Nick Sarnicola is a Gen-Y leader who has been involved in network marketing since the age of eighteen. When a stranger introduced him to the business in 1997, Nick was working at the mall for $5.50 an hour. He had never heard of network marketing before, but once he saw the income potential, he decided it was exactly what he wanted to do.
Growing up, Nick had always dreamed of being rich. "I couldn't act or sing or rap," he says, "and wasn't up for doing anything illegal. I thought pro sports was going to be the way. After I started playing college baseball, I was elated to find out that I didn't have to count on my athletic gifts to be rich one day. The possibility of doing it through entrepreneurship was a no-brainer for me."
Completely inexperienced, Nick had difficulty getting his business off the ground, but he kept his eye on the prize and followed in the footprints of others who were successful. In 1999 he hooked up with Blake Mallen and experienced exponential business growth, but soon thereafter his company fell apart, and Blake and Nick founded their own company.
Four years into it, Nick decided to return to the field to take the company to the next level. Within four months he became the top earner with his team, producing 80 percent of the company's sales volume.
Today Nick's company is one of the fastest growing network marketing companies in North America. In this interview, Nick looks back on his journey, reveals some of the keys to his success, and projects how he sees network marketing evolving.—JMG
Enjoying amazing food and great wine with wife Ashley in Frannschoek, South Africa.
The view is much better from the top! Table Top Mountain in Cape Town.
Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia.
Pulling away from the Aruban courthouse after saying "I do."
Rocking the stage at Art Jonak's Mastermind event.
Were you born into an entrepreneurial family?
Completely the opposite. I had never even heard the word entrepreneur till I encountered network marketing. I was blown away to find out that you could own your own business. My four grandparents all worked at the same factory. Together they put in 120 years and it trickled down through three generations. I always knew I was not going to work at that factory and thought baseball would be the way out.
I first got involved in a telecom business at the tail end of the long-distance boom. I had a really slow start: nine months into the business, my check was $25. I still lived at home and my dad laughed when he saw my check. He said, "Congratulations, son! Six more of those and you can pay for the fax machine you just bought."
One of my major struggles in the beginning was dealing with blue-collar friends and family who were extremely negative toward the business and kept telling me, "Those things don't work, it's a scam, you're wasting your time."
What kept me going was a simple deduction: Even though I had strong emotional attachments to my friends and family, they were not experts in finance—and if I wanted to be successful financially, I had to listen to those who were where I wanted to be.
I didn't make any money for almost two years. When I reached $2,000 a month, I moved to California where I met Blake Mallen. Together we took over California and I went from $2,000 to just shy of $30,000 a month by my twenty-second birthday.
What do you attribute that dramatic jump to?
A sheer blind, around-the-clock work ethic, combined with belief, determination, and faith. We worked nonstop and didn't question what we were doing. When the telecom business changed and long distance became free, the company struggled to reinvent itself and started selling Internet service, cell service, paging service, skin care, house care—anything under the sun. We were still making money because we just kept running, but anybody with any business intelligence had left and we were the last guys standing. When the company went out of business, Blake and I were not willing to tell the 3,000 people on our team, "Sorry, the doors are shut." Instead, we took our life savings, bought the assets to the company, and created our own company.
What was it like being on the corporate side?
There is a major difference in how you are listened to. In sports terms, compare it to being a general manager up in the box, versus a player on the field. When I went from being the captain of the team to being a general manager, there was a disconnect. Even though what I was telling the team was 100 percent accurate and in their best interest, there was a feeling of "you don't know what it's like to be me."
Despite this disconnect, we were able to build a $35 million company, which is better than 99 percent of startups in network marketing. Unfortunately, the model we had wasn't going to allow us to become a major player in the profession. We felt we had the right people on the bus, but some of us were in the wrong seats. I made the decision that the best way to serve my people and my company would be to return to being a player on the field.
On January 15, 2010, I resigned as the chief sales officer and signed back up as a distributor. At thirty years of age, at the bottom of a down economy, I walked away from a guaranteed six-figure income, an expense account, support staff, and an office in Beverly Hills.
The most challenging part of the situation was that 80 percent of the people I knew were already involved in the company. To build my business, I would have to go sideline to my own leaders, whom I had brought to the company and who had followed me, and start from scratch, with only 20 percent of my contacts left as potential business partners.
How did you manage?
I had sold myself on the idea of returning to the field, thinking I would be placed above the leaders I had brought in. When I found out this wasn't going to be the case, I decided I wasn't going to let this hold me back.
I created a vision of launching a new team inside a four-year-old company that was now in decline because of the recession. I passionately went to sell that vision to the remaining 20 percent of my contacts I had not yet recruited. My vision wasn't about what the company or products were going to do; it was only about what my team was going to accomplish.
There was no validity in our current situation that I could point to that would excite people to join. Our sales had dropped by 66 percent in two years, some of our leaders had left, and others were completely immobilized. All I could say to get people involved was, "We just recreated the business as a ninety-day health challenge. I believe we will succeed, and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. Follow me—and let's create the fastest growing team network marketing will see over the next ten years."
Some people I approached believed in my conviction that one way or another I was going to get this done, come hell or high water. Many were willing to take the bet, because they saw me walk away from all the guarantees of my corporate position to go fight this uphill battle without having my original team underneath me. They were willing to bet on that leadership.
How did you go about assembling your team?
First, I had to go find my generals and identify who were going to be my right-hand men. Without them, I knew I couldn't build a team.
A lot of people get into this business and contact the people they're most comfortable calling. I contacted the people I was the least comfortable calling and had some really uncomfortable conversations. I told them, "This is what I'm going to do, this is how it's going to happen, and if you follow me it'll happen for you, too." I did that with the highest-caliber business people I could find who weren't already in the company.
For the first two months, all I did was call, talk with, meet with, fly to and fly out to meet top performers in different industries to sell them on my vision.
I focused on four areas. First, anyone who made a six-figure income, no matter what the person did for a living. If you're a plumber making 100,000 a year, you've got influence. Second, I focused on teachers, coaches, and pastors—people who genuinely care for others' success. Third came fitness or health experts, because of the nature of our product line. Fourth came full-time network marketers I was friends with who were currently not building or unhappy with their company.
What became your daily mode of operation once you had your core team?
I measure my daily activity by asking myself, "How many homes am I in with the team I'm driving?" You cannot be driving all your teams at once, so you pick a team for the current week or month and visit the home of every person in that team. You force production by making each person responsible for filling their home with new people.
A lot of leaders get lazy and think, "I'll just do conference calls with my new business builders and their leads," but there's no accountability in that. As easy as it is for you not to leave your house, it's as easy for them not to make a phone call. If you go to their house for the event, they feel much more responsible for filling the event.
Likewise, meetings in public places tend to attract fewer people because there's no pressure on any one person to bring new people, and what ends up happening is you see the same faces week after week. Only after I've driven a team to a point where there have been many individual home parties and there's a consistent flow of new people coming in do I start to hold hotel meetings. Even when I have markets up and running, we hold only one or two public group meetings per month. To me, weekly meetings are the lazy networker's recipe for stagnation.
What are your hotel meetings like?
They have to be short. The shorter, the better. We start with a twenty- to thirty-minute networking period outside the room. People register, network, and try the product. We offer samples of our flagship product which is a meal replacement shake. We play lively music to create a buzz. We do not let people come into the room and sit down. Letting people sit down and wait kills the energy. It's hard to connect energetically with guests who have been sitting in chairs for thirty minutes before you talk to them.
When we open the doors, there is loud, high-energy music playing. We form a welcome-wagon, giving high-fives and welcoming people in. We deliberately shift that crowd into an open, fun-loving, high-energy audience before they sit down. No matter how much of an arms-crossed person you are, you have to give four or five high-fives before you walk through the door, which means we've broken your touch barrier.
Everyone takes their seat and an emcee—not a presenter—comes out. He or she welcomes everyone, talks for two minutes about the program of the evening, then presses PLAY to start a DVD. Even on days when I'm in the room, I choose to watch myself on the DVD rather than present live. If your model is based on presenters, you are limited by their willingness to travel, their effectiveness, and their ability to raise new talented presenters.
Who makes the DVD?
Ideally the company should make a standardized DVD so everyone does and says the same thing from the top down. If you're in a company that doesn't have this kind of tool, then the leaders need to figure out how to create it.
When I first returned to the field, I made three tools that the company soon adopted for the entire field force. We basically redid the sizzle call, the sizzle video, and the presentation video and made them better. I'm presenting in the videos, but Blake, our chief marketing officer, produces them.
At the event, we watch the first ten minutes, which covers the consumer offer. We then bring local product users up on stage to share their stories. Next the emcee returns, dismisses them, and says, "How many of you would like to learn how to make money with this?" Hands go up and we play the second half of the DVD, which covers the business opportunity. The emcee then comes back and brings up local business builders, who share their success stories.
If it's a special night, we might have a guest speaker, such as a top leader or outside expert. Otherwise, the emcee closes the night, which typically takes no more than forty minutes.
The getting-started training afterwards takes fifteen minutes and is also on video. The emcee has the choice to go through five slides or just press play.
When do you ask people to join?
After the opportunity DVD there's a five-minute break where people can sign up. Because our presentation is effective, most are ready to go and their forms are already filled out, because we pass out the paperwork while they're watching the DVD.
We don't believe in old-school selling techniques. We don't try to "power close" our friends. We simply say, "You saw who we are. Do you want to participate in the challenge?"
The overall theme is short, simple, high-energy. People are A.D.D., they will be texting and on Facebook throughout the night. The days of telling people to turn off their phones and pay attention are over. If your guests are more interested in their phones, you need a better DVD. We have to stop trying to control people in presentations and start catering our presentations to their needs.
How do you help new people get started?
The getting started training is the first step and focuses on setting up a challenge party at the new person's house in the next four to seven days. If you're a consumer, you just use the product, unless you decide you want it for free, in which case we will come to your house and do a party for you that only talks about the consumer offer. We call that a three-for-free party.
You'd think most people would want this, but there is a larger percentage of customers who just want to use the product and don't care about getting it for free. Most of the ones who want it for free become what we call promoters.
If you join my team as a promoter, the first thing I want to do is come to your house within the next four to seven days and get you to invite your warm market contacts. At the party, we let them try some shakes, we press PLAY on the DVD, and we start the process all over again.
What do you think of the idea that networkers should build their personal brand?
I've made over eight figures in network marketing and I still don't have a personal website.
I've seen too many people building their personal brand who have no business spending time or money on that. It's a revised version of the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach, which means you go buy a nice car and a nice suit and act as if you're making the income you wish you were making. I don't believe in putting up that kind of façade. There's a time and a place to start building your personal brand, and it's after you're showing results.
My advice is, "Go to work, go to work some more, then go to work some more! Get some results, then worry about defining your brand." You have no idea who you are inside your business or what your gifts and strengths are until you've done some work. Once you've reached some benchmarks, then you can start selling people on what your brand is and on why they should work with you, because you now have a clear idea of where you stand inside your business and what you can provide for people.
Traditional marketers will argue me to death on this, but why not go to work and make some money first before spending energy on a brand that might change ninety days from now, when you figure out who you are? You only get one shot to brand yourself, so get it right.
How should network marketers be using social media?
They should be maximizing social media to "puppy-dog sell" their warm market. They should not be using social media to directly sell their contacts, as in "Hey, if you want to get rich, contact me right now." If you direct-message your contacts about joining your business, all you'll do is turn people off.
Online marketing and social media should be looked at as a drip, not as an attack. Pick up the phone if you want to talk to someone about joining your business. Use online media for relationship building, because when people see your posts and what's going on in your life, after a while they're going to contact you.
Don't go hunting online, instead start farming.
Sure, I'll go with that. Be very natural online. Don't do what you see on TV. Be authentic, dress down, talk with more slang—not less. If your goal is to connect with and relate to people, you have to use the language and attire that's going to accomplish that.
You should be slipping in posts about your business with posts about your everyday life, not the other way around. If you're in network marketing, you should not have a separate business profile and personal profile. Your business is personal. You want to say things like, "Hey, I just walked my dog; I love my wife; the weather is gorgeous today." In the meantime, once or twice a day you're sliding in little snippets about your business.
I recommend four types of business stories: what's happening for you personally, with the product or financially, and what's happening for anyone else in your company, with the product or financially.
I tend to alternate posts with text, video, and photos to cover all four stories. Posting pictures from my phone, I might say, "We're having dinner with our car qualifiers here in Michigan. These guys rock." This kind of comment might cause your Facebook friends to think, "Hey, I want a BMW, how do I get one?" so you're selling indirectly.
Tell us about The Pyramid Thing.
Initially a lot of people thought this video series was my or my company's creation, but it wasn't.
Somebody on my team was trying to recruit a guy who was a reality show producer for different TV shows. This producer thought it'd be interesting to do a reality show on network marketing, so I met with him. He was super skeptical about network marketing but thought it could be an interesting phenomenon to document. We realized the only way to do it would be an Internet show, because it wouldn't be picked up by any channel.
Even though no one put any marketing efforts into it, the show has been watched 200,000 times in the past twelve months. There are 100 episodes of five to fifteen minutes each.
We've had a lot of exposure as a result, and I'm very grateful for it. People who have been researching our company online have watched it and it's helped because they think, "Wow, this is them unfiltered... I can see myself working with them." They can watch it from a third-party perspective without having to be around us to get to know us.
It wasn't created as a branding tool; it was created to give people a look behind the scenes of networking.
Any thoughts about the future of our business?
Network marketing should never leave its roots of personal relationships, inspiring and empowering people, and raising people up.
In the meantime, I see it merging at a fast rate with technology, social media tools, and mainstream marketing approaches, and leaving behind the traditional suit-and-tie-and-briefcase approach of "Let me show you how you can make a lot of money." I've seen a dramatic shift over the last two years, and it's not going to go away. What will go away is companies and networkers that don't make the shift.
Network marketers used to promote a lifestyle by showing yachts and mansions and fancy cars. That may have worked in the eighties and nineties. What appeals to young people today is time freedom and life experiences. We care less about possessions; most of us have abandoned the idea that getting rich is even possible. We just don't want to be in a cubicle.
I've focused on creating life experiences and giving others the opportunity to participate in those experiences. We don't tout, "Look how much our comp plan pays out." We're a company that says, "Do you want to join us at the NBA all-star game?" It's all about sharing the fun.