Conversation with Katherine Johnson, Founder of Spark
Shining a Light on You
March 21, 2018
1. What is your business?
With Spark, I help women express who they are by aligning the inside and the outside. My business is style therapy for women who are ready to reveal their magnetic presence and bring the most confident version of themselves to life, love, and business.
Research shows that most people take in a first impression and then continuously look for evidence to back it up. Before we even say a word, people are unconsciously evaluating several factors and making decisions about us. In milliseconds, people are trying to get answers to: “Can I trust this person?” and “Can I respect this person’s capabilities?”
When I meet with a client, she and I review who she is now in her life, her goals, and the qualities she wants to be embodying. Simply put, what are you wanting to let go of and what are you moving towards? I am looking to answer two questions: Are the clothes reflecting who this woman is now (as opposed to previous job, previous chapter of life)? Are the clothes unconsciously putting up any type of invisible wall that makes it hard for people to see, hear and connect with her?
So for example, one client of mine is a company founder who had exquisite clothes, but the way she was showing up was at odds with the woman she was inside. Her first impression pushed people away. Her appearance came across like a coat of armor, and people were having trouble connecting with her and her message.
As soon as she started taking off the armor of her “business costume” (as she called it), her sales conversion rate jumped from 30% to a 74%, just by learning how to dress in alignment with her natural element. Within a year, she reached a new six-figure level of financial success in her business and felt so much more relaxed and confident from the inside out as she gained greater visibility and opportunities.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
One of my biggest life lessons has been that life is not linear. I left the workforce when my kids were born, and then, after my divorce, I wanted a career change from classroom education (career before I had kids). My priorities had shifted because now flexibility is essential for me and that wasn’t possible with teaching where life is dictated by the school day and year.
I told my therapist about my struggles figuring out what would come next because I felt there was nothing corporate that matched the direction I was headed with my life, and I felt scared about the process of figuring out the right next career. She introduced me to work being done by psychologist Barbara Carroll—image consulting related to the four elements of the earth and behavioral psychology principles.
My first reaction was, “No, I am too deep for image consulting. I do not want to talk about clothes all day.” My opinion changed once I understood more about the way this work focuses on how you are showing up in your life, whether people can really see you and the research behind it. I apprenticed with Barbara Carroll, and I felt a deep click of alignment.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
My confidence was reinforced when, after a few sessions, I was able to help women get past emotional blockages to being authentically seen and overcome huge transitions, like divorce or career change. I had a few people very early on say to me, “This has transformed my life. I feel so confident and relaxed being my true self.”
Another client wore clothes that were so loud and distracting, creating what I call “visual static”, that it made her overall presence confusing. She was sabotaging herself by pushing people away even though she was this incredibly smart, powerful and competent person. She had worked in a male-dominated industry and had gotten in the habit of stuffing down her authentic self which is light, open, compassionate, and caring. Changing her clothes to be more aligned and congruent with her natural element opened up professional opportunities for her as well as changing her personal relationships. One of the first things her best friend said to her was, “It’s so much easier to be with you.”
4. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
When I first started Spark, I had a “not enough” tape running in my head… not good enough, not smart enough, not creative enough, not entrepreneurial enough. It was a horrible gremlin saying, “Who do you think you are?” I thought I needed to acquire more external degrees, trainings, titles to be legitimate. Now that I have been doing this for a while and transforming my clients’ lives, I know that confidence doesn’t come from pieces of paper but rather from trusting my expertise and getting results. It has been a complete shift for me.
Identifying my ideal client has been key for my business and my confidence. If women don’t connect with my philosophy of creating resonance through an inner and outer self-alignment, but would rather that I just build them great outfits based on latest trends and fashion labels, I am not the person for them. I’m OK making that distinction. The more I share my message and stand out, the easier it is for the right woman to step forward and get the support she needs.
5. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?
I’ve had some really great partnerships with groups whose businesses are “adjacent” to mine, meaning that we don’t compete but we are both in the wellness space of supporting women to thrive. These people really helped me by advocating for my work and also supporting me personally through the ups and downs. When I was first starting out, I thought I had to do it all on my own.
6. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
I believe strongly in the mission to help more women run for office. Just recently, I supported a woman running for public office for a local role in Portland, OR. As part of her campaigning, she had to attend local debates and house parties in order to build connections with voters and raise funds. We worked in her closet for half a day to build outfits. She did not want to spend a lot of time thinking about her clothes–she just wanted to use her expertise to make a bigger difference in the community. She is highly analytical, which was a huge asset to bring to public service, but her challenge was connecting easily with people. The worry was that her discomfort in public events could come across as phony—the kiss of death in politics.
The clothes I picked out of her closet were a world away from the bold patterns and colors she had been wearing. One of the big takeaways was that her preference in clothes is for big colorful prints because looking at them made her happy. The issue is that her selection was making people work harder to connect with her and her message. So we got her dressed in colors, design lines, and fabrics that naturally conveyed that she was genuine, trustworthy and confident. By making sure we could see her first, she changed the story her presence was telling and made it easier for people to connect with her. I am happy to say that after our time together, she took my advice to heart, and she won the election for the Portland school board.
7. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself five-ten years ago?
The biggest piece of advice I would give myself is to reach out more, have more conversations and be less concerned about not yet being an “expert.” I felt shy and thought that I had to be perfect to talk about my new role. I should have just led with my enthusiasm of starting something new. Excitement is contagious, after all.
8. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
Best piece of advice has to do with sales or pitching. I had such an uncomfortable feeling about sales and pitching people, and I always had an image of a used car salesman in my mind. A mentor helped me focus on thinking about sales as the opportunity to offer a service that could be exactly the gift that transforms a person’s life. What I learned is that I don’t have to be attached to the outcome–people can make their own decisions.
My favorite analogy for this is: If you don’t share your business/role/etc. with people and offer them the opportunity to work with you, it is like taking a gift to a party, walking around the whole party with the gift and then leaving the party with it.
9. Do you use social media for marketing your business?
I use it a tiny bit, and that is a new horizon. How middle-aged does that sound? My work is so visual and it sells itself in the “Before and After” shots, so I post those on Instagram. Social media should really be my best friend. I have used it haphazardly in the past, but I am working on a plan now.
10. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
I have a few things that I am excited about over the next few years. I am really excited about having a bigger microphone to support women to effectively and confidently present the most magnetic and dynamic versions of themselves. I believe that when women are comfortable and confident in their own skin, they come alive and make a bigger difference in the world.
In the next five years I see several exciting ventures, including retreats and events where women can have the space and support to reveal their magnetic presence, as well as a curated collection of clothing in each of the four style elements, and video trainings that can support a virtual community of women revealing their magnetic presence around the globe. Furthermore, I have enjoyed working with women running for public office, and my intention is to continue supporting these leaders, through collaborative trainings with candidate development programs like Emily’s List and Emerge.
Conversation date: August 5, 2017
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