In 2007, I was a 25-year-old single mother working a $12-per-hour, dead-end insurance job in Dallas. I was living below the poverty line and qualified for government assistance, including Section 8, which helps low- to moderate-income families with affordable housing. My entire income went towards rent, gas, daycare, and, regrettably, payday loans to survive until my next paycheck.
One day, I was offered a $60,000-per-year job that could change my life, but I was denied for having a low credit score of 303. This wake-up call led me to study the credit system and launch AMB Credit Consultants, a side hustle that would later become a financial education enterprise. Last year, it brought in $1.4 million in gross revenue.
How I got motivated to start my side hustle:—-
I had a 700 credit score when I graduated high school because my mom added me as an authorized user to her credit cards. But my credit profile crumbled as I got older. I didn’t understand the credit system or how to manage my finances. At one point, I had maxed out 25 credit cards.
After getting denied that job opportunity, I was determined to improve my credit score. I spent hours reading about consumer credit laws and credit-building at the local library. I found inaccuracies in my credit report and had the credit bureaus correct them.
That, combined with the budgeting strategies I learned, helped me increase my credit score by over 100 points in six months. I saw the real change that good credit made in my life; I could buy a more reliable car and rent an apartment in a better neighborhood with great schools. I started helping my family and friends strengthen their credit profiles, too. One friend, grateful for my help, suggested I charge for my services and began referring clients to me.
I realized this could be a great side hustle. So in late 2007, I spent $500 on a website domain and business supplies. That’s how AMB Credit Consultants — named after my daughter, Ariyah Marie Bodley — was born, and I began counseling clients after work and on weekends. I always thought I had to work for someone else to be financially stable. But being let go from my insurance job pushed me to work on my side hustle full-time.
My journey to $1 million in sales:—-
Based on what my competitors were charging and what my target audience could afford, I priced my first product, which offered a free consultation and a six-month credit education training and correction program, at $149. The business was slow at first. I made less than $12,000 per year for the first five years. I wasn’t doing a great job promoting AMB and was charged too little for the work I was putting in.
I touted my Board Certified Credit Consultant and FICO Professionals certifications to develop AMB’s credibility. I also posted customer testimonials across our social media accounts and website. Influencer partnerships helped boost testimonials, too. I offered social media influencers my services for free and asked them to endorse my business if they were happy with the results.
And in 2014, I changed the structure of my program to reflect better the labor I was putting in. I charged $149 for six months of service, then an additional $99 per month to stay enrolled. To further drive revenue, I created campaigns that discounted enrollment from $149 to $47 for new customers—this increased urgency for new customers to sign up when a promotion was running. In 2016, AMB brought in $1.1 million in gross revenue.
How I built an enterprise:—-
AMB now has 10 employees and serviced 672 customers in 2021. The business’ success and the change I was making in people’s lives inspired me to create an enterprise of financial education brands.
In 2013, I started posting on Luxurious Credit, a blog that provides free credit intel to readers and sells financial literacy and entrepreneurship books. Then I launched Luxurious Lifestyle Planner, a product line of journals that includes helpful tools such as monthly budgeting sheets and credit score trackers. And in 2018, I started to Achieve with Arnita Academy, a coaching service for aspiring credit consultants.
My best advice for starting a business:—-
It’s been a long journey to get to where I am today, but I’m glad I never gave up. I’m now happily married with five children, in the process of buying land to build our forever dream home, and my business is doing better than ever. Here’s my best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:
1. Make your story part of your brand:—
An essential part of my AMB brand story is my triumph over my low credit score and financial instability. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I took on more than $80,000 in credit card debt to pay for holistic treatment. But by 2021, I had paid off over $60,000 of that debt and loans for my family’s two cars.
I used that story to show clients that I understood how to navigate financial planning and the credit system, even under the most stressful circumstances.
2. Be specific about who you can help:—
Starting, my mission was to help anyone. Then I realized that I knew what it was like to be a young, Black, single mom on government assistance, so I had a unique ability to help those women.
To market my business in a way that resonated with them, I made a picture collage of women in my demographic and described their characteristics — like their struggles and goals. That helped me build a particular customer profile and strengthen my marketing and product development efforts.
3. Focus on a community:—
Having a large social media following isn’t enough. You must cultivate a supportive community by engaging with your followers, catering to their needs, and asking for feedback. I like to offer free digital downloads for budgeting worksheets and education workshops to my followers and newsletter subscribers. I also host the Luxurious Credit Society, a Facebook group that allows people to ask questions about their credit situation and get advice from another AMB representative or me.
This encourages customers to stick around and invite others to join. It also helps us measure the effectiveness of our services and brainstorm new ones. Arnita Johnson-Hall is a credit educator and personal brand strategist whose mission is to help individuals take ownership of their financial status. She is a holistic cancer survivor, wife, and mother of five.