So it's looking in those places, it's like, okay, where is the person that I want to work with? Where are they hanging out? Can I go there? Like, when I was a health coach, I would go to gyms. I would go to health food stores and just make a little booth and stand there and answer questions. I went to San Francisco and we went to a large event where Kavita and all of these health food products had their booths set up, and we were part of that.

Leslie S [00:15:52]:

So there are so many in person and virtual opportunities that don't depend on you just making a post.

Krystal J [00:16:00]:

So what is your routine or your method of initiating that collaboration? I think that's where it gets a little tricky for some people because it could turn into a really salesy, sleazy sales pitch right where you're like, yes, help me do this, or whatever. I need you on my side so we can sell all these things or whatever it is that you're doing. So what is your approach in making those connections and getting people on board with whatever ideas, collaboration ideas you might have?

Leslie S [00:16:35]:

Yeah, I love that you asked this question because it is something that a lot of people are super hesitant about because we get those cold messages all the time that are like, this is what I do. Can you make this post on Facebook or something like that? And I really take it from a place of being genuine. I don't look at it as I'm going into the conversation to get something out of it. I'm not like, oh, I'm going to talk to her because I'm going to get ten clients from her. I look at it as, okay, how can I go in and support this person who's already doing something incredible and then add value to it in a way that benefits everybody, that benefits them, that benefits me, that benefits their audience? Because then it kind of takes that icky factor out of it a little bit. But I do it through. So it depends what kind of business it is, but I'll do it through email or I'll do it through dms or whatever way they communicate the best in and I will send them a message that either starts with a genuine compliment or a connection point. So what I mean by a compliment is if I see the work that they're doing and they take a unique perspective on it, I'll say, hey, I love what you're doing.

Leslie S [00:18:00]:

I haven't seen it done like that before. I think it's really awesome that you're doing it. And then I'll introduce myself, really short and sweet, and then tell them like, hey, this is what I do. Would you be open to chatting about a collaboration? And when you make it that simple, it's just like inviting them into the next step. So then they get on a call with you and you guys can get to know each other. Because when you actually get to connect with somebody and ask them, what are you about, how can I support you? How can I support the people that you have in your community or your audience or that come to your store, that's when it becomes this collaboration. And not like, hey, I'm walking in here to get something out of this from you.

Krystal J [00:18:49]:

You're dropping so many little knowledge bombs that I'm loving. Yes, you really have to go into it with this longevity mindset. You aren't in it just for that quick client or that quick sale. You want to think long term anytime that you're approaching someone and like you said, add value to what you're offering. It's not just about like, I think they would be really great for my business, but stop yourself before you go up to them, right? What would get them excited about joining you on this journey, on this idea, this vision that you have in your head? And I love that when you said that you message them that you are actually being specific about what it is that you like about them or what they're doing, because people pay attention to that 100%. Well, know when you're just like sending out this generic message that she sends out to 100 people already. Yeah, I actually follow this podcast or this, what is her name? Lindsay Pinchuck.

Krystal J [00:19:57]:

I don't know if you've heard of her. She's the founder of Dear FoundHer, which is a podcast, and she mentioned how she got this very generic email about someone wanting to come onto her podcast, and it was like, Dear podcast manager, didn't even know her names.

Leslie S [00:20:15]:

Yeah, people can tell.

Krystal J [00:20:17]:

She was like, you probably haven't even listened to my podcast. So now I want people that are genuinely here. People want to work with people, not robots. Like, as much as AI is doing a thing, we need that human connection and we want to build with other people that are so excited to build with us. So I think that's such a great tip. What kind of responses do you normally get on your initial introduction? And I'm asking this just because I want people that have not yet gotten used to pitching themselves to not get their hopes up too high, right? Because there's going to be rejections, and a lot of times it requires follow up and really nurturing that relationship.

Krystal J [00:21:02]:

So what is the whole process from your initial contact point to actually settling on some kind of collaboration idea? What does that look like?

Leslie S [00:21:12]:

So usually I'll reach out to them after I've had some type of interaction with them, whether it's seeing them speak on stage or I've gotten to talk to them in a group or some type of setting like that. But there are some people who I just send a message to, and most of the people who aren't open to collaborations just aren't going to answer. And I've had a few people not answer. But I have to say I have honestly been very pleasantly surprised and I've got a lot of very good responses. And most people are very excited to be invited to collaborate with somebody and be recognized like that. Because it's like you said, when you reach out with a specific compliment, people are paying attention, especially because of AI, people are really looking for that real connection with real people. So when you're specific with that and they're like, wow, somebody sees what I'm doing and they've taken notice of it and they want to come in and help me. Think of it as if you were on the other side and somebody was inviting you to collaborate.

Leslie S [00:22:24]:

That makes it a lot easier to send that message because when you can align with that, you can tailor your message to kind of fit. Like what would I want to hear? What would I want to know, what would I actually respond to? Or what would I think is junk and just totally ignore. But also knowing that a no might just be a no right now, but it doesn't mean a no forever. And also making sure this is a huge part of building a brand and always leaving somebody with a good experience, even if it is a no. So even if somebody is like, no, that's not for me, I don't want to collaborate with you, blah, blah, blah. Even if they're a little bit rude about it. You can leave it if they're rude, but always making sure it's a good interaction because you don't know who they're connected with or you don't know who they might think of to be a better fit for you. Because when somebody has a conversation with you, they're not going to remember what you said, they're going to remember how you made them feel.

Leslie S [00:23:30]:

So it may be months down the line I've had this happen where I connected with somebody about a potential collaboration. They weren't at the point in their business where it was right for them. I totally respected that. And then months down the line they said, hey, I have a friend who does this and I thought of you and your collaboration. Do you want me to connect you to? And that was an incredible experience. And it felt so easy because it was just like having a simple conversation that then eventually led to sales.

Krystal J [00:24:02]:

I'm so glad you brought that up. The fact that even if someone says no, don't take that as like the door is shut, move on forever again, go into it with that longevity thinking, and you still want to respond to them, right? You don't want to just like, okay, well, they were a no. Let me just cross them off my list. Forget about them. I've had people say no to me. We all get it. We all get the no because we all have to get comfortable with it. But I've always still responded back to them and said, oh, my gosh, no worries at all.

Krystal J [00:24:35]:

If you ever find yourself at some point in the future where things change for you or whatever, or, you know, someone that might be interested, feel free to send them my way. You're still leaving the door open to that connection and some kind of future collaboration. And like you said, they remember how you made them feel, right? So they'll see that and be like, she's, like, really nice or whatever, or really genuine, or maybe I can think of something in the future where we can work something out because she seems like a great person to work with, and I want to do that. So one of the things that you wanted to talk about during this episode was really using failure as kind of a motivator to keep going. I'm not sure if failure was necessarily, like, receiving those no's that we were just talking about. Of course, it can encompass a bunch of different things for a lot of different people, but I want to dive into that kind of a mindset. So talk to us about that.

Leslie S [00:25:36]:

Like you said, I don't think failure was necessarily the right word, but I think using your challenges to push you forward, because one of the biggest challenges that I really faced in growing a business was trying to follow other people's paths. And it wasn't until I leaned into trusting myself in a little bit of rebellion that I really created my own success. But it was like I was fighting this uphill battle, and I allowed myself to stay in that struggle because I had adopted this mindset that it needs to be hard for me to get to success, or I need to struggle for me to actually earn the success that I desire. And that's not true. And that's been something that I have really had to work on that mindset and kind of retrain the way that I think, but allowing those challenges to redirect you, to open you up to something new. Because I think when things are kind of easy, you don't have the motivation to make a change, and things can stay the same and they can be working and things can be okay. You can be comfortable, but is that really going to get you to where you want to be? And are you being authentic and genuine? To what you actually want to do. So it's more of getting yourself out of that place, of checking the boxes and writing that struggle and using those struggles to make life easier for you.

Krystal J [00:27:23]:

I couldn't agree more. And ever since hosting our first market, which was in May of 2022, I've kind of been along that same mind shift journey where I'm like, okay, this is great. That was a lot of work. That was really hard. I want to keep doing it, but how can I make it easier for myself? And it really is like a fine balance between challenging yourself but also, like you said, not getting stuck on the everything has to be hard or else you're not going anywhere. It doesn't have to be that way. And I'm at this point where I feel like so completely opposite. And anytime I get an idea in my head, I'm like, I love that.

Krystal J [00:28:06]:

How can I do it in the easiest way possible, but also in a way where making it in that easy, routine way that's only just going to make it more sustainable so that you can continue to expand, continue to develop and have more ideas and not just focus all of your energy onto one thing, just because everyone else is doing it that way and pouring everything into one thing, right? So what kind of advice do you have for other women that are kind of starting out and don't really know what their journey is going to look like, so they feel like they have to rely on following someone else's footsteps?

Leslie S [00:28:48]:

I think it's a great thing to learn from other people, but also ensure you're being authentic to yourself. So what I eventually evolved into is learning from other people to obviously scale my business, but taking the bits and pieces that worked for me and then allowing myself to leave the parts that I felt huge resistance to and that were holding me back from doing anything at all. So it's finding this good balance of learning from people, but figuring out what's really working for you. And like you said, not just doing what other people are doing because it's working for them and trying to keep up with all of that, but looking at, okay, this is actually working for me, how can I double down on that? Or this is not working for me at all? Can I let this go instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole kind of thing?

Krystal J [00:29:46]:

Right. Doubling down today, doubling down on it in a way that feels right to you, right? And again, bringing that sustainability piece into it. So I think absolutely like using other people as inspiration for what you can achieve, maybe trying it out their way that first time because you don't know what you're doing and then tweaking it to figure out what feels good for you, what, you know, that you can keep up with without, like, okay, I'm overwhelmed. I don't even want to do it anymore. I'm just going to stop showing up. So, Leslie, where can all of our amazing listeners and viewers find you and all the things they do, all the things that you do? I know that, like you said, you don't post a lot on social media, but is that the best way to connect with you? Where can they find you? And where can they listen to your podcast as well?

Leslie S [00:30:47]:

Yeah, absolutely. So I am on most social media platforms and I do practice what I preach. I will not post all the time, but I am always open to conversations on there. So please don't hesitate to send me a DM and connect. You can find me at @iamlesliestevens on Instagram. I'm Leslie Stevens on Facebook and LinkedIn. And you can find the podcast on YouTube. Not an Influencer, an Impact Maker.

Leslie S [00:31:13]:

Go listen to mine and Krystal's episode. It was amazing. And that's also on all of the platforms. Spotify, Amazon, Google. You can find us.

Krystal J [00:31:25]:

Love it. Of course, all of those links will be in the show notes below. I seriously feel like my brain is just, like, disintegrating as we speak.

Leslie S [00:31:35]:

Growing a baby.

Krystal J [00:31:37]:

We will include those in the show notes. Do you have any final words that you want to share with our audience? Any last really profound tip that you just have to get out there?

Leslie S [00:31:48]:

You do not have to be an influencer to be an impact maker and grow a successful online business.

Krystal J [00:31:54]:

Yeah, so good. So good. Rewind it a few seconds. Listen to that again. Okay. It's such an important reminder. And obviously, Leslie here has so many key strategies in really building your clientele, building your audience, and focusing on more sustainable strategies. So head over to her podcast and listen to everything that she has to share because I'm sure there's so much more than what we covered today.

Krystal J [00:32:20]:

I'm sure we could talk for a few more hours if my words knew how to work today. But Leslie, thank you so much for joining us today. You are an absolute joy, and obviously, we're going to stay connected as well. So I'm excited to see everything that you continue to do in the future. And again, I thank you for being here.

Leslie S [00:32:41]:

Thank you so much.

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