Cynthia Johnson is an entrepreneur, marketing professional, author and international speaker. She previously worked as a receptionist at an acting agency; she was also a server at Tender Greens and The Cheesecake Factory and she was even an event planner in Las Vegas. When she turned 25, she decided to sell all her things to find a new meaning in life through travelling the world. It was through her adventures across Asia and Australia, where she eventually found her niche skill in storytelling and helping others with marketing strategies and creating their brand image.
Fast forward to today, and now she’s a business advisor, keynote speaker, and CEO of a successful agency (Bell + Ivy) as well as an author. She is an Advisory Board member for The Millennium Alliance and GetGlobal which are leading technology, business, and educational advisory event companies serving fortune 1000 executives. She has been involved in campaigns for Outerknown, HereMedia, West Management, Chevy’s, PETA, and several other leading brands. She is also a contributing columnist to Entrepreneur, Success, Forbes, and several other industry-specific publications. Her first book will be published in early 2019 by Penguin Random House.
StarCentral Magazine recently sat down with Cynthia to find out more about her journey to entrepreneurship and here’s what went down.
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
I never really did anything the same way others did so my entrepreneurial journey is a bit of a rollercoaster. However, though my journey separates myself from others who took a more conventional route, I can proudly say that I’m a prime example of not really knowing what I wanted to do, to finding my “calling” when I was most vulnerable. Before co-finding Bell + Ivy, a digital marketing and personal branding agency in Santa Monica, CA with my co-founder Zach Binder, I worked as a receptionist at an acting agency, was a server at Tender Greens and The Cheesecake Factory, an event planner in Vegas, and digital marketing director for a rehab center. At 25 I decided to sell all my things and turned to find a new meaning in life through traveling the world. It was through my adventures across Asia and Australia, where I eventually found my niche skill in storytelling and helping others with marketing strategies and creating their brand image. Sometimes as a form of currency, I would share my knowledge in the communications field for room and board and made countless friends along the way. I then started speaking at more events, joining more panels and began moderating discussions. Bell + Ivy was created through the magical discovery of passion and persistence of just living and letting life take its course. Today, I am a business advisor, keynote speaker, CEO of a great agency and an author. I am honored to have been listed by Inc. Magazine as a top digital marketing person to follow, top 50 marketers on SnapChat by Mashable and top female entrepreneurs that inspire by Darling Magazine.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
We constantly strive to uphold Bell + Ivy’s brand to the same, utmost quality, as we deliver to our clients. With the tools of digital marketing, personal branding, and storytelling, our office is comprised of the boldest and the brightest who not only deliver these aspects professionally but also in their personal lives, reflecting the power and stamina of our agency. We are humbled to say that we are in a place where a lot of business comes to us and we then get to choose who and what is the best fit at the time. Shoot us a message – our doors, and inboxes, are always open!
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
Storytelling using digital marketing, of course. Business owners and marketers should focus their social media efforts on creating a cohesive community with their followers and to improve the interoperability of information between all their channels. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have such a massive following and the potential to be an impressive channel to sell and promote a product, message and/or brand. Relatable, relevant and timely content throughout these platforms will create a genuine community of followers that enhances their brand identity which then creates more brand loyalty.
How did your brand stand out from the rest of the other brands out there that is similar to your niche?
Again, storytelling. Never underestimate the power of telling an impactful story to the right audience and at the right time. When you know exactly who you’re working with and how to proliferate influence, you’re golden.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
Setting a wedding date and then coordinating everything that goes into the wedding. Nobody warns you about this kind of stuff!
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
I wouldn’t say this is a mistake but more something to be aware of money. Money is a tricky subject, and yes, money helps when first creating a business. However, you decided to start a business, and that is an investment. Therefore, you must wholeheartedly invest in your company and your team and provide the necessary tools and resources to best equip your team to produce the best work they can. It’ll be worth the investment and the opportunity cost is exponential!
What new business would you love to start?
If I told you, I’d have to kill you! Totally joking of course. However, I do have some ideas up my sleeves that I can’t share quite yet. It’s a secret for now but stay tuned for more.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
Absolutely nothing. Getting lost and being vulnerable in my early 20’s is how I got to be where I am today. Sounds cliche but it’s true. But if I had to choose, maybe stay in China longer? China is an incredible country with so much to offer. However, as an international speaker, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to travel, to countries like China, and experience work and play.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were first making a name for yourself, what advice would you give yourself?
Drink less coffee and start drinking more tea.
Do you have any favorite business-related or personal development related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
Plenty! “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,” by Mark Manson, is a classic, “Leaders Eat Last,” by Simon Sinek, and “Talking to Crazy,” by Mark Goulston. These three selections are actually from my book club, where we dissect each book to fully understand the meaning and how it can impact our daily professional lives in a positive way. Join the conversation, today!
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Just try it – what’s the worst that can happen? If you fail, that’s okay. If you fail again, that’s also okay. But next time, fail better.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
No matter how much you think you can handle everything on your own, you can’t and you won’t; and that’s 100% okay. Be realistic, stay optimistic and ask for help when you need it. Do research online, engage with your community and see who could bring value to your team. You’re going to want to do it all by yourself, but at the end of the day, the best way a company can grow is through steller leadership and a transparent team.