Getting laid off from her job five years ago was one of the best things that ever happened to online course creator Danielle Leslie.
Today, this energetic entrepreneur makes multiple-seven figures per year teaching her students how to transform their passion and expertise into profitable online courses. After going through her Course From Scratch program, one in six students are able to quit their jobs and live off of their course’s income. What’s more, three of her students have created multi-million dollar courses of their own and two more are on their way to the seven-figure mark. Hence that golden touch nickname.
But back in 2015, life looked very different for Danielle. She was a marketing director at a Silicon Valley company that was about to go through a brutal round of layoffs. “I had this dream role and I thought things were going really well,” says Danielle. “Then right before Thanksgiving, I was invited to a 4:30 p.m. meeting on a Friday. I saw my manager and an HR person when I opened the door, so I immediately knew what was about to happen.”
With six figures of student debt and rent to pay, she thought about applying for other marketing positions. But when she quietly told friends that she’d been laid off, she quickly received independent contractor opportunities that were perfect for her.
Freelance work was the bridge that eventually enabled her to say goodbye to the corporate world and hello to her true dream job: a wildly successful company that helps others follow in her footsteps.
Here’s how Danielle got her company up and running—with no email list—to become a millionaire success story in just two years.
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Stephanie Burns: How did you go from working for friends to getting bigger and bigger opportunities?
Danielle Leslie: I actually started planting seeds of success long before I got laid off. I had been sharing posts and videos about marketing, branding, and networking on social media for years. And when I talked to friends privately, I was the queen of unsolicited business advice that worked wonders for them. So I had a proven track record for consulting gigs they or their companies hired me for—and I got solid referrals. By the end of my first month, I got a big break working for a non-profit/venture capital firm a friend introduced me to. They were working on an online course for their founders and that was the biggest contract that I had ever landed. That gig helped me solidify my course creation methodology. I had already helped hundreds of course creators during my time at Udemy years before, but this contract gave me the confidence I needed to do it on my own.
Then a friend asked me to EmCee the EmpowerHer women’s conference. I presold Course From Scratch to the attendees and it pulled in $8,000 in 7 days. I’ve continued launching, leveling up, and have grown my business to $14M since then—$7M of that happening in just the past year. I committed to saying no to anything that didn’t feel expansive and didn’t line up with my passion and goals. All of the opportunities that I said yes to were like breadcrumbs leading me in the right direction.
Burns: You are so incredibly passionate about what you do. What’s your ‘why’? What is it about building your business that gets you up, out of bed and creating every day?
Leslie: What drives me is helping people uncover what makes them different. Your difference makes a difference. I’m passionate about helping people reframe their stories about themselves that they might be ashamed of or frustrated by because I know what that feels like. In high school and college, I felt like I didn’t belong. There were all these cliques—the athletes, the skaters, the cool wealthy kids, the cheerleaders—and I didn’t fit into any of them. My mom is Panamanian and growing up between Panama and the U.S. she never felt like she belonged, so I took that identity on as my own. I didn’t think I belonged or fit in anywhere.
It wasn’t until after I graduated and got into the working world that I realized it wasn’t about fitting in, it was about adding value by just being who I am. I could create microenvironments where I could be my fullest self. Where there were people who saw value in that. I thought I had to be for everyone. It’s the same thing with online courses. You may think you have to appeal to the masses to be successful, but you just have to be you and share your story. It starts with your story. When you start sharing your journey, you’ll start creating a microenvironment that includes people who see value in what you have to say.
Burns: Have you ever created a course that flopped?
Leslie: Yes! Eight years ago I rolled out an inspirational course aimed at helping people figure out their passion and create a project around it. I did a 40-day sponsored tour with friends to 13 U.S. cities and wanted to show others it’s possible to make money pursuing your passion. I thought my course would launch in the five-figure range. I made $1,000 on a project I had spent countless hours over several months researching, rehearsing and creating. The hard lesson I learned is that there’s a difference between having tactics and having tact. I had all the tactics for selling courses but I didn’t apply them strategically. I just did all the things randomly. I was also terrible at closing sales. I had an incredible program and great promotions, but I was missing the critical sales piece.
Burns: You’ve taken all of your hard-won lessons and not only fueled your own success but passed the torch to others through Course from Scratch. How has bringing other women to seven-figure success impacted you?
Leslie: There’s a part of me that will never forget being that teeanger looking for the right group of kids to sit with at lunch and feeling like I didn’t belong. So, showing women how to speak their ideal environment into existence gives me incredible joy. The courses my members create target all kinds of niches from tech to parenting to stocks to drop-shipping to health and wellness.
I show my members that there’s no limit to what’s possible. All you have to do is create what you want. I’ve had a member create her course while going through a high risk pregnancy that prevented her from working in a nine to five. She and her partner shaped a life that’s much different and more empowering. She just told me that she made $25k from her hospital bed while having her second child and is at almost $400k for the year from her course. I have another member who started as an assistant vice principal who traded stocks on the side. She created a program teaching others her methods and has now made over $5M from her course in just a couple years.
It brings me a lot of joy to counter what society often teaches us. We are taught that you have to have a job to be valuable. That you have to get promoted to be valuable. But I show people that they can have an impact right now on their own terms. I show people they’re valuable by just being here and understanding and sharing their story in a new way.
Burns: What does it take to be a model student in an online course?
Leslie: Are you ready for a real surprise? Finishing an online course isn’t necessarily a sign of success. In fact, after surveying my students, I’ve found that the people who don’t finish on demand online courses end up being the most successful because they’re taking action. One of the biggest steps you can take to being a model student is taking imperfect action. Done is better than perfect. So many people get caught up in the what ifs. I like to propose a different kind of what if. What if you succeed? What if you’re wildly successful by just sharing your story?
Burns: What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow in the footsteps of your success?
Leslie: Commit to one habit that brings in sales. For me, it was a webinar I did every week. My husband started calling them Big Money Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, I’d show up—even if it was the Wednesday before Christmas. In the beginning, that weekly webinar would make me $5,000 and then $10,000. I continued the habit to where I only do my webinar live 6x per year now, and it’s brought in as much as over $200,000 in one night because I committed to mastering it. For you, that might look like doing an Instagram Live every day or working with a key promotional partnership once a month. If it’s adding to your bottom line in a big way, keep it consistent so you master it and can eventually automate or delegate it.
I also tell my members that your environment fuels your enlightenment. Proximity is power. You want to put yourself in circles where you have proximity to passionate and powerful people. When I started my business, I began working with coaches who grew their businesses to seven-figures in a matter of months. By seeing them and learning their blueprint, I normalized that growth for myself. So, my brain accepted it as my path, too.
But it will always start with you. What’s most important is starting with your own story and embracing what makes you unique. Your difference makes a difference. For me, that was owning being a Black woman, a millennial and someone who had a lot of ups and downs. Honoring what I call my “culture add”—my cultural advantage—became my message and allowed people to relate to me, and that’s what ultimately grew my business. For you, your culture add might be your spiritual beliefs, your sexual orientation, the fact that you grew up in a single parent household or that you overcame a health problem. Whatever it is that’s made you feel like you don’t belong, make it a part of your business and you’ll skyrocket yourself to success.