The Joy of Giving
Sarah Fairless Robbins: A Culture of Abundance and Generosity
By Dr. Josephine Gross
Sarah Robbins is the founding distributor and top earner in a young, California-based skin care company. When not traveling around the world, she lives with her husband Phil in Ypsilanti, Michigan. At least for now: when we conducted this interview, they were in the process of finding the ideal place to relocate and raise a family.
Twenty-eight years old, Sarah has been a professional networker for about four years. Trained as an educator, she started building a business part-time to supplement her income, and after one year was able to retire from her job. With an organization of tens of thousands, she now earns more in a month than she used to make in a year.
Sarah is building the fastest-growing team in her company, attracting successful individuals from all walks of life, from professional figure skaters to lawyers, Realtors and stay-at-home moms. “Thanks to the economy,” she says, “all kinds of bright people are turning into entrepreneurs, looking for a vehicle that can replace the success they’ve known.”
Used to prospecting, coaching and leading people much older than herself, Sarah never let her young age be a barrier to her credibility and success.
“The cool thing about our business is that it brings out the child at heart we all are,” she says. “It joins together people of every nationality, every age, every background, and gives all the same ability to achieve a life beyond their wildest dreams.”
Sarah with her mother and business partner.
Sarah with her kindergarten class, before she started network marketing.
Sarah volunteering at the Salvation Army Harbor Light.
Celebrating with the companyís top leaders, all of whom are on Sarahís team.
Sharing a proud moment.
Trip to Cabo with company founders and top earners.
Surrounded by her leaders.
Enjoying a Wine Country excursion with the team.
Sarah delivering Philís birthday present, a brand new 2010 Escalade.
Just five years ago, Sarah was a happy kindergarten teacher, living what she considered to be her dream life. She loved her cozy home with her newlywed husband. She was teaching the grade she wanted to teach, in the district she wanted to live in. But when the automotive industry took a hit, everything changed. Families started moving, companies were downsizing and schools were closing.
“In the cafeteria, everyone talked about budget cuts, layoffs, and who might be next,” says Sarah. “This ambiance of insecurity made it difficult to be fully present to a bunch of five-year-olds who were counting on you.”
Sarah grew tired of worrying about the prospect of losing her job and how she was going to make ends meet, so she decided to look for extra income. She came across a skin care company owned by two doctors who were looking for consultants to do product demonstrations. Sarah and her mother started freelancing for them, doing skin care events on weekends in local department stores.
“We really enjoyed it,” says Sarah. “We loved the products because of the success we witnessed; we loved the doctors’ credibility and reputation. The whole experience allowed me to be very open when I received a call one day that would change my life.”
The doctors, both successful dermatologists and entrepreneurs, decided they wanted to reach the masses not just with their products but with a viable business opportunity. They decided to transition from a retail model to network marketing. They called Sarah and her mom and said, “We’re kind of in the test phases. What do you think? Do you want to be a part of this?”
Sarah’s mom didn’t hesitate. “I know friends who’ve done this before and have become very successful,” she told her daughter. “We’re doing this.”
Sarah started analyzing. “What if it doesn’t work? I studied for years and competed against eleven hundred applicants to get my job. I need to research this a little more.”
Then the fear of loss set in. “What if it does work, and mom succeeds without me? I’ll kick myself!”
Sarah and Phil happened to be friends with Doug and Jody Firebaugh, with whom they attended a weekly Bible study. Sarah knew Doug had been a successful network marketer and was a sought-after trainer. She brought him some marketing materials and asked, “Can you research this and tell me what you think?”
Sarah remembers meeting Doug a few days later at a local Panera Bread. He sat across from her, his eyes wide open. “Do you have any idea of what you have here?” he said. A little hesitant, Sarah answered, “Sort of…”
He said, “Sarah, these opportunities don’t come around very often. The company’s track record, the brand recognition, the timing couldn’t be better. Stop thinking this over, just jump on board and tell everybody.”
Sharing the Business
Sarah already knew the power of referral marketing from her retail experience.
“We used to get repeat customers who would bring in armfuls of friends to come meet the doctors, try the products and hear the testimonials,” she says. “When I started my own business, I continued to lead with the product. I was selling a lot, and earning nice checks, but I didn’t know how to recruit others to do what I did.”
Sarah began researching and educating herself about network marketing. She asked top leaders in other companies how they got started, what they did on a daily basis, what books they recommended, and how they built teams. In the meantime, she was working the business about ten hours a week alongside her job.
“Our company was still in pre-launch,” she says. “We didn’t have any marketing materials about the business opportunity, so the only thing we had was a personal message and a vision. My mom and I didn’t have any experience in the profession and neither did we have an upline to follow, so we simply picked up the phone and started talking to everyone we knew, sharing our excitement.”
Sarah and her mom made some home visits, then moved their meetings to the recreation room at their church. They asked people to bring their friends, and the enthusiasm grew so contagious that at their first meeting they gathered over 300 attendees.
At that point, the CEO of the company asked them to slow down, because the corporate team couldn’t keep up.
“Now that we’re officially launched,” says Sarah, “we have a lot of support tools to be successful, but I still find the best tool in my belt is a strong message delivered with passion. I try not to overwhelm people with product information and training, because when you do, you lose the purity of the message and the emotion behind it. I truly believe people buy your passion and your vision before they buy the opportunity. They believe in you first.”
Today Sarah has no problem approaching people and starting a conversation with anyone she happens to meet.
“I usually open with a simple, genuine compliment, then ask, ‘Where are you from?’ When they tell me where they’re from, I say, ‘I’m building a business there,’ and when they ask, ‘What do you do?’ I share. I view it just as that: I’m sharing a gift with them that has changed my life.
“In the back of my mind I always ask myself, ‘What’s greater, the risk or the reward?’ I could be holding the gift that could change their life as well. How sad would I be if I didn’t take the opportunity to share that with them?”
Training and Mentoring
Once someone joins Sarah’s team, the culture of sharing continues.
“We make sure different leaders participate in our calls and webinars, and they rotate communicating ideas with the group. This gives everyone a sense of involvement. We celebrate achievements and hold annual leadership retreats to strengthen our team.
“Recently, we launched a team website where new consultants can plug into our simple success system. We created eight webinars of thirty minutes each, so they’re not overwhelming. We chose to combine sight and sound to accommodate all learning styles, something I learned as a teacher. No matter where people live or who their upline is, whether they are alone or surrounded by a team, they can use this training developed by top leaders and replicate their success.”
In addition to providing a unified system, Sarah understands the power of personal mentorship.
“I don’t know where Phil and I would be without Doug and Jody in our life,” she says. “They looked out for us and taught us things we otherwise would have had to learn the hard way. They dramatically shortened our growth curve and have been truly instrumental in our success.”
Another leader who inspires Sarah from afar is Donna Johnson, who also made network marketing her primary career while still in her early twenties. Sarah sees Donna as a role model because of her humble way of leadership and her commitment to a life of contribution.
“I follow Donna on Facebook, and when I see what she has done with her charity, I realize she is the kind of servant leader I want to emulate. Although we’re in different companies, she sends me encouraging notes, because she loves to champion women in our profession.”
When Sarah was new in the business and inquired with other leaders about which books or CD’s to buy, one of the first recommendations she received was to subscribe to Networking Times.
“It was one of those things I just kept postponing,” she says. “Then one day I picked up the magazine at Barnes & Nobles, started reading and sat there for hours. That was a huge eye-opener for me, and I’ve never missed an issue since. I always read it with a highlighter and make a list of ideas and action items I gather from the different articles.
“I especially like the Master Networker stories where leaders share how they built their businesses, condensing years of experience into a couple of pages so the reader can instantly benefit.”
Today Sarah recommends to all her team members to subscribe, and in September, 2010, after she contributed a short editorial to the September/October issue, she shared a link on Facebook which resulted in so many new subscribers that she earned herself a lifetime membership with the publication.
Sarah uses social media on a daily basis, not only to stay in touch with her team, but also to meet new people and build her personal brand.
“Facebook is huge for me,” she says, “and I’ve generated most of my leads online. Once a new contact shows interest in my business, I continue the conversation privately over the phone or in person, but Facebook is a great way to initiate a relationship.”
Sarah prefers Facebook over other social media because it allows her to easily paint a picture of her lifestyle. She got into the habit of taking lots of pictures with her iPhone or camera, and frequently posts them to her wall.
“When people see you traveling the world, having fun with your team, winning trips and other incentives, it piques their interest.”
Sarah also takes her flip camera wherever she goes and shoots short videos of events and places she visits. Before traveling somewhere, she may ask her Facebook friends if they know anyone in that area, and get referrals. She also posts inspirational quotes, recognizes team members and shares success stories, which piques people’s interest without outright promotion of her opportunity.
“I prefer letting people come to me and start asking questions,” she says. “When I sit down to do my status updates, which is one of my favorite things to do, I ask myself how I can provide the most value. My goal is to inspire people so they want to continue to be my friends. I ask a lot of questions to engage them. I try to send a balanced message between communicating with my team and appealing to a broader audience.”
According to Sarah, Facebook has been a tremendous help in building her team culture, which in turn has increased retention in her organization. But the most important use for her is to build her network of “friends.”
“When people who are not in my company see that I have an exciting business that’s growing, that my team members are earning bonuses and being promoted, they come to me and want to know more. When this happens, I don’t email them a bunch of information; I’ll message them back and say ‘Great! I would love to chat with you. Let’s schedule about fifteen minutes. What is a good time and number to reach you?’
“I don’t screen these inquiries because I don’t want to prejudge anyone. When it turns out the business is not for them, I thank them for their interest and ask if they know anyone for whom this could be a great option.
“The important part is to respond quickly, ideally within twenty-four hours. Similarly, you want to be consistent with your daily posts and status updates so you can stay at the forefront of people’s minds and keep them engaged.”
Hearing “no” and having people quit was difficult for Sarah when she started.
“I really took it personally,” she says. “I felt I was doing something wrong. When I was teaching, I spent long hours preparing lessons, thinking of each child as an individual and how I could help them understand the concept at hand. I tried to do the same thing for my team, which was growing very quickly, and it was hard to individualize everything. When somebody would struggle or walk away from the business, I felt like a failure. I wanted everyone to succeed.
“Now I view things differently. I give everybody the same amount of time and attention. I work closely with them for the first thirty days. I make sure they know I’m accessible and get them all the information they need, but I’ve come to my own conclusion that good is good enough. I’m going to do my very best, they’re going to take the skills and the tools I’ve passed onto them, and they’ll do with them what they choose.
“I’ve learned to accept that people build their businesses at different paces. Some will sell the products and some will just use the products, happily. Some will occasionally tell others, some will tell everybody they know. I had to come to terms with the fact that this is independent business ownership, and that everyone needs to build in a way that works for them.”
Another mental roadblock Sarah had to overcome was the idea that she didn’t know enough people.
“I remember, when I just started, thinking, ‘Who am I going to talk to about this?’ Most people I knew who were well-connected had already been approached by my mom.
“I really got caught up in that for awhile. I bought into the idea that it was going to be tough for me. Then one day, while I was sitting in my car waiting for a meeting, one of my mom’s friends, who today is a leader in our organization, called me and said, ‘Sarah, you have to make a decision to be successful.’ That was an Aha! moment, because I realized that I hadn’t made that decision. Instead, I had let a mental barrier keep me from my dream.
“From then onward, I chose to believe I had everything it takes within me, that my company has everything to succeed and that the business model works. I decided I would do whatever it took, and since I needed more people to talk to, I joined groups, attended events, got good at social media and learned to ask for referrals.
“One thing I’ve realized about this business is that it’s all in your mind. Whatever you believe is what you will receive and achieve.”
Giving from the Overflow
Looking into the future, one of Sarah’s dreams is to move out of the cold state of Michigan to a milder climate.
“The cool thing is now we’re able to go wherever we want,” she says. “In a few weeks, we’re going to visit a couple of places we have in mind.”
Another dream is to completely retire her husband so they can work and travel together. Once that milestone accomplished, they want to start a family and increase their charitable involvement.
“When we got started in the business, I had a coach,” says Sarah. “When she asked me about my why, I said, ‘I want to start a foundation for women and children that will be completely funded by my business.’ She continued, ‘What do you think it’s going to take to start that foundation?’ I said, ‘Millions of dollars. That’s why it feels overwhelming,” and she said, ‘Find something you can do now to start your dream. Whether it’s donating a percentage of your check or volunteering on weekends, you need to take small steps today.’”
Sarah and Phil decided to each month choose one family they could bless in a significant way. Over the holidays, they adopted a family of eight and provided everything for their holiday celebration. In the summer, they wrote a check to a single mother so she could send her boys to a fine arts camp.
Sarah and Phil also volunteer for the Salvation Army and Harbor Light Foundation, the charity their company supports.
“We want to raise a family that understands the importance of giving back,” says Sarah. “I have learned a lot from the founders of our company, who are some of the most compassionate women I know. I envision our foundation providing housing and education to mothers and children, and being a blessing to many for generations to come.
“In the meantime, we look for daily opportunities to make life better for someone. It could be leaving a big tip at a restaurant as an unexpected surprise for the waiter, or any other way to brighten someone’s day.
“Giving is what drives me. Doing things for others makes my heart sing. Not too long ago, I was driving a car that was falling apart and I was worried about losing my job. Today, I have a thriving business and I can give to anyone I choose.”
Sarah loves to give to Phil for all he’s done and continues to do to support her. She used to tell him, “Honey, there may not be groceries, the house may not be clean, but I promise you this is going to be worth it. Just let me focus on building this business and keep supporting me.”
This year, on Phil’s birthday, she surprised him with a 2010 Escalade, which was sitting in the driveway when he got home.
“I never before imagined being able to do anything like this,” she says. “I’ll always remember the smile on his face and the joy I felt. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.”