She Believed She Could Podcast

Boss Lady Spotlight: Cynthia Johnson

Episode Summary

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce you to Cynthia Johnson. She is a global entrepreneur. She's a marketing professional author and keynote speaker. She has traveled the world and spoken to audiences globally. She's the co-founder of Bell and Ivy, which is a marketing and PR firm in Santa Monica, California in Las Vegas, Nevada. She's been listed as a top personal branding expert in 2017 by Entrepreneur and one of the top 50 marketers on Snapchat by Mashable. She's also been a contributing columnist to Entrepreneur and has had work published in Forbes, Time and several other industry specific publications. She is a total boss lady. She wrote one of my favorite books called Platform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to have her on the podcast.

Episode Notes

During the interview, Cynthia shares her climb to the top and how she launched her successful PR and Marketing agency, Bell + Ivy. 

She gives poignant advice regarding who you should seek feedback from, what you should look for in a business partner and  some of her unexpected wins along the way.

To follow & connect with Cynthia:




Bell + Ivy:

As always, my goal is to help you create a beautifully packaged personal brand and share your message with the world by teaching you how to define, communicate, and market yourself in person and online.

It’s time to elevate YOU! Let’s get to work.






Episode Transcription

Cynthia Johnson

Allison Walsh: Hello there, it's Allison from Allison Walsh Consulting and welcome to the She believed She Could podcast. I'm so glad you're here. This podcast is dedicated to motivating and inspiring you to be the best version of you. All of the guests, all of the content is really created with you in mind because I believe 1000% and your ability to reach your dreams, reach your goals, go after what you want, and this is an opportunity for you to learn from others that have done it well, as well as to take in some tips and tricks that I've learned over the years and that I've shared with my clients and I've made them abundantly successful. So this is all dedicated to you.

Thank you so much for being here. And of course, if you're looking for additional information, please head over to follow us on Instagram @allisonwalshconsulting. We've got a ton of services that are available. I am so focused on helping my clients to create a beautiful personal brand, package it and share it with the world by teaching you how to create, define, communicate, and market yourself in person and online.

The most valuable thing that you have is your personal brand. And it's critically important that you learn how to pull all the aspects and elements around you and about you together in one place, and be able to have a clear message and how you're communicating that and asking for what you want and making sure that your personal brand backs up your credibility and ability to demonstrate and do exactly what you're asking for.

So thanks again for being here. I'm thrilled to be able to share all of these guests with you. It's an amazing community. I am so excited to have this opportunity and this platform to be able to do this. And again, I'm going to put these videos on YouTube as well, because not only do we have the podcast that's available on iTunes and Spotify, Google play, and all the fun things, but I think it's really nice to be able to engage with our guests as well.

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I am thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce you to Cynthia Johnson. She is a global entrepreneur. She's a marketing professional author and keynote speaker. She has traveled the world and spoken to audiences globally. She's the cofounder at Bell and Ivy, which is a marketing and PR firm in Santa Monica, California in Las Vegas, Nevada.

She's been listed as a top personal branding expert in 2017 by entrepreneur and one of the top 50 marketers on Snapchat by Mashable. She's ultimately a contributing columnist to entrepreneur and has had work published in Forbes time and several other industry specific and top tier publications. She is a total boss lady.

She wrote one of my favorite books called platform. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to have her on the podcast today. So welcome, Cynthia. 

Okay, well, Cynthia, thank you so much for joining us today. I'm so thrilled that our audience gets the chance to meet you. Would you mind sharing a little bit more about where you're from, what you're doing now, and how you all that started.

Sure. So I live in Los Angeles, in West LA.  and I started in digital marketing at one of the first live streaming companies that ever existed. So that is dating me. But, before livestream was cool. And so I learned digital marketing from the platform side first, and from there I got into,   marketing more difficult industries in healthcare, insurance, things like that. And through that experience, I decided that I didn't want to work for anyone anymore. So I quit. And, my co founder and I founded our marketing agency, which is Bell and Ivy, and we have two offices now, one in Las Vegas and one in Santa Monica, California.

And a great team, clients all over the world. I wrote a book about it mostly about the topic. And I think what really pushed me to where we are sort of where, where I'm at today, was this awareness that came about doing these really robust digital marketing campaigns, realizing that everything was heading towards this people first approach.

Because there was so much fake news and fake content on the web that attaching things to real people, your company to real people was having a significant impact on businesses. And so, we started out primarily by saying, okay, we're going to focus on the people within an organization or a person as a personal brand carrying the business and not the other way around.

And it's been a crazy ride over the past few years, but a lot of fun. 

That's awesome. I mean, I think taking that leap of faith and jumping into starting your own business, it takes a lot of guts, right? Like it's the unknown, but I mean, an amazing experience nonetheless. Are there any specific wins that you've had during the course of this time that you'd be willing to share?

Yeah, actually, so the biggest win we've had, so when we first started this company, I actually had some people say to me, just quit now, no one will ever allow their employees or teams to, you know, represent the brand or help them build a personal brand for the company. It just won't work. And actually earlier this year we launched our first pilot campaign with Walmart and utilizing actual Walmart employees in all of the content.

So. You know, they, hire more people than any public company. So for us it was kind of like the stamp of approval a moment, you know what I mean? Where you're like, I knew it was going to work and if they're willing to try it. Everyone else will follow.So that's, that's my big moment.

It's amazing. So I know you talked about that you realized at one point that you didn't want to work for anybody else. What was your aha moment or the moment you realized that you really wanted to go in this direction with your career and start this company? 

So, I was asked. So we our company was acquired, and I went from managing a very small team to very large team across 12 different States.

Cynthia Johnson: And some of, you know, it took a minute for me to meet everyone that I was actively managing face to face. And,  I was asked to give someone a $400 annual reviews. Yeah. And I, and I, and I fought it and I was like, I can't, I will, I cannot be a middle manager. Like I just cannot do it like that. I don't, I've never met this person.

Like I have no control over the decision making. And here I am, put in this position to fight for them. And, you know, it was just a very awkward moment. I think that was really the first time that I, I just knew it wasn't for me. I was sitting on the wrong side of the table, you know? And I think also just realizing that the changes, not only, you know, from a culture perspective, but from a marketing perspective that, you know, I was seeing and that I thought really needed the changes that really needs to be made, I couldn't make from the inside. I, you know, I had to, I had to make it from the outside. And so,  that's where my journey to quitting began. Yeah. 

Allison Walsh: And then that's such a bold step too. And I think there's so many people that have these, like they have a pivotal moment. They have something that's their tipping point that pushes them over the edge, and then it's like, okay, but now what? Right. And, and you've been able to assemble just an amazing team, but  were there any challenges that you weren't expecting when you started the company? 

Cynthia Johnson: Oh yes. Definitely. So many challenges. Well,I remember the first time I got to Santa Monica city tax bill, I was like, are you kidding me? Like, why am I here?That was, you know, there's the, there's certain things that different personality types think about.   I'm very lucky because my cofounder thinks so about a lot of the things that I, I don't, and,  but yeah, being prepared just for. There's a couple of things. One is there's all of these external things that have nothing to do with your business, that need to get done to manage a business.

And those are so exhausting. It's almost difficult to focus on the business itself. But, that said, the second part is, making hiring decisions is probably just because someone was great in one place, doesn't necessarily mean they're great for another. I'm looking for, you know, defining the culture early on so that, you know how to find that culture fit.   But in the beginning it's just you, you are the culture since like how do you decide, you know, what the future is going to be and do you decide and,  or do you just let it sort of unfold? And for us it was, you know, it was a combination of, of events, I think,  that really ended up building the culture that we have today, which is based on this idea of extreme ownership.

Allison Walsh: I love that book too. 

Cynthia Johnson: So the way to do it and, and part of, I think part of that for us was not just. You know, finding people that were capable of taking, you know, ownership in that way, but also letting go of of it, you know? And then that's part, you know, we were part of the problem when we were sort of working out what those next steps were.

And we had to sit back and go, okay, what, what are we, what is our, where are our roles of responsibilities? Because it can't be everything and let's really define those and then trust that we hired the right people and move this forward. And so, that's kind of where we're at. 

Allison Walsh: But it's, it's hard to, I think because you're, it's your business, it's your baby, right? And you have a vision of how you want it to be. But then it's also like, okay, well let's surround ourselves with the talents, with the creatives, the people that can execute on this vision, and then trust, right. And hope that it all comes together. So it's hard. 

Cynthia Johnson: It is hard. It's really hard, especially in the beginning when most of the businesses builds on your. History or your relationships, and so, but it's totally worth it. Yeah. 

Allison Walsh: So I know we talked about an awesome thing as far as a wind goes with Walmart, but what are some other awesome things that have happened that you didn't expect.

Cynthia Johnson: Oh, yeah.There's been, I mean, there's really been so many, like,   we didn't expect to open a second office soon.

Right?  we didn't expect to need as many, production capabilities as we thought. We didn't expect to,  have to make, I think some of the decisions were, do we grow and push, so that we can cover this style of campaign, or do we go in as consultants? Right? So those big moments where you're like, I never really thought I'd have to think about it.

And it's this push pull game. You know what you're supposed to do next. I never expected to be in quarantine and lockdown, which is interesting in that whole other challenge, right?  Because I love working remote and, but you know, my co founder loves having an office. So it's almost like I'm winning right now.

I win the  battle for like, just this minute. But, you know, some other things is we didn't expect to have clients globally. The people we were working with wanted to travel and get to these different places, and the people in those different places wanted to travel here.

And so we spent, you know,I've probably spent weeks in the air over the past three years just going from place to place, but at the end of the day, it's been a, it's all been such an amazing experience to show up and say, this is my business and have to, you know. It's easier when you're two years down the road.

What is so stressful? Oh my gosh, am I doing the right thing? Right? Yeah. Yeah. But well, I mean, it's a lot of unexpected for sure. I think the biggest, greatest outcome though is,how it dealt with it together. You know, we see a lot of partnerships that really fall flat when things, when you know, when things get a little bit rough or rocky, but we made an active decision to,   you know, to work through those. There's a tactic someone told us actually where there's a disagreement, we actually argued the other side.


And yeah, so it's, it's the journey in the relationship, you know, is just gotten stronger, which is definitely great surprise. 

Allison Walsh: Well, that's, that's awesome. I like that. I might try the arguing the other side concept with my husband. So I'll tell you how that goes. Right? And you know, and I love following you on social media too, and the travels, right?

Like I feel like every time I look at it like it's a picture from one airport to the next of like where you're going. I mean, you've gotten to travel literally all over the world doing this, either for your company and your clients or speaking too, I mean, you've had an opportunity to be on some really cool stages and interact with amazing people.

Cynthia Johnson: Yeah, that's been amazing. and for all the women out there, something else that's surprising is the number of male startups that have asked me to be there, sort of like fake CEO so they can go after those funds that are set aside for women. That's also interesting. 

Allison Walsh: That is, I never would have thought of that.

Cynthia Johnson: Yeah. I'm like, I don't know anything about your business. And they're like, you don't. No, sorry.

Allison Walsh: Oh my gosh. So what's something that you've had to like grow or stretch in order to be able to handle process? Like is there a significant experience or something in particular that really required you to do that or get outside of your comfort zone?

Cynthia Johnson: Oh, yes, so for me, I am that this might. Thought process or how I communicate is very much a, here's the information.

If you need more, you'll ask me. Right? So that's not always the case. So I actually had to, we brought in like a career coach for the company and,  for us to figure out, okay. You know, the, from, I think what was happening is that I sort of bulldozer into situations, job a bunch of like do this, do this, this, and then everyone like in shock.

And so I'm, I've really had to improve on,  how I communicate and really think more about the questions that I'm asking and the responses that I'm looking for. So that's definitely been a challenge for me, because I like to do things fast, but also efficient and the right way. And so it, you know, people get kind of can get sometimes torn between which side that I prefer the fast side or the efficient and I don't know.

I actually want both and I want it now. Actually, I wanted it yesterday. Perfect. But it's hard though. I mean like leadership's hard to, especially like when you know you can get it done and you know the way you want it to be executed and that trust thing. Going back to like letting people do their jobs and come to you with questions and creating an environment and a culture where people feel like they can do that without disappointing you or upsetting you or anything like that.

So I understand that one completely. I've, I've had to learn that too, so. You don't want to be scary boss lady. Right?

Oh goodness. But yeah, I mean, that's, those are definitely important lessons that you've learned.  as far as advice for the audience, what is something that you would say to somebody who's contemplating taking a leap like you did? Like this leap of faith, start their own business, travel the world, write a book, all the things that you've done.

Like what would you tell them. So a couple of things. First is don't ask too many people for advice. I see the advice train knock so many people down, before they've even gotten started. There's a time and place for feedback and there's a certain type of person that you should be looking for, and if you have clarity around what your next moves might be, then you should have clarity around who the next person should be that you ask.

If you start asking people that know you best, you're going to get the worst answers because they know a version of you that's not who you're trying to become. It's who you are now. And so you need someone looking from the outside in, definitely. And then make sure you ask them who, like who they would suggest or what qualities they would suggest you looking for in a, in a partnership, because the best decision that I, that I made was really connecting with someone who's my exact opposite. And it works because of that. And it's easy to fall into the trap of partnering with someone exactly like you. But that doesn't, this is not, this is not going to help you down the line. You know, when both of you don't want to do the one thing.

And so, so yeah, it would be, find the right person for advice. For me, I went to, I would just started dropping into B-School classes. And taking advantage of the teachers because that's what they're there for. Right? They have great advice, and like I said, I had someone actually advise me not to go to the school and just start a company.

So if you know. If you're asking the right kind of person who's made it a career choice to do this, then you might get, an the answer your you weren't expecting, and probably a lot more support emotionally you're going to need down the road. Yeah, no, I know. 

Allison Walsh: It's such a valuable piece of advice. Just even what you said about the people that are closest to you now know this version of you, they don't know the next version that you're trying to evolve into or become.

And it can be very limiting, right? And they also want to protect you and they don't want to see you fail. And it's like, but you know, you learn through failures too, and you learn through growing and nothing great happens inside the comfort zone, right? It's all on the outside. So. Amazing. No, no. Excellent.

So this is the part of the show where I like to get recommendations on favorite books, favorite podcasts. I mean, I'm going to plug your book because I think it's not going to turn out the right set up. I think it's the most amazing book, and I have recommended it a million times, and I mean, personal branding is such a hot topic anyways, but the way that you break it down in here is exceptional.

So I highly recommend, I'm going to do the plug for you on this one that everybody gets this book. It's called "Platform: the art and science of personal branding". But what else do you recommend,  as far as what people should be listening to or reading and what's influenced you in a really positive way?

Yeah, so one recently, a podcast that I started listening to is called "What we don't know" it's on Patreon and they interview very passionate activists. And the reason I like it is because the passion and the dedication and the focus is something that we don't always get in business, right, or being an entrepreneur or something like there's a fallback. But for these people, there isn't a fallback where they went through something and then they, and it kind of reminds you or reminds me anyway, why I started in the first place.

And it helps me to stay aligned in the path because it's so easy to take the, like, you know, to become a fake CEO, for someone to take the money, really, it's much easier. But, but so I think that I really enjoy, enjoy that for that very reason.   I don't always get a ton of time as listened to podcasts because noise is very destracting for me.

That sounds great. And then there's so many amazing books out right now. One that I actually recently read that I thought was crazy. It's called "Out of control", and it was written by Kevin Kelly who,   you know, editor, chief, founder of wired magazine. But the interesting thing is they made all of the cast of the matrix read this book before.

Before they filmed. And it's very like philosophical, but it's old film. So it kind of aligns with what's happening now. But it, it, it's a good way to think about the internet in general and marketing from like a, what is it, you know? And if you can understand what it is and what his intent was, then it makes him much eeasier to navigate and build a personal brand and to,   you know, to build companies and to market yourself and look for the trends that are coming up. You know, very, influential influencers they get in at the tip of the iceberg, right? So if you started to talk nine months ago, 10 months ago, you saw it coming, and then you're, you're on your way because they're there to support you.

So that's a great book.And then one of my mentors,reasonably affordable a year and a half ago called "Talking to crazy". Awesome, that love that. And he also wrote "Just Listen", which is another great one.  Perfect for me.  Yeah, those are definitely some favorites. And then, there's another one "Extreme you"   Sarah O'Hagan. Again, her name is so long. It's first name, Sarah, last name O'Hagan, and lots in the middle. She became the CMO of Powerade I'm sorry, Gatorade. I like competing with Powerade when she was 27. Then she was CEO of Nike flywheel, so she's just like crazy. Yeah. That's awesome. It's a wild one.  yeah, those are some of my, my favorites.

Awesome. Who else do you recommend that the audience follow on either Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook? 

Cynthia Johnson: The founder of a company called Ripl, his the last name is Larsen, L. A. R. S. E. N. So this guy has like no followers and he's a billionaire who runs the third largest cryptocurrency in the world.

And I would just suggest really for people to look for important people who don't have a lot of followers. They just send the best information out, you know?   so I look, you know, look for the CEOs of companies, look for the, the following Jack Dorsey or something, right?

If you follow him on Instagram, actually not that great of a deal. And then I'd also say follow people where they have the least amount of followers. 

Okay. Interesting. They're more personal there and they're easier to get to.  Yeah, those are, those are my tidbits. 

Allison Walsh: Awesome. So how should the audience connect with you or stay in touch and follow you?

Cynthia Johnson: Where do you want them to connect? Yeah, I'm at @Cynthialive on Instagram, Twitter. My website is or you can also find me at Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you Cynthia, and being on the show so much and I'm so excited for you and the next chapter and everything that you're doing.

I mean, you've been so successful thus far, but I know this is only like the starting point, right? There's so much more to come and that's the best. So thank you so much, you. 

I love everything you're doing so. Please like keep moving and motivating. I well, thank you. Appreciate you. Bye. 

I hope you enjoyed the podcast and again, remember there is so much out there, there are so many valuable tools and amazing people that are doing incredible things, so never tell yourself that you're not capable of greatness.

You absolutely are. If you make that commitment to be 1% better. Each and every day you will get to your goals. I believe in you 1000% and my goal is that you do to take care .