Ep 16: Personal Branding Strategies: A Guide for PMETs – Sam Neo from Stories of Asia

Personal Branding Strategies: A Guide for PMETs – Sam Neo from Stories of Asia

In episode #16 of Chills w TFC, we bring on a founder of People Mentality Inc (one of APAC’s top 10 HR and Employer Branding consultancy firm) and Stories of Asia (a Storyteller Incubator). Being someone who has made his mark in the local and regional HR space, he will share with us a whole different way of looking at personal branding. Whether you want to make changes in your company, embark on a new project, or pursue the life that you love, personal branding will aid you in that journey. 

Join me as I chill with Sam Neo from Stories of Asia to dive deep into personal branding. What is personal branding, why it matters and how to build trust? How do you show that you’re an expert without saying you’re an expert? What are some practical steps to build your personal branding without spending too much time? How to make yourself more visible without being loud? How can you build more meaningful connections, not just network? Tune to to find out!

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podcast Transcript

Reggie: Personal branding is something that I have a general disdain for [indiscernible]… I honestly harbour this thought that “hey, I’m good enough. My reputation will supersede me and [indiscernible] things will happen. Why do I need to brand myself? So much work!” This is especially common with professionals that do not really do a lot of outward-facing activity like sales, marketing, BD (Business Development). You’re doing your ops, you’re doing your accounts, you’re doing your professional engineering stuff. Why do you need to brand yourself? Clearly I have a very narrow view about personal branding. 

Today, I’ve been schooled a whole different way to look at personal branding as an extension of trust, as an extension of your reputation. If you think about it, you want to do some change in your company, you want to embark on a new project, you want to pursue the life that you love, you need the reputation, you need the trust. How does personal branding then help you to achieve that? That’s all for today and welcome home. 

Welcome to another Chills with TFC session. In this series, we want to bring on interesting, relevant people to help us learn better from various perspectives. Life is not always about learning from people that you already agree with. Perspectives shape a rounder thinker in our pursuit of the life we love or managing our finances. 

Well, our guest today is someone that has made his mark in the local and regional HR space, first by championing millennial HR and then moving on into employer branding. He’s a great interviewer himself, and he has definitely shot some questions back during our time together. He prides himself on relying only on inbound marketing, meaning people look for him, not the other way around. So I think he has some real interesting thoughts around personal branding and I hope you learn some good juices with Sam Neo from Stories of Asia.

Expand Full Transcript

Everyone is in the career space, trying to drive themselves, trying to achieve whatever they want to achieve. Things are changing fast, future of work is here and all those kind of stuff, and personal branding is one of those classic things that’s been repeated again and again and again and again and again… but then like, what is the use of it, right? Just from your perspective, as someone that’s in the professional space, what is personal branding and what is your stand on it? 

Sam: So most people associate personal… it has become a buzzword basically. 

Reggie: Yeah, it becomes a little cheesy and all. Like a bit, a bit irritating [ laughter] 

Sam: Yeah, you’re not wrong, you’re not wrong. I think people are a bit apprehensive towards this terminology as well, right? Essentially, think of personal branding as your reputation. Whether… it’s not just only for people who are trying to sell stuff or in fact for that matter, all of us are selling something every single day, right? Whether we’re selling our mindset, what we want people to believe in, selling for a promotion, selling a product, a service… whatever it is, in some sense, we’re selling something every single day. 

So personal branding to me equates to reputation, what I’m known for, and that builds trust towards what you’re selling. Imagine this: as a corporate employee, what you’re selling is that you’re credible, you’re trustworthy. I can assign you a bigger task. I can put you in a position that is one level higher, two level higher that has bigger responsibility. I know you won’t screw me up basically as a boss, right? 

That’s where personal brand comes in. You need to create an association, a trust level that people think of you as “okay, we can call on you to achieve something. I know you’re an expert in this thing.” If I have a problem and let’s say “HR, I’ll come to Sam because I think Sam is an expert in HR”. The beauty of it is you don’t have to say you’re an expert. If your brand, your reputation is good, people come to you naturally, thinking of you as the guru, as the expert already. 

Likewise, as a service provider, which I am now, obviously, what has really helped me is that the personal brand that I created establish trust once again. I think I shared with you previously as well that over 90% of my business, the leads itself, came from LinkedIn because I built my personal brand there quite a fair bit, and I don’t actively reach out to people and say “I have this product”. I don’t do that at all actually. In fact, over 90% either coming to me through inbound leads, or through that indirect or direct referrals basically. And that’s because people know what I stand for, who I am, or even ask me like “Sam, do you have a referral for something?” That’s because they trust that whoever that comes from me is trustworthy to some extent as well.

So my point is that personal branding, yes, while the term is cheesy, everything, it just goes back to that trust level. How are you creating trust with people in your life to achieve your objective? Whether it’s selling yourself or as a product, as a consultancy or service, or even promotion, or even just to get a buy-in for something. That is important.

Reggie: Okay, so I get the idea. It’s not like all buzzy and shit, so it’s just trust at the core of it, right? So what people see you as: your reputation, trust… but then, give me a little bit more tangible ideas. Because trust and reputation and all, relatively simpler than personal branding, but then it’s still like, what is trust? How do you go about doing it? What are the basis of trust in that sense? 

Sam: I think you can look at it in the simplest form. Two aspects: one is from a knowledge aspect. So like I said, you don’t want to go out telling people that you’re an expert in something, because it just shows like you are blowing your trumpet and it becomes a bit dodgy at times. 

Reggie: [laughter] Fake guru, fake guru. 

Sam: A lot of fake gurus, right? “If you give me 35 second of your time, then I’ll tell you something…” 

Reggie: I’ll smash the cake on your face. 

Reggie & Sam: [laughter] 

Sam: Precisely. So the thing is how do you show that you’re an expert without saying you’re an expert? One of the biggest thing in today’s day and age we all know is content creation. Whether it’s a podcast, a short post on social media, an article or video, whatever it is… over time, give value. I think it starts from giving value through the different channels for different content itself. Once people realize that “hey, you’re not selling me something, you’re giving value that’s practical, that’s useful.” That is one place that can get you started already, to establish you as a top of my expert at least. That’s where the first half of the credibility happens. 

Second bit is: do people feel like they’re connected with you as a person, or do they feel very distant? The thing is there are so many experts out there. Gurus from the West, for example, but typically, you’ll just follow, just learn. You probably won’t think of reaching out to them. If you want to be someone that people can reach out to, besides the knowledge part is… do people know you and relate to you as well? 

Which is why increasingly into this day and age, you see a lot of people going towards that authenticity route. People say authenticity is important, become vulnerable is important. That’s the reason why: they want to connect with people, let people see them in a different light and feel that they’re human. They’re not just another organization in that sense. Hence, with that knowledge aspect, with the human aspect, it adds up in the simplest form to give you that trustworthiness essentially. 

Reggie: So essentially, you don’t want to be seen as just an encyclopedia, someone that knows everything, but you’re very distant. You’re not cool, not lovely and that’s kinda what it is. But how then do I know what is a good brand to build in that sense? Because content and all that is one side of the discussion, and that is like… wow, there’s a repertoire of content out there. So much going on, how do I stand out from there? And then there’s the whole other part about being human. So how do I then become likable? Yeah. So give me tangibles. 

Sam: So if you want to consider it, then there’s also another two step to consider. One is: it starts from social listening. 

Reggie: Mmm.

Sam: Listening to the market, what are the things that people are talking about, what are some of the gaps or based on that, what do you see is going to happen essentially? And then of course, filter down to your target audience. What are they talking about? What’s the pain point? What are you trying to solve? So that’s the first part in terms of outward in. Then from inward out, inside out essentially is you need to ask yourself: what am I really passionate about? What’s my unique combination of experience, skillset and passion that you can bring together to call yourself that brand? Because all of us, while we may be in the content space, your way of creating content, your beliefs, the way you execute it is different from how I do it. 

So looking inward, first and foremost, is to look at your tool kit. What do you have? What are you passionate about, and see what’s the unique proposition that you have. That’s the first part from the internal looking space, and then align from the outside based on the social list and you see where’s the match? What can create resonance with my audience? What can then drive perhaps, commercial viability, if you’re looking at entrepreneur spaces itself. In the corporate world itself, what can help me achieve my objective of being visible or rising up the ranks because people know me for something else or see extra value in what I bring to the table. In the simplest form, look outside first, and then look inward and find that middle ground essentially. 

Reggie: Hmm so okay, essentially it’s resonance. At least that’s what I’m getting. So it’s not just about being yourself, not just about being authentic, but trying to be human, but at the same time, know what is palatable outside and then build that resonance. 

Sam: I’ll give you a simple example. When I first started out, I was very passionate about the HR space like I mentioned. I felt that I could do a lot of things, ranging from the recruitment side, engagement side, whatever it is. So I went out… just positioned myself as the HR guy essentially. I was passionate about it.

Reggie: One stop shop, right? [laughter] 

Sam: Yeah yeah yeah, pretty much. That’s what a lot of SMEs do typically. 

Reggie: Yeah yeah yeah. Don’t ever call yourself a one stop shop okay [laughter] 

Sam: Yeah, that was a problem actually. What happened was very interesting because I’m a millennial and I’m doing HR. At that point of time, the millennial topic was quite big. That was about four years ago.

Reggie: Mmm.  

Sam: Then I started receiving more calls saying “hey Sam, can you talk about the topic, about millennial engagement, attraction and things like that?” That’s when I realized that the market saw me as a millennial HR expert because I’m a millennial, I’m talking about HR. That’s when for that moment, that period of time, I pivoted the brand a little bit towards the millennial HR guy.

That helped me grow my business quite a fair bit. That got me a foot in the door, essentially. Then I knew something else… was that I wasn’t really passionate about the millennial topic because that was like the fad and I know gen Z is going to come out, whatever it is. So this cannot be a long-lasting thing. What got me thinking was then what is something that’s more long-lasting? What was something that I still believe in that I can slowly pivot… that I need to start building essentially? Because you don’t want to be just a one hit wonder overnight… success and… disappear after a while. So that’s why I was thinking longer term.

While I was capitalizing on the millennial topic, doing well for that one to two years, I was building behind the scenes. I knew up and coming next is employer branding and next is also about HR, employer branding coming together. Which is why I pivoted to HR and employer branding, something that was a sweet spot for the very fact that I had HR and marketing background, and I always saw that to be very complimentary. So from a millennial HR guy that got me a foot in the door with many people, people will start to know who I am, what I stand for. Then I started sharing more about what I’m really passionate about, and that’s where things are starting to get into place and where I am today, basically. 

Reggie: Okay, okay. So I get what you’re trying to say and I’m glad that you’re trying to be more actionable in that sense from the things you say: writing content, building resonance. It’s not just randomly write content, right? You want to see what people want out there, be opportunistic and all those kinds of stuff. All that… it’s beautiful and great in a sense that it’s very entrepreneurial. You’re a solution provider out there, so it’s very outward. A lot of people…  We call them the hunters, right? The people who are out there, active. 

But what about if I am just someone that is in the corporate space, I’m just one of the people and I’m okay being one of the people… I just want to explore to see if I can promote, to see if I can move up the ladder because I’m young. 25, 35, you know, exploring career, and I’m not that wild outside. So how does personal branding then practically stand for me and how can I take action without spending too much time in that sense? 

Sam: I back track a little bit, I said personal branding is about reputation. 

Reggie: Exactly. 

Sam: It’s about creating trust, right? So most people, the misconception is that personal branding is about going on social media, being loud, about creating content. 

Reggie: Just post, post, post right? 

Sam: Precisely, right? Just post all the nonsense, get all the likes and people think that you’re somewhere there. 

Reggie: Share share share, like like like.  

Sam: Precisely, precisely. That’s the misconception, isn’t it? But if you’re talking about offline, I think that’s also a part that is even more important in fact. One thing that’s worked out really well for me is that besides the online part where I constantly ensured the presence is there, good value is there, is that I make an effort to bring the relationship from online to offline. I think that’s very powerful. So for those, to your question, to those who are in corporate, for instance, there is no real need to expose yourself outside. 

Reggie: You are like the accounts department, the engineering department, you know, those kind of guys that are doing a lot of ops, backend stuff. Important, but not out there. 

Sam: Precisely. So how do they articulate their value internally? I think that’s the key thing. So the key thing is relationship. Trust is because of good relationships for a start. How do you build relationships with decision makers, with stakeholders, with your supporters? Personal brand, how it grows… one aspect of it is you need to have a good fan base. 

Reggie: 粉丝, 粉丝 (Fans, fans) 

Sam: Yeah, so you want people to root for you, right? 

Reggie: [cheering] Woo! 

Sam: As with any celebrity or human being, you have both sides of the coin. You have your fans, you have your haters. The idea is that you want to have more fans than haters or stronger fans than haters essentially. I always joke about it, celebrities in the past like Andy Lau or whoever it is. Good looking, charismatic… they have their haters as well but they have more fans than haters. 

The thing is how do you create your fan base even without talking about the online bit? Within the company, do you have supporters? Are you just walking in silo? I know you mentioned accounts, engineering… sometimes they’re used to working individually, their own work… but I’ll encourage you if you’re in that space to think of: how can you widen your network? I should rephrase myself… how do you widen your connections? 

Most people think that having network equals your net worth, that’s only half the equation because think about this: I can have a network of 100,000 people. The simple litmus test is if I take my mobile phone today, I want to text any of them. How many will respond to me and come to my help if I need them? That is connection to me, whether you actually build that relationship? So for corporate people who are not keen to expose themselves too much, think of how you can build meaningful connections. It’s not just about numbers, but people who will really root for you, people who have deep connection, who will help you when you need… of course, you’re not building a relationship to expect that help.

Reggie: Mmm. 

Sam: But all this will come naturally once you’ve built that connection itself. Also, I think one important thing is that how do you make yourself more visible? It’s not always about being loud. I think one misconception is that I need to be loud, I need to speak out in all meetings to be visible. 

Reggie: Raise your hand, raise your hand, right?

Sam: Yeah yeah yeah. In fact, in our recent focus group that I ran in Chinese, I think they were saying that 吵的多的孩子有糖吃 or something. Basically, those who make the most noise gets what they want. I think that’s one part of the equation, but as a management, as a shrewd business owner, as a leader itself, you see through this over time. I’ve seen more and more over time. It makes me reflect back in my younger days as well. People that really stand out are those who are trustworthy, can get the job done and that you can count on them to do the things, rather than those who talk a lot but you realize that it’s just empty vessels, it’s just noise. It’s just a distraction more than anything. 

So I think these are some things that corporate employees can think about. How can I build more meaningful connections, not just network? How can I increase my trustworthiness in terms of deliverables, in terms of reliability? How can I make myself more visible through the value I give and not just by showcasing myself? 

One more thing that I reflected quite recently is that if I can turn back time (to) my corporate days, I won’t focus so much on just myself. I’ll think of how can I lift others up as well. I think that’s the part that people appreciate and generally, people have that innate need to return a favour, reciprocity. So if you’re constantly helping people, doing people favours and stuff like that, chances are they want to find ways to help you as well, because they feel bad typically.

So that’s also one way to think about how can I add value, how can I build an ecosystem? And that will definitely help your career a lot as compared to just individual thinking how can I shine, how can I get the next promotion? How can I showcase myself while making sure others don’t look good? All this can help in the very, very short term, but over time you get exposed and you can hit you back a hundred times. 

Reggie: Be trustworthy, be likable, find your connections in the workplace, external, all those stuff. I get it, and the thing is for people that get it, they are already doing it in some way or another. And there are all these other people that are listening that would be like “yeah, yeah, I know. But I don’t know”… you know, it’s like, I kind of know this and what it is, but I don’t know how to do it.  Based on your experience talking to so many people, working in so many groups, give us a few practical steps to go about building this kind of trust, building this kind of connection, how to be likable at the workplace and all that stuff.

Sam: I think for a start, one simple way is look at who are your top fans. I think a simple way is to list them down. Let’s say within corporate itself, right? Let’s say I’m from HR. I worked with finance, with audit, with marketing. I would like to see who are the people I’m working with and who are the ones that I can convert into my supporters. I think that’s a very quick way to think about it. So list down, have the clarity and see who are the people you can convert to and this are strong core for a start. It can be just 5 people, 10 people that can help you get things done a lot faster. 

Once you get things done a bit faster, you assess the next level, the middle management, senior management level, then you start thinking of how can I work with them to become my fans? Build from low up. That’s how a lot of people start thinking in terms of… I need to reach the senior management… how do I reach that people? It’s far, so how do you start small first to have that building block? 

I always say career is like a building block. You don’t go from one to a hundred straight away. If you want to be CEO, you need to break down into smaller blocks in terms of what I need. For example, I need to have financial acumen, which is why you listen to this podcast…

Reggie: I hope you become a CEO after listening to this podcast. 

Sam: The potential is there. 

Reggie: The potential, potential… okay.

Sam: Yeah. So that’s one, right? You also need to have that network, you need to have that presentation skills. What are the building blocks? Use that and map it out, and then find ways to build it up towards the angle itself. You may or may not reach there, but at least at every stage of your career, you know you’re progressing and your value is increasing. I think that’s important. 

Reggie: In that sense, building a personal brand… multi-faceted. There’s no simple answer to it, but being likable, trustworthy, take the actions, put in the effort, be conscious about it, all those stuff. Great. But then, how do I know I’m overdoing it? You know, like it become a bit fake, right? Like “wah, you’re very 心虚 (having a guilty conscience)”, “this guy very fake, try too hard”… how do I know that I’m doing too much and how do I manage that balance, that delicate balance so that (it) doesn’t ruin my reputation? 

Sam: Like you said, right? You mentioned briefly, trying too hard. If you realize that your brand is constantly changing because of what people want, what people talk about you, what people constantly look for, you need to relook at your brand already. I think that’s a problem because like I said, it comes with two sides of the coin or two aspects of it. First and foremost, of course, social listening. What’s out in the market? What are some things you can fulfill essentially? The resonance part, right? 

Internally, what do you really stand for? All of us have a certain set of core values, things that we believe in. That’s where you need to find alignment from. That’s the basic that I cannot compromise, because once you have that basic that you know is there, no matter what form you change, it still goes back to the core fundamental that you’re trying to achieve.

For example, myself is always about ensuring that I lift people up. It’s about leaving a positive legacy for myself. It’s about constantly experimenting and helping people develop. That doesn’t change no matter whether I’m in the HR field, whether I’m in the media field, whatever it is. I’m still trying to achieve the objective through different channels, through different forms. So that’s what I think personal branding is all about. What’s the core that is common for you and over the course of your career, the form may change but at the end of the day, people still think of you as that core person… something to think about. 

The red flag like you mentioned is, if you realise you are trying too hard to please others all the time, you’re shifting your brand, your message, your positioning for every single person that you meet just to make them happy and make yourself look good, something is wrong. 

Reggie: In that sense, what is wrong, then? Isn’t me just being strategic, you know what I mean? I’m just trying to make everybody like me mah, right? So what is wrong in that sense? 

Sam: So you go back to the fundamental, what we spoke about reputation is what you are known for. What do people look at you… for typically, maybe one or core things and a few things that… peripherals that adds onto it. If everyone thinks of you in a different manner, it creates more confusion than clarity…

Reggie: Ah okay. 

Sam: …and your brand doesn’t make… and your brand could be known… as I said “okay, Sam is the media guy to Reggie. He’s the HR guy to this company, that company” or whatever it is, it becomes confusing and the brand doesn’t become strong. If I want to refer someone to Sam, I don’t know what does he really stand for. Is he the media guy? Is he the HR guy? Is he… what is he basically? You want to have a focus that people can think of you as and specifically, what is it… or at least a few core things. Then the brand becomes stronger and built over time. 

The peripherals can come underlying, it’s fine. You can do it along the way, but what is your core? That’s very important, and that’s something that most people fall in the trap, into it at the very beginning, like myself. I want to do everything because I know I can do a lot of things, but then how do you get the foot in the door first? What do you want to be known for first? Where’s the low hanging fruit that can help you create that leverage essentially? Then people will give you the opportunity to say thousand and one other things that you want to do with them. 

Reggie: Okay. So then if I am only starting out in my career… 

Sam: Yep. 

Reggie: … I’m new in my career. I just got down to things… At what point do I really want to spend a lot of bandwidth. I may accidentally be building my personal branding already. 

Sam: We are all building on a day-to-day…

Reggie: Day-to-day basis, I’m already doing it based on how I greet the guys, based on what I do, how on time I am, my project quality… all that I’m already casually building, and I believe everyone is doing that, right? 

Sam: Yep. Yep. 

Reggie: But then whatever you’ve said is very strategic, because you are like the pro, right? You are like “okay, we do this. This is our agenda, this is our goal. How do you build this social resonance?” It’s very structured, which is great. But at what point do you think I should get down to it? If I’m new to a company and new to a career, new to something… do you have some basic advice for me? Like, you know, already 这么多东西 (so many things), still need to… you know so many things to do, I still need to care about personal branding?

Sam: A lot of people ask me this question: “Sam, you do so many things. You have a kid, you have two businesses, you do a thousand and one things. How do you manage them and still do them well?” The simple answer is how do you find the synergy between them? In a very local term. We always say how you use one stone to kill multiple birds? You know, instead of… 

Reggie: Hey, that’s a very local thing, huh?

Sam: I guess. 

Reggie: One stone and… 一石多鸟 (one stone, many birds)… very direct translate… 

Sam: Quite a bit, right? 

Reggie: Yes yes yes. 

Sam: So how do you not see individual tasks as individual tasks, but coming together as a common objective? I can see, for example, writing a content as one piece, I can see personal branding is one piece, I can see my promotion as one piece. But all of them can be coming together as one objective, which is growing my career. So if we’re able to see how all these things connect together, the synergy itself, you can then very, very clearly understand that how can I use the minimal resources to achieve all these things concurrently? Because when I achieve one thing, for example, when I finish an article, it’s part of one way I can re-cascade it to my personal brand part, it’s one way to showcase to my boss that I have the value that helps towards my promotion. 

So don’t think of the thousand and one things as a thousand and one things, but how do you synergise them or put them in pockets at least… so that it feels like you have limited resources, yes, but you have minimal stuff to do now because one item that you do can be leveraged onto multiple things that adds up to an overall objective. 

Reggie: Okay, okay… because I don’t want to be spending all my off-work hours thinking about this. 

Sam: Precisely.

Reggie: I don’t want to be doing too much in that sense, right? So then… you keep saying about content, writing articles… That’s probably where you start. If I cannot write leh? How do I then do that? Does everyone need to write an article or are there other mediums, are there other things that can be done? 

Sam: Writing is just one way. I think for me… because I wasn’t a good writer to start with, but I practised and over time became very natural, very comfortable. 

Reggie: [indiscernible] 

Reggie & Sam: [laughter]  

Reggie: It’s like “aiya you cannot write one lah”. 

Sam: That’s why it takes practice, and for me, it’s really about finding your voice. What is a suitable voice that makes you the most comfortable, that brings the most value to not just you, but your audience? So for example, like your case, you have a nice voice. 

Reggie: Thank you.

Sam: Doing podcasts is great. 

Reggie: Thank you. 

Sam: So if you can’t write, just do a podcast. It helps you and it grows and it’s doing well. 

Reggie: Don’t just do a podcast. Just don’t do… 

Reggie & Sam: [laughter] 

Reggie: It’s a lot of work! A lot of work leh. We can talk about this another day, but yes, continue continue. 

Sam: So it’s finding a medium, finding the right approach. 

Reggie: You know, when you’re a professional, you see everything in a more nuanced manner. 

Sam: The more you know, the more you don’t know. 

Reggie: Yeah yeah yeah. The more you know, it’s like cannot cannot… just 不要做 (don’t do). But I know what you’re saying. Continue, please. 

Sam: It’s about finding your voice, essentially. If you’re a good writer, go write an article, write a short post. If you have a nice voice, do a podcast, .If you look good, if you think that you can perform well, do a video, do a Tik Tok for example. 

Reggie: Really? Like dance dance Tik Tok like that? 

Sam: Yeah 

Reggie: (It) contributes to personal brand?

Sam: It does, but it depends on what kind of brand you’re trying to build, in which field that (you’re) in as well. If you’re not good with social media, for example, do the more traditional way: building real meaningful connections in person. Conversations, doing a small favour for somebody… just adding value. At the end of it is how do I add value in the most “my way”, the most “Reggie way”, the most “Sam way”?

Reggie: Yeah. 

Sam: Is it through an article? Is it through a podcast? Is it just helping you to do yours… a small favour to introduce you to someone that can help you in some way, as simple as that. How do you build that trust, that credibility, that value for people? That’s what helps our personal brand. It’s not just about “I must be the best writer. I must have 10,000 videos or views every single day” and stuff like that. It’s not about that. That’s a vanity metric and most people think that that’s an end. It’s just a means to an end to some extent, basically. 

Reggie: Mmm mmm. I must start a Substack… 

Sam: [laughter]  

Reggie: But yeah, I like what you just pointed out about if you cannot do content, then just do traditional. Because the thing about traditional is that nobody talks about it already, that’s why it’s called traditional. It’s taken as like… 

Sam: In fact, that’s more powerful. Don’t you think so? I mean, think of it as a cycle, right? In the past, when there’s no social media, you can’t leverage or sell on that platform. You have to build meaningful relationships through conversations, knock on doors and stuff like that… or phone calls. Now with social media, it becomes so easy to make connections and because of that, people forget about the offline connection, about having a phone call, that coffee, and building that real relationship. A lot of time, we forget about that. We just think that “oh, I want to build cloud. I want to build followership. I have 20,000 followers on LinkedIn and I’m cool” and things like that.

But how many of these are real connections that I spoke about? So I think it’s an opportunity that most people don’t think about because they think that it’s passé but in fact it’s not. I feel that with social media, it brings back that opportunity to build relationships, real relationships offline, individually as well.

Reggie: Yeah. So tell me how do I then build good connections? Because in the traditional sense… means I have to go out and network, I have to make friends, I have to talk to people, join associations, all those kinds of stuff. But then what are some good ways? Because honestly, networking event turns me off. Like buay tahan (cannot tolerate) you know, go and… All these…  Network events…. I feel like I’m getting fished. It’s like all these weird, weird people out there. I hate it, and I believe that I’m not alone in terms of networking. Over time, I’ve given up on that. But then how will you do it? How can you give me some… give all of us some practical advice.

Sam: I used to hate networking a lot. I still don’t enjoy it to be honest, but what helped me is that now I’m looking at more targeted networking. Let me explain a bit more. Unlike a lot of entrepreneurs or senior management, they’re very comfortable networking. Social butterflies, we call them. You go out, just see anyone, “hi!”… there’s a lot of topics that comes up very very naturally. 

Reggie: Yeah yeah. 

Sam: It’s just not me. 

Reggie: It scares me. It scares me when I see all of them. 

Sam: It’s tiring at times also, for people like us who are not comfortable with that. And that’s where I felt that LinkedIn was very powerful for me or for that matter, any social media platform that helps you. Why? Because what I did on LinkedIn, just to share some framework… I started creating just content, writing articles for (the) very beginning. And based on that, I started observing who are the ones engaging my content. So I wasn’t focusing on number of likes or views, I was focusing on who are the profile, who are the people that be constantly supporting, engaging me for a start? 

With that, I started engaging them individually. For example, I realized “oh, Reggie has been following all my posts in the past one month.” What I do is I drop him a short message and say “hey, thanks a lot for this. If you like to have a coffee chat to explore further on some topics that we spoke about… happy to share more and exchange thoughts.” 

Typically, that opens up a lot of doors and that builds real connection, because the interesting thing about content or personal branding is that even if I never met you before, it feels like I know you for a long time already. And that’s what some… a lot of people, in fact, most people tell me when they meet me for the first time. Because they follow me on LinkedIn, social media, and that’s where they met me. That’s where the conversation opens up very comfortably. It doesn’t feel like I’m going in to sell something or pitch. It’s like “I want to know more about what you shared about this. I want to know more about Sam in greater detail that you’re not sharing on social media” and then naturally it comes out like “so Sam, tell more about what you do, how can I help you even?”

That’s very interesting and that’s very powerful to me actually. So networking doesn’t have to be always going into a core networking session, but how do you curate your audience? How do you go targeted, based on your comfort level? One-to-one, one to few… and that’s powerful. I rather have 10 strong connections than 20,000 that are there to follow me, but I don’t know any one of them and I can’t work with them on anything basically. 

Reggie: Mmm mmm. I know what you mean. With our listeners, when I Telegram them and I’ll use audio chat with them and they’ll be like, “aww!” It’s as if they connected with me for many, many… very, very long… and we have cumulatively [indiscernible] 5 to 10 hours. 

Sam: You have gone on a journey with them for a while already. 

Reggie: Yeah yeah, this has been a while. It’s a thing, so that’s that. I think you’ve shared a lot of good stuff. You shared a lot of strategies and different things. Of course, we can definitely go deeper and deeper into specificity, how to do it and all those things become very technical. They could definitely follow you to learn that from you, from where you’re publishing your stuff. But give me something at the end as to how has all these things benefited you? You do all these… you try all these real life experience and benefit that you’ve experienced?

Sam: [To be honest, a lot of things, which is why I’m such a big believer of building personal brand. First thing is I have so much more friends now as compared to what I had in the corporate world itself, and real friends, connections that are willing to stand by me, stand for me, even though I don’t know them as well at times. It’s very interesting. That’s the first thing. 

The second thing is of course, a lot of opportunities just opened up without me realizing. For example, I think that was about two years ago, I had an offer. That was before the Stories of Aisha was founded. That was my first company. Someone offered me a global HR director role.

Reggie: Mmm. 

Sam: My age was about 32 back then. I left corporate world as the middle management and never had regional exposure, let alone global. So it was interesting because that credibility, that trust was established because of what you have online and offline. So I think this has some benefits that I saw in terms of the trustworthiness, in terms of opportunities, whether it’s business or corporate opportunities, in terms of real connections that can become a lifelong relationship, I think is something I value a lot.

And yeah, I think it’s also the ability for me to do what I want to do, in terms of giving back, in terms of influencing people in what I believe in… all these things are amazing. I have never have imagined that to be honest, when I first started out, because I never had the concept of personal branding at the beginning. But a mentor taught me about that and I started becoming more focused. And since then, things just happen and it’s pretty cool, I thought. Yeah. 

Reggie: Nice! Cool stuff. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for coming on, and I hope all of you that are like, not the fighters: doing your accounts, doing your engineering, HR department and whatnot, what people perceive as back office, middle office… could also leverage on personal branding and building yourself, build your trust, build your reputation and build a career that you want to do. Thank you. Thanks for your time.

Hey, I hope you learnt something useful today and truly appreciate that you took the time off to better your life with The Financial Coconut. Knowledge, it’s that much more powerful and interesting when shared, debated, and discussed. Join our community Telegram group, follow us on our socials, sign up for our weekly newsletter. Everything is in the description below. And if you love us, want to help us grow, definitely share the podcast with your friends and on your socials. If you have some interesting thoughts to share or know someone that you want to hear more from, reach out to us through hello@thefinancialcoconut.com. With that, have a great day ahead. Stay tuned next week, and always remember, personal finance can be chill, clear and sustainable for all.. 

So last three questions we ask every single guest. 

Sam: Sure, okay.  

Reggie: The first one is: what is a core life principle that you hold closely to? 

Sam: For me, it’s really about… in everything that you do, you learn something. This is something that my mum has taught me since very, very young and it applies to me in all aspects of life. It’s not about always doing glamorous stuff. Even the smallest, dirty work, even like setting up the wifi in a company chalet, sorting out Excel spreadsheets… 

Reggie: Painting the wall… 

Sam: Painting the wall or filling the holes or whatever it is. If you put things into perspective to see the bigger picture, where it leads to, there are plenty of opportunities. But if you just choose to see it as a task, a shit job in that sense, you’re not going to accomplish anything.

Reggie: Cool! Thank you, thank you. And I take pride in painting my studio’s wall. Woo! 


Reggie: That’s why we have a comfy place, right? 

Sam: Yep. 

Reggie: Number two is: what is a personal finance advice that you feel needs to be further propagated?

Sam: Investment is important, but one thing that people often forget is investing in yourself.

Reggie: Okay. 

Sam: [I think investing in yourself to grow your personal brand, to grow your connections, to grow your knowledge, your competency, your value… that’s important. 

Reggie: Yeah. And it’s not always money, right? It’s a lot about spending your time, your bandwidth, learn new stuff, meet people for coffee and all that. 

Sam: Yep.

Reggie: All right, and last question is: which part of your life are you giving additional focus to now? 

Sam: Definitely family, I would say my son. That is a new phase of my life. 

Reggie: Kiddo kiddo. 

Sam: Yeah. Having fun, enjoying myself, striking a good balance between work, son and of course, sleep, energy… so that’s where I am now. Yeah. 

Reggie: Okay. Shout out to the dad-preneur. See you around, take care. 

Sam: Thank you. 

Reggie: Bye.

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