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Network Marketing Brings Out Women’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

The industry provides an opportunity for flexibility and independence, but what's the secret to success?

Having more control of your financial well-being, flexibility in your schedule and command over the amount of time you spend working are desires shared by many people. Women, in particular, are looking for “financial independence while raising a family,” as well as opportunities to strengthen leadership skills and “connect with a sisterhood of like-minded females,” says Bonnie Ross-Parker, CEO and founder of the The Joy of Connecting, a group designed to support women entrepreneurs, business owners and other professional women.

Network marketing, sometimes called multilevel marketing, is a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry that relies on direct selling. From well-known mega-companies such as Amway, Shaklee and Mary Kay to up-and-comers such as Pampered Chef, Silpada and Xocai, the basic business model is the same: It’s a direct-selling process where independent agents sell goods and services and are encouraged to build and manage their own sales force by recruiting and training other people.

Most women are familiar with the home-party drill. A friend or acquaintance invites you into their home for nibbles, frequently accompanied by cocktails and some kind of product demonstration. You are then urged to (1) buy the product, (2) have a party/production demonstration at your home, where you can then receive free product or buy it at a considerable discount, and (3) become a sales representative.

Many women dabble in this type of business motivated primarily by product discounts and/or the desire to do some type of low-key work outside of the home. About 80 percent of network marketers are women, according to MLM Advantage, a site that provides tips and training for network marketers. The failure rate for network marketing is estimated to be 97 percent to 99 percent — a daunting statistic until you consider the number of hobbyists who don’t really treat it like they would another type of job.

However, people who approach this type of career with the same time of discipline they would in the corporate world can be quite successful.

“There are pros and cons to network marketing businesses. The right person can be very successful. Most women I feel want to run their business like it’s a hobby, yet they expect to make a ton of money doing it,” said Kimberly Reddington, a business growth and marketing coach who specializes in working with women. “Almost every single mother in my neighborhood has tried a networking marketing business at least once in the 10 years that I have lived here. Some have tried multiple ones. I feel that you really need to have a passion for the business in order to be a success. Network marketing businesses do not make money if you run them like a hobby. I have seen so many women dish out money, time and energy to get their business started and it goes nowhere.”

“I believe the profession works if there exists a supportive environment, for example, a spouse who is his wife’s cheerleader and family and friends who offer encouragement,” Ross-Parker said, adding that another important factor for success is a woman who has “flexibility in her life — to lead parties, network, go to trainings and she believes in her product or service and knows that it takes time to build an organization.”

As a graphic designer, Christine Flannery already had a fair amount of independence in her work, but she wanted to make some additional income. She said she did her research and thought long and hard before associating herself with Xocai, a line of health-enhancing chocolate products. A neighbor introduced her to the company.

“I thought, ‘Hey, this is wonderful.’ I love the health benefits of it and the nutrition, and I love that it’s chocolate and it’s simple,” Flannery said. “It’s not as much to learn as some of the other health products I looked at. Still, it took me a while to make my decision.”

Her thoughtfulness will help her be successful, Ross-Parker said, adding that it’s important that “a company has a strong track record, great training and support and offers products or services that have lasting value.”

“I read things about it, I looked into the company. I went to the headquarters in Reno. I met the owner, Jeanette Brooks, the lady that came up with this idea,” Flannery said. “That made me realize that this is a family-owned business and I really like their excitement, their enthusiasm about everything. So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll try this.’”

“A woman has to work it to be successful,” Ross-Parker said. “I always say, ‘Full time or part time but never some time. Some time never gets results and leads to discouragement,’ and lastly she must extend beyond her family and friends. Nothing is more disheartening than exhausting a warm market and then having nowhere else to go. The key to network marketing is networking.”

So far, the response to the product has been positive, Flannery said.

“The fact that it’s chocolate means most people are willing to listen,” she said. “If it were something complicated, I think it would be a lot harder for people to pay attention. I think you find out right away if someone is interested or not, or whether they are interested in starting a new business or just buying some chocolate. So that’s pretty easy.”

The company also set her up with a Web site and provided extensive training on both the product and how to market it.

“I’m not a salesperson,” Flannery said, “but I don’t really think of this as sales as much as referral, because if it’s something that you really like, like a restaurant or a movie, you just tell people about it, and that’s kind of what this is.”

“The appeal is the fact that women can host parties and do what they do well — socialize,” said Patricia Kagwiria Makhulo, author of The Little Black Book of Home Party Plan Business Secrets. “It is supposed to be a pressure free, stress free, personalized selling environment, simply because women do not like to be sold under pressure, but we do love to buy.”

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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