- One Woman's Triumph Over Homelessness!!
How Dani Johnson Beat The Odds And Made Millions!
The story about how one woman overcame an abusive childhood, substance abuse and homelessness to become a self made multi-millionaire struck a chord with people around the world.
“The secret of life,” wrote author Paul Coehlo, “is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
While this certainly may be the secret to Dani Johnson’ssuccess, to understand her staggering trajectory, you need to hear the full story.
We pick up two weeks from where we left off. Read Part 1 here.
Dani had tried to close her eyes but stirred restlessly.
This had been the night she’d most looked forward to since being homeless: sleeping on her own bed, in her own apartment, yet she felt unsettled.
“I still had that voice tormenting me saying, ‘It’s not going to last. You’re going to be homeless again. You’re going to turn to drugs again.’ The wrestling was still going on in my mind. I kept thinking about my step-dad molesting me and my mother not doing anything about it…”
To drown out the negative voices in her head, she turned up the volume on the tape playing on her boom box to full blast.
The lyrics from a Basia song filled the air – and her mind.
“The stars have played their part. The past is gone and done. Have more faith in love. The best is yet to come. It’s gonna be a new day for you…”
Staring at the ceiling, she reflected on the day two weeks earlier, that marked the start of a new chapter in her life.
The handwritten flyer
“I instinctively called the first person to see if this [messages on my voicemail] was really real and it was a man. He asked me right off the bat about the cost of the product [weight loss program] and I said it was $125. He said ‘too expensive’ and he hung up one me.”
Standing in the phone booth, Dani reviewed her options. Her resourcefulness amidst scant means had gotten her this far, but her relative inexperience in dealing with potential sales prospects was already a stumbling block. She lacked the vocabulary and delivery of a seasoned weight loss professional.
“There’s 24 more people – I can’t screw this up. If I get a no from 24 people, I’m gonna be homeless,” she thought.
The next call she placed from the phone booth was crafty, but inspired.
“I decided to call up this weight loss chain with a center in Kona. They ran many ads and so I said ‘I’m calling about your ad,’ and they started asking me questions and I started writing the questions they asked me.
They asked me things like, ‘What’s your current weight?’ What have you tried in the past?’ What’s your goal with the weight loss?’
I wrote all these questions on post it notes and I put it up on the phone booth wall in the order I was supposed to ask the questions.
I was dyslexic and never read a book until I was 21. I went through high school without reading a book. I called my next prospect and asked the same questions from the post it notes and all 24 said yes.
I had everything scripted out. I didn’t leave anything up for guessing. I didn’t go to college, and I’m not smart from that university perspective. When you’re told that you’re stupid, and I was told that my whole life, I knew I had to work 10 times as hard as everyone else. You know you’re going to have to spend more time learning and asking more questions.
I decided that I was going to learn from successful people. Even now, I have a notepad in hand and I ask questions. ‘How did you do it? What was the defining moment? What’s the big tip you can give me?’
If you’re always learning, you’re always growing. This [habit] has carried me out of bad situations and set me up for big situations.”
Working out of a phone booth
As a cold caller, and ultimately a one-woman band working out of a phone booth with no actual business address, Dani had to portray herself as being part of a legitimate, established operation.
“Some people would ask, ‘Where are you guys located right now?’ I would say, ‘We have massive expansion right now because we’ve had an extreme amount of interest. I’m doing home deliveries at the moment. I have an opening at 1pm. I’m in your neighborhood – what’s your address?”’
Thinking on her feet, and a little subterfuge helped get her foot in the door. But without any credibility, she had to build a solid relationship with her potential clients if she wanted to make the sale.
“I couldn’t act like a homeless person with the client. I didn’t talk about my past or where I lived. I made sure that the conversation was one hundred percent about that person. I brought nothing about myself into the discussion.”
Through her experience with these initial clients, she refined her communication techniques and identified the one strategy that she swears by to elicit a positive response in a sales context.
“A lot of people trip up in sales because they bring themselves into the conversation. The prospect gets distracted and asks questions they wouldn’t ordinarily ask.
When I was in front of clients, I kept the focus on them and their needs. One woman cried, saying that her husband was not sleeping with her because she was so overweight. Another said that she couldn’t keep up with her kids, and that it hurt to go up the stairs. I never said you should hear my bad story. I let them do the sharing and it was very simple to then say, ‘Lets solve this problem – I know this going to help you.’ And it was a done deal.”
What’s particularly astonishing, is that people agreed to purchase the weight loss program without actually seeing it in Dani’s hands. Moreover, she had no brochure, no business card, no receipt book – not even a bank account that she could deposit checks into.
“But that was a blessing. If I had all of those things, I would have gone in there showing off how great the brochure was, talking about great the product was. I let the client talk. That’s how you build trust in business.”
Going to the next level
Soon after, Dani placed another ad that brought in another 40 prospects.
At the same time, she’d follow up with those who already purchased the product. She’d call them the first day they received the program, then three days later and then on the seventh day, she’d meet her clients for weighing and measuring – keeping the relationship going.
Within days, positive reviews were flooding in. “Dani, I lost 5 pounds!” they’d excitedly share over the phone.
“What was feeding me were their successes. But when nighttime came around, when I was not talking to people on the phone or not with my clients – that’s when the mental beating would start again.
When you’re homeless and you’re going through pain, and you have a past constantly reminding you what a loser you are, I had to focus on helping other people. There was almost an escape in helping. So this eventually became my new drug – it was like getting more of the coke. When I listened to other people’s problems, it made mine disappear. It kept me captivated. Those first few days really transformed and shaped my life for business.”
Over the following weeks, she was determined to stay focused and on track with her mission to get herself out of homelessness and into an apartment of her own. “The flyers would go out. I would do the calls, read the script, focus on the client. I kept it systematic and simple. Success comes when you do that same thing again and again and again.”
The increased cash flow and glowing testimonials from her clients enabled Dani to upgrade her marketing from simple handwritten flyers to an advertisement in the newspaper.
“That blasted my business to the next level. I was seeing 10 clients a day – spending an hour with each one. There were so many new clients and not enough time to do follow up calls. I was starting to get behind and I needed help.”
At the same time, she realized it was growing impractical to carry out the logistics which included weighing clients either at their homes, or in makeshift locations such as the drug store or a parking lot.
“I started to figure how to do this all.”
So, in March 1991, Dani shelled out some of her new earnings to open up a weight loss center in Kona.
“It was worth it to professionalize what I was doing. I brought people in and taught them the script, and how to approach people. From my cocktail waitressing days, I learned about ‘shadowing’. They made me follow around a waitress for two days and then she would follow me around and correct my mistakes. I did that with my new staff.”
The business continued to grow and Dani booked a trip to California, where she made a spur of the moment decision to open up a second weight loss center.
“I had no intention of staying but I ended up getting pregnant.” [She had met her future husband, Hans when he walked into her weight loss center in Kona and applied for a job the day it opened].
With sales rapidly growing, Dani opened up several more weight loss centers in quick succession.
Rapid growth, she would soon discover, however exhilarating, would bring with it another set of problems.
Dani’s team found it increasingly difficult to work with the manufacturer of the weight loss program. The relationship grew strained and at the end of 1991, she made the decision to start manufacturing her own products, after a friend remarked, “How hard can it be?”
“Biggest mistake of my life. Whenever I’ve thought I had it all together, is when I’d fall flat on my face afterward,” she now admits.
Manufacturing her own product
With a 5,000 square foot plush new office, an overhead of $50,000 a month, and managing various layers of staff for a new venture, the financial and emotional burden would soon take its toll. “It was a crazy commitment with crazy rent, and overheads that was multiple of what I had before. And it was really hard. I was in over my head.”
Within two years, she’d find herself being embezzled, losing her client base, and her bank accounts emptied. “Four key members of my staff left and took clients with them. And my book-keeper took me for a ride.”
Perhaps more worryingly, Dani’s personal demons hadn’t yet been fully exorcised and with her business in turmoil, her mind once again turned to suicidal thoughts. This time, it was her husband, Hans, who managed to save her life by wrestling a meat cleaver out of her hands, before the injuries were fatal.
“What I had before worked and wasn’t consuming my life – it was so simple. You have a little bit of success and you think you can do anything. I didn’t understand laws or manufacturing. I was taken to the cleaners on every possible side. It was the biggest business mistake of my life but thank God it happened, as I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Dani’s next goal became to build up the company to a point where it could be sellable – and to do that, she needed to go back to basics; to the one lesson she’d learned in her early days: focusing on the client. “If the customer ain’t right, you’re going broke.”
“The key was not the product – they key was relationships and following up. When the business started growing to fast, I didn’t have enough help and enough time to train people and follow up with clients.”
Her staff, she started to realize, were trying to be sales people, instead of ensuring that the client was happy. “They were hyping the product, hyping the deal. They were talking about themselves. You can’t make yourself the issue, you’ve got to focus on the client and find out what’s important to them and bring value to them. People are not loyal to products – they are loyal to people.”
Dani invested her time in training her staff to truly connect with clients and to make their experience with her company personable and unique. The renewed customer loyalty generated referrals – much the same formula that resulted in her success when starting out.
“The business would never have grown so fast otherwise. My staff’s new skills were phenomenal. Some of them are still with me today.”
Once business was back on track, Dani sold her company to a local businessman, negotiating a cut on all future product sales. “It was the greatest thing that could happen to me. He still sells that product all over the world. I don’t have to manage it – I just collect royalties.”
The royalties over the years has worked out to ‘millions and millions of dollars.’ Dani is now at the helm of five companies – her own multi-million dollar empire – a far cry from her days living homeless.
“When I got the call for Secret Millionaire; when I got the call for Oprah, I still ask myself, ‘Is this really happening? Is this really real or am I still sleeping in my car in Hawaii, and I’m going to wake up and it’s all been a dream.’ There was a divine purpose [to my homelessness] – it wasn’t for nothing, it wasn’t for my humiliation – it was for my purpose. And I accept that now.”