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Dezaray Johnson

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Dezaray Johnson knew she had arrived as a business advisor when her grandfather started heeding her judgment.

Johnson grew up with her own tiny desk and a collection of office supplies at the family business, Johnson’s Pest Control in Junction. In high school, she answered phones and processed tickets. After joining the Small Business Development Center at Angelo State University, she convinced her grandfather to take advantage of the SBDC’s array of free services, including business financing, business planning, expansion and marketing.

While Robert Johnson readily accepted Dezaray’s marketing advice – she had earned two communications degrees at ASU – it took longer to trust in his granddaughter’s counsel regarding the rest of the family business.

“You don’t realize when you grow up in a family business how much you learn,” Johnson said. “My grandfather now thinks, ‘Maybe she’s gone off to college and learned a few things.’ Now family night conversations quickly turn to business. We’re always talking about improving in all ways.”

In that way, Johnson’s Pest Control is no different than any of her other SBDC clients, including several others in her hometown. Based at ASU and a department of the Norris-Vincent College of Business, the Small Business Development Center provides confidential, one-on-one business advising plus a series of training seminars to budding entrepreneurs and small ventures. All of the SBDC’s services are free.

Johnson, the youngest 20 Under 40 honoree this year at 28, joined the SBDC as a graduate assistant, coordinating its many training seminars. Wanting to “get in the game,” she has since earned two business advising certifications.

“Some of the things we see day to day as business advisers are huge hurdles for small business entrepreneurs because they don’t have that knowledge,” she said. “To be able to share that with them is huge. Whether I’m teaching a class of 20 people or working one-on-one with someone, it’s all driving them toward their goals.”

Initially, however, Johnson was intimidated by the leap from communications to the business world. She sometimes shares that with clients who are trepidatious about the plunge into business ownership. She’s also honest with those who ask why she doesn’t start her own business.

“I try to say it without scaring them,” Johnson said, “but owning a business is a lot of hard work. It’s a commitment. And nobody’s going to run your business better than you are.”

One of Johnson’s success stories is HR Onboarding Solutions, a local firm that helps companies replace paperwork with electronic forms that sync with their customers’ software. She helped owner Brent Jameson craft the winning entry in the 2017 Business Plan Competition, which earned the company a $25,000 cash prize. What once was a one-man operation has grown to include six employees.

Johnson applauds such belief in oneself.

“Just go for it,” she said. “We hold our own selves back. We say we’re not good enough or we can’t or, more importantly, we don’t know how. But we are what we want to be.”