the entrepreneur series


Episode 21:

How to Start Building Your Personal Brand and Monetizing Your Content as a Black Creator

Advice from Noire Management's Founder and Chief Management Officer

In this episode, Morgan sits down with her friend and 2019 WorkSmart alum Ernest B. James who opens up about the lessons he learned in the program and how he’s grown and transformed his business over the past two years. EJ is the Founder and Chief Management Officer of Noire Management, a full-service multicultural digital influencer, talent, marketing, and communications agency.


Noire Management has grown well beyond the talent management business that it started as in 2018. Beyond simply managing influencers and talent, Noire is now a growing consultancy and retainer-based agency. Noire champions diversity and inclusive narratives and experiences through talent representation, campaigns, and event executions. It also connects creatives of color with brands looking to bridge the communication gap in order to create authentically engaging content that resonates with today’s highly informed consumer groups. 

A business is born

One week after being unexpectedly laid off from his full time job, EJ made the leap into entrepreneurship by happenstance. He had been toying with the idea of management or going out on his own—but not directly jumping off the cliff.


Years working in talent agencies allowed him to see how diversity was still lacking in the industry. “If I’m your client, show me someone that looks like me,” he recalls saying after working with agencies without a single person of color. He started reaching out to other black creators who needed help managing brands and social media followings and found a massive need. 

Evolving business structure

“My core business we have today is not the same core business that we had when we started. It has evolved because of the WorkSmart program,” EJ said. At the start, his company strictly focused on talent management and took a 20% cut of every deal they negotiated. But this left him with no room to grow strategically and financially. “I’m going to be broke forever. This is stupid,” he remembers thinking. “You are basically working for free and making other people more money.”


One of the core areas he focuses on now is showing black creators that they are running a business. From setting rates to working with brands, he encourages creators to think of themselves as a small creative agency.


Strategically (and thanks to the WorkSmart program!), he’s focused on moving towards a retainer-based business focused on a broad range of services beyond just talent management.

Lasting lessons from WorkSmart program

In 2019, EJ applied to the program because he was looking to learn how to grow and scale business while unlearning truths that were holding him back from success.


“The WorkSmart program really taught me how to work smarter so I could bring in more revenue, make more money, and scale my business,” he said. Now he offers a true consultancy, retainer-based agency with monthly clients. “Because of the program, I became a business.”


EJ recalls other impact lessons he learned through the program, including how to get out of the ‘feast or famine mindset’ as an entrepreneur and the importance of diversifying your income.

His advice for creators

EJ has bounds of wisdom for aspiring content creators: “There’s so many people making content. There’s not a lot of people making great content. Great content is what people come back for.”


The keys to great content also include consistency and authenticity. “People have to know that it is a slow build to build an audience, especially in a crowded space. Consistency is key,” he said. You have to start at ground zero and cultivate your brand. And it’s essential to know your unique point of view or aesthetic or brand to stand out in a crowded space. 


“For any content creator out there, it’s a build. Brick by brick.”

Content drives the world

One key to staying ahead, EJ says, is by consuming content as much as possible. What new shows are out? What are people talking about? “Content is what drives the world.” And for the bloggers in the back: you must be a media company. 

Knowing when to go full time

You have to be able to look at your overhead expenses (things like rent, groceries, etc) and know the amount you’ll need covered before you make the jump.



Remember: work smarter, not harder.

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