I want to introduce you to Sarah Johnston, who helps high-performers land amazing jobs.
And may I add that she is amazing! She’s an executive résumé writer and Linkedin branding specialist. She’s an interview and career coach, a speaker, and so much more.
Sarah spent the first 10 years of her career as a corporate recruiter and development professional. She got tired of seeing hardworking people get passed over for opportunities because they didn’t interview well or know how to position their strengths. What makes Sarah different from other coaches is that she can relate to the job seeker experience. And on top of that, she calls herself the briefcase coach, because she’s made multiple cross-country relocations for her spouse’s job and successfully launched job searches in cold markets. She’s a mom to two beautiful girls, and also she has a million followers on LinkedIn. Sarah, welcome. It’s an honor to have you as my featured guest in this month’s Authoritti5.0 Magazine.
Mary: This issue of Authoritti5.0 is called the One Million Club, and I couldn’t think of anyone else to feature on the front cover but you, and not only because of your million followers, by the way. It’s also because you are so relatable and your bio actually does speak for itself. You’re clear about what you’re creating in terms of content on a social media platform like LinkedIn and also off social media that clearly resonates with people. And honestly, I can put it down to one thing that your bio states: You can relate to people. You put yourself in their shoes. So I want to make this interview not so much about the one million followers, but more about the many roles you play. You’re a spouse, you’re a coach, you’re a boss. You’re so much more than the million followers because that doesn’t define who you are. But I want to break this down for our listeners and our readers. Why do you think anyone on social media attracts a large number of followers? You must be doing something right that others who are in your space are not. So from your standpoint, do you think it starts with a clear intention? Can you just break it down for us? Is it how you show up on LinkedIn on a day-to-day basis that’s giving you this gravitas?
Sarah: So I think that the thing that you kind of touched on is that I’m very much a normal person. I didn’t go to Harvard. I am not the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I am a soccer mom with two little girls, and I started my business with basically zero marketing dollars to spend. I needed to find a way to bootstrap my business, so that I could connect with my target customer. When I was first starting off, I needed a way to
get my message out to my target audience, with free content. It’s easy. I did not have time for an SEO strategy to work for me because, I was trying to grow a business from zero to something because I wanted to quit my corporate job as a recruiter, be able to support my family, and be able to pay for childcare so that I could work. And I needed to find a way to reach my target audience quickly; social media and developing a social media strategy really worked for me.
Mary: That is amazing. And I think that you just hit the nail on the head about when you’re in a situation where you have limited funds so you can’t spend much. One of the things about a platform like LinkedIn, and you said it beautifully, is that content is free. And that is how social media platforms actually make their money; they need people like us to create awesome content to get the eyeballs to show their ads to.
Let’s break this down in terms of a blueprint, if you will, because many people who are reading this are also in the same situation right now. They’re scratching their head thinking about how to actually create relevance and get eyeballs on their content so that they can be seen and heard. They’ve got limited funds. They love the LinkedIn platform, their target audience is there, but each time they post, they’re just not getting any engagement. How is that you get 600-700 likes and 200- 300 comments on your posts, when someone else is getting hardly anything? What is the difference in your eyes?
Sarah: Oh, it could be a couple of things, but one is committing to consistency, and I compare content creation to going to the gym or to committing to a weight loss plan. You can’t just eat healthy for one day and expect to lose 20 pounds, and it’s the same with creating and building an audience. You really have to commit to a long-term strategy. And so I have been writing an original piece of content for LinkedIn four business days a week for the last almost five years. I can only think of maybe three times that I’ve missed a week. I’ve really stayed the course and have been very, very consistent in building that message. I think the other thing that I would tell someone who’s new to creating content is to imagine talking to your target audience, or imagine being that person that you’re talking to: What do they need to hear? And the more you can really connect to someone as you write, the more it’s going to resonate with your audience. Too often, people write to a really broad audience, but I would encourage you to really focus in and speak to one person. And your content will therefore speak to many.
Mary: Do you know what, Sarah? You just mentioned the word commitment and what I say is that it’s not just committing to content on a day-to-day basis or a week-to-week basis, but it’s showing your target audience that you are a committed, consistent human being. That’s how you roll on a day-to-day basis, regardless of whether you’re on or off LinkedIn. And the other thing I want to add here is that you’re a mom, a soccer mom with two young girls. You also have a spouse, you have a household, you have a business that you’re running, but you still make time to show up on the platform every single day and also engage in others’ posts. So many people say they just don’t know how you have the time to do it. I don’t know about you, but I’m a master planner. My whole day is task-driven world. Is that something you would encourage people to do? Do you have a system in place or do you have a task list? Is it in your calendar? Does somebody else do it for you? How do you manage all of these roles in one day?
Sarah: If we’re speaking specifically about how do I manage to post on LinkedIn every day, it’s because I know I have to do it. And when you know you have to do it and it starts working for you, you make it a priority when it pays off. I give myself a window between usually 7:30 and 8:30 AM. And when I create urgency, I give myself a deadline to make it happen. I also have an idea list in my phone. So anytime I’m out in the community or in line at Starbucks and an idea pops into my mind, I put it in my list on my phone. The other thing that I think that your readers would really enjoy knowing is that in order to commit to creating content regularly, you have to read and you have to consume content. And so I read something every day and expand my knowledge base, which therefore helps me tenfold as a coach. And I think I’m better prepared to work with clients because I’m reading, I’m engaging, I’m learning, and I’m committed to learning so that I can create content.
Mary: Oh my God, Sarah, you are speaking my language! I’m exactly like you. I’ve got my audible books, and the more I read, the more I expand my cognition levels. My creativity expands and ideas just start flowing. That is actually a great point you’ve just made about reading books that resonate with you, or even ones that are way outside your lane, because then you start to put these pieces together and your content is not linear. I was reading your posts before this interview, and I love that you’re not linear; some of them are thought- provoking. Some of them are about what I’m thinking today. Some of them are about advice. So correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s a combination of angles, but ensuring that you’re not linear; some of them are thought- provoking. Some of them are about what I’m thinking today. Some of them are about advice. So correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s a combination of angles, but ensuring that you’re sitting in front of your target audience, if you will, or one individual and having coffee over a problem that they’ve just shared with you. Is that your mindset when you’re writing content?
Sarah: Always my mindset. I want someone to walk away with a new knowledge point or something very practical that they can apply to their life. So while I’m learning, I want to carry my readers on my journey.
Mary: I’m just loving this already. So at what point would you say that your journey on LinkedIn actually hit that momentum and your following took on a life of its own, meaning it required very little effort on your part?
Sarah: I think that’s a two-fold question. I would say that probably two years ago, I surpassed my income that I was making in the corporate world as a small business owner from the strategy that I set for my business using content creation and other lead-generation tools. I think it is going to always take cultivation and work, though. I don’t think that you can ever say, we’re on autopilot, I’ve got a million followers. I want to build a community, and I want people to come to me, trust me, and know that I am their friend for their job search.
Mary: Do you know what, Sarah, when I see you on LinkedIn, I actually see you as the trusted advisor in the area that you specialize in. And you’re right; it’s not about the followers. They follow you because they genuinely want to become a part of your tribe. I think this is where a lot of people go wrong: They’re after the followers, but they don’t actually know who’s following them. What you’re saying is you care about your tribe and you nurture that tribe. You give them content, you genuinely care about what you write, and you make sure that whatever piece of content leaves your five fingers that morning actually matters to the one million people who potentially could see that post. Would you agree with that?
Sarah: A thousand percent? And that’s why I hate saying that I have a million followers because that makes it feel like a number that I’m chasing, whereas I’m really focused on the relationship. And I’m just lucky that I got that number, but really the relationship and the network and the community are what I care about.
Mary: Absolutely. So that leads me to another question. Do you think from your experience that understanding your purpose with clarity on social media or even off social media, when we’re going to networking events, is paramount and critical to attracting your target audience and your target tribe?
Sarah: A thousand percent. And I think you have to be really careful about the types of things that you engage with in-person or online, which is why I’ve never been a fan of those pods, where you have to like everybody in the pod’s content, because I want to make sure that I approve of the message that I’m commenting on. You’ll find that I never post things that are fluffy and like cotton candy and airy that don’t align with my tribe, my message, and my brand, because when you comment on things that are different or a different viewpoint from your personal brand, that can detract from the main message that you’re sending. And so you want to make sure that all of the content that you put out there aligns with that message that you want to send.
Mary: That takes me to the next question. You’re a LinkedIn branding specialist. So obviously you look at people’s profiles and you dig deep to make sure that there are certain criteria in that profile that matter. And I agree with that.
I think that the LinkedIn profile is fundamental to our success. You know, a lot of people land on my LI profile, see my About section, and book a strategy call. They don’t even know me. They’ve never met me before. So that LinkedIn profile really matters from your standpoint and the audience that you’re serving. Let’s just talk about the audience that you serve, people who are actually applying for significant roles at a senior corporate level. Why does it matter to get your LinkedIn profile on brand?
Sarah: Your profile is your digital first impression to the world, and you need to make sure that the message aligns with who you are and the PR the image you want to project the world. A lot of the people that I work with are C-level leaders, and their profiles haven’t been touched since LinkedIn came out in 2003. They write their autobiography in the third person and no one wants to connect with them; readers want to connect with and have a real relationship with someone human. I believe it’s critical for leaders to give that human first impression, so a lot of the work that I do with people is unpacking their stories, finding out what makes them different, showing their human element, why they like working with people, and what drives and motivates them.
Mary: And I agree with you. It’s the shopfront, isn’t it, or even more it’s a micro website that people go to first. What would be the one thing that you’ve learned about yourself and your presence by being on LinkedIn?
Sarah: Well, I have known that I’m often wrong, but people will tell me I’m wrong on LinkedIn. And so I think that you have to get comfortable as a content creator being told that you’re not right, or that your opinion is wrong. It will either strengthen your skin, or it could eat at you. And if you’re a coach trying to decide whether to commit to writing and putting yourself out there, you have to get comfortable with not being liked by everyone or not having the opinion that everyone else always agrees with. I think that every week I write something gets two or three hate messages from people, and you just have to get comfortable with that.
Mary: Sarah, that happened to me last year. I did a post on LinkedIn, and I actually got two mixed reactions. It absolutely went viral in the first hour, but I had to remove it because 50% of the people were like, “Oh my God, this is amazing.” The other 50% of people were like, “You know, this is a great way to destroy your brand.” About 10% actually were trolling me and sending disgusting messages. It was so bad. And when I took it off, people emailed me asking “Why did you take it off? That was ridiculous.” And I said that I just couldn’t be bothered with all of that.
There was too much noise and that was not the intention of the post. It was just to actually think of the situation with a completely different lens, but people weren’t ready to see it like that. And that’s fine. But the trolling does happen. And you’re right that, the more you grow, the more people will like you, love you, and absolutely despise you. So you have to get comfortable with that.
What do you think the benefits are on a social media platform? I mean, you’ve got a million followers, we know that, but outside of that, there must be benefits for you as a business owner by showing up on LinkedIn every day. Can you share that with us?
Sarah: One is that I’ve built a relationship with people through my content, and they come to me primed and ready to work with me. And I was not expecting that when I set out on this journey. I often got on the phone with them for a
discovery call, and I anticipated having to do a little selling. But so often, we’d get on the phone and they’d say, “Okay, Sarah, how do I sign up? How do I work with you?” And I’d be like, “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. Let’s make sure that this is a fit. Let me tell you what I’m about.” And they’d answer, “Well, I’ve been reading your stuff for the last two years, and I’m ready to work with you.”
And so that has been one of the surprising things for me about building a relationship with people through content. The other thing that I’ve genuinely loved is the relationships that I’ve made with my fellow coaches and fellow content creators. I think a lot of people don’t realize that we content creators have our community, and we’re friends. A lot of the business that I get is from referrals, and a lot of the opportunities that I’ve been given are because of people that I’ve become friends with on LinkedIn. That’s been another really huge benefit for me.
Mary: I love that. I think you hit the nail on the head about what people don’t realize about LinkedIn. It’s when people come to you, they’re primed, and they are ready to start working with you. There’s no selling involved because the content does the selling without selling. And also you’re actually building a pipeline. The fact that people have been following you for two years, and then they come to you when they’re ready, shows to me that it’s a pipeline. How many times, Sarah, have you actually engaged with a new client who has been watching you on LinkedIn for so long, but never engaged in your content? And when you meet them, you’re surprised. But then they say, “I’ve been following you for two years.” How many times has that happened to you?
Sarah: Pretty much all of my clients are that way. It’s so funny. Like the people who were most active on my post are often not the people that ended up working with me. They’re there, they’re fans, they’re friends, and I’m grateful for them, but those are often not my clients. My clients are the secret lurkers who log in to LinkedIn on Monday mornings and that’s it. And they just happened to enjoy my post, but never actually committed to even “liking” it. So I don’t know that they exist.
Mary: Let’s talk a little bit about what we touched on before, the community of content creators on LinkedIn and your circle of influence. Have you been able to build relationships from a business standpoint on LinkedIn? And if you have, how have you approached that?
Sarah: I have! I created a new business entity, a startup with two individuals, Virginia Franco and Adrienne Tom, who I didn’t know before I met them on LinkedIn.
We liked and engaged in each other’s content. We were going to a conference together, and we arranged to meet there. We had drinks and we just really hit it off. We saw a lot of synergy, and we decided to launch a business together. And I’m so incredibly grateful for those women in that partnership.
There are just tons of examples like that. I’ve been on other people’s podcasts, I’ve supported other people’s businesses. I got invited to be in Kristin Sherry’s book because of that LinkedIn relationship. And so, I feel like I’m milking this platform for all I can get. It’s been so good to me.
Mary: What would you say, outside of the trolling, is the one negative thing about having a large following?
Sarah: I’ll give you a real-life example. Yesterday, I kind of got in a bad headspace because I felt like my content hasn’t been getting the reach over the last couple of weeks that it typically does. And so I was kind of analyzing the algorithm and analyzing every single post that I’ve made and wondering what’s going on. And I found myself having a scarcity mindset, thinking what happens if this goes bad? Is my business going to go wrong? I was very focused on the “what ifs.” And I had to take a step back and say, “You know what? This is not who I am. I don’t have a scarcity mindset. I’m a connector. I’m a collaborator. I need to be focused on this abundance.” And so sometimes being on a platform like LinkedIn, where there is an algorithm at play, can kind of work on how you think. And I’ve had to watch that.
Mary: It’s amazing that you say that, Sarah, because you know my account got restricted yesterday, as I mentioned to you before. I didn’t go into shock factor, though; I was like, okay, whatever. I reached out to a few people who said not to worry, because it’s happening everywhere. But then like you, I thought, “Oh my God, what if my account doesn’t get reinstated? I mean, what will I do? I’ve got to start all over again.” And then for like five minutes, I went into panic mode. And then I thought, “I’m just imagining this right now. It’s not real. I’ve got to take a step back.” And I don’t know if you agree with this, Sarah, but we have to also take a step back and understand what the real life world is like. Yes, we’ve got LinkedIn, which is a social media platform, but real life physical connections are even more important. Now with COVID, how are you coping with that? Because to me, you come across as somebody who is very much a relationship, face-to-face type of a person. Your energy is just so strong, I can feel it even over this call, but being face-to-face is a whole different experience. How are you coping with that during a lockdown?
Sarah: That’s a great question. You know, I would absolutely say I’m an extrovert. I love people. I love being involved in my community. My past track record is that I am a doer. When I’m in a community, I’m on a board, I’m involved, I’m volunteering. We moved to Chapel Hill- Durham six months before the pandemic started, so I didn’t get to build my base here before lockdown happened. So it’s made it being an extrovert and a connector a little bit more challenging. Plus, you know, I’ve got young kids at home who have been in remote school and I’ve been homeschooling. So I think finding a groove and finding a rhythm has been harder, but I am also an optimist. And the taste of being out of this pandemic is just really sweet, and I’m very excited for summer and for the relationships that I can build really soon.
Mary: What do you do to stay relaxed? What’s your go-to modality to actually get yourself grounded? What do you do? Do you meditate? Do you do yoga or Pilates?
Sarah: I try to spend some time in prayer every morning, having quiet time before my day starts. Also during the pandemic, I’ve tried to commit to running one mile a day, and I know that’s not like a lot of mileage; I know that’s not like training for a marathon. But I think just the consistency of doing something physical every single day has been really helpful for me. Then, you know, I love bubble baths.
Mary: I can see you in a bubble bath, totally immersed in these bubbles all the way to the top. That’s just wonderful. And I love that you touched on prayer because I’m a very similar person. I have a strong connection with my spirituality, which is an important aspect of who I am. I also do a lot of journaling, and I ask a lot of questions. I think one of the key things about me and the relationship I have with my business is that spirituality, which is the sandwich in between me, the physical, and my business. And in-between that lies this aspect of me that is very private, but such an important part of my success and also my connections with the right people in the outside world. How do you feel about that? Are your spirituality and your relationship to the higher intelligence, the higher power, whatever you want to call it, a critical part of this journey for you?
Sarah: Absolutely. I think every single day it’s centering to a place of humility and just focusing on how i can do the most good and serve someone who is greater than me. And so again, I think influence is important, but focusing that influence in ways that are for good is what counts.
Mary: I agree with you. I have decided that it’s an important part of my grounding. because I feel that you can do great things on social media and create great content. It can go two ways. It can do great things for community and for you. but it can also go the other way. And I see a lot of people going the other way, where it just becomes this ego centric presence. I think that it’s a critical aspect for people to understand that if you want to create presence online or offline, the relationship that you have with yourself and your spirit self, and something much bigger than that, is the grounding that we all need to have a relationship with.
Sarah: A thousand percent agree.
Mary: I want to ask you this last question, which I ask everybody, If you could meet someone who is no longer living, who would it be, and what would you ask or what would you want to know?
Sarah: There are so many amazing people who have done very brave things. And, you know, i have a daughter who’s been studying Black History month and some women recently. And I just think about people like Harriet Tubman, who was so, so brave and risked her life for other people, and Corrie ten Boom. And I mean, just so many amazing women and men throughout history, who’ve just done radical, brave things. I would love to sit down and just pick their brains about what made them act with such bravery and tenacity and what drove them, I think for someone to do something big for other people is just so inspiring.