In this bizarrely voyeuristic environment that social media has given us, one of the nicer ways to look at it is that you get to follow someone’s journey as they grow and evolve. Someone who immediately springs to mind for me is Leela Sule; a fitness coach, podcaster and content creator. I had the pleasure of interviewing her as part of my ‘Finding Your Fabuleuse’ interview series.
I first started following Leela when her main domain was fashion blogging, but since then I’ve watched her take on and slay other endeavours. From personal training to entrepreneurship and launching her own podcast, this pint-sized 25 year old has an enviable repertoire of experience under her belt. Here we chat rethinking the role of the influencer, emerging from failure and being your own teacher.
DAILY HABITS & PRODUCTIVITY
As someone juggling so many different projects, you must have a good understanding of your own productivity. What’s your secret?
I have two extremes – I can either be completely unproductive or I’m a total machine, so I have to be really strict with myself! Everyone says that working from home is one of the best things about being freelance, but for me it’s the biggest struggle. I don’t really like being indoors, so I literally coffee shop surf. I get very bored if I’m at home on my laptop, an hour will pass and I’ll get nothing done. Whereas if I’m in a coffee shop, I know I’ll be productive.
How did you figure out your habits to get the most out of yourself?
I’ve realised there’s a lot you can’t control in life, but you can put into place routines and patterns to take responsibility for your mental and physical wellness. I think it comes down to being self-aware. If you want to be successful you have to know yourself first! And that starts with looking within. If you’re actively checking in with how you feel and noticing what makes you feel good or bad, you become aware of the patterns. Being in my 20s, this is the time I want to be sure I know myself so it sets me up for the rest of my life.
On your podcast you talk a lot about mental and physical wellness. What are your daily non-negotiables for wellness of both the mind and body?
I have to get outside everyday. Years of listening to my body and paying attention to what I need to do to feel good has taught me this. I have to get up and out, even if it’s just to go for a walk to get coffee.
Exercise helps too! Even though I’ve been prioritising my client’s workouts off late, I’ll always do some kind of physical activity. So I walk for at least an hour and a half every day to work – but I love that it’s not dead time, I listen to my podcasts. So you get your workout, and you get to learn something new!
You’ve also talked a lot about making learning a priority on your podcast. How do you make learning part of your daily routine?
When you’re at school or university, learning is a natural part of every day but since I graduated last year, I really missed that. So podcasts were the answer. They really changed the way I do things, they’re so easy and so digestible. That’s what made me want to start one!
Go on then, what are your top podcasts recommendations?
I love “The Muscle Expert Podcast” with Ben Pakulski, “The Goal Digger Podcast” with Jenna Kutcher and “The Angie Lee Show”.
SUCCESS & LESSONS LEARNT
What’s the biggest mindset shift you’ve made so far?
It can be easy to forget, but that in everything you do, you need to come from a place of service. Everything needs to have a valuable proposition. It seems obvious, but when I applied it to what I was doing on Instagram, it was a total game changer. I asked myself ‘what am I actually giving people?’, and that was when I changed my whole brand from ‘herfashionmemoir’ to just my name.
I realised I want to teach people about living healthy, fit and happy. If you think about why someone is gonna download your podcast, like your picture or follow your link, you realise you have to offer them something!
The second one is something I heard recently and it blew my mind. It’s that ‘you’re not the hero in your audience’s story; they are’.
Wow – that is powerful! How do you put your audience at the centre of their stories?
As an influencer you have to swallow your pride and actually do some self work and realise it’s not about you anymore. Which is hard because social media’s kind of put us all on these pedestals. As I’ve got older, I’ve found I’m less concerned with what I look like and more about what I can offer.
For example, if I were to just post videos of me working out showing how much I can lift, then I’m the hero. But if I post a video of me just doing a simple exercise that my audience can do at home, I may not get an ego boost from it but it’s actually helping someone. In many ways that’s more rewarding anyway!
Aside from podcasts, what’s been your biggest teacher?
As much as I love podcasts and reading business books, I do think there’s no better teacher than experience. And that’s something to embrace! All the bad stuff we go through is what makes life valuable and interesting. You’ve got to take those leaps and face the fear to learn the lesson. I’m a big believer there’s a purpose in everything.
Is there a book that changed your life?
Oh easy – ‘The Values Factor’ by John DeMartini! At the time I was at a crossroads with my fashion startup. The book helped me uncover what my values really were (learning, teaching and creativity), which led me to re-evaluate what in my life was reflecting that. It helped me realise that being a PT was actually more aligned with my values that I’d thought.
With that in mind, has your idea of happiness changed?
When I was at university, I’d envisioned that by 24/25 I’d be on a good salary and be a bit of a high flyer. Things like having a nice flat, I thought that was what happiness looked like. The reality? I’m getting money here and there, my finances are all over the place but I’m happy. In fact I’m happier now with less money and less security than I have been at other points in my life! I’ve realised that wealth isn’t just about money, there’s richness in experience and learning. And that’s now where I get my happiness from – fulfilling those values I mentioned earlier.
What was it like realising that your startup hadn’t worked out?
Whilst I was disappointed when things didn’t work out, the self development books I was reading at the time played a big part in reassuring me. My mindset was very much ‘you need these setbacks to help you grow’. Being immersed in that kind of thinking meant I was able to bounce back from it with confidence that it wasn’t so much a mistake or failure, but a major lesson which I’m still thankful for!
Saying this, it was definitely scary. I’d put my savings into that business! My parents had also given me financial support and coming from an Asian family I was scared about their reaction. I was already doing something out of the box; being self employed and working in fashion. I’d put my brand out there publicly, so it felt like I was showing everyone that I’d failed. But all in all I know I can use this experience to help other people. I could talk about it all day, so whether that’s on my podcast or who knows, maybe even a book someday!
RE-THINKING CONTENT, INSTAGRAM AND ONLINE AUDIENCES
Let’s talk about your fantastic podcast, Get Up & Grow Girl.
I was sitting on the idea for ages. The word ‘grow’ is really important to me, it encompasses learning, teaching. The more I do it the more I realise it’s something I’d like to take forward with mentoring or coaching. It’s also taught me that it’s not always about being the person in the spotlight, but being the person behind the scenes shining the spotlight is just as valuable, if not more.
What’s it been like going from a visual platform like Instagram to audio only?
Actually really good! It’s opened up a whole new skills set for me. I’ve noticed people feel quite uncomfortable being interviewed. They sit down and they’re just not comfortable being recorded. So I guess my skills as a PT come in with encouraging people in a way that gets the best out of them. And that’s a really nice feeling because there’s an exchange of people helping each other.
How do you think your podcast audience differs from your audience on, say Instagram?
I feel that when you have something to say, Instagram’s not the place for it anymore; people don’t have the attention spans there. People go to Instagram for visual inspiration, and I want to take them deeper than that. I know some people really flourish on it, but I don’t think you can actually connect with someone on Instagram alone. Whereas with podcasts I feel like you really get to know the presenter and their story.
How have your Instagram audience reacted to your podcast?
People have been quite surprised! Like, they’ve been following my Instagram for a really long time but they haven’t got that deeper level from it. It just goes to show how two-dimensional it can be. Like obviously Instagram has its worth, but sometimes you can feel like you’re influencing in a negative way and giving off the impression that everything’s perfect, when I really don’t want to do that.
How has your content strategy changed from when you first started out?
For a long time, I felt conflicted because I realised who I am as a person wasn’t reflected in my online persona. And I was scared to say what I really wanted to, because I was afraid of alienating people or losing the following I’d built. Gradually – and the podcast is helping me do that – I’m getting more confident to say what I want, and to worry less about whether or not people are going to like my content. I’ve learnt that if they don’t like it, maybe they’re not in the right place! Yes, your content should attract your ideal customer, but it should also repel those who aren’t interested. Realising this was a huge departure from where I first started out – I wanted everyone to like me! But your strategy should be to let them fall away.
With so much ‘noise’ on social media, it’s now more difficult than ever to attract and grow an engaged audience. What’s your advice to any influencers just starting out?
I think there’s a growing realisation across the influencer industry that it’s not just about follower number, but about the connection you have with them. You have to remember we’re part of something so much bigger, if you’re ever worried that people won’t get what you’re doing, just remember there’s a whole world of people out there. There will be people who think like you, you just have to keep being you to attract them.
And finally…what’s one ‘fabuleuse’ you’d like my readers to find this week?
Learning! Go learn something this week, whether it’s through a podcast or even an article online, do something to feed your mind! In a recent episode of Get Up And Grow Girl we talked about the importance of getting your ideas into a plan – perfect inspiration to start your year off right!
Find out more about fitness coaching with Leela at http://www.leelajasminesule.com/ or follow her Instagram @leelajasminesule.