Always focus on the passion, and not the numbers. Part of that is having your own unique voice/content that makes you YOU as this sets you apart from other influencers. Plus, always have your audience’s best interest by maintaining the integrity and authenticity of your account, even if that means turning down opportunities.

We often use the term “Influencers” to describe people with significant social media followings on platforms like Instagram, Twitter TikTok, Youtube, Linkedin and Facebook. Influencers have become today’s media titans, sought after for everything from product placements to timely trends. What’s the difference between influence and impact? Fans and followers? Sizzle versus staying power?

In this interview series, called, “How To Cultivate Community In A Click to Connect World” we are talking to influencers about how they define success and what we all need to discover about the true nature of influence. As a part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Raymond Cua.

Raymond Cua is a Toronto food & travel writer, blogger and content creator, and the founder & publisher of Travelling Foodie, exploring the world and highlighting culinary experiences as a way to enjoy destinations. He has travelled in over 25+ countries and more than half of the United States and Canadian provinces. With over 75K+ followers and 20K+ monthly readers, Raymond and his works have been featured on Travel + Leisure, Reader’s Digest, Global News, CTV News, and Philippine Daily Inquirer, as well as other online and print outlets.

Thank you for making time to visit with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. How did you discover your career path and what got you to where you are today?

I would say my journey as a travelling foodie goes all the way back to my childhood. I’m originally from the Philippines, where I was born and raised. My parents run a fast food business, and, growing up, we would travel almost every year for summer vacation. Since Asian culture generally revolves around food, it became normal for us to integrate food as part of our travels. The Travelling Foodie lifestyle has always been part of me because of this upbringing. I learned at a young age how culinary is an integral part of travel, and you can learn so much about a destination’s culture, history and surroundings just based on its food and drink scene.

I moved to Canada in 2006 for university and this made it easier for me to travel more. I was travelling about 3 times a year for vacation and eating out multiple times a week. I was sharing my travel and food adventures on my personal Facebook when Facebook was taking off back in 2007.

During a US road trip with my siblings in 2014, I started sharing my experiences on Instagram under Travelling Foodie (@travellinfoodie). I realized that I’m seeing all these beautiful things and thought why not share them to more people who might be interested or inspired by them instead of just friends and family on Facebook. I studied computer science and had no background in marketing, journalism or social media when I started Travelling Foodie.

Luckily, Instagram back then was community-based. There wasn’t an influencer industry. It was for people who simply wanted to share pictures they were passionate about. I was just sharing my usual food and travel content on Instagram, which was already normal for me to do because I was already doing it on Facebook and Yelp before. That’s when local restaurants started inviting me to their place. Around that time, I also got really lucky and got featured on social media by a lot of big global media outlets like Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel and Huffington Post.

Travelling Foodie has grown since then with a website and presence in all major platforms: Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and Pinterest. In 2017, I left my corporate IT job to run Travelling Foodie full-time and have never looked back since then. This experience has been so surreal because I never thought this could be my full-time business when I first started. It’s definitely a dream come true!

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way that influences how you operate now?

The most important thing I learned was to make decisions that benefit my business as a separate entity from me as a person. This line can get easily blurred as an influencer.

When I first started, Travelling Foodie was a hobby so my decisions were mostly for personal reasons. It wasn’t until I started doing this full-time when I realized that some decisions that may be good for me personally aren’t necessarily good for the business. For example, if a brand/PR offered something complimentary for a post, it may be good for me personally because I’m receiving a free product but it’s not necessarily good for the business because I could’ve used that time to do something that will drive more revenue instead of doing free work for the item.

Switching to this mindset involved a lot of other important things I had to learn. First was knowing what makes my business unique or the value I bring to the table. Second was working with clients that value that part of my business. The third part, which is the hardest lesson, is learning to say “No.”

After I became stricter with this mindset, it became easier for me to grow the business. I focused more on decisions that would drive revenue and learned to work with long-term clients who see the value of working with me and Travelling Foodie specifically, rather than seeing me as just another blogger/influencer.

We’re all searching for some good news. How are you using your platform to make a positive social impact?

I’ve been using my platform to help and support local businesses, especially during the pandemic. I encourage my readers to do take/out and delivery for local restaurants and buy local in general. And when local travel was permitted, I also promoted different areas in the province to help local tourism.

When we were in lockdown, I did a project called Toronto Restaurants’ Signature Recipes to help the local restaurant industry. I worked with many restaurants that generously shared their signature recipes and curated them into a collection on my website. The project was a way to celebrate the love for each restaurant, allowing people to recreate them at home before visiting the restaurants when they open again. At the same time, travellers who planned to go to Toronto but had to cancel due to COVID can try the recipes to see if they’d like to visit in the future.

I’ve also been using my platform to amplify important social movements like BLM and Stop AAPI Hate, as well as charities and causes that align with my values.

Many of our readers are influencers as well. Others have tried and have yet to succeed. What words of advice would you offer to aspiring influencers, knowing what you know now?

My advice to aspiring influencers is to pick an area you love and that you’re passionate about. This should be something you’re happy to create content for even if you don’t have any followers and if you’re not getting paid. The passion and love you put in your work is key because that’s what people notice and what will make them want to follow.

Always focus on the passion, and not the numbers. Part of that is having your own unique voice/content that makes you YOU as this sets you apart from other influencers. Plus, always have your audience’s best interest by maintaining the integrity and authenticity of your account, even if that means turning down opportunities.

And if you’re hoping to do this full-time, be sure you are financially okay. Try doing this on the side first to see if you’re up to the challenge before taking the leap. Do not quit your job to become a full-time influencer if you are in debt. When you first start, you won’t be making money until you’ve grown your community and platforms. This is why passion is key! The only thing that will keep you going at this time is your passion and love for the work. And when you’re not making money and don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it’s very easy to just give it up.

Success is often a matter of perspective. I’ve always resonated with Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” How do you see success — or define success — for yourself now?

I see success as being able to do something you enjoy or love every day. It doesn’t have to mean you’re making a lot of money, but at least be financially comfortable that you’re not in debt or scrambling to survive. I would rather make less money but do something I love every day, than make lots of money doing something that I’m not happy with. As long as you are happy with your current situation and are still continuously growing. It can only go up from there. That for me is success.

What are your strategies to make room for who and what matters most?

Learning to say No is perhaps the most important strategy I learned but the hardest to do. When you say No to things that don’t matter, then you’re making so much more room to things that matter.

I make sure I schedule dedicated blocks of time for what matters be it for business or in life. For example, if I have a very important client I’m doing work for, I block off time in the calendar where I can dedicate 100% of the time to do their work only. Similarly, if I’m seeing friends and family, I make sure I have planned my work ahead so that, when I see them, I’m spending quality time with them.

How do you reduce or mitigate stress?

I take lots of micro-breaks. It’s very similar to taking coffee breaks or water cooler chats in the office setting. This helps relieve stress and gives you a much needed mental reset before going back to work.

Some of the micro-breaks I do is watch TV shows, go outside for a walk, go chat with someone, or scroll through social media.

When the stress is too much, I take longer breaks or even a day off to recharge and do something that will completely take my mind off work. I would usually spend time outside most of the day by going around the city, eating out, going on a hike or just enjoying nature.

I’m going to try a few of your tips, and I’m hopeful our readers will, too. Now it’s time for the big reveal — the moment our readers have been anticipating. What are your “five strategies to cultivate a large & engaged social media community?’ Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Diversify: It’s cliché but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Being in all the major platforms means my combined potential audience grows since I am leveraging the user base of each platform. You won’t know when one platform will go down as well. For example, on Oct 4, 2021, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp all went down for most of the day. If you’re an influencer that’s only on Instagram and/or Facebook that means you couldn’t work anymore when that happened. However, I was still able to continue working on my other platforms.
  2. Provide value: People follow something they get value out of. I try to make my content as useful and valuable as possible to people. I typically include the name of the restaurant/place, price (if applicable), and some of my thoughts, along with high quality imagery/video of course! For example, after I wrote an article on Ontario cottage country, Haliburton Highlands, some of the establishments emailed me after saying they had customers who visited and said they’re there because of my write-up. When I visited Osaka, I found this really cheap but delicious conveyor belt sushi that I shared on Instagram. The restaurant was all in Japanese so I had to really do research to find the English name and address to share in the caption. A follower from San Francisco went to Osaka a month after and visited the restaurant because of my post. I found out because she made an Instagram post and tagged me on it, thanking me for sharing about the place. This makes me very happy.
  3. Share in real-time (somewhat): It’s funny how being “insta” on Instagram is uncommon nowadays. I like to be a bit “real-time” in social media, especially on Instagram Stories. When travelling, I would typically share Instagram stories and posts while on the trip, whereas other influencers might post all the content post-trip. I get quite a bit of interaction from both my followers and the locals this way, and they end up being followers. A great example was when I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and had a local commenting on my Instagram post saying “I think we saw you dancing yesterday in the Art Walk just in front! Welcome to this beautiful city. Such a good vibe you all bring to the street.” It’s not a comment you’d typically get if you post after the trip is over. And the person ended up following after.
  4. Adapt to New Features and Trends: When platforms release updates with new features, they typically want users to use it, and they will typically give preferential treatment to those content. For example, Instagram Reels was Instagram’s answer to TikTok since TikTok was trending and taking users away from Instagram. So when Reels came out, it’s clear Instagram wants you to use it. They went even as far as replacing the Create button at the center of the app into a Reels button. I tried jumping on Instagram Reels right away when it came out because that meant you’ll be one of the first Reels available for a higher chance to go viral. And that’s what happened. Reels I published on both my Instagram accounts became Featured Reels and got over 200K+ views. I gained a lot of followers from that.
  5. Unique Voice: I try to add a personal touch to my work so people visiting feel like I’m talking to them. This is part of what I said about creating content that makes you YOU! It’s very important because that’s how they’ll feel connected to you and may start following. If your content is generic and something they can find somewhere else, there’s no reason for them to follow.

What do you do to create a greater sense of connection and community among your fans?

I reply to everyone who messages and comments on my posts despite there being a “like” button nowadays. I find the “like” button is a short way of saying I saw your comment but I’m ignoring it. Responding means you appreciate that they took the time to message/comment.

I’ve had so many deep and meaningful conversations with followers (people I’ve never met) by doing this. They end up being very loyal and supportive of my work, and would tell me things like reading my blog post, booking something because of it and using my affiliate link so I get a commission out of it.

As an influencer, you are, by definition, a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

It would be a financial literacy movement. I’m surprised it is not being taught in school (unless you study finance) or at an early age. Financial literacy is something everyone should learn because it affects our entire lives. A lot of people don’t understand how finance/money works until it’s too late, which can be catastrophic. I’m very fortunate that my parents taught this to me at a very young age. This allowed me to be financially stable fast, which then allowed me to take a chance and pursue my dream. I think everyone should learn this at a young age because time is a close friend of money: think compound interest!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He, she or they might just see this. 🙂

I would love to dine with Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea. Back in 2008, when I was in my 2nd year of university, I went to Chicago and dined at Alinea, which at that time was №21 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. It was my first expensive fine dining experience, which involved a 13-course molecular gastronomy tasting menu that lasted 3 hours.

The experience blew my mind! I got to try dishes I’ve never had anywhere else in the world and helped me realize how much food can be a science and an art. This was a life-changing meal for me which got me seeking similar experiences in my travels.

I also read his book, Life, on the Line, and watched his episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. I was so impressed with his level of passion and commitment, staying resilient especially during the time he lost his own ability to taste due to tongue cancer. He is truly inspiring!

I want to have that private breakfast or lunch with him to thank him on how his meal impacted my culinary journey.

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

They can follow my adventures on my website, Instagram at @travellinfoodie and @journeytraveler, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

Thank you for these thought provoking insights. Here’s to your continued success!