It’s quite a paradox: networking and family.

On the one hand, the very fabric of our business is shot through with family metaphors. I sponsor Dan, who sponsors Ellen, who sponsors George …, and it ends up sounding an awful lot like a family patriarch’s litany of begats. We don’t call our network printouts “organizational charts” or “hierarchical commission-group diagrams,” we call them genealogies. Many companies even use the language directly: The new distributor’s welcome letter doesn’t say, “Congratulations on becoming an independent contractor representing the Wonderful Company products…,” it says, “Welcome to the Wonderful Company Family!”

Quick, what telecom company made famous the phrase, “friends and family”? MCI, right? Now: where did they get the idea behind that slogan? From us.

When MCI was but a post-deregulation babe struggling to take some marketshare candy away from all-grownup AT&T, they used an interesting strategy: network marketing. (So, of course, did Sprint.) That is, they marketed their services through friends and family.

There is a dynamic here that is perhaps unique to network marketing: our business offers an outstandingly attractive, effective financial opportunity, yet also a highly democratic one—i.e., it takes virtually no professional training to begin. It is a true profession of amateurs, whose “anyone can do this” aspect makes the business uniquely suited to its becoming a family affair. (Should you bristle at the word “amateur,” remember its root meaning: “one who loves what he or she does.”)

So, what’s the paradox?

Simply this: For many, family members are the most skeptical, the least approachable, the quickest to condemn—the least responsive to the opportunity. Family members: the best of prospects—and the worst of prospects?

This issue, we decided to devote a special section of “Profile” pieces to explore the dynamics of family networking. In the following ten pages, you’ll find portraits of five different families (incidentally, representing five different companies) who have found success not only as network marketers, but as network marketing families.

For example: George and DeDe Shaw went to the top of their company’s comp plan, but didn’t stop there: they then sponsored their son, AG, and his wife, Maureen, who sponsored her mother, who sponsored her sister…and so it went, to the point where today, they figure, 30 to 40 Shaw family members are signed up with their company!

Each story is unique, naturally; each family suffered its own roadblocks and challenges on the path to entrepreneurial family harmony. Yet if there is one “secret” to successfully prospecting family, one aspect that all five share in common, it may be this: In the end, it is always a matter of timing.

AG Shaw, Eric Karlen and Michael Dorsey all grew up with successful networkers at the dining room table; yet none was forced or coerced into joining the business—nor, in fact, was there even an assumption that they would do so.

As Michael puts it, he grew up learning the networking business almost “by osmosis.” He can now say (perhaps with a touch of 20/20 hindsight), “It was never a question that my dad and I would do the business together.” Nevertheless, it was not until after giving college a try, starting his own landscaping business, and getting a firm but gentle nudge from wife Amy that Michael joined father Mike in the business.

Likewise, it was only after Eric Karlen had gone through college and carved out a career in the more conventional business world of stock-brokerage that he elected to joined his father Russ in the network; and even then, it took several tries before Eric found his niche in the business.

The networking parents in these stories often emerge as veritable models of parental restraint; their approach to their aspiring offspring is typically the very antithesis of nepotism. Several of the younger generation specifically point out how glad they are their parents treated them no differently from other company up-and-comers.

Several of our featured families faced especially difficult prospecting hurdles.

Mamie and Trey Herron’s story starts out almost like Romeo and Juliet—a tale of two houses divided (between networking and a more traditional business model). The Herrons’ story has, however, a happier ending: in this history, both Capulets and Montagues wind up joining the business, finding both family harmony and financial success.

Norm Roth’s path was even rockier: by the time he got the starter on his networking engine to turn over and catch, his early efforts had practically drained the family battery: Virtually every viable prospect in his extended family had grown hostile to the business, some even to the extent of refusing to take Norm’s calls! But the DNA finally kicked in: Norm sponsored his cousin Larry, who sponsored his father (Norm’s uncle), who sponsored his brother (Norm’s father), who sponsored his daughter (Norm’s sister), who sponsored her sister … and we’re back to that self-replicating chain of “begats.” As you read these words, somewhere, somehow, one Roth family member is most likely sponsoring another.

  • All in the Family
    The Shaws: DeDe and George, AG and Maureen
  • A Two Generation Team
    The Karlens: Russ and Eric
  • A Difficult Decision
    The Herrons: Trey and Mamie, Bill and Clem, Kathy and Roger Smith
  • Like Father, Like Son
    The Dorseys: Mike and Michael
  • One Family Member at a Time
    The Roth Family: Norm, Larry Headings, Vernon, Norm Sr., Paul and Theresa Carney, April Abraham