One of the hottest new names in generic training for networkers in recent years is Dani Johnson. A wunderkind who started out in the business at age 19, Dani quickly experienced the various sides of the success mountain: dizzying ascent, disillusioning descent, and then a careful climb to the top by methodically putting into place all the pieces of solid professionalism. After opening her training to the networking community at large in only the last two years, her conference calls, live seminars and audio albums have become profession favorites. More than anything, Dani is a standard-bearer for a mission that resonates loudly with the Networking Times community: to raise the bar and level of professionalism for our business everywhere. — JDM

What led you to become an independent, generic trainer for the profession?

I had done training seminars for my personal sales force for 14 years. That was the part of the business that I loved. I always loved helping people achieve things they’d never imagined they could ever achieve. I’d always known this was my calling. But after I had baby number five, I decided to take a break.

Baby number five?

Yeah, I have five kids. And after I—

Excuse me, you’re talking about the number that comes after four? That five?

[laughs] I know, most people have a hard time believing that. So, I took a break from the business for a while, just to be a mom. A few years ago, my husband Hans met a powerful leader in the business who asked if I could do some training for his sales force.

When Hans suggested I start with a conference call, I said, “How is that going to help anyone?” He said, “You have to start somewhere —and you never know where it might go from there.” Of course, he was right.

Right away, we started getting calls and e-mails from people who were having great results, saying things like, “I sponsored 20 people in three weeks from that one conference call!”

That first call in August had 30 people; by December we were maxing out the lines at a few hundred. Today I do a conference call every Monday night with anywhere from 1000 to 1500 people, and our First Steps seminars reach about 300 to 500 people every month.

Let’s go back for a moment: what were your own “first steps” in this business like?

When I started, I failed completely within my first six months. It was horrifying; I couldn’t get anything to work for me.

I heard about a seminar that was supposed to change everything. I went in with great expectations, but they didn’t teach me anything practical—what to say, how to say it, who to talk to. It was more of a get-you-excited, hype-you-up, “you need to believe in yourself” sort of seminar. I had grown up in an abusive home environment with a very condemning father, and I had no self-confidence, so naturally I latched onto this type of teaching.

Self-esteem booster shots.

Yes. I quickly rose in that organization—but it turned out that the people at the top were utter crooks, taking advantage of everyone involved. When I realized what was going on, I walked away from it. I met a guy, got married on a whim—and he maxed out my credit cards and left me penniless. I found myself broke and homeless in Hawaii.

Sounds like a pretty classic case of hitting bottom.

It was, and bottom is a great place to start. I started building a new business in Hawaii out of the trunk of my car. At this point, I wanted nothing to do with network marketing—but it was the only way I knew to earn some money and get myself out of debt.

Ironically, the result of all this bad experience was that I developed unshakable confidence in myself. I decided I would conduct myself professionally in every way, doing the kinds of things professionals do.

I sent out thank-you cards to clients; I made sure to always handle myself in a professional manner. I decided we wouldn’t use exclusive terms or jargon, but would instead use language that general, mainstream Americans could understand. We didn’t have a “downline,” we developed a “sales force.” We didn’t talk about “selling product,” we talked about “marketing products in different communities around the nation.” We started using terms people could identify with and would feel more professional using.

Fast forward to 2003: you come out of mom retirement, do a little conference call, and before you know it you’re working with distributors from…how many companies?

Well over a hundred. We have unmotivated distributors who haven’t done anything in five years come out of our seminar and start hitting bonus charts. Just this week we got a call from a company CEO saying, “What in the world goes on in that seminar? Because this lady hasn’t sponsored anyone in five years, and she sponsored 37 after that seminar!”—and two other similar calls from two other CEOs!

What is the big missing piece that they’re coming to get from you?

They simply haven’t been trained. We built this business as a profession, the way a doctor or an attorney would; we had a very highly trained, highly professional team. And we used language that was professional—not, “Hey, come and sign up in my network marketing business and be in my downline.”

I think most companies offer good basic training—product knowledge, some business-building basics, things like that. But to really create success, you need a lot more than basics. It takes genuine professional training.

People need to understand how people operate, how to communicate with different personalities, how to find out what motivates them and what their needs are, what their strengths and goals are…how to move a group of people collectively towards a common vision.

Most people don’t understand that this business is not just selling product and signing people up. It’s an art!

Aside from lack of training, what is the biggest challenge you see in the people who come to your trainings?

Co-dependency. That’s the number one problem, and I see it everywhere in this business. One of my clients was ready to walk away from her $300,000-a-year income just to get out from under the burden. Another leader we’ve worked with had 50,000 people in her sales force and was making about $45,000 a month—and she was talking privately with her husband about quitting when she came to see us.

Why? Codependent how?

The majority of leaders have got themselves in a corner where they do everything for their people. For example: A company hired me to come in and observe how their leaders were building their businesses. I went to a meeting run by a leader in the $25 K-a-month range.

I noticed she had no guests of her own at the meeting. In fact, 19 out of 20 people in the room were distributors. Only five percent were guests—and she was busy closing those few guests for her distributor! I asked her, “How long has that other distributor been with you?” She replied, “Oh, five years.”

Five years this other person had been in the business—and she couldn’t close her own guest! That’s what I mean by codependency.

And you’re saying that’s typical.

Among the people we see at our seminars, yes.

This woman had an 800 number available for her distributors to call her, day or night, any time they needed help with anything. She was working around the clock, solving people’s problems—and had stopped doing the very thing that was most exciting for her, which was sponsoring people. None of her people were doing the things she was coaching them to do, she was frustrated beyond all belief, and her check was starting to go south.

And this is a common scenario.

How does it get that way?

It’s based in fear of loss: “What if my person brings in a prospect but can’t close him as well as I can? I don’t want us to lose that prospect!” So people end up creating a dependency where their distributors never learn how to do the business on their own.

And that’s what a trainer like you provides.

Exactly. We just did a conference call for a guy who brought 500 people onto the call; he said, “Why in the world would I try to do all this training when your service is available? I’m going back to recruiting!”

The biggest deficit in network marketing is training and development.

Why is that?

When you first start out, your business is small and you can handle every aspect of it. As it grows, you have to bring in help. If you don’t, as soon as you switch gears and start handling too many management functions—which is what training is—then you have to stop recruiting. Now you can’t keep growing as fast, and your business is in a quandary.

The corporate world has this figured out: they know when they need to start outsourcing. They not only outsource bookkeeping, advertising and marketing, they also outsource motivation and training. You don’t see top corporate executives doing their own management training seminars—they outsource these functions.

What we are for networkers is an outsource partnership: they outsource training and development to us. We have leaders who use our training as an integral part of their programs: one of the first items on their “getting started” checklist is, “Go sign up on”

We always say that “network marketing is a teaching business”—but you’re saying that leaders aren’t teaching so much as babysitting.

It’s not that leaders aren’t teaching; most are—in fact, they’re teaching too much. But a prophet is never welcome in his own home town. They’re too close to their people.

Here’s a common complaint: a distributor calls and says, “I’ve called all my friends, called all these leads, it’s just not working for me.” So the leader spends an hour on the phone coaching that rep. What happens next?

I’ve asked this of dozens and dozens of leaders, and gotten the same answer every single time: what happens next is absolutely nothing. Maybe one person out of ten, or one out of 20, actually listens, implements it, and gets results. Maybe one. Probably zero.

How does that make you feel? Frustrated. Ticked off. Resentful towards your distributors. And pretty soon, you start finding it difficult to get on the phone and recruit!

Because, what if I recruit a whole lot more of these people who want me to solve all their problems?

Exactly. And then we start feeling guilty that our people aren’t having the same success we are (or were), and now we start carrying around this heavy burden of everyone else’s frustrations and failure on our backs.

That’s why we’re here. That’s what we’re here to help with.

People come out of our programs saying that they feel free again, that they’ve gotten back the excitement they had when they first started. The transformation is amazing—in their lives and in their families, as well as in their businesses.

And by the way, none of this is lost on your prospects; they get it. A prospect looks at you and says, “Do I want to do what she’s doing?” And if you seem stressed out or burned out, the answer is “No!” But when you conduct yourself in a way that is appealing, that prospect looks at you and says, “Wow! I’d love to do what she’s doing!”

It sounds like what you put people in touch with is the original promise of the business.

This business promises time freedom, be your own boss. But you know the most common thing I hear when a leader comes to me for coaching? “I feel like a hypocrite, I can’t do another conference call. Because I don’t have time freedom—I don’t have a life!”

But you can build your business in 20 hours a week—without codependency. That’s how I built my business, and that’s what we teach.

How do you envision this business ten years from now?

If I have any part of it, we will change the face of how this profession is built and perceived. Not because there’s anything wrong with the foundation, but because the way that it’s promoted is not fair to it. I want to be part of changing our business into a more professional, respectable, honorable and desirable place for people to want to be.

After my initial experiences, I thought that network marketing was full of people who lie, cheat and steal. But the truth is, that’s not network marketing—you find that in corporate life, in real estate, in the mortgage business, it’s everywhere.

What you’re describing is called “the world.”

So I figured, If you don’t like the way it is, change it.

For example, part of my mission is to teach distributors how to become debt-free. When you’re under tremendous financial pressure, it’s very difficult to recruit. But for people who have no crushing debt burden, for whom this income is purely a bonus, you can’t shut these people up!

It always used to be about “how much you can make.” We teach that it’s not about how much you make—it’s about how much you keep.

It seems there’s a stronger current in recent years toward teaching financial responsibility—less promising the moon and more fiscal common sense.

I was one of those kids in the 90s who hadn’t a clue about that—I made my first million by the time I was 23 and spent every last red cent of it! And I still see leaders who live in big fancy houses with big fancy house payments, people who got into this business to get out of debt but instead went further into debt.

But yes, overall I believe there is that current, and I want to be part of furthering that awareness. I want to be part of a revolution of people getting out of debt and of promoting this business in the way it should be, in an honest, honorable, respectful way.

Your teaching seems to focus on two aspects: the professional skills—here’s how the business works; and the life skills—how to conduct yourself responsibly so that your life works.

Training needs to provide two things: skill and belief.

If you lack in belief, as I did when I started, we’ll impart that to you and help you discover the things that are stopping you from believing. And good training also improves your skills.

The marketplace pays for value. What determines your value is the level of skill you have. This doesn’t apply just to doctors and lawyers and software designers, it applies to every profession. Look at two hair salons: one deals with the blue hair industry, all the tiny little white perms. They have never gone back to school to improve their skills. At the other salon, they’re charging $80 or $90 for a haircut. Why? Because they have advanced their skill to a professional level—and they’re being paid for what they know and what they can do.

And we’re no different.

Not at all. There’s a big difference in our business between the amateurs and the professionals. The professionals have gained a skill set and a belief set that exists at a professional level; therefore, they earn a professional level of income.

You’re not born with these; this is a function of training. I’ve seen everyday, average people like me who were blue collar or even less, learn to adopt these beliefs and skills. I mean, I was a homeless woman! If a homeless woman with no skills and no belief can learn those skills and those beliefs and put them into practice here, then anyone can.

This profession gave me the chance to become so much more than anyone in my family had ever even tried to become. I love this profession and I’m proud of it; I’ve helped people make fortunes here. But too often, we present ourselves in a way that makes other people look askance at us.

I am on a mission to professionalize it and help it represent itself the way it should be represented—the way it deserves to be represented—because of all the millions of lives it has so powerfully and positively affected.