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Johanna B. Voss: “Learn how to pitch yourself”

Take the risk. Thought leaders by definition of the title, have to stand out from the crowd. Be different. Say new things. Be bold and swim against the tide.I’ve used my position and access to call upon brands to do better. I’ve called out conference organizers of events with an all-white line up to do […]

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Take the risk. Thought leaders by definition of the title, have to stand out from the crowd. Be different. Say new things. Be bold and swim against the tide.

I’ve used my position and access to call upon brands to do better. I’ve called out conference organizers of events with an all-white line up to do better. Behind the scenes, I’m engaging with the event directors on how these events can build relationships with the Black community and who they can reach out to for speakers.


Aspart of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Johanna B. Voss. She is a talent manager, trusted by social media influencers who want clarity on how to build their brands, grow their businesses, earn their worth and plan strategically for the future. On behalf of her clients, she’s closed over one million dollars of brand deals, partnerships and speaking engagements. Her clients have partnered with brands such as Kroger, Walmart, AARP, Little Northern Bakehouse, H&R Block and ALDI. Negotiation is something she thoroughly enjoys be it for her clients, friends, or strangers. Entering her 10th year of working for herself, she understands all about the necessary pivots entrepreneurs take along their journey.

Prior to her work in the talent management space, Johanna worked on the Presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry for more than 7 years. Johanna is a world traveler, lived in Spain three times, can often be found cycling Colorado’s mountain ranges, or asking the question “What if you…?”


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I’m in my 10th year of being an entrepreneur and like all good entrepreneurial journeys, it’s been quite a squiggly path with 2 major pivots. My entrepreneurial journey began when I was living in Barcelona for a year, after backpacking around the world for a year. Yes, living la vida loca! My brain needed to be put to use again and truthfully, I need cashflow in, not out!

Nutrition coaching was how I dipped my toe into working for myself, lining up all my clients for Saturday Skype sessions. I would go to a friend’s apartment who had better wifi than mine did and skype my clients who lived in the US. After a couple of years, I began doing project management, operations, and strategy work, which I love and am really good at. Other online business owners would reach out to me for that help as they weren’t strong in the business side of owning a business, wanting to spend time on creating their art and doing the work.

During this chapter, a woman in FL hired me to do a strategy session with her on her business and she was the catalyst for me to start my talent agency. She’s an influencer, author, content creator and brand ambassador with a multi-six figure business. I knew nothing about the industry but we got along like a house on fire and I knew something amazing was unfolding. When we wrapped up her strategy session, she asked me to be her business manager/agent. Without really knowing what that meant, I said yes and haven’t looked back since.

A few years ago I went full time with my agency and now represent 9 women, 8 of whom are women of color. I realize now, wild as my path may seem, it was always leading me in this direction and I’m doing exactly what I am here to do. My motivation is to ensure women earn more and to stop leaving money on the table.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

With the way 2020 has unfolded between COVID, the ever-growing strength of the Black Lives Moment along with global protests, it’s been interesting to see who takes risks and who uses their platforms and privilege for leading. Unfortunately, many haven’t risen to the occasion.

The influencer space is one in which I’m always doing a lot of observing and studying, more so than ever this year. I watch. I study. I observe. I take notes. I practice what I preach.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It’s not one particularly interesting moment, but a series of them. Being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Each level of success and growth has brought its own set of challenges. There’s a lot of people who “should” all over you — you “should” do this, you “should” do that and it’s hard at times to find your way, to stay true to what you want to do and not feel like somehow, you’re failing.

Thru all this noise, I was (somehow) able to connect with my north star, my intuition and that served as my rudder along the way. My 2 major pivots (from nutrition coaching to strategy work and then from strategy work to talent management) were big leaps of faith. It’s interesting to me that my intuition has only gotten stronger along the way AND that I trust it. We’ve all got intuition, but the volume for a lot of us is turned down way low. During those pivots, my intuition was hitting me over the head with figurative 2x4s, ensuring that I got the message. Thankfully I did.

When I think back to my pivots, my intuition was so clear and strong. Even if I didn’t know what it meant to be a Talent Manager and really truly what my responsibilities would be, I knew that committing to this work was the right thing to do.

It’s interesting because most people when they start their business have a plan and some version of a long term vision. I’ve never had that. I always went with my gut and what felt right at the time. Turns out I’m all business with a touch of woo.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve been thinking about this question for days. Truthfully nothing in coming to mind. And the mistakes I am thinking of, aren’t funny…!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

A thought leader is a person who is more intentional, riskier, pro-active and growth-minded than a typical leader. They go beyond their comfort zone to seek new experiences, understanding and perspective.

A thought leader isn’t as tied into what people think of them as an Influencer is. A thought leader has an easier time going out on a limb with a new study, perspective, or being a voice of opposition in their community.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

It’s beneficial to be a thought leader because you’re expanding not only your own horizons and perspective but also those of others who seek your insight and wisdom. The quote “a mind once stretched by a new idea never returns to it’s old dimensions” by Ralph Waldo Emerson is one that often comes to mind when thinking about a thought leader. Thought leaders stretch our mind’s comfortable dimensions.

Thought leaders push us, nudge us, pull us beyond our comfort zone and what’s familiar. We learn how to ask better questions, how to support and love the people better in our community, how to show up and serve by thought leadership.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

From a business perspective, thought leadership at the helm or within the culture of a company can be quite innovative. A company open to seeing and exploring that which others don’t see or believe it, can bring new business opportunities and therefore new revenue to a company. It can also create new fields of opportunity. Think of Tesla. No matter your opinion on Elon Musk, he’s taken a lot of risk to becoming a thought leader on transitioning to sustainable energy without compromise.

Brene Brown is a great thought leader on embracing our vulnerability and fears. Companies that embrace using imperfection to build teams and shift company culture have amazing potential to strengthen their leadership teams and positively impact business growth.

Ava DuVernay is yet another great example of how being a thought leader positively impacts her career and that of movie success in Hollywood. She’s a pioneer!

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. Take the risk.

Thought leaders by definition of the title, have to stand out from the crowd. Be different. Say new things. Be bold and swim against the tide.

I’ve used my position and access to call upon brands to do better. I’ve called out conference organizers of events with an all-white line up to do better. Behind the scenes, I’m engaging with the event directors on how these events can build relationships with the Black community and who they can reach out to for speakers.

2. Create content

Find a way for your content to live outside of your brain. It must exist in this world where others can consume it. Write blogs. Make IGTVs. Write more blogs.

I’ve done an IGTV about how to be anti-racist in the influencer marketing world which is my most watched video so far.

I write blogs both about being anti-racists but also touching upon other aspects of being a talent manager. This continues to reinforce I know what I’m talking about.

3. Identify the perch from which you have expertise, insight and access to create a ripple effect.

When the Black Lives Matter movement became even more powerful earlier this year, like a lot of white people, I wondered how I could do better for Black People. I realized with my unique spot in the world as a manager who has daily conversations with brands and agencies, that is how I would use my perch to rise up. I decided to strongly lean into my network, access and knowledge. My speaking daily and sharing about the risks and steps I was taking, my voice in this arena became louder because of my established expertise in the influencer marketing space.

4. Expand your network. Be social. Don’t stay in your silo. Continue to seek new insight.

Engaging with others from a different perspective is a great way to learn, put your thoughts to action and really get clear on your zone of genius. After the murder of George Floyd, I put a call out on social to help any Black Influencer, for free, who needed help with media kits, rates and negotiation. I will never have, in this lifetime, the experience of being a Black Influencer. By expanding my world and connecting with this uber-talented group of Black content creators, I’ve been educated on how I can continue to serve and show up to support the Black community including how to make connections for them, how to put them on brand and agencies’ radars and pitching them for campaigns.

5. Learn how to pitch yourself

No matter how amazing your ideas are, if no one knows about them, what good are they doing? I knew in order to elevate my profile and that of my business, I had to get more eyeballs on the work that I was doing. In early January 2020, I took a course in PR and have spent 2020 pitching myself for media opportunities. To date, I’ve been featured on multiple podcasts and in articles.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Brene Brown speaks directly to what we all fear, which is feeling vulnerable. By speaking about the very thing that we all can relate to, it cuts down that fear and puts us all on the same playing field — no matter your title, income or background. In a funny plot twist, her vulnerability becomes her strength.

When speaking about her fear and addressing it at the moment, she is incredibly honest, transparent and relatable. She doesn’t hide behind how she thinks she should be or showing up being someone else. She is who is she, feeling what she’s feeling in that moment AND saying it out loud.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard her speak in 2013, on stage to a group of 5,000 women. She opened her talk by saying how afraid she was. Sharing when she was backstage, a mere 5 minutes ago, she was coming up with an escape plan to run out the side door, hail a taxi and head to the airport!

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

Interesting. I’ve not heard this before. Truthfully, I don’t have an opinion on it.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Listen to your intuition, however, it shows up for you — a feeling, a voice or a vision. Ignore the people who “should” all over you. It’s okay and necessary to rest. We’re signed up for the marathon, not the sprint, whether you like it or not.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love for people to become less defensive and to become okay with changing their minds, shifting their perspective and being open to a new opinion. Our world right now is so ripe with people who are 100% committed to their opinions and thoughts, it leaves zero room for conversation and discussion, which brings about more empathy and acceptance. Cognitive dissonance is crushing us.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Move your feet while you pray” ~ Kate Northrup. It’s akin to wanting something, to knowing perhaps what you want your business to look like down the road, but not being clear on the path between here and there. As you pray or however that looks to you, take small action steps in that direction. Move your metaphorical feet.

It’s been my mantra in my business from day one. Moving my feet is what has kept me alive and in business all these years. It’s the small steps that you take that build the foundation of what’s to come. Day after day you take action. Then one day you wake up and realize what you’ve created with consistent action.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Queen Elizabeth II. I hope she sees this!

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m always hanging out on Instagram > https://www.instagram.com/johannavoss/

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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