First off… you’ll notice that I changed the title of this post. It went from “Balancing Hats of the Self-Employed” to “Self-Employment & Balancing Many Hats” to “Adventures in Self-Employment” which I find fits this story best overall.
Anyway, in Part 1 of this blog post I wrote about my adventures in self-employment at an early age and my rise and fall as Godfather of an underground candy redistribution enterprise. I went from a kid selling stationary door-to-door in my neighborhood to pushing candy like a crack dealer in high school (and getting shut down by “The Man” in the process) only to find myself flipping burgers in the fast-food industry and eventually getting assimilated into an office drone.
I’ve always wanted to be independently employed, and while I’ve enjoyed most of the traditional jobs that I’ve had, there’s just something about self-employment that has always picked at my soul. The entrepreneurial bug bit me again in 1997 while I was living in Austin, Texas and working as a tour operations assistant at a privately owned international bird-watching tour and travel agency. My best friend called me one day to tell me about an exciting business opportunity that a friend of his introduced him to. He told me that it was a legitimate business that has been around since 1959 and the potential to make big money was staggering. He sounded like an infomercial, but I listened to him give me the basic formula of how this business worked where you owned your own product distribution business with access to a huge catalog of household products, electronics, jewelry, food, etc., etc. It sounded like door-to-door sales to me. I wasn’t interested.
My friend further explained that the cool thing about this business is that if you got enough people in your network, you would earn commissions off the people in your network. The more people in your network, the more passive income you would make. The whole idea was that every independent business owner in the network would buy their basic household products from their own business. If you needed laundry detergent, paper towels, vitamins, batteries, etc., instead of going to the local Wal-Mart, you’d just order direct from “your” company. Plus, there was an extensive catalog of affiliate big name brand partners that you had access to for radios, CD players, telephones, even TVs… all at a discounted rate because you were buying direct, cutting out the middleman. All you had to do was convince your friends and family to start their own product distribution business, buy from themselves and get others to join up under them and so forth. If you had enough people in your network, you eventually wouldn’t have to work because you would be living off of the commissions of your network.
The whole thing sounded interesting, but it also sounded a bit complicated and too good to be true. However, I figured I would give my friend the benefit of the doubt and at least meet with him and his “business sponsors” for a demonstration of the parent company’s products and more details on how exactly this business worked. So, that weekend I drove two hours with no intention of actually agreeing to anything. It was more out of courtesy to my friend than anything. After all, we went to high school together and had been friends for several years.
I have to admit that I was impressed with the product demonstration, which mainly consisted of household cleaners and detergents. After selling me on the core line of products, Mr. and Mrs. Business Sponsor explained the ins and outs of the business network with a nice little drawing of circles and legs linking to other circles with their own legs linking to other circles. My name was in the top circle. Mrs. Business Sponsor asked me if I knew three people that I thought would be interested in starting their own business on a part-time basis and making some extra money. The theory would be that each of them would then get three other people to participate, and those three people would get three people, and so forth. Mr. and Mrs. Business Sponsor then explained how commissions from product sales were distributed. I don’t remember exactly what those percentages were but it all made sense and looked good on paper. The parent company also paid every independent business owner directly, which apparently was a problem back in the day when the business sponsors were responsible for distributing commission checks.
So, with all of this explained, there was only one main question that I had. What was the name of this company? When they told me it was Amway, I was ready to walk out the door. This was the same company that had people selling soap door-to-door, right? Yep, it was the same company. I had heard of Amway before and it didn’t have a great reputation, but the company had been around since 1959, was still going strong, and apparently had gone through a lot of changes including incorporating technological improvements. They now had a website where business owners could process orders, track commissions, etc. After taking a few days to think about it, I signed up and paid my set up fee and also purchased a product start up kit at a discount. This kit also had several samples to use for demonstrations.
After getting an assumed name license for Jireh Distribution and opening a small business checking account, I began my training. My friend and his sponsors helped me get started. I attended business meetings, met some other Amway business owners higher up in our network, and started demonstrating Amway’s core products to my family, friends and coworkers. They particularly loved the detergent and would even reorder from me when they ran out of product. I made a few bucks from commissions, but nowhere near enough to quit my job (kind of sounds like my book royalties 🙂 ). My friend said that I needed to get some people to start their own Amway distribution business and get them to do the same thing before the money started rolling in. My best friend’s, sponsor’s, sponsor’s, sponsor (no I didn’t stutter) had recently quit his high paying job at DuPont because his network was so big that he didn’t have to work a traditional job anymore. That was encouraging I guess, but the three people that I thought would be on board weren’t interested.
I ended up attending an Amway convention in Kansas City that summer with my friend and his sponsors who I quickly became friends with. I think some of the sponsor’s sponsor’s sponsor’s sponsor’s sponsors were there too. We spent the weekend in Kansas City attending seminars and listening to testimonials from notable Amway business owners that had succeed in the business. We heard a lot of rags to riches stories. Each of these “Diamond Level Business Owners” had arrived in their million dollar luxury coaches and had them parked where everyone could easily see them. We arrived in an old minivan.
The convention was a lot of fun and it was even a bit inspirational too. As Christians we enjoyed some of the biblical principles that were incorporated in operating the business, so it almost felt like a retreat at times. We came back home to Texas energized with new strategies to build our businesses and I even managed to convince another friend of mine to start his own business. Awesome! However, he was the only person that I could convince. My other family and friends just started to get annoyed and wouldn’t answer my phone calls and would even avoid me because they thought I was either going to try to sell them something they didn’t want or need or try to convince them to join the business. My friend’s sponsor suggested that I try some cold contacting techniques that we learned. This basically involved approaching total strangers. Seriously? They wanted me to approach total strangers? While I was filling my car with gas one day, I decided what the heck. I approached a total stranger pumping gas on the other side of the gas pump, which resulted in the lady looking at me like I was completely nuts. She nonchalantly took my business card anyway. That was the one and only time I tried selling Amway to a total stranger.
Now some of my friends and family were still buying stuff from me because they liked the products, but I wasn’t very good with the whole multi-level marketing thing. After several months of work my multi-level network commissions totaled about $75 and my direct sales weren’t worth the time and effort either. When family and friends stopped reordering their products from me, I stopped caring and eventually quit the business. I told my best friend that it was nothing personal, and I did enjoy owning an Amway distribution business at first, but I kind of liked having friends outside of the business too. I was getting tired of having to talk about Amway all the time. I could only imagine what my friends and family thought. The one thing I learned very quickly is that the Amway business is a very high pressure sales business which I did not want to have anything to do with anymore. I’m not knocking Amway in general because their system works for the right people and their products are actually pretty good… It just wasn’t for me.
So, after taking off my small business hat, it was time to switch hats again and get back to working as an office drone. The following year while living in Austin, my friend told me about another business opportunity that he had started. This time it was a sure deal and he had already made $2,500 the first month! He said it was an independent business type of deal, and if I was interested he could guarantee me a spot on the team if I wanted it. He had already talked to the franchise business owner. I would have to move back to my hometown though.
After a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to put in my two-week notice at my current job and left the Texas capital city to move back to my hometown in the south Texas crossroads. Three days after I started this “awesome” business venture that my friend convinced me to quit my job in Austin for I realized that I had made a huge mistake… and my job in Austin had already been filled!
So, what was this new business opportunity of doom? Tune in next week for the next installment of “Adventures in Self-Employment” right here at Sharkbait Writes.