Small Steps to the Top

John Haremza: Building on Strengths

By Dr. Josephine Gross

John Haremza is a highly functional networking professional who comes with one surprising flaw: he can’t read.

Far from letting this inability limit his future, John learned early on to compensate for his weakness by sharpening his observation and listening skills. While his parents and educators didn’t see him going very far in life, John decided he would not become a victim of his environment. He focused on building his strengths and kept taking small steps that would increase his chances for success.

Despite what most people would consider a significant handicap, John was able to rapidly learn the skill set and the mindset necessary to excel at network marketing. Six years ago, he became the master distributor for a start-up company, and for the past four years he has enjoyed a steady six-figure monthly income.

“One of the reasons for my success is that I never stop looking for that next superstar,” he says. “With my background, education and learning disabilities, living in a small town, with no money, I was not at the top of someone’s prospect list. But my story proves that anyone who commits to taking the small daily actions this business requires can change their destiny and create a lifestyle beyond their wildest dreams.”

Humble Beginnings

When John Haremza was first introduced to network marketing twenty-two years ago, he was employed at a potato chip factory in Minnesota called Barrel of Fun Potato Chips. He was the maintenance manager and truly believed he had the best job he would ever get.

“My mom was a machine operator at a dog food factory,” says John, “and my dad was a custodian at a high school. I had struggled my entire way through school. As a young child, I was energetic and outgoing, but when I started grade school, my self-confidence began to drop like a rock. I was creative and handy at building things, but I just couldn’t learn how to read. My parents and teachers grew frustrated with me, so I tried to be quiet and make myself invisible.”

Other children would tease John, further damaging his self-esteem. He ended up in special classes for learning-disabled students and retarded children.

“One day I overheard my dad tell one of his best friends how stupid I was,” says John. “I remember crawling into the doghouse I had built, with my little black Lab and just crying.”

John Haremza

Riding his motorcyle..

With his daughter on a tip to Japan.
John speaking on stage.
John in his racing car.

After finishing school, John got a job as a machine operator. He would stay after work without pay and help the maintenance crew, because he enjoyed fixing things and solving mechanical problems. As soon as a position opened up, he joined the maintenance department and worked up to manager.

“My parents were relieved I had a job that was paying me well,” he says. “I was living in an old trailer house. On winter mornings, there was frost on the inside walls, up about two feet, but the trailer was mine and I felt good I owned something.”

John had a close friend from high school who invited him to attend a meeting about water filters. Given his background in maintenance, John thought the purpose of the meeting was for him to build a display or check out the quality of the product.

He accepted his friend’s invitation but, due to a last-minute breakdown at the plant, he arrived an hour and a half late for the meeting, in his blue overalls, smelling like potato chips.

“I could see the disappointment in the faces of these two guys in suits,” he says. “They had come all the way from Minneapolis to the small town where I lived, and they’d been waiting an hour and a half for me to show up.”

Five other guests attended the meeting but John was the only one who got excited. He didn’t understand the business aspect of the presentation, but when he saw yellow-tinted, smelly water go through the filter and come out pristine and clear, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“Everyone should have one of these!” he thought. That night he bought four water filters at $120 a piece. Thankfully, the presenters were willing to hold his $480 check till Friday, which was payday.

Knocking on Doors

When John came home to his trailer that night, he shared his excitement with his fiancée, who thought he had completely lost his mind. He hooked up a filter to give her a demonstration, but the tap water in his municipality was already pretty clean, so there was no visible change. She was sure he got ripped off.

But John didn’t give up: he knew there was a town about 45 minutes away where the water was terrible. He decided to make that city his target. He could buy the filters for $120 and sell them for $179, so every time he sold one, he made $59.

John told his fiancée he wanted to buy forty more filters, for a total expenditure of $5,000. This was in the beginning of December of 1987, and they were getting married December 17. John was making $9 an hour, and when his fiancée shared the news with her family, they became very concerned.

John’s future brother-in-law told him, “You’re throwing your life away.”

Even John’s colleagues at the plant tried to talk some sense into him: “Why are you doing this? You’ve got a real future here.”

But John persisted. He convinced his parents to co-sign for financing the forty filters, which arrived just before his wedding. He spent his honeymoon in the neighboring town, knocking on doors in fifteen-sub-zero weather, trying to sell water filters.

The first day, he found three people who agreed to try the filter for a week. He went back the next week and sold one of the three filters, netting $59. He thought, “That’s the easiest money I’ve ever made in my life!”

At that point, John didn’t understand the concept of network marketing: instead of looking to sponsor others, he kept his newfound opportunity a big secret.

“Why would I want to create my own competition?” he thought. “I don’t want anyone to find out about this.” The only person he shared his secret with was his brother, who decided to join him in the business. His brother also bought forty filters for $5,000, and now both of them were knocking on doors.

Two months after John got involved, he heard about a meeting coming up in Fargo. A national marketing director with the water filter company was giving a presentation. John and his brother attended the meeting and shared their excitement with the presenter: they couldn’t wait to go out and sell every household in Fargo a much-needed water filter.

“Who’s your upline?” asked the presenter, and when they told him, he said, “You’re in my downline! Come up to my room and I will show you the plan.”

John and his brother followed the man to his room, where he started drawing circles and explaining the concept of recruiting to create leverage.

“Suddenly a light bulb went on in my head,” says John. “Instead of selling the product, I started selling the opportunity, and in a matter of six months, I had exceeded my income at my maintenance job.”

Joining the Profession

John did the business part-time for six months, then quit his job and went full-time. Within sixteen months, he became a national marketing director, at age 25. He sold his trailer and moved with his wife into an apartment in Fargo, where he opened a small office. He built the business cold market through newspaper ads, inviting prospects to meet him at his office.

A year later, John rented an even bigger space with eight private offices for his team members and a meeting room in the center. Averaging about $5,000 a month in bonus checks, he felt on top of the world: he had never imagined earning this kind of money.

He continued going to conferences and became a fan of Jeff Olson, a trainer for his company at the time.

“When Jeff Olson left the company,” says John, “it took off my blinders: I suddenly realized there was a huge business out there with many companies to choose from.

“I learned two important lessons in my first company: first, you need a consumable product. With water filters, there’s no consumption: you don’t need another one for three years. There is some leverage in sponsoring others, but there is no residual income.

“And second, you need to understand timing. When I joined my first company, it was four years old, doing $30 million a month. Then it began to plateau, and that’s when Jeff left. It went downhill from there, and I recognized the importance of momentum in the marketplace.”

When his mentor left the company, John began to research other opportunities. He settled on a nutritional company and spent the next twelve years building it, making over $4 million in total.

When his second company changed ownership twice, John lost his belief in that opportunity and moved into maintenance mode. For a two-year period, he attended some conference calls and events, but he didn’t feel he could in good conscience bring new people into the business.

He eventually found a new company, whose owners he knew. He relinquished his $12,000 monthly check and joined his current company as the master distributor, almost six years ago.

“The first fifteen months of our existence were brutal,” he says. “But then we released a new product that seemed to capture people’s imagination. We began to grow rapidly: in just six months, we went from $300,000 a month in sales to $3 million a month. My check went from $12,000 a month to $60,000, and for the last four years, I’ve averaged over $100,000 a month. So far I’ve earned a little over $5 million with my current company.”

Overcoming Obstacles

Despite his tremendous success, John vividly remembers his difficult days in high school, darkened by his fear around his inability to read.

“I was always petrified someone would ask me to read,” he says. “Even when I started at the potato chip factory, I just wanted to do my job and be invisible. When I got promoted to supervisor, I panicked because now I had to read instructions to my crew.

“Whether you’re out with your friends and you have to read the menu or write a check, it comes up everywhere. I had a group of friends who joked about it and kind of understood, but I still suffered the embarrassment.

“My impediment also led me to sharpen other skills. When somebody would ask me to read something, I would stare at it for a while, then give it back to the person and say, ‘What do you think?’ I’d try to gather as much information as I could. I have a lot of common sense and can figure things out pretty well just through observing. When it comes to maintenance, I just had a knack for putting things together without written instructions.

“My crew members liked me because, unlike all the other supervisors who would give them a written task, I joined them in the trenches. I couldn’t give them written instructions, so I had to go out and show them what I wanted them to do.”

Today John’s reading has slightly improved to where he’s able to read at about a fourth-grade level. He can read a sentence or two, but when he has to read a page, his eyes glaze over it.

As a child, John had learned to watch and listen. When he joined network marketing, he bought every audio and video program available.

“Wherever I drive, I’m listening to CD’s,” he says. “I believe it’s a huge part of my success. I listen to company audios over and over, and I got my introduction to personal growth early on in my career. It started with Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins, then Earl Nightingale, W. Clement Stone and Dale Carnegie, and finally Jim Rohn. That’s where things really began to click for me.”

When John transitioned to his second company, he learned the business by recording his upline’s presentations. He listened to them over and over, translated the content into his own words and quickly became one of the top presenters in his company.

Today John’s confidence has replaced his fear. When giving a business presentation, he always starts with his story of how he trained himself.

Training a Team

When John became the master distributor for his current company, he developed the company’s training program and created every tool a new distributor might need to build a business.

Yet John believes that to build a strong team, you need to be visible to people on a daily basis.

“Whether it’s through a conference call or live events, you become the vision of your sales force,” he says. “New members see the opportunity through your eyes and through your presentation, through your recorded as well as live messages.

“Many folks in network marketing wake up in the morning feeling like they want to quit. It’s the leader’s inspiration, vision and message that keep them in the game until they start producing their own results.”

John tells his people this is a business of belief.

“Anything you can do to build that belief—from using the products, to listening to audios, to being on conference calls and staying plugged in—is going to increase your chances for success and keep you in one more day until you start making money.”

He also emphasizes that this is a business of duplication: everything you do sets an example for what others think they have to do. For example:

“If you become a product expert and deliver a two-hour presentation, you might mesmerize your audience but the next morning they’ll wake up thinking, ‘That was incredible, but I could never learn it.’

“If you try to lay the 2,000 closing techniques of Zig Ziglar on your prospects, you might get them in but they will feel they could never do what you did. The key is to always ask yourself, ‘Can a maintenance manager do what I just did as well as a doctor could?’

“To ensure the duplication process, use the tools. You are the messenger, but let the tools be the message. What matters is not so much what you say, but how you feel about what you say. If people can sense your excitement and see the sparkle in your eye, that’s what’s going to make them want to review the tool you gave them.”

A third imperative John promotes is use your upline.

“The most important help you can offer a new distributor is doing three-way calls,” he says. “First, it provides third-party validation, but the real magic is that every time you hear your upline talk to your prospect, the information is going through your ears as well. That’s where you learn the subtleties, how to overcome objections and answer questions.

“New distributors are vulnerable to negativity, so you want to be there to pick them up off the ground when they get knocked down. Three-way calls will help them build resilience and belief to the point where they can provide the same support to their own new sign-ups.”

Serving the Profession

John has branded his personal recipes for success Small Steps to the Top.

“Every daily action, regardless of how insignificant it may be, has an impact on the outcome of your life,” he says. “Your decision to attend a training, to talk to a prospect, to listen to a CD versus watching a TV show tonight—all those choices add up to create your success. One of those decisions is to embrace the personal development network marketing offers, and without which it’s impossible to succeed in this business.”

To help his team stay on track, John organizes big events three times a year, called Freedom University. He travels six times a month to give presentations in other cities and states. He does conference calls and webinars, and still spends a great deal of time updating and developing new tools, as well as interfacing with the company.

“Network marketing is an emotional business,” he says. “If a company implements a change that affects distributors emotionally, this is going to affect the sales. Companies have to understand that they need to take care of their distributors, because we’re the customers.”

Having reached the top of his compensation plan, John is committed to helping others achieve the same.

“I make a great deal of money now and I’ve got the toys,” he says. “I love to spend time with the people that brought me to the dance, but my greatest joy is to help my key leaders acquire what I have and turn them into million-dollar earners.”

John shares his Small Steps to the Top philosophy on Facebook in a daily post anyone can read. Three days a week, he sends a “small step” to his distributor base.

“I’m also looking to contribute a generic book incorporating the small steps into my story,” he says, “as an inspiration and proof that anybody can do this business, regardless of personal challenges. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“I want to give back to the profession, because I love network marketing and how it changes lives. It’s not just about the products. Most companies have great products, but the way this profession can change lives is beyond imagination! I could have never imagined the life I live today, and neither could anyone who knew me. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you take small steps consistently, every day, it will take you to the top.”

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