From the January 1997 issue of Startups

The secret to successful network marketing lies in the words themselves: "network" and "marketing." Networking, the simpler to define, is creating groups of interconnected individuals who help each other--a situation you can perpetuate by simply speaking about your business. Marketing offers a more complex definition; its techniques vary and offer the network marketer more choices: Do you want to spend hundreds of dollars or none at all? Do you want to use cold-calling or promote your business through referrals only?

The following six helpful hints--culled from interviews with representatives from five network-marketing companies--all add up to one thing: marketing magic.

Share Your Product

Sometimes, simply sharing your product solicits bigger sales. Sharing makes use of samples, literature, and audio and video tapes. "The more time you have to share with people, the better your business is going to be," says Don Gibbons, vice president of U.S. sales for Relív. He recommends that individuals be ready to talk to people at any given opportunity. When opportune moments arise, even the shyest salesperson can proffer a catalog or a sample and get results.

K.K. Cummings, who joined Sterling Health in November 1995, shares a similar philosophy. She credits her success--after just one month in business she had 47 people in her downline--to merely sharing the opportunity. Cummings uses audio tapes to introduce people to Sterling's nutritional products. She gives them to everyone--bank tellers, the mail carrier--asking them all the same questions: Do you have a cassette tape player? Will you listen to this tape?

The key to success in this type of sharing lies in the follow-up. When Cummings gives someone a tape, she gets their name and phone number in exchange and, after a few days, makes a follow-up phone call. While she answers questions and gathers their opinions on the material, she often also collects orders. "It's not a hard sale," she says. "The whole idea of the audio tape is to let it do the work for you."

The Value of Advertising

With advertising, it's not what you spend, but how you spend it; if properly planned, a little advertising can go a long way. Buttons, business cards and posters are all inexpensive, yet effective, means of marketing your message. Donna Payton of Shaperite Concepts knows this well; it's advice she continually gives her downline of more than 10,000 distributors. Payton joined Shaperite in September 1993; several months later, her husband followed. Now, the twosome and their downline generate $1 million a month.

Payton advises her downline to obtain business cards or circulars printed on bright paper with simple and clean messages, including each representative's name and phone number. She recommends that the cards be placed in restrooms, under windshield wipers--anyplace imaginable. Payton has even hired local kids to pass the circulars--or impact cards, as she calls them--around. Payton receives three to six calls per day using this method.

Signs offer the same results--the presentation is just a bit bigger. Payton recommends placing signs in cars and on people's property (always obtaining permission first). Buying the signs in bulk will save money. Payton finds simple messages work best, such as: Never Diet Again, All Natural, Affordable or Satisfaction Guaranteed. A single sign Payton placed on Vasco Road in Byron, California, also generated three to six phone calls a day.

For the shy, buttons offer a chance to market product painlessly. Payton uses provocative phrases on her buttons, like I Lost My Job and I Lost My Boss or I Lost It. I'm So Excited. Ask Me Why. The key to success using this technique is much like the oft-stated Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. Know what you'll say if someone does approach you.

Have Your Own Web Site

Who needs door-to-door sales when your own site in cyberspace will bring customers to you? Some network-marketing companies, like Shaperite and Relív, bring sales into the Technology Age by providing their distributors with Internet access. A map of the United States, located on Shaperite's own Web site (http://www.shaperite.com), links to each distributor's home page. Click on a particular location to obtain a listing of the home pages for that area. Web sites cost $49 per year, including site construction, with distributors choosing their site's design from a half dozen options. Sites also post sales information, as well as the distributor's home and e-mail address and phone number.

Maximizing Your Use of the Telephone

"When my telephone rings, that's money calling. So I'm never going to dodge the phone, I'm going to answer it," says Cummings, who has three phone lines and two voice-mail systems so she'll never miss a call.

Customers continually call Cummings because she encourages them to do so. She advertises every other week in the classified section of USA Today and also in the MLM Insider. Having voice mail, according to Cummings, maximizes the leads generated by her advertisements because people can always reach her--callers never receive a busy signal, and always have the option of leaving a message.

Sell from a Soapbox

Speaking engagements, like leading a discussion group on network marketing to local groups and organizations, not only educate your community but may generate leads for you as well. At least twice a month, Donna Larson-Johnson, a 10-year veteran of Arbonne International, a network-marketing company which sells personal-care products, preaches about what she practices. The key, according to Larson-Johnson, is not to use the speaking engagement as a commercial, but rather as a chance to educate people on a general subject. "You weave in information about what you do briefly--just enough to generate interest," she says. For instance, she will speak on topics such as "Alternative Careers You Can Work From Home." At the end of the presentation, though, she hands out samples, adding, "I'd love to hear your views on the product."

Larson-Johnson mostly gives generic presentations on the network-marketing industry, arranging speaking engagements by contacting the heads of clubs, religious organizations and local groups. "Even if I don't get something directly from it," she says, "it gets our name out there and educates people."

Be a Jack of All Trades

The key to network-marketing success lies not only in the "one bright concept," but in mixing new marketing methods with tried-and-true practices of the past. "The way that you market your product has to be a seven-course meal," says Larson-Johnson. "You can't just have dessert. Make sure you have a nice balance."

Kirk Elmquist of Springfield, Missouri, is vice president of AHP, a network-marketing company that sells environmental systems and services; he recommends his distributors follow a six-step program to success, using such familiar methods as newspaper advertisements, one-on-one interviews, mailing video tapes to potential clients, allowing customers to "try before they buy," and networking with peers. The sixth step is called the "three-foot rule," where whomever comes within a three-foot proximity of you should be told of your product and its opportunity. "Any one marketing method might generate sales," says Elmquist, "but our most successful distributors do all six."

AHP

AHP (Always Helping People) incorporated in 1981 and sold housewares, cookware and crystal until 1988, when it began to sell water-filtration devices. Now the company and its 3,000 distributors sell various environmental devices, such as water- and air-filtration systems and magnetic fluid-conditioning systems.

To become an independent distributor, entitling you to buy products wholesale and receive quarterly newsletters and technical support, there is a $30 application fee. Call (800) 749-2040 for more information.

Arbonne International

Arbonne International began offering skin-care, health and beauty products in 1980. Currently, Arbonne has more than 26,000 representatives throughout the United States and 12 countries. Starter kits cost $75 and include literature and products (with a retail value of over $233). For more information, call (800) ARBONNE.

Sterling Health

Sterling Health began in 1994 with three employees and one product--grape-seed extract. Started by Al Dewayne and Bill Spires, the company now has 20,000 distributors and sales of 20 million. A $3 start-up information pack details their policy and procedures. Call (801) 377-7444 for more information, or use their fax-on-demand at (801) 373-0037.

Shaperite

Shaperite offers over 45 nutritional, weight-loss and body-care products. Begun in 1989 by Greg Martin, sales exceeded $50 million in 1995. Currently, they have 75,000 distributors. A start-up kit, available for $29.95, includes video and audio training tapes, literature and printed materials. Call (800) 776-9898 for more information.

Relív International Inc.

Relív International Inc. offers nutritional supplements, weight-management products, and isotonic sports drinks through a network-marketing structure. You can become an affiliate by purchasing the $40 distributor kit, which includes registration, order forms, and a 12-month subscription to their magazine, Relív Lifestyle. Call (314) 537-9715 for further information.