In the 15 years she has been in network marketing, Hannah Ineson has seen a lot come and go. What makes her perspective even more valuable is that she has spent that entire decade and a half with the same company.

During that time, her company has gone through a wild ride. Scarcely a few years old, the company boasted no more than 2000 members when Hannah joined. By the mid-90’s, the company was several hundred thousand distributors strong and climbing, with annual sales in the hundreds of millions—when they hit a classic reversal of fortunes. By decade’s end the company had receded back to the more modest, pre-boom dimensions of a decade ago. Through it all, working closely with both corporate and other field leaders, Hannah has been a quietly observant student of the business.

The Ebb and Flow
When Hannah first joined her company, she owned and operated her own macrobiotic teaching center and natural foods store. Intrigued with the product, she joined purely to get the product at wholesale prices.

“I hadn’t the faintest idea what network marketing was all about, but I knew what wholesale was! I read the compensation plan and didn’t understand it—but I saw that there was a way to get an even better discount than wholesale, if I could just get past a certain volume threshold. I never stopped to think of the implications, I just did what I had to do to get the better discount.

“The next month, I got a check in the mail; that got my attention. I’d sold quite a few things in my store, from quite a few vendors: none of them had ever paid me a check.” She didn’t do much at first, but after a few years (fueled in part by a passionate desire to earn enough to escape the colder months in Maine), she decided this was something she wanted to take seriously.

It was the early 90’s—the beginning of a boom time in network marketing, observes Hannah.

“A lot of people were starting to take this business seriously. People were looking for more freedom in their lives, they were tired of working their jobs. Network marketing offered a way out. I got caught up the groundswell.”

Momentum seized Hannah’s company. By 1995, as the company reached its peak, Hannah had reached the top of the compensation plan, and was now earning thousands.

“It was an exciting time. It was like you could do no wrong.”

Then reality hit, and the tide began to ebb as quickly as it had flowed. A powerful product line, committed corporate and field leadership, and a devoted core customer base saved the company from complete implosion. Nevertheless, by the end of the decade the company had shrunk drastically—and Hannah and her colleagues began a phase of intense professional self-reflection.

“We knew we had done some things right: we had enthusiasm, we had a product that worked, we worked hard, we created strong connections. But along the way, a lot of us had lost some key ingredients, simply out of lack of awareness of what those ingredients were. We’d done it—but didn’t really understand what it was we’d done. It was time to go back to school.”

Back to School
Hannah says she learned a crucial lesson from her sponsor early on:

“He had such equanimity when people would come and go in his organization. He never seemed to panic about it; to him, it was just the nature of it. For me, that also implied that you can’t rest on your laurels: you have to continually reinvent your own business.

“It’s ironic: we completely reject the conventional career, where you go to work for 30 years, get a gold watch and retire on a pension—and then we turn around and try to do it the same way! Find your company, figure out your success pattern, and eventually you retire. We want to have it work and then have it keep working forever, the same way. But that’s not reality. “

Sometimes this business just seems to work—and sometimes it seems as though no matter what you do, it just doesn’t. It can be very frustrating—and simplistic answers are not enough. You need to really assess the trends and factors, what works and what doesn’t, how to adapt to changing times. There’s no getting around it: if you want to be successful in the long haul, you need to continually reinvent yourself.”

These days, says Hannah, she sees a more serious effort throughout the profession to gain a better understanding of what factors really make this business work. Most rank-and-file networkers, though, never gain access to the kind of serious industry-wide thinking that is such a critical component to savvy self-reinvention. And that, Hannah has come to realize, is perhaps the real work for networking leaders.

“In every other profession—education, medicine, publishing—people come together to examine profession-wide issues, through trade associations and similar groups. Not in network marketing. Certain teachers—Kim Klaver, Big Al, Art Jonak, and many others—have tried to fill that bill, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Our knowledge isn’t systematized—and I don’t think it ever will be. The infamous ‘network marketing college courses’ idea is a very lovely thought—but that’s not the way it’s going to work.”

In fact, says Hannah, we are at a point where we really need to reinvent ourselves as a profession—and that’s exactly what she sees happening.

“It’s a very exciting time for our profession. We can’t continue to just do the same thing; but there are underlying principles that we can extrapolate and apply creatively—and I think we’re starting to do that with greater accuracy.”

And where is Hannah’s business in all the maelstrom of trends, trials and tribulations? As a successful artist, indefatigable entrepreneur, busy wife, mother and grandmother, Hannah always has projects and career interests in the offing; she doesn’t “have to” keep networking—but these days, she’s finding the business more intriguing and, in many ways, more rewarding than ever.

“After 15 years in network marketing, I feel like my business is just entering an incredibly exciting new phase. I feel like I’m discovering a whole new side to the business!”