IN HER SHOES Pinterest trailblazer – Sarah Johnson, 49
I’m always on the lookout for extraordinary women to feature on the Red Shoe Zone. Women who by sharing their stories change us –– some provide hope, others inspiration to do what we think we can’t and a few encourage us to dream…..like Sarah Johnson.
Sarah’s warm, fun-loving nature is apparent from the minute she opens her front door.
“Hi …..I’m Sarah come on in!”
She’s genuine and down to earth and the type of person you immediately like. Her home is as welcoming as she is…everywhere I look there’s something beautiful and interesting…everything seems to tickle my insides.
“WOW!”…… is the only conversation I’m capable of. Sarah has great style.
She’ll tell you right off the bat her life is blessed. In fact she has a blog called, On Love Street. She’s been happily, soulfully married to Glenn for 27 years. They have 2 kids Chloe 19 and Nicholas 14 and a 6 year old French bull dog named Pierre.
With her very apparent and innate sense of style it doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that years ago Sarah almost opened a home décor shop. But it wasn’t the right time or the right place. So instead she turned her talents toward her own home…scouring magazines for decorating and gardening ideas….ripping pages and filling binders.
In 2011 Pinterest arrived on the scene, an upstart in the online digital world, a place for finding, saving and sharing images. Bingo. The sheer volume of images was a b-o-n-a-n-z-a not to mention the efficiency of pinning them on a digital board. Sarah dove in and began creating the Sarah Johnson pin board dedicated to all the things she loved that (of course) reflected her aha-mazing taste.
For this devoted stay-at-home mom, busy and active in her kid’s schools, in the community and in volunteer work it was a way to carve out a little time doing something she loved.
Call it a fun hobby.
What happened next is one big extraordinary story.
Cheryl: Take us back to 2012…there you are happily pinning…pretty soon you’re gaining lots of followers, attracted to your boards reflecting your fabulous taste! Pinterest “picks up your boards and starts promoting you”. This is big. Explain to those of us who know ‘nothing’…what this means.
SARAH: Experiencing it was one thing and learning after the fact what had happened was another. One morning I was happily pinning away (I might be the teensiest bit obsessive) so I checked my follower number as I started and again later and the number had increased significantly.
At that point, I still had my follower notifications turned on and within the space of an hour, I couldn’t refresh my numbers and not have them go up.I began that day with just under 1,000 followers and I ended it with much more than double.It escalated (over the following months) to the point that I recall saying to Glenn, “I only got 30,000 new followers today” and being downcast about it, to which he replied, “Did you hear what you just said?” and laughed. It was a crazy time and speaks to everyone’s ability to adapt to a “new normal”. I later found out Pinterest had cherry-picked a select number of Pinners to promote to new sign-ups, so people were choosing me from the get-go. (They have since changed that model & new sign-ups follow their interests rather than individuals.)
Cheryl: Now you’re a ‘suggested board’ gaining more and more and more followers. How many followers did you have at this point?
SARAH: Several thousand within hours, escalating to over 4 million at one point.
Cheryl: Holy Moly Sarah! Ok moving forward a year….to 2013. You receive a facebook message from a woman named Grace who’s very interested in your board ‘Backyard Envy’ devoted to gardening. Tell us about that.
SARAH: Well, Grace was an influencer rep with a social media agency in LA and in the space of a 30 minute phone call, I found a new “career” – or, should I say, it found me.
Cheryl: So here’s where our eyes bug out of our heads. The collective ‘we’ didn’t (before today) have any idea you could have a career let alone enjoy a significant income as a Pinner on Pinterest. Honestly Sarah it’s truly astounding in the most wonderful way! Describe your role and responsibility in the new self employed career.
SARAH: Grace might as well have been my fairy godmother. Their agency is an offshoot of an analytics company so they had all the technical support and statistics sorted and had figured out a way to marry brands with like-minded influencers (me) to promote their products. I was able to pick and choose who I worked with and how much. My visual curation when combined with my audience was and is appealing to brands. Pinterest drives more sales than Facebook & Twitter combined. It’s a powerful platform for brands and it is still being discovered as such.
Cheryl: So there you are Sarah Johnson suburban mom, brand ambassador and GLOBAL Style Influencer! How were you feeling? It all seemed to happen so fast.
SARAH: It did unfold very quickly, it’s true, but it all flowed very naturally from one thing to another and every aspect of it was positive, so I just went with it, honestly.
Cheryl: Did you ever want to pinch yourself?
SARAH: Hmm… That’s a good question! I’ve enjoyed the ride, to be sure, but it’s only when I’m describing what I do to someone who has no idea that it all sounds a little pinch-worthy. Otherwise, it’s just another day at “the office!”
Cheryl: Women everywhere want to share your office! So how big is this in terms of followers? SARAH: At present, I have just over 3.3 million followers. I no longer have “just 30,000 new follower” days though, haha. I wish. I have been able to turn my notifications back on, which is a good thing as friends and family were following me as they signed up and I was none the wiser. (Sorry, guys!)
Cheryl: You say with absolute humility and complete honestly, “I won the lottery!” How big did this get? Can you give us an indication of how big the revenue stream is?
SARAH: Money talk makes me squirm a little, but I remember asking Grace in that very first phone call, “So… how much are we talking here…..two, three digits a month?” I was really thinking small looking back, but being paid to work while sipping wine in my jammies already seemed like the Promised Land. Grace only laughed and said, “Sarah, we’ve had people quit their jobs, some have bought houses.” Turns out my estimation was off by a digit or two.
Cheryl: You go GIRL! I can’t help but smile. Could you ever in your wildest dreams have imagined this?
SARAH: Um, no. Turns out I am a pretty content chick. I have always been happy being me, which is a good thing. But I think if I lacked anything, it would be ambition. Opportunity literally had to come knocking. Well, Facebooking.
Cheryl: Such a crazy, lovely story of success. What have you learned from it?
SARAH: It’s funny, Cheryl. I’ve really learned so much. I’ve met so many people through this experience – social media experts and influencer reps in LA, other influencers across Canada and the US, pinners from around the world – and so many of them women. Such inspiring women, doing such great things. I think my biggest take-away would be to follow your passion. Don’t follow the money, don’t follow the trends, figure out what you love and make it, do it, write it, whatever “it” is. The rest will follow.
Cheryl: I think sometimes we’re afraid to follow our passions thinking, “I can’t do that!” When really our greatest gifts…the things we can offer the world that no one else can….are all wrapped up in those passions. In your case it was all wrapped up in your style – it became the X Factor….the tipping point. Way to go Sarah! No surprise….it’s everyone’s dream to do something they love and get paid for it. What do you say when people ask, “How did you do this?” “How can I do this?”
SARAH: I was very lucky. Make no mistake about it. So, I don’t want to answer as if I have all the answers because I really don’t. I’d just say again that you have to follow your interests, put in the time – that bit is critical on social media and is worthy of a bit of a tangent. A platform – whether it be Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, or whatever that next big thing is (keep your eyes open!) – will not ever promote you or recommend you if you are inconsistent in your use of it. Only celebrities get away with that. If you are looking to promote your business, brand, blog (any of the b’s!) on social media, get your aesthetic sorted out, be consistent and get started. Actually, just get started. The other things will sort themselves out and the “delete” function is a marvelous tool. I use it rigorously. Just take one step. The next step will reveal itself.
Cheryl: I love what you just said- Get started– so many dreams never get off the ground because action isn’t taken. That first step is so important because (as you said) the next step reveals itself and so on and so on. What’s next for You…this is a big year…turning 50 and all.
SARAH: You’ve caught me at a pretty vulnerable moment actually. My daughter has just looked at her first apartment and has let us know she won’t be home full-time again (she’s at university and in campus housing) and my son (in grade 9) is on an exchange to Germany through his school, so I am having a major foreshadowing of what this empty nest will feel like so the answer is complicated, I think. I am going back to school in the Fall (drawing, Emily Carr University of Art + Design), so that’s one thing. And I think that after almost five years of grieving the loss of my mom I can make it through a volunteer interview at White Rock Hospice without balling like last time, so there’s that. Professionally, I’m trying to remember to focus on my blog.
I am no longer with my agency, not for six months at least, and segueing into advising clients. I’m using my big board almost exclusively as a way of drawing attention to charities and causes I support. Having said that, I’d happily pin my way around the world on someone else’s dime. With a little luck, that will happen. My fingers are fully crossed.
Cheryl: Mine too. Crossed. Keep us posted!
Just for fun you might want to check out Sarah’s daughter Chloe’s pin board…she’s following in Mom’s footsteps.
If you know someone who would be inspired to read Sarah’s story, please pass it along to them. It may be just the encouragement they need to start following their passion. Oh…Don’t forget to like Red Shoe on facebook and follow the new RED SHOE ZONE Pinterest page. (Ode to Sarah) It was fun to create, I felt like I was shopping without a wallet. How great is that?!!