When you think of Chalene Johnson, you probably envision gym mats and barbells. After all, she has sold more than 10 million fitness DVDs and even holds a Guinness Book of World Records title for most fitness videos. However, Johnson is not just a fitness talking head. In fact, it was the success of her business, Powder Blue Productions -- and her tribe of raving fans -- that lead Beachbody, the mega-company behind popular brands like P90X and Insanity, to reach out to her for an acquisition.
Johnson, along with her husband, had built a fitness empire that included fitness apparel, multiple pre-designed fitness programs like Turbo Kick, Hip Hop Hustle and PiYo, and over 60,000 certified fitness instructors across the globe. Once they signed the agreement with Beachbody, who began distributing Johnson’s programs via infomercials and DVDs, TurboJam, TurboFire, ChaLEAN Extreme and PiYo all achieved massive success and launched Johnson into fitness fame.
The success of Powder Blue Productions is no surprise considering Johnson’s background. She started her first business in her teens by flipping state-owned automobiles. After a while the business no longer felt safe -- traveling alone with cash to a transaction with a stranger screams danger. So she transitioned that business into a service that facilitated a joint location for private buyers and sellers to meet, buy and sell their used cars.
“I thought there’s got to be a better way to do this. I realized ‘hey, if I have a problem, I bet other people have this problem. And if I solve this problem, it feels good and I can also make money.’ And so that was my first experience with entrepreneurship.”
Her first but definitely not her last. Johnson dealt with her fair share of struggles along the way, facing half a million dollars in debt and experiencing deep unhappiness at the height of her success. Now, having sold Powder Blue Productions and redesigned her brand, she wants to help save other entrepreneurs from her mistakes.
Embrace these five lessons and you’ll be well on your way to an empire of your own.
1. You need to solve a problem
Johnson didn’t just create fitness programs because she enjoyed it; she saw the market needed pre-packaged programs that could be mass distributed. This is a step many passionate entrepreneurs want to skip: Is there a need for what you dream of selling?
Before Johnson’s programs, kickboxing instructors had to spend hours creating routines and purchasing music, which negated all the income from teaching. Her solution lessened their workload and increased their profits. How are you saving people either time, money or hassle?
2. Focus on building a community.
If there’s one thing Johnson clearly knows how to do, it’s build a community. Back in her fitness days she used fun sound effects and a unique style to build a culture around her videos. Now you can see her in action as she builds a massive following on Periscope.
Related: How to Be Your Own Hero
Community is one of, if not the most important assets you have as a business owner. One could argue Johnson enjoys success today because, years ago, she saved letters that came in from her community members. The testimonials weren’t even from her own students -- they were her student’s student’s. But the power was the same, and when Guthy Renker and Beachbody were looking for the next big fitness infomercial program, they wanted the woman with the giant binder full of before-and-afters.
Whatever your business, if someone shoots you a positive email or comment about your product or service, save it and ask if you can share it publicly.
Her number one piece of advice for someone just getting started? Build a community by way of an email list.
“There's nothing more powerful, more rewarding, more freeing, than having people who you connect with, and you own that platform,” she explained. “I don't own Periscope. Facebook can shut me down. When you have an email list of people who get you, and they connect with you, and you serve them, it's like having dear, close, loyal friends who will always be in your corner.”
3. You need to be honest with yourself (and your partner).
Johnson’s various academies -- which have had an impact on hundreds of thousands of small business owners -- would not exist today if she had carried on as the head of her very successful company. She and her husband had to admit that they were unhappy and accept they had to change. They had to chart a five-year course to correct the path of their lives.
Johnson urges her students not to make her mistakes. Get honest with yourself now. Are you truly happy with your life running your business as you do now? Is this the business you want to run? Are these the products you want to sell? Are your customers the tribe you want to be a part of? What’s really your top priority? For Team Johson it was their marriage and kids, rather than their fitness empire. The sooner you answer these questinos, the better.
4. You don’t just 'build a personal brand.'
When I asked her about transitioning her personal brand from fitness to entrepreneurship, she explained what I’d realized after researching her: She was always an entrepreneur. So morphing her brand from talking about fitness to talking about how she built a fitness empire was effortless.
Gary Vaynerchuck became a leader in the social-media space after years of doing a daily YouTube show. Michael Hyatt practically owns the word platform after blogging consistently for a decade. Similarly, Johnson is an online business expert because she knows how to build multimillion-dollar businesses. Building a brand around your life as Johnson has done is not impossible, but if you put a few years into the work and become known at your craft first, building a personal brand around that reputation will be much easier.
5. You cannot, in fact, do it all.
One thing Johnson swears by is seasons. This concept really struck me, because I don’t think it’s something many entrepreneurs do. She explained that she had a season where she threw herself into learning social media. Once she found her voice, she outsourced the production and execution of social media. When she wrote her book, that was a season where her focus was on writing. The key is that when you’re focused during a season, something’s gotta give elsewhere.
“When you have a season you have to give another crop an opportunity to rest. And farmers know this. When you are growing a crop, there's always a field that's resting," she says. "You can't have all those crops growing at once. If you do, you get a below average produce.”
Check out the video below to hear more about the lessons, along with how whe got her start and why she decided to change direction.