Johanna Voss is an eternal optimist and a born hustler. These innate traits along with her strategic mind and relationship-building skills have made her a force in the thriving Denver entrepreneurial scene. Johanna discusses how her work on political campaigns led to her true calling as a trusted business consultant and agent in the entrepreneurial space.
The Local Marketing Diaries series shares the journeys of business owners and entrepreneurs as they strive to grow and scale their businesses. This is Johanna's story, as told to Patrick Liddy of Vendasta.
I LOVE the entrepreneur lifestyle.
It's an experience I wouldn't trade for the world. I love who it's made me. I love who I've become as a result of being an entrepreneur. For me, it’s been a journey of personal growth and self-development.
I’m now starting my eighth year of being an entrepreneur, but I think it was really only around year three that I actually realized I was an entrepreneur!
I’m not one of those people who dreamed about it forever. That was never me. My father ran a financial planning business in the '90s, but that didn't end well due to a downturn in the economy. So I didn't have that entrepreneurial seed planted at all.
Instead, I stumbled upon it.
I actually began my journey in the political arena, working on political campaigns for eight years. But I left all that in 2008 and started traveling. I've never had a traditional job. I've never done what's "normal" and "traditional." So maybe it was always in the cards for me to be an entrepreneur, but it just took me a little while to figure it out.
My entrepreneurial mindset was in many ways forged in that political campaign work. Political campaigns are a 14 hours a day, 7 days a week commitment. You don’t stop moving.
There’s a lot of that "always on" mentality in both politics and running a business.
For other entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with, those who started in corporate America and were used to clocking in and clocking out, the transition to running their own business was a shock.
Being an entrepreneur is a whole different ballgame. You're working weekends. You're up late. You own your successes and failures. It’s not easy.
But it’s my normal.
My transition into an entrepreneurial life wasn’t seamless, though. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs, but mentally, the abnormality of life as an entrepreneur makes total sense to me.
When people reference corporate America, I literally have no idea what that's like. From day one, I've always done jobs that I've passionately cared about and worked on projects that I absolutely love.
That's all I've ever known.
My stint in politics left me exhausted, burned out, and ready for a change. I left politics and began traveling, spending an extended time in Spain. That was when I saw an opportunity to get certified as a health coach and make some income while traveling.
I started to meet other people who were launching products, and online courses. They would come to me after noticing what I had done with my health coaching business and say, "Hey Johanna, we really loved how you did that launch. We loved the questions you asked. Can you look at our marketing plan, our idea, our project plan? We'd love an extra set of eyes and ears on it. Can you give us feedback? What are we missing?”
So of course I said, "Yes!"
Health coaching was a natural fit for me, but I was not thinking, "Oh, I'm gonna be an entrepreneur. I'm gonna start my business." It was more like, "I'm looking for income. I'm looking for something to do, and I love health and fitness. I'm just gonna do that."
Getting into health coaching was a great first step for me, but it’s when I moved to Colorado that I had a major breakthrough.
The Cosmic Two by Four
I moved to Boulder and ultimately Denver to be closer to family, but soon realized that I’d found an incubator for my newfound career path. Both cities are literally teeming with entrepreneurs, so I had no shortage of people to emulate, and a large pool of folks open to new ideas.
So while I still was health coaching, I started helping entrepreneurs with strategy, operations, and project management on the side. I also took a job at a coworking space, working for Erin Weed, a local entrepreneur who helps people "discover their message, develop their speech, design their slides, and deliver their talk in front of a live audience.”
After working with me and identifying my strengths, Erin changed my job description to work more for my skill set. This was a brilliant move, and something that I hadn’t even recognized.
That was when a cosmic force knocked me upside the head and I realized that I had something that people wanted and needed.
I'd found something I’d love to do and that could be useful to other entrepreneurs.
Until that moment, I didn't see my unique skillset as a service that entrepreneurs would value. In my mind, I was like, "Oh, that's just helping on the side." I didn't see it as a talent.
That skillset—organization, strategic thinking, being detail-oriented, and having adaptability and hustle—I had actually learned on political campaigns, and they all transferred over extraordinarily well to my consulting and talent agency work.
In my mind, they had been two completely different chapters of my life, but now I realize how connected they are.
Being an #entrepreneur is a whole different ballgame. You're working weekends. You're up late. You own your successes and failures. It’s not easy. -Johanna VossClick To Tweet
For example, when I do strategy sessions with business owners, I essentially help them identify what the lay of the landscape is, what their goals are, the direction they want to go. Then I help them build a roadmap and plan, identify their priorities and where to focus their energy over the next three, six, nine, or twelve months.
That’s very similar to the strategic planning that goes into a campaign. Both are a series of sprints that congeal into a marathon over time, both of which you need to plan for.
Once I finally saw the patterns and made that realization, things started landing.
That’s when I knew I was on to something.
Shortly after being hit by that cosmic two-by-four and realizing that I had this talent, I made the switch from health coaching to consulting. From that moment on, that's all I've been talking about, and my business has exploded in the past couple years due to that realization!
It has certainly taken some hustle to get through the lean years though...
Moving Your Feet While You Pray
I'm a hustler.
I’ve always had this hustle in me, but things haven’t always worked out.
I very much had years where I thought, "Is this gonna work? Oh, my god. What am I doing?!"
Ask any entrepreneur, they’ve been through the survival/desperation stage, which is usually the first few years. I definitely had my share of setbacks, lost clients, and dead ends, as every entrepreneur does. If you continue to stick around, it's inevitable.
You're just throwing anything against a wall.
You’re saying yes to anything.
You’re deviating from your goal, your mission, your audience, or your niche because you’re in that valley of death, and you think, “Well, this is work and experience, so I’ll do it.”
The cosmic two-by-four was my catalyst, but it was often just sheer grit, determination, and hustle that got me through those early days.
However, in those pivotal moments when it seemed like I was stuck in an eternal valley, when I was thinking, "Holy shit. What am I gonna do now?", I now realize that those were moments of growth.
I won't say the growing pains are the best moments because, let's be honest, they suck.
But in my experience they don’t actually end up as the crisis I imagined. The first couple clients I lost I was like, "Oh, my god. I'm gonna die. This is never gonna work." But in hindsight, I realized, "Oh, I actually didn't really like X, Y, and Z about working with them." and discovered that their loss opened the door for opportunities that were a much better fit.
In those moments when the rug gets ripped out from under you, you have to stay hungry, avoid dwelling on it, and avoid going down that rabbit hole.
You can't take it personally.
You learn from it and you grow.
As I’ve gained more experience, I rebound faster, and I don't sink as low because I’ve bounced back so many times that I know something better is coming my way.
As I’ve gained more experience, I rebound faster, and I don't sink as low because I’ve bounced back so many times that I know something better is coming my way. -Johanna VossClick To Tweet
One of my favorite concepts is the idea of moving your feet while you pray. You can sit there like, "Oh, my sweet god, or Buddha or whoever," hold your breath and hope that the next client magically appears…
...or you can say, "Great. I'm gonna circle back with 10 people this week and reach out to those people who said they wanted to hire me."
So you go out and pitch yourself. You put yourself out there. You make the ask. You're hungrier. You hustle more.
You just start to take action, and even if you're not necessarily sure where it's gonna go, you move forward. The idea of moving your feet while you're crossing your fingers and praying and hoping that it all works out...that, to me, is where the magic happens.
Doing that has helped me get through lean times quicker and bounce back better than I did before.
Indulging My Muse
Since I run a business and am 100% in charge of my livelihood, people expect to hear that things like money stress or client drama keeps me up at night.
That is not me.
What keeps me up at night is actually creativity, my ideas, and their limitless possibilities. That is one of the things that I love most about being an entrepreneur.
I don't have a ceiling. I'm not put in a box. I don't have a job description. I don't have certain things I'm supposed to do or ways I'm supposed to be or act. I get to create my reality every single day, and so for me, that's what keeps me up.
2017 was my best year yet. I more than doubled my income, and I’m now in a place where my business is totally crushing it! This certainly helps fuel my creativity and enthusiasm, but really it’s just who I am.
For example, I came home recently from an event with incredibly inspiring and successful business women. There were three women on the panel whose business revenue was collectively over $500 million. These are all brand-new businesses, and all in the Denver area.
I came home from the event at around 9:30 pm, which is late for me.
But that night, I was wired, excited, and wide awake. I could just hear my brain ticking.
I’ve come to realize that my muse does not know my bedtime schedule when she arrives. She doesn't care.
She's like, "I'm here," and I’m like, "Okay. I need to do this!"
I had met several people at the event who approached me and told me, "I need you for my business”, and my brain was bouncing a couple ideas that I just couldn’t sleep on.
You better believe I pulled my computer out. I whipped up some emails. I created two webpages for my website that I'd had percolating in my brain, and I fleshed out a couple other ideas of things I wanted to do.
So creativity and the excitement of new ideas are actually what keeps me up at night, which is awesome.
I feel very blessed that that's my situation and scenario. Building upon success and feeling the creativity buzzing is one of the funnest spaces to be in.
It's a place with boundless possibilities and a sense of clarity that is intoxicating!
As told to Patrick Liddy exclusively for Vendasta. Design by Rory Lawford, original photos of Johanna by Melissa Malouff. Vendasta is the #1 platform for agencies selling digital solutions to local businesses. We empower you to acquire, retain, and grow your client base. Want to be featured in a future Local Marketing Diaries episode? Just let me know in the comments below or reach out here.