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Michelle Phan Shares Her Secrets to Success, Plus Why She Doesn't Follow Celebs on Social Media

Updated

YouTube beauty guru Michelle Phan takes cues from her viewers when it comes to the videos she makes, but what do her 7 million subscribers want to know most? How to tap into the Internet star’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Michelle Phan
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

“They’re always asking me, ‘Michelle, how do I become successful, how do I do what you do?'” Phan tells PEOPLE. “And it’s becoming younger and younger. I now have 10-year-olds asking me about how to become successful, how to become a business owner, which is crazy — at 10 I was trying to figure out which Barbie I wanted.”

Naturally, we had the same desire, especially after learning about her new venture, ICON Network, a multi-platform hub for creators to dive deep into lifestyle content in addition to style and beauty. We checked in with Phan about her new gig as Creative Director (check out two exclusive videos from ICON below!), and she shared her best tips for building your own brand.

Get motivated by the masses, not the superstars. Despite being inspired by celebs for her beauty tutorials (her Miranda Kerr makeup tutorial is one of her favorites), she reveals, “I don’t really follow very famous people on Instagram. I don’t really relate to what they post.” After spotting a ton of product pushing and sponsored posts, she decided to ditch them from her feed. “I just wanted to follow people that inspired me, like illustrators, artists and artisans,” she says. “I found this incredible plate designer, @suiteonestudio. I see her plates and they make me feel better. That’s what people are looking for now on Instagram. They don’t want to feel insecure when they see celebrities showing off expensive cars and jets and parties and dresses. They want authenticity… something real that evokes inspiration, not jealousy. That inspires creation.”

Look for engagement, not followers. “My best advice for anyone out there that feels like ‘I don’t have a million followers so why should I even give it a shot’  is that it’s not about the numbers it’s about the engagement,” she says. “That’s how you can build influence… A lot celebrities get millions of followers, but when I click on their pictures there’s only 20,000 likes or 40,000 likes, or only 200 comments which is a very low ratio. Then you go on another account that has 500,000 followers but they get around 80,000 thumbs up, and over 1,000 comments. And so their engagement level is actually higher than the celebrity with millions of followers. That’s how I put value on a creator.”

Steer clear of the “Discover” page on Insta — you never know who you might find! “I never go through the discover page. Because the algorithm changes, I don’t really think the discover page is really showing me what I like,” she says. Instead, she scours her comments, a task that takes her to what she calls the “black hole.” “I click on usernames or comments that have really stuck out to me. And I’ll click on them and I’ll click on whom they follow or what posts they like, who commented on them. I found this one kid on Instagram — he’s probably one of the most amazing, profound photo editors I’ve seen yet,” she says. “He’s only 16; he’s in New Zealand. And I want to be able to give him a job. If he had the right tools, he could take his creations to the next level. I’m investing in someone who could potentially be the next big special effects artist.”

Make sure your content works with your platform. Phan calls Icon Network “platform agnostic”— viewers go where the content is. She has different styles for different mediums. “If you go on my Instagram, you’re not going to see the same content you’ll see on my YouTube,” she says. “Instagram has become the new magazine. It’s much more editorial, and about perfect moments that are captured. Snapchats are funny, real moments that you want to share. On YouTube, it’s more structured, more storytelling. You’re telling a story rather than just taking a pretty picture. Each platform has a way where you really maximize it.”

Don’t be competitive when it comes to starting your own business. “It’s no longer the older paradigm of  ‘I want to own this market and no one else can own this market because I own this market.’ The Internet has made the market limitless,” she says. And even if you’re preaching to the whole world wide web, there will still be haters. “There are a lot of people who don’t like what I do, but that’s fine because they can like something else, because I have millions of people who love what I do. There is no competitive space because you can really own a special market in a unique way. Just like Blake, just like Reese, and just like Gwyneth with Goop. Sure, I can’t afford $100 shot glass, so I’m sure someone else — maybe in Dubai — can afford it, and that’s fine, she has her market right there.”

Tell us: Are you excited for Michelle Phan’s new lifestyle network? What do you think of her advice?

–Catherine Kast

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