Mary Nelson: Getting Better and Better

For Mary Nelson, the Third Decade of Networking Promises to Be the Best Yet

By John David Mann


It was 1985, at the height of the Reagan boom years; Mary Nelson's two children, Matt and Beth, were entering school and Mary decided it was time to go back into the work force.

Mary's husband Warren was a very successful corporate man, and they'd lived the lives of corporate nomads, transferring from place to place before settling down in Napierville, Illinois, a location that was experiencing a boom in real estate. Mary began a career in real estate, thinking it would give her the ideal balance of income and flexibility.

"I thought I'd be able to be home with the kids when I needed to, yet make money. I imagined it would be the perfect life--which was ridiculous, of course."

By the end of 1988, Mary had gained a more realistic perspective.

"I was having so much success that that year, I worked 274 days in a row!"

About that time, Mary was invited to a little meeting at someone's home, a meeting that changed everything.

"There were six of us at this meeting; all were very successful realtors, each making over $100,000 a year. In fact, I thought it was some kind of real estate deal we were going to invest in, and I didn't want to miss out on it."

That assumption proved wrong when a gentleman stood up and began drawing circles on the white board: it was a classic network marketing presentation, though Mary didn't know this at the time. The man explained the concept of duplication--and lights went off in the young woman's head.

"I looked at him and thought, 'This is it! All my life I've had to work so hard to make money.' In real estate, every time you sell a house, you're fired: you have to start all over again and find that new client. I used to say, 'If only I could have a Mary Nelson working for me and get a piece of what she does, instead of having to do it all over again myself!' I'd always grasped the concept of leverage, I could imagine how it would work, but I had never seen it in action. And here it was on the board in front of me.

"There was a pretty heavy front load involved (not an unusual thing in those days): it cost a few thousand dollars to get involved. But I didn't blink, I put down my few thousand bucks."

In fact, all six of the women present joined that night--and three of them ended up going straight to the top of the company's compensation plan.

Going to the Top

Mary went home that night and told Warren all about how she was going to leverage herself out of real estate.

"He was appalled. Here I was with a very successful career, I'd done between eight and ten million dollars in real estate--and I was going to do what? But Warren is a smart guy: He knew darn well he'd better not come right at me. He decided he would say nothing, and go find out what this whole thing was about so he could blow holes in it."

Meanwhile, Mary started working in the little free time she had--which was practically none at all.

"I had no time, I worked all the time. That was one of my motivations: the thought that I could work out of my house and really be there when my kids came home. I wanted that dream I'd had when I went into real estate, when Matt and Beth were six and eight; now they were nine and eleven, and I was home less than ever!"

Carefully organizing her effort, Mary began devoting exactly ten hours a week to the business, "just to see what would happen." Four months later she was earning over $5000 a month. Warren, meanwhile, had discreetly done his own due diligence, and came away quite surprised at what he found.

"My poor husband could not find any holes to poke! In fact, he was amazed with the whole concept." Warren joined her in the business, and they were soon on their way to the top of the plan.

Mary credits their rapid rise to the top, in part, to the quality of people in her sphere of influence.

"People who have worked in fields where you are commissioned on your results, such as real estate or insurance, have already come to grips with what it means to generate your own success. Unlike a salaried position, in these fields if you don't go out and do it, you don't earn it. Creating your own income is different from being on a time clock. I knew a lot of people who had already gone through that learning curve; they'd paid their dues."

A Parenting Retirement

As the Nelsons' business grew, Mary continued working in real estate. By 1990 Warren had left his corporate job and was in the business full-time. Mary began scaling back her real estate work load bit by bit, and by 1991, she essentially retired--not only from real estate, but from network-building as well.

"We'd gotten to the point where I could take some time off for a few years to be home full-time with Matt and Beth. I'd always thought that the most important time to be home with your kids is up until they're six years old, just like the psychologists say. Well, I waited till they were six and eight to go into the work force--but I realized I was still missing some very important times. By the time they were entering junior high, I knew they needed me at home more than ever."

It was a glorious retirement.

"I absolutely loved the fact that when they walked in the door, I could hang up the phone and they could sit at my desk and talk. Whether they were in a good mood or bad, whether it was for two minutes or twenty, they could just let it rip, tell me something wonderful or something awful, and I was there to hear it. It was a wonderful, fabulous time in my life."

After several years, the Nelson's company began focusing on overseas growth. Unwilling to devote major efforts to traveling, Warren began looking for a new opportunity. By 1995, after a handful of blissful interim years at home, Mary decided to return to the business--starting over.

Starting Over

"It was exciting to be back in the business. Warren and I had always liked doing business together. Neither of us ever specialized or carved out our own exclusive area of expertise. Sometimes we traveled independently, but we also liked going to the same location to train together and make it a vacation at the same time.

"We found a company that fit my parameters: product, story and plan.

"First, I needed an extremely high-quality product, being a woman; a lot of women like product companies.

"I liked the idea of a more modern compensation plan, one that would allow larger numbers of people to become involved. There was a shift in the industry around this time, to lower entry fees and more "democratic" plans, and I liked that.

"My initial company took a more substantial startup investment, which made it available to fewer people. Personally, I never considered a few thousand dollars a lot to ask when you're starting a business; nonetheless, when you have a $100 or $200 startup investment, it opens the opportunity up to a much wider range of people, and that's important to me.

"Finally, I wanted a company with a great story behind it, a story that was easy for large numbers of people to tell; this company had a product line with a simple and compelling story behind it. Stories are the story of my life! I've lived my life telling stories. That's how I sold real estate; that's how I raised my children; and that's how I do network marketing!"

The More Things Change...

In the few years Mary had been out of the business, some things had changed.

"Back in the late 80s, our communication was mostly in person. We did large meetings from city to city. Fax was the cutting-edge technology. By 1995 we were just starting to see the impact of home computers--and today, of course, it's all computers."

Mary has watched the cycle of change with bemused fascination.

"There was a sort of technology craze that took hold for a while, where people started think they could work the business without ever talking to anyone."

To some extent, in fact, we are still in that "craze," she adds.

"These days people are begging for the 'turnkey system,' which at the moment means an automated, Internet-based lead generation system. But no matter what system you have, it also needs to embrace the reality of the inevatible learning curve."
"These days people are begging for the 'turnkey system,' which at the moment means an automated, Internet-based lead generation system. And that's not an entirely bad thing; it's important to have a system. But no matter what system you have, it also needs to embrace the reality of the inevitable learning curve.

"Part of that system needs to include learning how to talk with people, knowing your company's story and your products or services, how to find and tell personal stories about what you've learned, having stories to tell about other people who are like the people you're talking to so they can relate...all these things are the part of the system people want to skip--but if you want great success, you can't skip that part."

We point out how networkers love to say that "anyone can do this business," and speculate that in the effort to make that so, perhaps we sometimes overplay the idea of its being a "numbers game"--that all one needs do is plug in the tools and go through the motions.

Mary agrees, adding that she now sees the trend turning back towards personal development.

"It's just like the technology bubble we saw in the investment world: we went through the same sort of thing in network marketing. Now I see more and more people talking about personal development, about getting better at what you do, about learning your story, as opposed to saying, 'Just call 50 people a day and you'll be fine'--which ironically sounds a lot like punching a time clock!

"When I started out, I used to tape myself giving a presentation, then listen to it over and over in order to improve and develop my delivery. I still do that. My job is all about improving myself and getting better at what I do.

"I think people are always going to use the best we have in our technology; that only enhances the business. But there's no question about it: not only in my company but throughout the profession, I hear people in the business talking more about working on yourself and improving yourself, about working on your self-esteem and setting goals and being accountable. People are reading books again!"

Better and Better

Today, says Mary, the business is more exciting for the Nelsons that ever. For one thing, their company is just now going international.

"We're going into 16 countries in 2004 and another two dozen in 2005--and this is an area where technology really does help. One of the main reasons we didn't stay with our original company was that we didn't want to travel internationally with our young children."

Nowadays, she points out, one can do a good deal of that "travel" via the Internet. And those "young children" are not only grown--they are colleagues as well. Matt, now 27, is full-time in the business, and Beth, 25, is part-time, an avowed product user and advocate.

"They've both recognized the power of leveraged income," says Mary; "they grew up with it, they've seen it at work in our lives."

And it's not only their company but the profession as a whole that has the Nelsons excited.

"Very big things are happening for the industry. Network marketing does well in good times and in bad times, but it also has an explosive momentum of its own. Right now a lot of people are looking for leveraged income, just as I was in the late '80s, only today, everyone's heard of network marketing. Almost everyone has been prospected by someone, and the concept of having a little piece of their pie being totally leveraged is more and more attractive to people all the time."