You could say James Clendenin is a fortunate man: answering a newspaper ad put him on track to fortune, and a blind date led to happiness. But in James’s case, good luck is more than the aphoristic “preparedness meeting opportunity”—it is that, plus awalloping dollop of old-fashioned determination and stubborn refusal to quit.

Over the course of his 21 years in the Navy, James had done pretty well for himself by carefully accumulating real estate in Jacksonville, Florida. But in 1986, just as he retired from the service, the tax laws changed.

“The bottom fell out,” says James, “and I lost everything.”

Hastily looking for something else to do to replace his scuttled finances, James responded to an ad for a business opportunity.

“Next thing you know, I’m at someone’s house and they’re drawing circles.”

James was intrigued with the idea of network marketing. Still, he reports his initial results with characteristic candor:

“I messed with it for a few years—and failed miserably.”

After a few years, the company fought a battle with the FTC and won, only to be shut down by the post office. For the next few years, James was in and out of networking—”Mostly out,” he adds, “because every time I turned around, the company I was with was going under.”

It was a rough few years, but James was determined. He did odd jobs, tried starting his own business a few times, and kept having another go at network marketing—but nothing worked.

“In 1991 I found myself with no money, at the age of 44, living with my mother.”

Enter Jennifer

That December, James was persuaded to go on a blind date with his brother and his brother’s girl friend—a blind date that very nearly didn’t happen.

“When my girl friend told me about this date,” says Jennifer, “she added, ‘There’s only one small problem with him. I said, ‘What?’ ‘He has gray hair.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I am not going to date a guy with gray hair, there’s no way I’m going to do that.’ ”

Meanwhile, James was hearing about his prospective blind date, too.

“When my brother told me about this girl, he said, ‘There’s only one problem with Jennifer—she has two little girls.’ So I guess you could say, we each had something to sort of overcome.”

And overcome it they did. Soon James and Jennifer were an inseparable item, united in love—and poverty.

“I had moved down to Florida from Keene, New Hampshire, because I had two sisters down here. I was working as a hair dresser and barely supporting my two girls, who were six and ten. The first year I lived here, I made $8,000 for the entire year. I was pretty broke.”

Then she met James, and they started being pretty broke together. Jennifer continued working as a hair dresser and cleaning offices—and James kept taking running jumps at networking opportunities.

James grins. “She could tell that I had the bug and wasn’t going to give it up.”

“When we first met, James said he was ‘in marketing.’ I didn’t know what that really meant—but I found out pretty soon.”

True: and she wasn’t especially thrilled about it.

“Frankly, I was pretty skeptical,” says Jennifer. “I wanted him to do something where he would have success—and I wasn’t seeing him having any success with all these multilevel companies.”

And no wonder. At the time, James points out that he was generally working three or four companies at a time.

“Of course, now I know that was a dumb thing to do,” says James, “but when the companies kept going out from underneath me, I figured, better do three or four at a time—that way my $6 check from one company would still be there when I lost my $8 check from the other one! I had become a certified, card-carrying MLM junkie.”

“You can see why I was sort of skeptical,” puts in Jennifer.

The Turning Point

By 1995, Jennifer had made a plan: she would go back to school for a bachelor’s degree, so she could eventually get a better job. And having heard that retired military were being hired with priority by the post office, she was encouraging James to get a job there.

“And he came close to doing it,” she adds. “He was so close to finally throwing in the towel and just getting a regular job.” But he couldn’t quite let himself do it. “He was bound and determined that he was going to make money at this multilevel marketing thing.”

That spring, an old networking friend of James, Bob Giddens, came over to their home and did a presentation about a company he’d joined. He asked Jennifer to come into the living room and see it, too, and she refused.

“But he insisted, so I went in and sat there with my arms folded, just gave Bob the evil eye all the way through his presentation.”

When Bob had finished his spiel, James said, “That’s it! We’re doing it!” It cost only $35 to join—but James wanted to jump in by buying a $2500 package of products.

“I almost died,” says Jennifer. “I said, ‘Where are we going to get the money?!’”

And James said, “My brother.” Sure enough, he went to his brother to help him finance his new venture. “I made a deal with him: we would put this $2500 on his credit card, and I would sell my new inventory and pay him back within 60 days.”

As it turned out, James did not pay his brother back in 60 days—he paid him back in 45 days. Within a few years, he had parlayed that borrowed $2500 into a fortune.

Success at Last

What was the difference? Why did it work for James this time, when it had failed so many others? According to James, the first big difference was one of belief.

“I had finally found a company that had leadership and vision. When I met the owners, I could immediately see that this was a whole different ball game. They weren’t here for a quick buck; they were here for the long haul. I knew I could put my heart and soul into it.”

And James had changed, too.

“Honestly, I had become coachable. As a military officer, when you need something done, you just order it. You can’t do that to networkers—that’s not why they got into the business.”

By the time Giddens showed up in their living room, James was taking a hard look at how he’d been working the business, and was ready to listen to his upline like never before.

“We had a good company, a good product, good coaching.”

That, and a lot of the classic Clendenin persistence.

“People ask James what his secret to success was,” says Jennifer, “and I always say it’s been his persistence and determination. He just was not going to let go. He had seen this work for other people, and why not him?! He got knocked down so many times and just insisted on getting back up again, every time.”

James agrees. “In my situation, the majority would have thrown up their hands in despair and quit. We live in an instant gratification society, and most are not prepared to give this the persistence and patience it needs.

“It was pretty difficult at first. I had long burnt my warm market, so they weren’t ready to listen to me. It was eight months before we started to make any real money.”

When James signed up, in April of ‘95, Jennifer had started school and was not interested in having anything to do with the new business. Then, in his eighth month, James received a check for $10,400.

“We had a hard time cashing it,” he reports, “because our bank didn’t believe it was real.”

That’s when Jennifer decided it was time to learn something about James’s new business—and perhaps even join in. They’ve been doing it together ever since.

Terror in the Ladies Room

In the early days, neither James nor Jennifer had an easy time with the idea of doing meetings.

“We were both scared to death,” admits James. “My first meeting, I hid behind the biggest guy in the room, hoping I wouldn’t get called on to speak. And I’m kind of a tall guy, so I had to stoop down so he wouldn’t see me.”

But James’s fear of speaking paled in comparison to Jennifer’s.

“The first time I knew I was going to be called up to speak in front of a group,” she recalls, “my fight-or-flight reaction kicked in—I was petrified. I ran out of the meeting and hid in the ladies room. In fact, I ran into one of the stalls, pulled my feet up and crouched on top of the toilet seat, so that if anyone came in looking for me, they wouldn’t be able to see that I was in there! And I waited there until the event was over.”

Knowing this was a skill she would need to master, Jennifer began to practice at home.

“I took all my daughters’ stuffed animals, put them in chairs around the living room, and gave my flip-chart presentation to them. The next week, I set up all the animals again—and also sat my two daughters in there, too. They rolled their eyes and said, ‘Do we have to?’ but they listened. I even videotaped myself doing it and forced myself to watch the tape.”

Eventually, Jennifer was able to speak in front of actual groups—but for quite a while, she had to wear turtlenecks, because she would be so nervous she would break out in hives all over her neck.

Jennifer shrugs and adds, “Now, both James and I have spoken at company events with as many as a few thousand people attending, with no problem!”

The Payoff of Persistence

In 1997, the two were married—in style.

“We were able to have my dream wedding,” says Jennifer, “the wedding I’d always wanted, with all his brothers and all my sisters—and then James took me to Paris, France, for a week. I’d never been to Paris in my life. I’d never been outside the East Coast! And a company incentive program paid for the entire trip.

“One day, James told me, ‘Go out and pick out a house.’ I went out and picked a house, came home and told him I’d found a house for $100,000, which I thought was so much money for a house. And he said, ‘No, find something nicer.’”

She did, and today the Clendenins live in a gorgeous five-bedroom home just five minutes from the beach, with her office at one end of the house and his at the other, where they each sit on the phone building the business they’ve come to love.

“What I like most about our business,” says James, “is being able to help someone come from where they are, helping them stretch themselves, help them get control of their lives and follow their dreams—and then support other people to do the same thing.”

Jennifer chimes in. “The thing I love most about this business is the friendships we’ve created. And I love being able to wake up when I want every morning and choose what we’re going to do that day.”

“There’s a learning curve,” adds James, “and you have to be willing to go through that. But I truly believe that if you combine hard work with a product-driven company—a company with a proven track record, a balanced compensation plan and an honest, distributor-oriented owner—and you don’t give up on yourself and your dreams, you can be successful in network marketing.

“If you’ve got a fire in your belly, you can make it in this business.”