Don’t Be Afraid to Change Things Up. Gary Vaynerchuk, an early investor of Facebook, owner of VaynerMedia and notoriously vocal entrepreneur encourages (as he should) influencers to churn out a lot of content and work super hard. 4–6 tik toks a day if you can. This is good advice, but for those who have dived deeper into his content may have picked up a golden nugget of advice. A young fan approached him at an event and explained that despite months of churning out content, they were getting nowhere.

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 Tom Lawrence.

Tom’sTotes makes premium biodegradable tote bags from recycled cotton, which are printed with original art by young, independent artists. By using recycled materials, our tote bags are truly sustainable — unlike other brands who claim to be ethical whilst needlessly producing new materials. Tom Lawrence is the sole owner of viral TikTok brand @tomstotes, which sells high quality tote bags that support artists, and has accumulated 140,000 followers since February 2021.

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?

The pleasure is all mine, thank you for inviting me. I’ve always been an entrepreneurial type. I was the kid selling sweets and energy drinks from a duffel bag during school break time. After working night shifts at a Sainsburys during lockdown, I knew I never wanted to work for anybody but myself and start my own business. A few months later, I recognized the demand for tote bags was rapidly increasing, but most were poorly made and printed with random, meaningless stuff. I knew that if I could create a higher quality tote bag printed with good artwork, there was potential for a successful business.

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

It does not matter how hard you work if it’s unsustainable. Speaking as somebody who has experienced burn out multiple times, I know with confidence that you cannot run one or more businesses long-term if you don’t look after yourself and do things outside of your work. At times over Summer 2021, I’d spend consecutive days thinking of nothing but creating TikTok content. This led to a great period of the growth for the brand, but at the expense of my mental wellbeing. Work hard, but don’t forget to do things you enjoy. Know when to put the laptop away and stop checking your emails. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself exhausted and unable to complete the tasks needed to keep things going down the line!

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

Tom’sTotes is all about being an absolutely ethical brand. I cannot stand token gestures and therefore, when we used our platform to spread a message, we make sure it’s sincere. Firstly, after noticing an amassed amount of rubbish accumulating in Bute Park, Cardiff, where I lived from September 2020-August 2021, we decided to organize a litter picking initiative by holding a sign offering free (100% recycled) tote bags for everybody who picked up 10 pieces of litter. Cleaning the park was great, but the real value came from filming the day and spreading a message of encouragement to clean up our local environment. One video was viewed over 3,000,000 times and I hope we inspired a lot of people to be more concerned with keeping our beautiful planet clean.

Secondly (and most importantly), we launched non-profit campaigns to raise money for charity. People could buy a tote bag, and have every penny of profit donated to a charitable organization, as well as spread a positive message every time they wore their bag. To date, we’ve released three non-profit designs and raised money for organizations including the Trevor Project and notably, over £13,000 for Women’s Aid.

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?

You can follow trends and accumulate a decent following, but in my opinion, if you want to actually ‘influence’ and gain a following that care and admire you, you need to bring value to people. A great example would be Grace Beverly, whose 1,000,000 Instagram followers worship her, and why shouldn’t they? Not only has she started three, multi-million dollar businesses and graduated from Oxford University, but she inspires her audience by leading from example, encouraging self-care, good organizational habits and self-improvement. I’d fully recommend following her Instagram and you’ll see what I mean! In the case of Tom’sTotes, we create value in our content through comedy, as well as the problems our tote bags solve. Bring true value to people, and it will be recognized.

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 love this quote, it’s all about your perspective. Success for me is peace of mind. Are the things I’m doing causing me to be content with my life? I believe if we can work to make our lives a little better every day, we are succeeding at living the best life we possibly can.

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

Regarding whom, it pays to know who your real friends are. When it comes to cutting people off I can be pretty brutal. If I feel they don’t want the best for me and are not there for me in my moment of need, I have no interest in giving them a second of my time. However, I don’t recommend this narrative of “don’t reach out to anybody and see who messages you and that’s who your real friends are.” If two people did that, a genuine friendship is lost. Give people a chance, but only one. The people who pass are the ones who deserve your time and energy, and in return you’ll gain life long companions on your journey.

What matters most? I believe if we ask ourselves what we truly care about, we should find an answer. There may be a few i.e., family, hobbies, peace of mind, but the vitally important thing is that we choose those which matter most and focus wholeheartedly on them. If we lived a thousand years, you may be able to be an astronaut, painter, professional athlete and more, but we don’t have that time. Life (if we’re fortunate enough) gives us unlimited possibilities on limited time, so only focus on those few things that top the list.

How do you reduce or mitigate stress?

Three things:

  1. Set clear boundaries on when you work, and when you rest. If you’re highly driven, which I believe many people reading this article are, it can be difficult to switch off, but it is crucial that you do. We are not robots and require rest. The easiest way to do this is set a realistic number of tasks to complete in one day. Once they are done, you are finished. Repeat for the next day and you’ll find yourself much more in control of when work is done for the day.
  2. Do things you enjoy. I cannot *stress* this enough (sorry). If a hypothetical person went to work in an office at 9 until 5, came home, ate dinner, watched television and went to bed, we would call this lifestyle incredibly depressing. But all too often, ambitious people let their work consume them, and forget to do the things they enjoy. If you don’t allow yourself to have fun and relax, you will simply starve your mammalian brain of serotonin and helplessly watch your mood decrease. Self-care and having fun is not about being lazy, it’s a vital part of an ambitious, upward direction. Overlook it, and you will face the consequences as I have done in the not so distant past.
  3. Stress is unavoidable, and we should not aspire to avoid it. If you want to reduce or mitigate stress, we must learn how to deal with it healthily. The easiest way to do this is break up big tasks into little ones. Massive pile of papers looming in the drawer of your desk? Don’t deal with them all at once, if you were capable of that you would have done it already. Instead, how about we deal with five? No? How about one? How about we simply organize them into various categories (bills, correspondence, journalism requests etc) without dealing with a single one? Reward yourself for completing these small tasks, and you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel about that stressful object, thing or person now that you have confronted it.

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. Provide Value

Tom’sTotes provides value by entertaining viewers with funny yet relevant content. On top of that, our product is of value to viewers (because we worked hard on it) and therefore, becomes a reason to follow. Make sure your content is worth something to people, even if it’s just humour.

2. Have Patience

Building a following takes time. From November 2020 to March 2021, we gained 200 followers a week. From March 2021 to November 2021, we’ve gained 139,000. Trust the process. It’s easy to compare yourself to competitors, or accounts with a far greater following, but comparing yourself to others isn’t helpful. Compare yourself to what you were yesterday and try to improve a little every day.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Things Up

Gary Vaynerchuk, an early investor of Facebook, owner of VaynerMedia and notoriously vocal entrepreneur encourages (as he should) influencers to churn out a lot of content and work super hard. 4–6 tik toks a day if you can. This is good advice, but for those who have dived deeper into his content may have picked up a golden nugget of advice. A young fan approached him at an event and explained that despite months of churning out content, they were getting nowhere.

Gary explained promptly that it was time to change it up.

Clearly, whatever this person was making was not working, and that’s the important point. It does not matter how hard you work on putting out content if the content is crap. If this sounds like you, it’s time to re-evaluate and consider why people aren’t responding to your content. Is it unrelatable? Unhelpful? Unoriginal? Only you can know. If you find one or many aspects of your content aren’t providing much for people, consider how you can change it to fix that. Are you applying your talents and strengths as effectively as you could be? Progress requires patience, but it pays to check in and make sure what you are creating is genuinely worthwhile.

4. Always Have Your Audience in Mind

When we first began releasing artistic designs, people were not engaging with our content enough for the TikTok algorithm to blow up our videos. The artwork was cool, but it was made with my tastes in mind, rather than what our audience would love. We put out a poll on our Instagram to see what sort of designs our audience wanted to see (and buy). In response, we released a bunch of designs more to our audience tastes and it was like magic. More comments, more shares, more views. This example can apply to anybody trying to gain a following, regardless of whether you’re selling something, growing your personal brand, or trying to get a message out there. Unless you’ve been able to create a content style that entertains people from all backgrounds, countries, languages like Khaby Lame (an amazing example of a TikToker who’s visual, non-speaking style allows him to entertain a worldwide audience), you most likely serve a more niche audience. So, what should you do? Understand your audience deeply. Understand who watch your videos. Learn every little detail about them. This will allow you to tailor your content specifically to what they will enjoy and engage with.

5. Think Big to Make Your Account Irresistible

Ever heard the phrase “don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong”? We are going to transform this lesson slightly to show you how important a change in thinking can change the way you think about your content. You want people to follow you, right? You think “how can I make somebody follow me?” This leads you down an avenue of ideas. “I can be funny, I can be relatable, I can be educational”. This isn’t a bad train of thought, but we can make it better.

Instead, ask yourself “how can I make impossible NOT to follow me? How can I make my content so damn good that people feel like they absolutely HAVE to follow me?” This is a different question and will lead your brain down a different pathway. The former creates content which gives an incentive to possibly follow, the latter creates content designed to absolutely maximize the amount of people who tap that follow button. Next time you are making a video, ask yourself “how could I create a feeling in the viewer that they must absolutely follow so they don’t miss out”. A great example is Mark Tilbury, who makes TikTok content providing financial advice to the public. His 7,000,000 person following is built by creating valuable content that not only saves and makes people money, but also because he does a fantastic job of maximizing the amount of people who hit that follow button. By mixing in humour with solid advice, he adds a more entertaining element that boosts the enjoyment of his educational videos. He often makes statements near the end of his videos such as “follow so you don’t miss out on tips the rich won’t tell you” as this creates that ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) emotion.

So, what’s the takeaway? If you try to make your account impossible not to follow, you’ll find yourself combining great elements like comedy, educational value and persuasive language in the same way that Mark Tilbury and other great influencers, public figures and business do so well.

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

Engage with your followers! I find Instagram is a great place to funnel followers from TikTok as you can put polls and questions on your story that people will engage with. For me I like to get people’s opinions on product releases so they feel like they have a voice in the direction of the brand, but for you it may be as simple as asking your followers which café to eat at, or what bandana should your dog wear today. It will only deepen the connection your followers have with you or your brand!

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.

There’s this depressing mindset among people in my generation where it’s uncool to care about things. A lot of us are unaware of how nihilistic we can be. I vividly remember as a kid being laughed at by my friends in the park for picking up their rubbish after them, like it was lame to do a good thing. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to end this mindset where we cannot feel free to express ourselves for fear of being laughed at or looked down upon. Care about people, care about the planet and don’t let anybody let you feel inferior for caring about things.

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. 🙂

As an entrepreneur, I have a lot of admiration for Ben Francis, the owner of GymShark. In a space previously dominated by huge brands like Nike, he’s managed to grow a huge empire that is still growing phenomenally. I’d love to have lunch with the guy just to pick his brain on the mindset, and because I love marketing and would love to be on that team. For anybody reading, GymShark is a fantastic case study on how to expertly utilize social media and influencer marketing.

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

Tom’sTotes is only just beginning and our progress is really exciting. If you’re interested in following the growth of the brand, or want to see what we’re all about you can follow our TikTok and Instagram (@tomstotes) and check out our website !

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

Thank you so much it’s been an absolute pleasure. Hopefully, some people can get some valuable insights that help their own endeavors. To anybody reading, best of luck and props to you for making the effort to try and improve!