Arnita Johnson got to the point where she had so much credit card debt she had to choose between feeding her baby or herself. Now she runs a multi-million dollar business, as founder and CEO of AMB Credit Consultants. Her transformation came when she told God that if she turned her life around she’d help others. She shares her inspiration, her financial literacy tips and proof that we can all overcome adversity.
Melinda Wittstock: Welcome to Wings, Arnita.
Arnita Johnson: Thank you for having me, it's indeed an honor.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh well it's great that you could come on and I always love to start with the inspiration. You know, the ah-ha moment that leads female founders to your level of success. What inspired your inspired business?
Arnita Johnson: Honestly, it was the need to have good credit and happy finances. And then, it turned into wanting to promote credit awareness and the importance of the accuracies of credit reports, and that is honestly what started my journey towards a successful business.
Melinda Wittstock: And So was there a moment when you found yourself in debit, or people around you? I mean often so many of our businesses start because we see a problem or there's a challenge we've had in our own lives.
Arnita Johnson: Oh yes, absolutely. My mother as graduation gifts for me and my brother was actually 700 credit scores, and she was able to do this by adding us on to her credit card very young as authorized users. So, once we graduated high school we obtained all of her [inaudible 00:01:50 credit history, but the flip side to that is, she didn't tell me exactly how to use my credit report. You know, she didn't inform me that my actual life report card would be that of my credit report, so I began to apply for one credit card after another and it turned in to 25 credit cards later and a bunch of credit card debt.
And I was working at a Party Supply store and could no longer keep up with those minimum payments and my credit just crumbled from there. And, I just heard that rumor of, just wait seven years and all of it will fall off and not only did that not happen, but in between those seven years, I ended up becoming a single mom, I needed a place to stay, I wasn't able to pass credit checks when it came to trying to live in nice areas, and even a job for that matter. And it wasn't until then when I was denied employment due to the severity of my credit, is what made me actually look at my credit report. And from there, I saw how damaged it really was but I also saw how inaccurate it was.
So those inaccuracies on my credit report caused my credit report to look three times as bad, because a lot of information on there wasn't correct, or information was resold over and over with collection agencies, so it wasn't until then that I was able to take a stand and take hold of my credit, and my finances to actually do something about it and to correct it.
Melinda Wittstock: Its such an American problem, isn't it? I mean I think there are so many people who find themselves in such a mess like that, and don't know how to get out of it. And so, what are the most common mistakes that you find that your clients make and what sort of circumstances are they in when they come to you?
Arnita Johnson: One of the biggest things is, if you have a good report with a lender, and what I mean by that is, if you have good credit, then a lot of times, employment verification and income verification no longer becomes a factor. And then you start getting way over your head, and you're not understanding credit education, and you're not understanding financial management. So not being able to take care of these credit cards, not being able to manage paying your bills on time, it causes a reckless downhill spiral. And I honestly believe that begins with not understanding how to properly budget, and not planning. One thing we as Americans weren't taught in school, a lot of us weren't even taught in our homes, and that's how to spend money, how to make money, and how to manage money. We're just told that you have to go to college, you have to work the rest of your life, and you have to prep for retirement. But we're not honestly taught anything in between.
Melinda Wittstock: Its true, you know the schools don't teach you anything about this at all, and I mean, even entrepreneurs, who you'd think would be really smart about money, sometimes aren't, I know people who built really big companies, but their own personal finances have been a disaster.
Arnita Johnson: I agree. I've seen it. I was actually one of those people. And I can tell you that, it doesn't happen overnight. This is an ongoing process, and it's a mentality shift, that you have to change how you think about money, you have to change how you think about saving your money, and its just something that is the elephant in the room. We think that if we have things, we think that if we have a nice job, we have a nice home, we drive a nice car, that equals financial success, but no one wants to do the checks and balances, the profit and the loss. So when I mean, even with our own, not just the business, but our own profit and loss, our own assets, our personal income that we're using our credit card to meet that.
So there are a lot of things that, even in society, it makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed of your financial situation, if you are not educated on the importance of credit and finances. And I believe that it contributes to that financial downhill spiral. But finances and credit play such a huge impact and part of our everyday life, so its just amazing to me how we don't know anything about something that is a life skill, that is a must in order for us to live [inaudible 00:07:06.
Melinda Wittstock: So, I've seen a lot of men and women, raise money for their business in all kinds of different ways. There is the bootstrapping, loading up your credit card way, there's having some resources of your own to invest in your own business, where you're not loading up credit cards to make it happen, and then there's Angel investments, and VC investments, and a whole bunch of different things, what do you recommend women do? You have a great business idea. You're working at a job, you managed to save a little money and you have this wonderful idea, you're going to go out and create a business. What do you recommend that women have before they go do that?
Arnita Johnson: I recommend that they be realistic and don't be afraid to start small. I think that we live in such a society where we want to just jump out and run, and one thing I get with people who want to establish business credit to fund their businesses, they don't have a strengthened business profile in order to do that. You're already setting yourself back. I say start saving little by little but as much as you possibly can, and to try your best to keep your overhead as low as possible.
One thing for me, I would always try to get my friends together and say “Hey, you know, I'm starting my new business, and it would be great if you could, instead of giving me a birthday gift, give me some money toward my business. Or give me supplies or things to that nature.” To where its not necessarily you're getting yourself in a hole, before you can even get ahead. A lot of times people who are wanting to start their business, they want to jump out and get invested, but again, if you don't actually have something to market to them, or to sell to them, to engage or persuade them, and to [inaudible 00:09:17 funding, that company or that product, then you're gonna find yourself even depressed or feeling as if it not even worth starting that business.
So for me, I always say, “Little by little.” It can take you so far in keeping your overhead expenses as low as possible. And, any money that you receive in your business, continue to keep it there.
Melinda Wittstock: You know, I found in my businesses that it always takes longer to get where you're going than you think. So you know, you can be really prudent about all your budgeting, you can know your numbers, you can, you know, do everything right, but there's still going to be things beyond your control, so if you think you need a million dollars for your business, you probably need two. Or maybe five. It's going to take longer, you know, whatever you think it is, double it. Is that consistent with your experience?
Arnita Johnson: (laughs) It has! But for me, I was really big on keeping my overhead low, and I was afraid to get into it. You have to keep in mind: I came from debt. Debt got me in trouble; debt got me where I am. So I didn't want to accumulate, you know, debt in my business. I wanted to always make sure that I always stayed ahead. So for me, I do things a tad bit different. I wasn't too fond of applying for business credit no matter how good my personal credit was, by adding myself on as a personal guarantor, I always wanted to make sure that if anything happened, my save haven was that I didn't owe anyone any money.
But the fear of not getting further of getting along in my business because I didn't have any time of business loan or business corporate accounts out there, it did cause me to progress a lot slower than a lot of my counterparts who were in the same industry as I, and growing their business, but at the end of the day, once my business started to grow, I was able to keep a lot of that money and put it back into my business.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, so an interesting concept too is that there is different types of debt. So, say for instance if you borrow money for something you're just going to spend, like a vacation, that's gone and you're left with nothing, just debt. But if you borrow money to leverage it, sort of to invest, or if you're going to get that money back and then some, then the debt becomes leverage.
Arnita Johnson: Correct.
Melinda Wittstock: And so, tell me a little bit about how you made this transformation, because it sounds like, you know, you were in a pretty bad place. I mean, your credit rating was so bad you couldn't get a job, and now you've built this multi million-dollar business. And so how did that happen?
Arnita Johnson: And it is so unbelievable, even to this day, you know, to be able to employ people, and to offer benefits, and $401K and all these great things, and you know, it honestly started when I started to believe in myself. When I said, “You know what, against all odds, or what anyone says, I am going to work my butt off and I am going to make this happen.” And I honestly believe that the change happened, one day I was walking to my mailbox and I had all type of disconnection notices, pink slips, etc., past due bills falling out of my mailbox, and as I was walking back to the apartment with my daughter, I said “God, if you create a way for me to get out of this situation, I promise you I will pay it forward tenfold.”
And, honestly within those two years, faith without works is dead. And I created a plan. And I believe that that is something that a lot of us entrepreneurs are afraid to do. And that is not only create a plan, not a business plan, so to speak, but a marketing plan. A strategic plan. “What I am going to do to make this work, to grow my company, and then start implementing that plan, line by line, one step at a time, one step at a time.” And as I began to scratch those things off of my list, I was able to see what was working, and what was not. And the things that were working, I started to do that a lot more. And at the same time, keeping my overhead very low. And any money that I already received, instead of going and splurging it, getting big offices and things of that nature, I used that to hire other people, so that I could go in and start growing the business even more.
So I paid myself a lot less. In fact, I was the lowest paid employee at my business for at least six years. Because I wanted to not be able to just hire people, but I wanted to pay them competitive pay against other positions in the actual field that I was in. And that is what actually allowed my company to grow into the multi-million dollar business that it is today.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, I want to get back to what feels to me like the divine inspiration that you had when you said “God, you know, help me do this, and if you do, I'm going to pay it forward,” because, I mean, I'm just going to ask that question again and pick. I'm struck, Arnita, about what you said just a little bit ago, about being surrounded by all these bills and pink slips and asking God for, I guess, a sort of divine inspiration, you know, like “Help me do this, I am going to pay it forward if you help me do it.” And it seems like you had inspired action from there, is that how you see it?
Arnita Johnson: Oh, absolutely. I still get chills talking about it, and I will tell you the God honest truth. I nearly began to make so much money in such a short period of time, and let me explain that to you. I went from making about $5000 a month, to $20,000 a month, and in a two-year time, to $100,000 a month. And it blew my bank, because they were telling me [inaudible 00:16:38, “That's not supposed to happen.” It typically takes five years, in banks and merchant accounting they start to see a trend. But they were so shocked to see the amount of growth that I had in that such short amount of time that they actually came to my home and were like “What's going on here?”
Melinda Wittstock: (laughs) They thought you were doing something not-so-legal maybe?
Arnita: Johnson And I'm telling them, “Look, this is a legitimate business, and this is what I'm doing,” and I was impressed because I was shocked. And it got to a point where, you know, mind you, I didn't come from poverty, but I did come from, you know, lower class. And even making that amount of money that fast you're scared to touch it. You believe that its unreal, like “this can't be mine.” And for the longest, I just continued to store it back into my business. I was afraid to touch it myself, because, mind you, I changed from living on government assistance, like, my life was off when I made that prayer, and I was just so afraid to go back to that.
I remember the sleepless nights. I remember, you know, the decision of “Am I going to feed my daughter, or am I going to eat it all , but what am I going to eat because I want her to eat.” And she had to be no more than two years old at the time, and I'm making those type of, you know, situations, you know, those type of decisions. And being on government assistance and going down to the housing office and saying, “Hey, I really don't know how I am going to buy toiletries for my home and its just me and my daughter.” And how I was looked upon, and how I was treated, it was just this space that I was in, it still cringes me now.
But that's the fuel that fires me to keep going because I don't want to go back to that. And I know what it feels like, so when I'm explaining to people, “I know what its like to have a financial burden, I know what its like to feel like I'm never going to get out of this situation.” And I believe that's the passion that allows me to keep going and spread the importance of credit awareness and it plays such a huge part in our lives that we don't think about. I mean, bad finances, is a [inaudible 00:19:18 to unhealthy eating. You're going to eat a lot of fast food because it's cheap. Because its quick. You have to hurry up and get home and get ready for the next day. You don't have time to sit down and spend time with your family, because your wheels are steadily turning on how you're going to pay bills and make ends meet.
All of these things contribute to our finances. And its not about how much money you make, I've learned its about how you manage it. But we are not taught those skills. And I believe because I actually went through it and I now know what it feels like to be out of it, I sleep better and feel better, and able to think better, because I now have a better understanding of how finances and credit works, that is what honestly fuels me to teach people the importance of this, and that, and by the grace of God, is what has allowed my business to grow in my opinion in the way that it has because I am the exception to the rule. My business model is the exception to the rule. But I honestly feel like if we do things strategically, and we continue to align ourselves with our own beliefs and be in able to motivate ourselves, we as entrepreneurs, the sky is the limit. It's so broad to the things that you can do, by believing in yourself, in your business, and the passion. That has honestly, what has fueled my business to be where it is now.
Melinda Wittstock: So, Arnita, this is such an inspiring story, you know, where you came from and what you did, and did so by really paying it forward. It does seem to be true, doesn't it? When entrepreneurs go out there to create value for other people, the money just follows. But when they go out to make money, or start a company just to make money for money's sake, its more of a struggle. Is that true in your experience?
Arnita Johnson: Oh yes, absolutely. Because you have to have something to look forward to every day and be happy and satisfied with it. I say that, if you are working in your business, and you love what you do, you can be the superhero. But if you are working in your business, and its only money driven, you become your own villain, and your own arch-enemy. Because there is nothing that's actually motivating you, there's actually no feeling, the passion is a field, the money is what you're going to feel like you have to do that. It has no substance to it. It has no value to it. And it makes money, yes, monetary value, absolute, but spiritual, emotion, it has no drive there. So, once you get burnt out on it, that's it.
But the passion, you're going to continue to do it. But the money and the opportunity, it falls in place, because the money is not what you're going after, it's the passion to contribute and help other people. And I honestly believe that not only has that helped me, but it has also helped my team, you know, my employees, they love coming to work every day, they love helping clients to reach their credit goals. They love being able to share their own stories and journeys of overcoming their financial struggles. So once you have that passion, it feels off and it spreads positively to others. The money will come. It will come.
Melinda Wittstock: Is money also a mindset?
Arnita Johnson: The money is definitely a mindset.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it’s like how we think about it, isn't it? It took me a while to understand this, that money wasn't a thing, it was just a measure of the exchange of value between two people. So it wasn't really a thing, at all.
Arnita Johnson: That is…it's not a thing. And you know the craziest thing about that? Is when I felt that I needed the money, because I did need the money, don't get me wrong, but when I was trying to come out of my financial hardship, it was money, money, money, money, money, money. But now that I have money, its honestly like the last thing I think of. It's always about using that money to help others. And it has been that way, and its the craziest thing how I really don't concern myself with money anymore. Because now I know how to manage my money. My money was managing me at first. My money was telling me how to think, my money was telling me how to sleep, my money was controlling my everyday aspects in life, but it wasn't until I got control of it, I was able to turn that around and now the way I process the mindset of the mentality of money is, I'm in control of it. I have that divine intuition of how I want my finances to play out. I am in full control of that. And that, once you feel that, it changes your whole aspect of life in everything that you do.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes, its so, so true. So, when I think of you, and I think of you with this little girl, building this business as a single mom, you know, so often on this podcast, we talk about work/life balance, how to juggle all these things so, that must've been pretty hard, like what was it like? Because you've got a bigger family now!
Arnita Johnson: Oh, yes. It was really hard, it was the weirdest thing because I went from a single mother of one, and then being a single mother of two, to now being a married mother of four.
Melinda Wittstock: Of four?
Arnita Johnson: I have a set of nine-month-old twins.
Melinda Wittstock: Wow.
Arnita Johnson: And me and my husband's two-year wedding anniversary is actually tomorrow.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, congratulations!
Arnita Johnson: Thank you. And, I can honestly tell you that when I was on government assistance, and I had my daughter at the time who was four, and I was six months pregnant with my son at the time, he's now five, and I remember going in to my housing appointment. And, you know, my case worker was asking me all of these questions, “Where is my children's father?” “Is he contributing?” Which he was not. And she was just asking me all of these questions, and I was telling her “Hey, you know, I have my own business,” which they were aware of but I was telling them that I need help growing my business. I need help creating a business plan and all of these things, and she was saying “Well, we don't have resources for that.”
Now, you don't have a resource for me to try to become self-efficient, but yet still you want to ridicule me for being, you know, in your program. And I told her that day, “You won't see me again. This is my last time. I won't come back.”
And I remember calling up my dad, and at that time I had to make a sacrifice. And that sacrifice was, if I wanted to get out of this situation, I had to sacrifice my children to grow my business. And I asked my father if he could keep my children four days out of the week. And I would pick them up the next three days. And he said “Fine, bring them.” And that was one of the most difficult things that I could have done. Because I felt like I wasn't being a good mom. And then also you have family members and people around you saying, “How could you give up on your kids?” And like, I didn't give up on my kids, I'm trying to create a better life for them.
And, for that entire year, it went to my kids being there four days out of the week, to five to six days out of the week. And it went to them being there seven days out of the week and me coming over and visiting, and then going back to work. And if I wasn't working from home, I was working at my office. And once my business started to grow, to, you know, where it was starting to make its own money, where I was able to hire people to where I wasn't having to be there as much, and I went back and got my children and I said, “Now we're going to–” you know, we were in a two bedroom apartment, 728 square feet, and I said, “I'm going to put us in a home. Now that I have my business to where I want it to be, I'm going to spend more time with my kids. I want to be able to go on field trips. I love cupcakes, I want to take cupcakes to their class, and be the cupcake mom.
Melinda Wittstock: (laughs)
Arnita Johnson: I was able to do that. And they don't even remember that, you know. I'm able to be with them every day. I love being able to. I say, I have my [inaudible 00:30:44, my daughter, my twin daughter, she is very, very small, she loves growing up under her mom, and I feel great saying that my day does not start until my [inaudible 00:30:56 wakes up.
And that is, you know, the sacrifice that I made being a single mother of two, to be able to give them the type of lifestyle that my children are living now.
Melinda Wittstock: That's beautiful. So, as you build your business, what's next? Where do you go from here? Because you've got this multi-million dollar business, it’s growing, you've got your first call center, I want to learn a little about that and what you're doing. But what's the ultimate vision and ambition for it?
Luxurious credit is not about having a fancy car or fancy house. Luxurious to me is being able to be approved for what you want and when you want on your own terms. #WINGSPodcast #WomeninBusiness @luxuriouscreditClick to tweet
Arnita Johnson: The ultimate vision is, and ambition is to create this society where I'm doing nothing but promotion the awareness of living luxurious credibility. And luxurious credit is not about having a, you know, fancy car or fancy house. Luxurious to me is being able to be approved for what you want and when you want on your own terms. The luxury of being able to make certain moves when you get ready to and not when someone is telling you to. And that is where “luxurious credit” came from. And it's the mission to go out and spread that to people. And allowing them the opportunity to pay it forward!
One thing that I love to do is…I feel that information is pricey. Knowledge is pricey. And if I can be one, if I can feed into one, and they feed it to someone else, and they feed it to someone else, then it's this pool of knowledge, and we're now getting a hold on these credit and financial myths that are out there. Telling people what they can't do more so in telling them what they can do, and I want to continue to inspire people to do what they want and know that they can do that, don't give up. And that's the thing I want to continue to do, to speak to people, motivate people.
I'm going to start doing business coaching in the beginning of the year, because one thing that I found was, I didn't have those resources when I was trying to grow my business. I didn't have those resources when…not just growing the business, but even starting the business. I can't believe I didn't have those. And I was spending a lot of my hard earned money on these empowerment workshops and classes and these big, you know, marketing workshops that they pull you in, and I wanted to be able to honestly teach business owners and entrepreneurs how to build and structure their business. I honestly believe that that is one of the foundations that that is missing in business and that is structure. What's going to take you from a small business to a corporation.
I want to tell people that, if you die, what would happen to your business, and its something that I had to learn myself was, if I got sick, would my business be sick? If I was out for the day, was my business out for the day? And it was like that one point, but there was certain steps that took my business from that sole proprietor type of business model and lifestyle to an actual corporation lifestyle.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, you said a little bit earlier that you really invested in people, and growing your team, and the leverage of that, and I think sometimes women, in particular, are slow to make those early hires that is necessary if you want to create a scalable company.
Arnita Johnson: And I think too, a lot of us are afraid to give up…I like to say the “KFC eleven herbs and spices”. You know, they don't want to give away the secret to our McRib sauce. And in order for our business to grow, someone has to know the insides of what we do.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes, they do. And why is it do you think its so difficult for women to give up that kind of control? Because I think we're all sort of perfectionists, and we all tend to kind of want to do it all ourselves. Is that, is the root of that fear? Fear of being found out somehow?
Arnita Johnson: Yes, I believe that. (laughs) That fear of being found out. I like that. It's definitely that fear of being found out. The fear of competition. Trust. I believe trust plays a huge part. And you have to think about, this is our baby. Our businesses is our baby. And I can tell you that I allow two people that I trusted to babysit my baby, while I went to work and grow the business. And they let me down. And disappointed me. And I had to let them go. But is a learning experience and that is a part of business. And it will happen again, as my business will continue to grow. Those are the risks that we as entrepreneurs and business owners take. But someone still has to know that.
We can't do everything in our business. Not only will that wear us down, but that causes us to be highly underpaid if we're the social media manager. If we're HR. If we're payroll. If we're the marketer. If we are customer service. If we're the ad man. If we're doing everything ourselves in our business, we are lowering the value of ourselves. And we would never be able to pay ourselves that much in work.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, you end up being the most expensive, kind of, quick work books data-enterer. It was funny because I was thinking about that not so long ago, I had a really big epiphany in my own business. “Let's see, what would be the value of the hour that I'm spending now if my thinking created a whole new product, or created a new marketing strategy or something where I was working on my business than in it, was my hourly rate $1000? Is it $5000? Is it $10,000?” Because what's the value to the business of using my time on the things that only I can do. As opposed to paying someone $20/hr, $50/hr, or like $40,000/yr or whatever it is, right?
Arnita Johnson: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: And we often forget to think about that. That's why I like that word “leverage.” Sometimes guys kind of get that a little bit better, they're all about getting other people to do things for them. Especially around the house. Maybe that's where it comes from, you know, we've been cultured to run around and do everything, you know, pick up after our kids, keep the house nice, do this, do that, do everything, and we just kind of carry on that pace and bring that kind of energy into our businesses.
Arnita Johnson Right. I totally agree. [inaudible 00:39:00
Melinda Wittstock: And so, at Luxurious Credit, I know that you blog and give a lot of people some advice and tips, how can people work with you, Arnita?
Arnita Johnson: If they would like to utilize our services, they could visit our website at luxuriouscredit.com. Which is the official blog for AMB Credit Consultants. And AMB Credit Consultants is the actual company that provides the actual service.
Melinda Wittstock: I see. And one last question before you go. Because a lot of women struggle to raise money for their businesses…I am a technology entrepreneur, I'm in that whole VC world, and Angel money, VC money, that kind of thing, and I've noticed a lot of women either don't ask for as much, or don't ask in a way that gets them the money, what are your three best pieces of advice for women who need capital for their business?
Arnita Johnson: The first thing I would say is to make sure that your business profile is strengthened. And that is making sure that you're incorporated. That is making sure that, you know, that your company looks legitimate on paper first. And that is, you know, at least having a nice [inaudible 00:40:31 1-800 number. you know, those little small simple things, weighs a lot and carries a lot of weight when it comes to looking for investors and funding. My next thing is the power of networking. Your funding can go as far as the people that know. And that has helped me a lot. And that is networking, getting out there. The third thing is not being afraid to ask. (laughs)
Melinda Wittstock: (laughs) Yeah, you have to ask. If you don't ask, you don't get.
Arnita Johnson: Yes, that honestly stops us. I say the answer is, if you don't ask, the answer is always no. And if you get a yes, then you continue to go to other people with the same strategy with which you asked the first time that was able to allow you to become lucrative. So, one thing I say is, “If it works, don't stop it.” Continue to ask.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. And if you're getting a no, don't take it personally either. Because getting a no means you are at least asking.
Arnita Johnson: Correct. And you're not going to get…I've been told no so many times in business, that it just honestly just rolls off your back. And my next thing to is, just because they say no once, it doesn't hurt to ask again. You know, you never know as to why they said no the first time. And you ask. I do that. “Oh, well the answer is no? Well, why is it a no? What is it that I'm getting a no on. Is it that you don't have the funding? Is it that the amount that I am asking for, that's not the amount that you would want to put in?” Don't be afraid to negotiate. Don't be afraid to sell yourself.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. Arnita, it was such a delight to talk to you.
Arnita Johnson: Thank you. This was indeed a pleasure and an honor.
Melinda Wittstock: Well thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with me and all our super shero listeners.
Arnita Johnson: Yay. Thank you.
Melinda Wittstock: Arnita Johnson is the founder and CEO of AMB Credit Consultants.