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How We Made $1 Million (and More)

A Major Milestone


A nest egg of at least $1 million is a goal many financial planners recommend for those who plan to retire. But to many, amassing $1 million seems like a pipe dream. (It doesn’t help that only about 1.5 million U.S. women are millionaires, according to the American College of Financial Services, which makes it seem like a pretty elusive group.)

But if you talk to many of those women, you’ll hear the same message again and again: Making $1 million is not as unattainable as it may seem, no matter what your income. Getting there does take dedication, commitment and perseverance. And it helps to be flexible, willing to make changes or to create diversification in your career focus. But it doesn’t require you to earn a huge paycheck, win the lottery, or deprive yourself of the things you want. We need only look to the women who’ve achieved this milestone as examples. See how six women did it.

Karen Bates, 44, San Diego, Calif., Followed Her Passion


How she did it: After moving four times in four years to support her husband’s military career — and after losing interest in her chosen career as a CPA — Karen Bates launched Military Home Loans in 2004. The mortgage company, which focuses on serving fellow military families by specializing in VA loans, grossed $1 million in 2010 and 2011 and the company netted $1 million in 2012, around the same time Bates achieved the milestone in personal net worth.

“While I didn’t exactly have the $1 million mark in mind when I started the company, I had hard evidence from preparing tax returns for real estate and mortgage professionals that being self-employed with commission-based income, in some cases, led to much better income potential than I was on track to make as a salaried, tax professional,” Bates says.

Set a goal: Rather than making millions, Bates originally set out “to find something I could get excited about doing every day,” she says. After learning she would be unable to have biological children, which had been a long-term goal, “I had to find a purpose for my life outside of raising a family because that was not a guarantee for me.”

In her quest to leave the accounting field, Bates found a sales job in the mortgage industry, where she found her passion, she says, “especially once I realized how poorly we had been served when purchasing our homes and how much contradicting information most professionals had about VA financing.” Bates’ goal, in starting her business, was “to be the best VA resource and lending company for my fellow military spouses,” she says.

Her advice: If your chosen field isn’t providing the financial and personal rewards you want, don’t be afraid to change directions, Bates says. “I am so grateful I didn’t let fear from leaving a known path and well-meaning advice from others stop me from making a change and ultimately, a difference in my own life and the lives of the families we serve,” she says. “In the end, my experience from serving in the military (I was an air traffic controller in the Navy for eight years) along with my accounting background combined to make being a military-focused loan officer a perfect fit for me.”

Bates also recommends giving back at every stage of wealth building, as it can not only help support worthy causes but also stimulate you with energy and drive. “Giving is a habit and if you don’t feel like you have any time or money to spare when making five or six figures, that feeling is not likely to change when you make seven figures,” she says. “So set a giving goal early on and you will be amazed at the financial impact you can make as your income grows. That impact will empower you to do more, which will give you more income and also allow you to give more.”

Shavon Lindley, 31, San Diego, Calif., Created Multiple Income Streams


How she did it: Shavon Lindley started her career as a financial planner, and after building a successful business, she began looking for female mentors who had successfully balanced their careers with families. When she couldn’t find a woman financial planner who had a family and a business at least as big as her own, Lindley began interviewing female executives from Fortune 1,000 companies.

“What I learned was all of these women had completely different stories on how they got where they are, but they all said there were these certain skills that were critical for them to learn that allowed them to climb the ladder,” she says. “They also said these skills were teachable. I knew that I had to find a way to give all women access to this information as quickly as possible.”

With a co-founder, Lindley created Women Evolution in 2011, which offers a six-week online mentorship and training program featuring videos of executive women mentoring young, aspiring women and teaching them skills for succeeding. Through her financial planning practice and Women Evolution, Lindley earned her first million in 2012.

Set a goal: Lindley wasn’t intentionally going for $1 million, but she was intentional about increasing her income every year. “Making more money every single year was proof that I was still growing and developing my business properly,” she says. “Every year was a new benchmark to exceed, and I could track month by month what I needed to do to hit that goal.”

When she was interviewed by the Millionaire Girls’ Movement, an online resource that teaches women how to earn $1 million of their own, in 2012, “I realized I had made over $1 million myself,” she says. “It was a proud moment.”

Her advice: For other women who want to increase their net worth, Lindley recommends developing streams of residual income. “Every year, I do not start at zero,” she says. “Each year builds on itself as I maintain existing client relationships and then make new ones.”

Finding work that matters to you and being flexible have also been important to Lindley. “I am 100 percent passionate about what I do every day,” she says. “It is a lot of work, but it is fulfilling and I can take time for myself whenever I need to. When I was getting started, I didn’t realize how important those two things would become, especially as my family grew. You have to be willing to zig and zag in your career until you figure out what is right for you.”

Stephanie Adams, 43, New York, N.Y., Taught Herself About Investing


How she did it: After finding success as a professional model while earning her business degree, Stephanie Adams became a private client for several top banks and started investing. “I diligently watched CNBC, read the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, then consulted with my financial advisors by morning and personally assisted in picking out companies to invest in,” she says. “Then I modeled in the afternoon and spent the remainder of my evening either writing books or creating a plan to start my own businesses.”

Eventually, Adams launched several businesses of her own, including skin care company Goddessy Organics and Wall Street Chiropractic, a partnership with her husband.

Set a goal: Adams’ goal was to become a self-made millionaire “quickly, but wisely,” and she exceeded that goal before the age of 30, she says. “My investment portfolio consisted of hundreds of investments, in various business sectors. The more diversified I was, the greater my chances were to succeed.”

Her advice: To invest your way to a greater net worth, Adams recommends diversifying. “I chose a combination of startups with potential, as well as solid, tried-and-true companies that have been fixtures in the market for quite some time,” she says.

Adams also recommends staying focused on your goal while keeping priorities in order. “Set a clear plan and stick with it,” she says. “Never give up and do as much as you can, but remember to set aside time to regroup and enjoy your family because that is your foundation.”

Liza Deyrmenjian, 45, New York, N.Y., Built a Multi-Million Dollar Business


How she did it: At 19 years old, Liza Deyrmenjian opened her first fashion studio with a $10,000 loan from her parents and a $15,000 bank loan. She spent two years working hard to develop a fashion line, building relationships with customers and paying off her debt.

“As my business grew, I was oblivious to what making my first million meant,” Deyrmenjian says. “Looking back, the way I made my first million was relationships, good customer service and showing up. My customers knew they could rely on me, so they kept coming back.”

When Deyrmenjian reached $1 million for the first time, she was focused on continuing to build her fashion company and says she didn’t even realize it. “But when I opened my second factory and got an order for $1.7 million, it was very clear to me,” she says. “Then the task was to continue those sales the following year.”

Set a goal: Deyrmenjian’s earnings goal was more focused on building her business than her own net worth. “I think $1 million in sales marks a business as viable and you've passed the ‘proof of concept’ milestone,” she says. “One million dollars is a very important benchmark, where you set up the foundation to double and triple in the years to come. I think most people who look back see the lessons they learned and the structure they put into place at that milestone apply — even when they hit $10 million.”

Her advice: Deyrmenjian now spends much of her time equipping and training other entrepreneurs to reach their goals sooner and with fewer mistakes and money lost through her site, FA360. She advises them to “listen to your gut, but also reach for advice and knowledge,” she says. “When I started out there were not the same educational platforms as there are now, such as online education, that help you get informed and give you access to industry experts.”

Lisa Wilber, 51, Weare, N.H., Grew Sales, Teams and New Income Streams


How she did it: In 1988, after being laid off from a secretarial job, Lisa Wilber started selling Avon products full time. “I was hoping if I worked hard enough for long enough that I could replace my pay with benefits,” she says. “I didn't realize at the time that earning bigger money was possible with Avon, or in direct sales, for that matter.”

Before long, Wilber was able to replace her secretarial pay with benefits from her commission on selling Avon products. Then in 1993, Wilber joined Avon Leadership, a team building option, which allowed her to build and manage a team of Avon representatives nationwide and earn additional commissions on their production. She thought teambuilding would just supplement her main income of personal sales commission, but after a few years, Wilber realized teambuilding offered much higher income potential. In 2001, she passed the $1 million mark and today she has earned more than $4 million from her Avon Leadership business alone — in addition to ongoing earnings from her personal sales commissions, speaking engagements and books on sales and marketing.

Set a goal: While she always knew she “didn't want to be poor anymore,” it took Wilber a while to set specific income goals for herself. “I spent 18 years living in a single-wide trailer in a trailer park, eating macaroni, driving a Yugo and chasing the electric guy up the pole with cash because he was going to cut off my electricity — again,” she says. “The dream of having a lot of money and earning over a million took me a while to embrace, but once I did, I fell in love with the concept.”

Her advice: It’s important to be open to expanding your career in new directions, Wilber says. “When I was selling Avon and the team-building program was introduced, I didn’t go for it at first. I almost missed the opportunity that changed my life,” she says.

As she built her team over the years, Wilber was regularly asked to speak at company functions. Because speaking engagements took up a lot of her time, she began researching the potential of getting paid to speak. She joined the National Speakers Association and earned credentials as a professional speaker, “so I could earn money for all the time I spent speaking since I was doing it anyway,” she says.

When she learned that most speakers earn money selling authored books in the back of the room at their speeches, Wilber wrote her first book. “I stay open to expanding my earnings by learning how to monetize activities that I am going to be doing anyway as part of my core business,” she says. “I believe every job and business has that expansion potential if we just become aware and stay open to the possibilities.”

Denise Pirrotti Hummel, Carlsbad, Calif., Trusted Her Instincts


How she did it: After working as an international employment lawyer for several years, Denise Pirrotti Hummel took some time off after having children. When she was ready to return to work, she wanted a change — and after an unexpected divorce, realized “the only way I could get to the same economic level again was through entrepreneurial means,” she says. Based on her international experience, she launched a cross-cultural consulting and training firm in 2009. Although several advisors told her there was no market for such a company, Hummel believed she could create a market. One of her first clients was the Pentagon, and her company, Universal Consensus, is now an affiliate of Aon Hewitt, an international consulting firm.

Set a goal: “My goal was not $1 million; it was $20 million,” Hummel says. “Depending on your lifestyle and financial responsibilities, especially if that includes educating children, your need for retirement savings can be well beyond $1 million.” While Hummel isn’t looking for an exit strategy anytime soon, she would “love to see our firm be acquired for $50 million,” she says. “My goal now is to grow a generation of experts in my business who can keep it going.”

Her advice: For other women who want to boost their net worth, Hummel recommends trusting their instincts. “If I had listened to some very savvy advisors, I would not have built this business,” she says. “Also, build permanent relationships; treat everyone in your life as if they are lifelong partners.”

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