In 2007, I was a 25-year-old single mom working a dead-end $12-an-hour insurance job in Dallas.
I was living below the poverty line and eligible for government assistance, including Section 8, which helps low to middle income families with affordable housing. All of my income went to rent, gas, daycare, and sadly, payday loans in order to survive until my next paycheck.
One day I was offered a $60,000 a year job that could change my life, but I was turned down for having a low credit score of 303.
This wake-up call led me to study the credit system and start AMB Credit Consultants, a side business that would later grow into a financial education business. Last year, it brought in $1.4 million in gross revenue.
How I was motivated to start my stampede
I had a credit score of 700 when I graduated from high school because my mom added me as an authorized user to her credit cards. But my credit profile plummeted as I got older. I didn’t understand the credit system or how to manage my finances. At one point, I had reached the maximum of 25 credit cards.
After being denied this job opportunity, I was determined to improve my credit rating. I spent hours at the local library reading about consumer credit laws and building credit. I found inaccuracies in my credit report and asked the credit bureaus to correct them.
This, combined with the budgeting strategies I learned, helped me increase my credit score by over 100 points in six months. I have seen the real change that having good credit has made in my life; I was able to buy a more reliable car and rent an apartment in a better neighborhood with good schools.
I also started helping my family and friends build their credit profile. A friend, grateful for my help, suggested I charge for my services and started referring clients to me.
I realized it could be a big 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 started advising clients after work and on weekends.
I always thought I had to work for someone else to be financially stable. But being laid off from my job in insurance gave me the boost I needed to work full-time on my side.
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 training and correction program, at $149.
Business was slow at first. I made less than $12,000 a year for the first five years. I was not doing a great job promoting AMB and was charging too little for the work I was doing.
To build AMB’s credibility, I touted my Board Certified Credit Consultant and FICO Professionals certifications. I have also posted customer testimonials on our social media accounts and website.
Partnerships with influencers have also helped increase testimonials. I offered my services to social media influencers for free and asked them to support my business if they were happy with the results.
And in 2014, I changed my program structure to better reflect the work I was doing. I charged $149 for six months of service, then an additional $99 per month to stay signed up.
To generate more revenue, I created campaigns that reduced signup from $149 to $47 for new customers. This increased the 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 started a business
AMB now has 10 employees and served 672 customers in 2021. The success of the business and the change I was bringing to people’s lives inspired me to start a financial education brands business.
In 2013, I started posting on Luxurious Credit, a blog that provides free credit information to readers and sells books on financial literacy and entrepreneurship. Then I launched Luxurious Lifestyle Planner, a line of journals that includes helpful tools like monthly budgeting sheets and credit score tracking tools.
And in 2018, I launched the Achieve with Arnita Academy, a coaching service for aspiring credit consultants.
My top tips for starting a business
It’s been a long road to get to where I am today, but I’m glad I never gave up.
I am now married and have five children. I am in the process of buying land to build our forever dream home, and my business is doing better than ever.
Here are my top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs:
1. Integrate your story into your brand.
An important part of my AMB brand story is my triumph over my poor credit rating and financial instability.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I incurred over $80,000 in credit card debt to pay for holistic treatment. But by 2021, I had paid off over $60,000 of that debt, along with loans for my family’s two cars.
I used this story to show clients that I understood how to navigate the financial planning and credit system even under the most stressful of circumstances.
2. Be specific about who you can help.
Initially, my mission was to help anybody. Then I realized that I knew what it was like to be a young black single mother on government assistance, so I had a unique ability to help these women.
To market my business in a way that resonates with them, I made a collage of images of women in my demographic and described their characteristics – like the challenges they faced and the goals they had .
It helped me build a very specific customer profile and strengthen my marketing and product development efforts.
3. Focus on the community.
Having a large following on social media is not enough. You need to cultivate a supportive community by engaging with your followers, responding to their needs, and asking for feedback.
I like to offer free digital downloads for budgeting worksheets and educational workshops to my subscribers 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 me or another AMB representative.
This encourages customers to stay and invite others to join. It also helps us measure the effectiveness of our services and find new ones.
Arnita Johnson Hall is a credit educator and personal brand strategist whose mission is to help individuals take charge of their financial situation. She is a holistic cancer survivor, wife and mother of five. Follow Arnita on instagram and Twitter.