Making It Through Hard Times - Kerry Brown and Richard Larkin
How many people do you know, perhaps intimately, who have encountered serious challenges on the path to Network Marketing success? A company goes out of business, gets shaken up from within, is raided by another group, gets shut down by Federal regulators-- on one side of the spectrum, you see people giving up in frustration and quitting Network Marketing for good. On the other, you see people for whom such experiences serve to strengthen their commitment to their personal goals.
Kerry Brown and Richard Larkin are two Network Marketing entrepreneurs who belong in the second group of people. Like many, they've been through hard times in this business-- within three months of starting off in their first company, management changed the compensation plan drastically, and top leaders started leaving left and right. Most recently, as top leaders themselves with International Heritage Incorporated, Kerry and Richard experienced their company's long battle with regulators and subsequent defeat when IHI was forced to close its doors last year.
In neither case, however, did Kerry and Richard let the daunting circumstances they couldn't control take them off course. Here, they share their experiences and how they've been able to turn bad times into good.
Tell us about your first experience of hard Network Marketing knocks.
KB: We'd been with that first company for three months when the compensation plan was changed, dramatically. It was something that needed to be done, but Richard and I, being neophytes in the industry at the time, were pretty shell-shocked when, over the next six months, most of the people that we held and respected as leaders, who'd led the trainings we'd been attending, started leaving and going to other companies. It really challenged our belief. In retrospect, that experience provided a framework within which we could operate when the struggle started with IHI.
RL: These guys had trained us all along: "There are two ways you can fail in Network Marketing: Don't start, or quit." As they started quitting, we were looking at each other like, "Are we crazy, did we take that to heart too much?" because we didn't intend to quit. We'd made a commitment to ourselves to give the business 12 months-- we said "one year, no matter what," and we meant it.
We pushed through that period and realized that one year wasn't enough, so we made a five-year game plan. We committed to four more years of all-out persistence and effort, and then, we would look back and reevaluate. That perseverance is what ultimately paid off for us-- things got better, new products came on, the compensation plan improved, and we went on to build a very successful organization.
KB: We realized that while leaders leaving could hurt company morale, it couldn't affect our prospects, and they were the people who would make our business grow. It was a fearful time, though, and as much as we recommitted to it, we hadn't had what we called "success." We didn't have much of a group yet at all.
RL: We looked at other people who had been successful and saw that they were single-minded and focused, people who hadn't looked at other opportunities. We used to get prospected all the time-- and still do-- but we would just politely and respectfully say, "Thank you very much, but at this time we're not interested. We're too busy and focused right now on our business, but good luck with your endeavor."
KB: We learned early on to rise to the occasion. Some of our first mentors in Network Marketing taught us "The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack," so we rose to the occasion and became our own leaders.
RL: We've always maintained that if somebody else can do it, then there is no reason why we can't do it. That was the same attitude we had when we first joined-- we saw people having great success and thought, "If they can do it, we can do it, too." Both of us are strong-willed and competitive-- we wanted to be, and ultimately did become, one of the top organizations and top earners in that company.
So, in your first experience, the hardest moments came when you were new to Network Marketing and the company. I know with IHI, though, that it was the opposite-- when the regulatory difficulties began, you had a track record of success and a large group.
KB: That's right. We could see the majority of people going through the same reaction we had when the people we respected in our first company started leaving. It was the same, gut-level, fearful reaction. People were looking for someone to blame. There were myriad emotions, including shock, anger, all the levels of grieving. Just because we had been through something similar before didn't mean we didn't feel all of those feelings too-- we could just go through them faster. We had more experience. For eight months, we held the troops together, going through all of those emotions, thinking the company would make it.
What do you need to do to build a group that can hold together in such an event?
KB: Trust. The people who we had relationships with, who we were in working partnership with, had developed a level of trust in us, and that's what held us together. Those people came through all of it with us and are still with us today, because partnership and trust are infinitely valuable in this business. On the other hand, it came as no surprise that when IHI finally closed its doors, the people who we didn't have great working relationships with went elsewhere. It's an important lesson in what really makes an organization strong.
RL: After five years in our first company, I thought we'd experienced every kind of person in the organization and had it all figured out. Then, sure enough, we met people in IHI with whom we were just positives and negatives on the magnet. We tried every which way to figure out how to connect with these people, and just were not on the same wavelength.
It's difficult to acknowledge and accept responsibility for our lack of ability to build a relationship with them, but we do, and we're not perfect. We've learned some lessons, and what we feel really good about is the core people who have stayed with us. Strong partnerships come from both parties really wanting it to work in the first place. You know you've got it when there's a connection other than just upline-downline.
The most successful relationships are based in mutual respect and friendship. Some of our best have been with people we connected with in the organization, sometimes sponsored many levels down, who we recognized as up-and-coming leaders based on what they were doing and how they handled things.
As leaders, what role did you think you had in the communication that went on downline?
KB: We took it upon ourselves to seek whatever information was available and be the communicators. We felt responsible for passing information down-- we didn't look to anybody else to do it. When the problems started, a lot of the company's systems started to break down because their emphasis was on trying to deal with the regulators. That created a lot of internal problems, and we spent an enormous amount of time trying to solve those problems and hold things together for people.
We simply acted the way our integrity dictates: We told the truth, never gave anyone a pitch, and always tried to be positive. If someone phoned us about the situation, we would never commiserate in negativity. We would always say, "Okay, you know these are the facts-- now, how can we deal with that? What is the solution to this?" We are always ready to be solution-oriented and to try to guide people on how they can still go out and do the business despite challenges.
RL: No matter what was happening, we were honest with people. We might not have known all the facts, but we would always tell people what we knew to be true.
KB: We don't believe in "hyping" people-- we respect people's ability to make informed decisions on their own; they don't need to be sold. People trust you when they can tell that you are communicating from your heart.
When you say integrity, what does that mean for you?
RL: It means not compromising your values. If you have that, you can't fail. What's important to us is relationships, trust, honesty-- being up front with people. If your values are clear, if you know why you're doing this business, what's important to you and what you're committed to, then you will be successful building this business no matter what challenges you meet.
KB: I think integrity is a combination of values, being clear on what they are, and others knowing what they are-- what you stand for. Professionalism; being a person of your word; being someone others can count on; championing people; striving to be a good coach and mentor by honoring what people are committed to.
RL: A commitment to integrity is doing what you said you were going to do, long after the mood you said it in is gone.
Based on your experiences, what advice do you have for people going through a time of confusion or difficulty in their business?
KB: From an individual standpoint, I think it's okay for us to acknowledge that we can be fearful. We've had many people call to prospect us who start out friendly and solicitous, but suddenly shift into disrespect and insult when we say we're unavailable. That is not our industry at its best-- we believe in honoring what people are doing and not prospecting distributors from other companies. If you call someone and find out they're actively building a business, act with integrity and support them in it.
Most companies won't go through what IHI went through, so a lot of times, people will be dealing with issues on a much smaller scale. It's important to evaluate how important the issue is.
One of the things that Richard and I learned from a mentor has really stuck with us: "Play with the hand you're dealt." Often people will get hung up on a particular issue-- like a compensation plan change, or a new product that's late coming out-- and they don't move forward. They let themselves be derailed by small challenges. Don't let difficulty or confusion slip into being an excuse for not building your business-- "play with the hand you're dealt."
To use one of John Fogg's phrases, "trust the process." If everything else in the company is working okay, trust the process-- look back at what caught your attention in the first place, what your vision for the business is, what your goals are and keep moving your business forward.
RL: We learned the truth of the saying "in darkness true character is revealed." You find out where people's true belief and commitment are when things get difficult. You see people for what they are, and hard times make people see themselves for what they are. It can be a time of real honesty.
Most companies have been challenged in some way, shape or form, at one time or another. It's important to really know who the players are, what they stand for, if they'll go to battle for you, and then use your best judgment each step of the way. We truly believed that IHI was going to pull itself out of the fire, and we know the leadership did their absolute best. It was tough, but we thought we'd started to come out the other end. It looked like the worst times were over-- sometimes a company comes through and sometimes it doesn't.
So get the information and evaluate it so that you can make an unemotional, educated decision for yourself. Because you're going to get pitched-- one thing for sure, as a person in Network Marketing, somebody is going to try to persuade you to another company, or somebody from the company might try to sell you on why you should stay because you're a big producer.
KB: When it comes to being a leader in such a situation, Richard and I felt we didn't have the luxury of allowing ourselves to wallow in the company's misfortune. The day we heard that IHI was going to shut down, we were at our leadership convention in the Bahamas. I cried tears, we were in shock, we hugged people, and the process was devastating. Nonetheless, I very quickly realized that there would be a whole lot of people depending on us to give them some guidance. We felt we had to offer people support, so we couldn't just fall apart.
At the end of that day, Richard and I came to the conclusion that we felt the possibility of starting a new company was the best of the options we had. We shared that with our group, told them their range of options and that we'd respect whatever decision they made for themselves. Some people knew what they wanted to do right away, others took a few days or a few weeks to process. Many have decided to take part in our venture, others have gone in different directions.
RL: As leaders, we have to know how to manage our emotions in a short period of time. When crisis hits, one person might reel for a month or get knocked out of the game, but as leaders, we learned a long time ago that you have to evaluate quickly, make a decision, and then take a stand. That's what we did.
We wanted to set an example by moving forward, not back. Everyone has an opinion, good or bad, but we never flinched from our decision. If you make a decision and let people know right away where you stand, they will respect you for that down the road.
When IHI went out of business, did you consider leaving Network Marketing?
RL: No. Maybe we thought about jumping in the ocean for about 30 seconds, but jokes aside, no, we didn't consider it. We believe "it's not what happens to you, it's what you do about it." A lot of people quit Network Marketing because of IHI going under, and they may never be back again. That's unfortunate, because that means a lot of dreams are being abandoned. I've been an entrepreneur since I was 20 years old-- I've been in sales, I've started my own businesses, I've worked for other people, I've been in franchising. I know what the options are out there in the market place, and there is nothing out there that provides the flexibility, the income potential, and the lifestyle that Network Marketing can provide. We believe in the industry so strongly-- we're committed to it.
KB: There were moments when I said to myself, "In the very beginning, did I ignore some signs? Could I have seen this coming?" I think that anyone who has gone through the devastation of losing a company probably asks themselves those same questions.
I guess for me, it came down to really trusting my gut, my intuition. The reasons for being in Network Marketing are the same for us as they were when we got started seven years ago-- that hasn't changed-- so the decision was not whether or not to stay, but what our new vehicle would be.
Richard and I aren't quitters. We're extremely loyal people--
RL: That's one of those values.
KB: -- we love this industry, and because we've had success, we knew we could do it again. Network Marketing has so much to offer.
KERRY BROWN and RICHARD LARKIN have been in Network Marketing for seven years and are founding members of Dynamic Essentials. Before Network Marketing, Richard was a franchise broker and Kerry was the top real estate producer in her area. They are married and live with their two-year old son, Spencer, in Victoria, BC.
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Reprinted with permission from Upline, Larkin-Brown Feature March 1999, 888-UPLINE-1, http://www.upline.com