When I was a kid, I already knew I was an entrepreneur. My first “business” was selling holiday cards from the back of comic books that I could exchange for prizes. I sold a few, but never enough to claim a prize (failure # 1). My next business was mowing grass and I eventually mowed half the houses on our block and it was a pretty good little hustle (but a lot of work). At 11 years old, I started a bicycle swap-shop in our garage and would buy used bicycles and sell the parts at a markup (Need a frame? Got it. Handlebars? Got’em. Mag wheels? Got’em.) — I made $1,600 the summer I turned 11 selling used bike parts! So, needless to say, I had the bug. Since that time I have failed many times and succeeded a few.
As a young twenty-something, I was introduced to the world of network marketing and direct sales and thought I had discovered the key to riches. I sold a diet product for a while, some water filters for a while, some healthcare products briefly, and some soap products for an even shorter time. No company ever taught me how to achieve direct sales success. The story from my recruiter was always one of two things: 1) “You tell your friends and they’ll tell their friends and they’ll tell their friends and we’ll all get rich;” or, 2) “It’s a numbers game, just prospect everyone that gets within 3 feet of you and some of them will take you up on your offer — when you’ve prospected enough people you are bound to sign-up a superstar.” My friends quit talking to me, my family quit answering the phone, and strangers treated me like I had the plague…so I decided direct sales and network marketing were a scam and quit.
I tried my hand at the corporate world and was a great employee for a few years and leveraged the reputation I had built at the company into negotiating a franchise deal and opened a franchise location of my former employer (the entrepreneurial bug was ever-present). Within 2 years my wife and I had gone from 1 location to 3 and within 5 years we had built our company to 8 locations and we were making what we considered to be a lot of money.
That’s when the bottom fell out and we had to start closing them down even faster than we opened them. Between new healthcare legislation affecting our business, changes in 3rd party (health insurance) payouts, and our franchisor being on the road to bankruptcy themselves, the business we had built was failing. My wife is a registered nurse and my background is in substance abuse counseling — we earned our business chops through trial and error, but we were totally unprepared for this perfect storm for failure.
Meanwhile back at the ranch…my wife was dabbling in MLM. She played with this company for a couple of weeks and that company for a couple of weeks and was mainly a consumer of products and never made any money with it. In fact, I just found some coffee at the back of the pantry that has been there for a few years because it was one of the early products she jumped in with. Every time she signed up with a new company I rolled my eyes. I already knew that the whole MLM thing was a time-suck and a sham. But in the interest of marital peace, I kept my opinion to myself.
While building our main business, I had also started an import-export company, an e-commerce company, and a salvage liquidation store. All were successful for a time. I briefly had a $40,000/month product on Amazon until competition from China killed the profitability and it ended up costing more to get the product than I could sell it for, leaving me with a warehouse full of products I couldn’t get rid of. The Liquidation business was moderately profitable but required more work and attention than I was willing to give it. And when our primary business started flagging all my focus shifted to trying to save the golden goose and I let the other businesses go (another failing idea: sacrifice the profitable businesses to save the unprofitable one).
In building our healthcare business, the import-export business, e-commerce business, and the liquidation business I learned the skills necessary to grow a customer base and create sales. I developed marketing skills, sales skills, networking skills, training skills, & management skills. These lessons were more valuable to me than businesses that created them.
So I shut down my profitable businesses to focus my attention on the one that was nose-diving fast to try and save it and I spent 2 years trying to save a sinking ship. I was afraid. The life we had built was dependent on the income from our business and that income was gone and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was feeling like a failure, not just in business, but in my role as a husband and provider. I felt like I had completely lost control of my life and I didn’t know how to get it back.
My wife, was afraid, too. And her greatest fear was that she would have to return to work in a high-stress trauma center in the hospital and be forced to see things every day that people shouldn’t have to see. In an attempt to do something to keep her worst fear from coming true, my wife signed up with another direct sales company. And while I wasn’t looking, she built a successful direct sales business that was bringing in 5 figures monthly in revenue just from product sales. Over the course of 18 months, she built a business she could rely on to bring in more monthly income than she could have made working 60 hours a week as a Registered Nurse.
I eventually took notice of this achievement and was so thankful for the contribution. While the business I was running was losing money due to forces outside of my control, the business my wife was running was bringing money in and she had done that by herself, but she had reached the limit of what she knew how to do on her own.
After a particularly grueling week in our finances, she and I sat down and talked and we decided that one thing was true…things couldn’t get any worse with our healthcare business. We knew we had to do something different. And she had proven that her direct sales company offered a viable business opportunity but she needed help if she were going to take it any further. We asked ourselves a question that night that was a key turning point in our lives: “What would happen if I shifted my focus from saving a sinking ship to helping her build her direct sales business?”
I had the skills necessary to help her take her business to the next level. I understood how to sell online. I understood marketing & advertising. I understood customer acquisition and I understood social media’s role in customer development. And she had proven that my immature view of network marketing and direct sales was false. She had proven that you could be successful in the industry with diligent and strategic effort. So we decided that we had nothing to lose and I shifted my focus to growing the direct sales business she had started and within 8 months we were able to replace our income from the other businesses and relieve ourselves of all that financial stress and worry.
What I came to realize as we went through this journey is that our previous business failed because it was governed by the decisions of others (legislators, government regulators, franchisors, 3rd-party payers) — we didn’t have control over our business. And in our previous experiences with direct sales we were only told part of the story — we weren’t actually given the tools for success because the people who signed us up didn’t know how to build a business themselves. In particular, network marketers weren’t teaching their downlines how to be successful with online businesses. They didn’t know about how to get traffic, how to convert that traffic to customers, and how to get those customers to be repeat buyers. They didn’t really understand social selling. They didn’t understand that assaulting friends & family or using the 3-foot rule is a recipe for failure and will turn those people against you. And it is not their fault…they are following instructions from their upline who didn’t know what they were doing either.
My wife and I crafted and executed a traffic plan. We created systems for converting that traffic into buyers. We used social media to create a tribe of people who love us and who want to buy whatever we have to sell. And we sell to them over and over. Moreover, our customers ask us about the business opportunity because they see our success and we do not have to push it on them.
We have all seen the top-sellers/top-recruiters that the MLM companies publicize because they inspire the dream and we know they actually exist. What we are never shown is the methods they used to get there. When we applied proven internet marketing strategies and tactics to the direct sales business model, we achieved rapid success and a predictable, stable, and growing income that is translatable to any other direct sales company that has a good product (which most do). We now have a customer base that is ours, a business that we control, and systems and tools in place to ensure continued growth and income.
We know we aren’t the only ones out there who are experiencing distress and frustration — either from a slogging away at a job we hate, the lack of finances to live the life we want or the lack of direction from our upline in how to create success in direct sales. Can you identify? If you are a network marketer or direct sales professional facing the same struggles, I’d love to hear from you. If learning these skill sets would be valuable to you reach out to me and let me know.