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How to Build Your Brand and Sell Your Story

Maggie Borden

August 01, 2018

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Elena Besser Headshot
Elena Besser

The latest installment in our ongoing Women’s Leadership Programs webinar series explored the ins and outs of branding and personal and professional promotion. Top Chef alum and entrepreneur Tiffany Derry, branding expert and women’s empowerment leader Kandia Johnson, and food media personality Elena Besser discussed the challenges and rewards of developing their public personas, along with tips for becoming your own best advocate. Below, Derry, Johnson, and Besser share some of their top insights.

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James Beard Foundation: Is there a difference between your personal and your professional brand? How can you reconcile those two things?

Tiffany Derry: One thing I learned after my experience on television is that any separation between the personal and the professional disappeared. I had a normal Facebook page and I tried to create an official chef page, but it ended up becoming muddled. So now everything is everything; if I put it out there, I put it out there for both my momma and investors to see. Anything that should not be on social media, I don’t post. I make sure that the message is the same, whether it be family, friends, food, restaurant life, where to go to drink, or where to go to eat—it all kind of ties together.

Kandia Johnson: I tell my clients, “You control the narrative,” and encourage them to identify at least four themes. Maybe have three things built around your business and choose one thing from your personal life, like your love of pets, or if you’re targeting moms, maybe you want to showcase taking your kid to school. Stick within those four things, and always remember that you control the narrative in terms of what you put out on each and every platform. 

JBF: Social media is a very charged space, full of lots of opinions, but you can’t deny that it’s really important, especially when you’re building a personal brand. What role does it play in your life and your business?

Elena Besser: The most important thing is being able to have something to show people that you can eventually turn into income. I don’t necessarily worry about the fluctuations in my Instagram followers. That’s just going to drive you insane, and that’s not really what it’s about. 

In general, I use these platforms to showcase what I can do, because we don’t know if Instagram is even going to stay relevant. The goal is that if Instagram were to shut down tomorrow, I would be okay. I still have skills that I can take to clients and say, “Look, I can produce video, I host video, I’m a trained cook, I’ve been to culinary school, I do food photography,” and so on. At the end of the day, it’s just a visual portfolio.

JBF: How can we, as women, become more confident in ourselves?

TD: Most of the time, the thing that holds us back is our own internal fear. It’s not somebody else holding us down—it’s usually you, afraid to step out and stand on your own. A lot of the time we just allow ourselves to get too much in our own head. I’m a bit of an over-thinker. Sometimes it works, but sometimes I have to know when to cut it off and just do what I need to do. 

KJ: I’ve learned that confidence is a skill, not a talent. So just like you had to learn the basics of math or science, you have to start with the basics of confidence. Confidence is also about owning your strengths and your weaknesses. You don’t have to be good at every single thing; you don’t have to know all of the answers.

JBF: What is one piece of advice or one key takeaway you’d like to share?

KJ: People strive to create all this buzz on social media, but the truth is that you really have to do the work. You have to understand that anyone can set up a business, but not too many of us are a brand, and not too many of us can maintain it. What are the processes and systems that are going to allow your business to succeed? You need to have a clear understanding of that.

EB: There isn’t a rulebook. You define your own rules. I’ve watched so many YouTube videos and Googled so many things to learn new skills. The Internet is a terrible and beautiful place at the same time—use it, utilize it, and also use your network. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help, but get organized. You are responsible for your life.

TD: I just want to stress the importance of getting off the couch. I want everyone to understand that we can have all of the best ideas and we can think that everything’s going to be great, but we actually have to make a move. Just remember that it is important to plan, to show up, and to be consistent.

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Get more advice and resources by watching the full webinar.

Learn more about JBF Women's Leadership Programs.