Bestselling author and star of ABC’s "Secret Millionaire" Dani Johnson is on a mission to help would-be entrepreneurs achieve their dreams in business and in life. gaebler.com recently caught up with her to discuss her business philosophy, female entrepreneurs and the release of her latest book, First Steps to Wealth, which she is offering free through her website.

Could you give us a little background about what motivated you to become an entrepreneur?

I’d heard some men (it was all men, no women) talking about being an entrepreneur and starting a business, and this thought came into my head that if I’m the dumbest person on earth and it takes me twenty years to figure out what they know, and if I fail their income by 90%, I would still be making $100,000 a year.

I would never make that kind of money staying at JC Penney’s with no education. So I honestly thought of it as a failure equation, and in that failure equation I would get farther ahead than if I stayed doing what I was doing.

In First Steps to Wealth, you talk about not letting circumstances stand in the way of your business goals. That’s easier said than done, so what would you say to people who can’t imagine becoming an entrepreneur because they’re already struggling to pay their bills or maybe just to keep food on the table?

One of my clients is Ryan Manning. Ryan was twenty-five years old, came back from Iraq, could not find a job and was about to declare bankruptcy. But he really wanted to become an entrepreneur.

There is a beautiful concept in chapter 6 where I talk about becoming an "employeepreneur" — starting to practice the skills of an entrepreneur while being employed by someone else. So when you walk into your place of work, treat the place as if you own it. Start adapting to the entrepreneurial mindset. You own the place — where there’s ownership, there’s a higher level of commitment.

If there is paper on the floor, you’re not going to walk by it. If you own the place, you’re going to pick it up. You’re going to remember the receptionist’s birthday. You’re going to build relationships with everybody in the office. You’re going to encourage everybody in the office and you’re going to look for ways to help grow the revenue of the business. Standard employees don’t think like that. They think like when do I get my days off, when do I get a raise — how can I do the least and get paid the most. The standard employee is never thinking in an entrepreneurial fashion.

The "employeepreneur" model is the best way to increase income in your job right now. That’s what happened to Ryan. He went from $38,000 starting pay to $110,000 in his first twelve months using the "employeepreneur" model. Now he’s ventured off and has his own business on the side on top of his full-time job because he’s gotten practice as an entrepreneur each and every day while still earning a paycheck.

It’s a nice bridge from, "Gosh, I don’t know if I can do it," to practicing it and seeing the fruit of it.

What are some of the other obstacles that hold back would-be entrepreneurs?

Lack of skill is a huge problem for someone who is just starting out in business. In fact, Dun & Bradstreet has done a study on this. They found that 90% of all businesses fail within the first five years due to a lack of knowledge and skill by the owner. So usually when somebody has enough confidence to start a business, they think they can make money on confidence alone. That’s where they’re so wrong it’s unbelievable.

What’s important is skill set, specifically in dealing with the public. That’s where most people have the weakest skills. Most people think they’re really good at working with people. But the truth is you have to look at the results. The results tell you whether or not you’re good at working with people. If you’re broke, there’s a good chance that you’re not good at working with people at all. It doesn’t matter whether people like you — it’s whether they’ll work with you, whether they’ll refer business to you and whether they’ll tell other people about you.

People are not loyal to products or services. They’re loyal to people.

The book talks a lot about "magnetic influence". What does that mean and how can startup business owners use it to their advantage?

Magnetic influence is so important and it’s free. It’s completely free. People say the economy is so bad, but no — your skill is so bad. You’ve got to have new economy skills to make it today. And if you can make it in this economy, you can make it in any economy.

The most important thing to understand is again, people are loyal to people, they’re not loyal to products and services. Most people think that it’s the product or service that’s going to make them rich or successful. But it’s never the product. It’s never the service. It is the people.

Like my friend, Nina. She walked into the store to buy her husband a really nice cellphone for his birthday. She tells the salesman that she’s thinking about buying a cellphone for her husband and he proceeds to tell her about the features and benefits of the cellphone, overloading her with details about the cellphone. But she didn’t care about any of that stuff. She walked away saying, "Well, thanks. I think I’ll think about it." These are people who think it’s their product or service that is going to make them successful. But people desire a person-to-person connection; they want to be heard and their needs to be filled.

So in this case, why would Nina buy her husband a cellphone for his birthday? Because she wanted to feel like the best wife in the world and all the salesman needed to say to her was, "Wow. I wish my wife would do something like that for me! What color do you think he wants?" It’s a two-second sale versus an hour of information that gave her too much to think about. So she walked out of the store with nothing.

A lot of small business owners find it hard to think about building wealth because they’re mired down in debt. What’s your take on debt?

A mistake that business people make is that they’re constantly throwing money at problems and that is not always the best solution. In fact, nine out of ten times, it’s not the solution. Rather than throwing money at problems, find a different way to solve the problem. A second mistake people make in business and the reason why they’re in debt is that they overspend, never tracking where the money is going or the return on their spending.

I had a client named Jefferson. He was 28 years old making $30,000 a year in his own business. For that amount of money you might as well go get a job. You don’t need the stress just to make $30,000 a year. It’s not worth it. So he came to me and he really wanted to grow the business. When you’re making $30,000 a year, you watch every penny nickel and dime. I helped him grow his income to $300,000 the first year and to $700,000 the second year. Then he hit a plateau.

When he called me for coaching, I asked him how much he was spending on advertising and marketing. It was an outrageous number and when I asked him what his return on that investment was, he had no idea. I said, "Jefferson, when you were making $30,000 a year, you knew exactly how much money you were making for every dime you were putting in your business. How could you not know that now?" It turned out he was overspending on advertising and getting no return on his investment because all of a sudden he had the money to blow.

So what I’m saying is: (1) Don’t throw money at problems, find another solution because there’s always another way, and (2) Track what the money is doing because there is wasteful spending all over the place.

You are a great example of a highly successful female entrepreneur. Can you offer any specific advice for female entrepreneurs and business owners?

Women use their gender as an excuse in business, but I never have. I have always seen it as an equal playing field. I have never been about, "Well, I’m a woman and that’s why I don’t get these contracts or they didn’t like me because I’m a woman or I’m a woman in man’s business world." I have never thought that way. I’ve never put the obstacle of being a woman in my way or used it to my benefit. It doesn’t matter what your sex is. It’s about going to work and learning some skills.

Tammy Watson is a prime example of this. When she came to me, she was failing in real estate. She owned a real estate company that had been successful in the past, but then in 2008 real estate plummeted. She didn’t sell a house for an entire year. All of her agents left. She had to fire her staff. She was about to lose her building.

When she came to me, she thought she was failing because she was a (1) a woman and (2) African-American. So I confronted her about using that as an excuse for failure. Instead, work on these particular skills. She made $135,000 that year.

You’ve said that the principles you describe in the book or "Laws of Success" are universal in the sense that they apply not just to business, but to many different aspects of the reader’s life. Really?

Those laws of success have healed thousands of marriages and thousands of homes with children who were doing drugs, failing in school and had no direction for their lives. Those same principles have helped tens of thousands of people pay off tens of millions of dollars of debt in a very short period of time, and have helped several of my clients become millionaires. Every single one of those laws applies to your health, your emotional state, your physical state, your spiritual state. Everything.

I started off in the world of business. My personal life was a disaster. My spiritual life was a disaster. My health was a disaster. I didn’t have a clue how to parent my children. And honestly, I have applied all that I did to succeed in business to my spiritual life, to my family life, to my marriage . . . and it all has worked out beautifully.

At this point in your career, what inspires you?

One is that I have a passion for seeing people succeed. And two, I have a passion for feeding 5,000 orphans a month, helping tens of thousands of people who don’t have clean water and freeing kids from the sex trade all around the world. These are the two things that get me out of bed in the morning.

The truth is that we’re financially independent and my husband and I don’t have to work another day in our life. But we have a moral obligation. The book is free because we’re committed to giving people some strategies that are so simple that when you read them you go, "Seriously? That works? I can do that."

With the profits that we make from our businesses, we feed thousands of people around the world and we do that in hopes that others will lead following our example.

Any last words for Gaebler readers?

I want them to know that no matter how bad their financial situation is right now, no matter how bad things are in their families, if their entire life has come crashing down on top of them — there is hope. There is a shot. You have a chance.

I don’t care how big a mess your life is, if you want things to change get a free copy of the book and start changing your life. No one else is going to do it for you. It’s up to you to make it happen.

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