Marshawn Evans Daniels calls herself a “reinvention strategist” for good reason. She has reinvented herself a thousand times over. International baton-twirling champion. Lawyer. Runner-up in the Miss America competition. Contestant on The Apprentice. Public-speaking coach. And so on and so on. 

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For the past several years, through several business ventures under her ME Unlimited consulting company, Daniels has used her entrepreneurial spirit to encourage others to go after their unlimited desires, too. Her most recent initiative, Cash Flow for Speakers, hopes to empower 100,000 people to get paid for sharing their messages with the ultimate goal to have at least 1,000 people build a six-figure income in 12 months. From the end of January through February, she hosted a nationwide Make Money Speaking Tour to show people how they can make money by simply sharing their story.

In this interview, Daniels tells The Root how her family set the foundation to be financially independent, how her twirling coach inspired her along her journey, why faith and business can go hand in hand and how being on The Apprentice changed the course of her life.

Tell us a bit about your family background and heritage.

Both of my parents come from very humble beginnings. My mom is from Louisiana and my dad is from Georgia. On my mom’s side of the family, she had four sisters. And both of her parents had just an elementary school level education. My grandmother, Pearl, she cleaned homes and cooked for other people, and my grandfather had a newspaper route. I was very inspired by the fact that they had limited education yet they were able to ensure that five girls went to college and most of them graduate school. All of them were financially independent before they got married, and they instilled this sense of the importance of education, hard work, excellence and financial independence. They all finished without a lot of debt. And they were able to buy their first homes before they got married. I listen to a lot of my aunts talk about how they taught their husbands how to write their first checks.

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On my father’s side, my dad’s dad died when my dad was just 6 years old. My dad was raised in a single-parent home with his mom and his brother, who was just two years older than him. My grandmother on my father’s side, her name is Lendell; one of the first decisions that she made after my grandfather passed was to purchase a home. There was something very important to her about having your own property and having your own home.

All of my grandparents were very hard workers and they had limited education, but they took care of their family. They made good money decisions and that really instilled in me the desire to develop my intellectual abilities, to be a hard worker, to never give up.

And what about your parents?

With my father, he left home at 17 or 18, and he didn’t take school very seriously, so his reading skills were not that strong. He worked very hard to get into the Air Force, ended up becoming an air traffic controller, which is a very difficult industry to enter. But one of the things I noticed is that our lives seemed to expand and change when he owned his own business. That was when I realized it was not just important to be a hard worker, not just to overcome obstacles but how entrepreneurship changes your life.

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One of the biggest lessons I believe I learned from my mom was how to be a compassionate leader. I am still impressed to this day that my mom has been retired almost five years and that after 35 years of service in the Social Security Administration, her employees from then still send her gifts, still plan her parties and they just invited her on a cruise. It was almost like she was more than a boss; she was definitely a mentor. As a business owner, I got the passion for entrepreneurship from my dad. I want to learn how to lead like my mother did. Those are the types of things that my family has influenced who I am and where I am.

Who has inspired you the most? And what were their words of wisdom that you still keep with you today?

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One of the individuals who has inspired me the most was my twirling coach. I was a competitive baton twirler growing up, and I started competing at the age of 9. The coach that I trained with her name is Janice Jackson, and she was one of the best in the world. Being an African-American twirler, there were very few and probably less than 10 in the country that were serious competitors. The thing that inspired me most was feeling like regardless of my race, I felt like I belonged. I didn’t belong there because of my talent. I belonged because of my work ethic. She had very high standards and that has influenced how I lead in my company. Some people would say that I’m very picky or maybe sometimes even hard to please, but so was my coach.

I’m legally blind in my left eye, so I’m not even supposed to be able to twirl, according to my doctors, because of my hand-eye coordination. But she really taught me not to use excuses and that you belong because of how hard you work. One of the phrases that sticks with me is, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

When was the moment you decided you wanted to start your own business?

I’ve always tried to have my own money. When I was a kid, my first business was teaching cheerleading to elementary school kids. If I was in sixth grade, I was teaching the fourth graders. In high school, my first job was teaching baton, twirling, cheerleading, modeling and dance because those are the things that I do. That’s also how I paid my way through Georgetown law school by getting $200K in scholarships. I also had my own company called Communication Counts, helping Miss America, Miss USA and athletes, entertainers and lawyers with their public-speaking skills.

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When I got to a law firm, people kept telling me you could be doing something so much bigger. And I thought that a law firm was the pinnacle. I wanted to be Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show for my whole life. At the firm, I started meeting a bunch of athletes, but they kept saying I was too young to represent them. Because they wouldn’t take me seriously, I started doing it on my own. I still had my public-speaking consulting company, so I reinvented it. That’s where my transition started, when I created Edge 3M Sports and Entertainment.

When your creativity is stifled or are in a work environment when people don’t necessarily value your talents to the level that you would like, I knew that I couldn’t stay there. My first client, Charles Grant of the New Orleans Saints, was the highest-paid defensive end in the NFL in 2007. He signed a $63 million, seven-year deal. And that was my first paying client. From there, my confidence was high. I became the fastest-growing woman-owned sports agency in the country in less than a year.

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How did ME Unlimited come out of that sports agency?

When I left the sports business, it wasn’t necessarily by choice. I closed it down because I was feeling this tug to do something different. Plus, I was in a relationship and wanted to get married, move to Chicago and be a mom and be a wife. A lot of people have their business, and then they have their side gig. ME Unlimited became the forefront when I had to reinvent myself. So I learned how to build the brands of other people, and I had clients like HP and Home Depot and Tiffany and Nike and Sprint.

I got these huge endorsements and media deals; I started getting myself on national media. I thought maybe I can host an event and do more speaking engagements, so I started doing more training and consulting in corporate America. I got a contract with Delta Airlines that turned into a three-year contract and held my first conference, and 35 people came and paid $1,500 a piece. That’s when I birthed this thing called ME University. I’m still doing that, but we rebranded last year as the Godfidence Institute.

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Tell me more about the Godfidence Institute.

I made the big leap to switch from having a motivational for-profit company called ME University to being a for-profit faith-based business and branding school for women of faith. We made that switch last year, and it was also the year that we became a seven-figure business, and it was just a really big eye-opening experience. We often think that faith and business don’t go together and that you have to compromise one or the other or that you can’t be profitable and be purposeful at the same time. But the lesson that I’m learning every single day is that there are no restrictions in the things that God calls us to do.

Our mission is to help change the lives of life changers, other people who are desiring to change peoples’ lives as speakers, authors, coaches, thought leaders and TV personalities. We teach them the business and branding but also the mindset to have the courage to go out and live bigger, profit bigger, so they can in turn give bigger.

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How did The Apprentice help you along in your journey?

When I did The Apprentice, a lot of the projects and tasks that we get are marketing and branding oriented. Being on The Apprentice was what really opened me up to realize I had branding talent and could take someone’s ideas and bring it to action. Without having that experience, I wouldn’t have started that sports agency. Had I not been on The Apprentice, I would not know I had this gift around branding and would not have started ME University, and the Godfidence Institute wouldn’t be in existence.

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What’s next for you?

One of the initiatives within the Godfidence Institute is to help women and men to find their voice and to monetize it and take it to the masses. Our signature flagship event is called Speak for Pay, and we teach them our “speak for pay” formula, which shows how anybody can monetize their message by sharing their story. Our tour that we’re doing is called the Make Money Speaking Tour. We have an annual event in multiple cities where we have half-day workshops across the country. What’s coming up is that we’re offering a free training called Cash Flow for Speakers, and it is designed to teach you how to launch and grow a profitable speaking empire. It is a free, three-part video series where the first lesson teaches you how to find your message. The second one teaches you how to make $100K in 12 months, and the third one teaches you business and branding strategies that help you stand out in the marketplace. One of our tag lines is helping world-class speakers to generate a world-class income.

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What do you hope your legacy will be?

I hope that I showed people and taught people that it’s OK to believe bigger and that’s normal. That everything else is mediocre. That there are no limits. My legacy, I hope, is leaving behind philosophy and life practice of living an unlimited life. We won’t restrict what you think, what you dream, what you try, what you do, what you complete, what you give, how you help, who you can be, how many things you can be, how many different times you can be and become somebody new, and to really understand what it means to test the limits of what an unlimited life looks like.

Check out more from the Journey of You series and be sure to enter the #JourneyOfMe Sweepstakes.