Sunday, 4 May 2014

My life and times in the wonderful wacky world of network marketing, in installments.

First this: Everything you have heard about Network Marketing AKA MLM is true. The bad, the ugly, the crazy and the good, they are all true.   

This is a set of memories, most emphatically not meant as advertising. I will most likely eat the product that got me into the industry till it is no longer available or till I die, whichever comes first. But I can no longer do that "This will fix everything for everybody" thing.

Chapter one. A bottle of green pills.
My stint in the wonderful wacky world of  MLM started with my friend Mary handing me a small bottle of green capsules. By the way, this friend is an extremely private person. Her name is not Mary. Everything else is true. 

"I have a little present for you", said Mary in the fall of 1996, handing me the aforementioned bottle of green capsules. Mary is one of the most generous people I know, and we shared an interest in health matters. I got to know her when she and her husband took an introductory Reflexology class I taught.

A picture of my life at this time: 
I was the main family breadwinner, never mind that story. I had a day job in Home Support and did Reflexology on the side, as well as the odd horoscope. I gardened and kept chickens. Daughter had launched and I missed her terribly. Teenage son was still at home. My body was doing the puberty in reverse thing known as peri-menopause.

I never had a single hot flash. Instead there were many small annoyances and some big ones. My neck was often sore and stiff. My hips and knees were starting to whine when I got up after sitting down too long. My hair was thinning. And muddled! Dear Earth, was I muddled! You know that thing where a name is on the tip of your tongue, but you can't get to it right now? My brain was doing that with ordinary words. Fridge might become "Eh, you know, the cold thing with the food in it". At one point son said: "Mother, who will finish your sentences for you when I leave home?" 
But the worst symptom was the frequent bouts of debilitating fatigue. On a bad day I looked forward to crawling back into bed from the moment I got up. I had pneumonia in the spring of 1996.

In short, I was a mess. This was in spite of a healthy lifestyle, a generally upbeat attitude, and various supplements. Adelle Davis had been my guru. I swallowed iron and vitamins from A to Z, including B complex for energy. They always helped for a while end then I would stop feeling them. Take some time off and start again. I would dread the time off.

So, when Mary gave me the bottle of greenery I was like, "Another pill. Whatever. Sure, I will try it." I took the odd one along with the rest. After a few weeks Mary called to ask if I was noticing anything. "I am supposed to feel something?" She encouraged me to be consistent and take one daily. I did. For Christmas Mary gifted me another bottle, with the advice to try 2 a day. I did. And the lights came on. 

By mid January my words were coming back. My neck felt better. There was less hair in the drain after a shower. Best of all I was needing fewer naps. That whole horrible feeling of being on the verge of collapse was going away. I went to visit the Holland family in early spring and breezed through jet lag. 

When the second bottle ran out I actually bought the next one, even though the price was much more than I was used to spending on vitamins and minerals. Whatever this green stuff was, it worked for me in a sheer miraculous way that nothing else had. To this day, I think of life as Before and After AFA, Aphanizomenon Flos Aquae, the wild bluegreen algae from Klamath Lake, Oregon. To this day I remain grateful to Mary for having introduced me to it. She is welcome to any money she made off me.

Now, to the business factor. My friend is a discreet person, a Scorpio. Every now and then she would slip me a cassette tape (remember those?) and never mention it again. I tried listening to some of them. They were so American, rah rah rah, like a revival meeting. I never got beyond the first minutes before turning them off. Meanwhile, I was telling Reflexology clients who had problems with fatigue to give Mary a call.  She was selling this wonderful stuff you couldn't get in a store.

Fast forward to August. I am in my Reflexology room in the village, giving it a thorough cleaning. Entertainment was wanted. Anything would do, even one of Mary's cassettes. This one was actually nice, no rah rah rah. A bunch of people were sitting around a living room in Northern California telling each other how much they love the green stuff, and how much they enjoy being dealers and earning some money on the side. "I could do this", thought I. I enjoy selling if it is something I believe in and I sure believe in "the algae", as AFA is known among its fans. The next time I came to Mary's house to pick up a bottle, I left her a note. Would she mind terribly if I became a dealer too, even though she was the one who had introduced it to Nakusp? 

Anyone who has ever been part of this industry will burst out laughing at this. But seriously, that's how it started. 

Chapter 2: I see the light and turn into an evangelical monster.

Where were we. Oh yes, August 1997. I had left Mary a note, asking of she would mind if I became a seller of the product she had introduced me to. Really. Needless to say she was all in favor . "I was hoping you would ask that! It's a total win/win. Come for tea and let me explain".

Reader, I was an MLM virgin.  I fell for the hype hook, line and sinker, as had Mary. Residual income on a sale, just like artists who get royalties, the idea that I could get paid on the sales of people who I had introduced, and a percentage on their people, what's not to like? Time freedom, working from home, oh yes! The whole concept blew me away. Selling a product not available in a store made even more sense in those days when the Internet was just starting.

I had a bit of disposable income and got fitted out with a business kit. Then I went to work.  Thanks to even more green pills I no longer knew the meaning of the word tired. 

I wanted to put algae into every tired face on the street and show the compensation plan to every friend who was struggling with money worries. I made cold calls. I set up meetings to show the expensive kit with a whole health program. I even sold quite a few. I was rather like a fresh convert to a "Hallelujah!" church who has just seen the light, has stars in her eyes and wants to save everybody else too. In retrospect I must have been insufferable. In my defense I must say that I came from a place of total sincerity.

In January 1998 I broke my right ankle skiing, right here on the land. At the time I was quite happy about it. A guilt-free break from work, yeah! I was not in pain, it was just a matter of letting time do its healing. Mary had been to the company convention and came back laden with motivational tools of all kinds. There was a stack of issues of "Upline" magazine, videos documenting past company conventions, and piles of cassette tapes. I have fond memories of basking in winter sunshine on the couch and immersing myself in a world of glowing testimonials, success stories and positive thinking. 

I even made a few sales by phone, earning money from home, just as the propaganda promised. I was high on the drug of endless possibility. It was a good time.

Part 3: I find my niche and my medium and do some good work.

After the initial rush of success reality set in. Not everyone responded as well as I had. Some people wanted their money back. They got it. Others liked the product fine but balked at the price and did not reorder. I was also running out of easy people to talk to, and the friends who had joined me in the business soon ran out of steam. 

In the spring of 1998 a group of distributors in a nearby town had organised a workshop with Dr. John Taylor, author of some books on ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities. He had an arms length relationship to the company. He sort of recommended the product but did not directly benefit from its sale. Mary, her husband "Bob" (also not his real name) and I made the 2 hour trek to Castlegar to attend. 

I went just because this would help me sell product. I knew nothing about ADHD and pictured only kids who could not sit still. I was gobsmacked when I heard the man describe members of my family as if he knew them, including yours truly. The strategies he described seemed helpful. I was fascinated. Thus began an educational journey into the topic and a time of learning and sharing. Nutritional support for ADD became my niche. 

As for the medium, later that year we replaced the 386 PC with a second hand 486 and joined the internet. Well, sort of. The dial up connection was excruciatingly slow and we could barely cruise, but we could do email and join email groups. That became the medium.

I made a few beginners mistakes by being too eager to mention my miracle stuff. Again, coming from a place of total sincerity. But I did some good work. I would spend hours replying to group emails and gently educating people on the importance of nutrition for brain function in general. Every now and then someone would email me privately and I might make a sale. One of my favourite stories concerns the mother of a son who did not respond well to ritalin. She confessed to being "a microwave Mom". With encouragement from the whole group and the help of a website I had stumbled upon she started to cook from scratch. The family never did buy any algae. But the kid improved to the point where he no longer had to take medication.