Dennis and Patty Nun are top leaders in the direct sales company they joined over 40 years ago. Based in Lincoln, Nebraska, they grew up as farm kids and raised six children who are currently between the ages of 32 and 21. While still in college, Dennis started direct selling agricultural products to help farmers make the most of their crops. When they saw his business take off, some joined him and gradually Dennis assembled a small team.
Dennis was earning his Masters degree in agricultural economics and Patty worked as a legal secretary to pay the bills. After Dennis completed his degree he never took a job, because being an entrepreneur turned out to be a far more lucrative prospect. As their business expanded, Patty quit her job to support Dennis and be a stay-at-home mom. After all six children were born, she went back to school to earn her B.S. and M.S. degree.
“None of this would have been possible,” says Dennis, “if it hadn’t been for the teachers and mentors in our lives who offered us the opportunity, and then assisted us in building a successful organization.”
Today Dennis spends most of his time coaching and mentoring his team, organizing events, and creating educational and promotional tools for his team and company. Patty has a private practice as a Licensed Mental Health Professional who focuses on women’s interests and family dynamics, as well as speaking, writing, and leading study groups. Dennis and Patty enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren and being cheerleaders to their team which today spans all 50 states.—J.G.
What led you from the farm into networking?
Dennis: Patty and I have lived in Lincoln since we were married in 1973, but we both grew up on farms in southeast Nebraska. I graduated from high school in 1970, Patty in 1972. We got married in 1973 as I was finishing up my senior year of college at the University of Nebraska in agriculture. I carried a double major in animal science and economics. I’m not sure exactly why we planned it this way, but we celebrated four major events in our lives packed into four consecutive days! Patty’s 19th birthday came first, followed by our wedding the next day. Day three was Patty’s college graduation, and finally, we took off for a two-day honeymoon before returning to Lincoln, where I was taking 21 credit hours at the University.
As most young people, we thought we were ten foot tall and bulletproof. Patty started working at the University of Nebraska while I was going to school full time, working a couple of part-time jobs. Not knowing what I was going to do when I graduated, I was considering going back to the farm. We had a fairly sizeable operation, livestock as well as crops. I was also considering going into the agricultural job market, including working as an extension educator for the University in the field of agriculture. In those days, this position required a Masters degree. The University had already offered me an assistantship to attend a graduate program in agricultural economics.
Unsure of my future, I’d also gotten a phone call from Ben Welch who introduced me to a company that sold products for the agricultural marketplace—including lubricants and other products used in crop production. Ben had made a cold call on my father, who had started to use a couple of his products and was impressed. When Ben asked my dad to become a local distributor for his company, dad told him he was too busy, but that I was in college and might be interested.
Jordan & Sarah Nun receive President´s Club
recognitionfrom the company owner whom Dennis
sponsoredas an associate in 1976.
Bob Conklin holding baby Jordan with
Dennis & Patty holding Sarah, 4 and Adam, 2.
Was this your first exposure to network marketing?
Dennis: Yes. Or rather, I would categorize the company Ben represented, and that I have worked with for the last 40 years, as a direct sales company. About 95 percent of our members are strictly wholesale customers who never get involved in marketing, but our “management” plan is very much a classic network marketing commission program that compensates us for developing a distribution network for the products our company manufactures.
When Ben called me, I was open to talking to him, so he came over. Even though I was pretty conservative and had never considered sales, I listened to his presentation.
A few weeks later Patty and I went to an interview with a company in Kansas City that had given me a couple of scholarships. They had an opening for a person in their member relations department for someone to lead youth, family, and leadership camps. Patty and I had both spent years in 4-H work helping with those kinds of events, so we thought it might be an interesting fit. We visited with the director, whose name was Russ, and must have answered all the right questions, because at the end of the day, he said, “If you want the job, we’ll hold it for you till next May when you graduate.”
I remember replying, “It may not the most important thing, but we haven’t talked at all about salary. What would I be earning?”
Here I was a farm kid; I’d never had anything other than a part-time summer job. Russ answered, “We’d start you out at $9,600 a year, and within six months you’d probably have a review and a salary increase.” This is with a Bachelor’s degree, moving to Kansas City, reestablishing myself in a new community...
I said, “I have to think about.” I hate to admit it, but I lied to him. I really didn’t need to think about it. I was earning more working part time as a student and thought, “If this is what the real world is like, I need to stay away from it as long as I can.”
When we got back to Lincoln, I enrolled in graduate school, accepted the assistantship the University of Nebraska had offered me, and the same day Patty and I called Ben and said we were interested in starting a business.
I told Ben, “Over the next year and a half, while I’m in graduate school, I’d like to try out the business on a part-time basis and see how it works.” The startup package required a $4,250 investment—quite a sum for us at the time, but probably the best money I’ve ever spent. I wrote him a check on a Thursday and asked, “What do I do next?”
Ben said, “You need to go to our new distributor boot camp.
I asked, “When is it, where, and how much does it cost?”
He said, “It’s already paid for as part of your package. It starts on Sunday night and lasts for three days. It’s in Minneapolis.”
We were a couple of small town farm kids who had never seen the big city, but we didn’t ask any questions. I cut classes, Patty took time off from work, and we were off to Minneapolis.
What was the experience like?
Patty: I had never met anyone who had written a book; to me, an author was someone untouchable. Yet at this seminar, the main speaker was an author and I remember sitting in the front row totally mesmerized by all the information I was trying to digest.
One of the things he encouraged us to do was to set goals. I’d never set a goal before; I hardly knew what a goal was. Over the next three days he showed us how to do it. Somehow the meeting had been inspirational, because we started writing down goals. It was one of the turning points in our life, the realization that we could set goals and achieve them, and then set even more goals. There’s no doubt goal setting has been instrumental in building our business over the past 40 years.
Dennis: Network marketing truly is self development disguised as a business. It was a revelation for us. Here we were, 19 and 21, and we were exposed to speakers like Bob Conklin who has written a dozen books. He authored programs like Adventures in Attitudes and The Positive Mind, which were life changers for us. He gave us a hunger for personal development and new information.
Over the years we also learned that every goal you set becomes a personal school in itself, because you have to become a different person. You have to learn new skills. You have to meet new people. You have to do new things you’ve never done before in order to accomplish that goal. You come out on the other side more confident, more skilled, a different person literally, and you’re able to set more and bigger goals as a result.
At the Taj Mahal in 2013.
In Newport Beach ready to board for a cruise.
Patty leading a Bible study in Ensenada, Mexico.
At Machu Picchu, Peru, in 2014.
With daughter Chelsea at Temple Mount, Jerusalem.
What made you plunk down the money to get started, even though you didn’t know much about the business?
Dennis: Two key questions Ben asked me during one of our first conversations were critical. Number one, he handed me a 3x5 card and said, “Write down the names of the first ten people you’d like to talk to, either about our products or about the business—if you got started today.”
I hadn’t signed up yet at that point. This was a really effective closing tool for me. So far he’d been telling me about the opportunities, but we all know people do things for two reasons: 1) fear of loss and 2) desire for gain. We all start out with a certain amount of misery in our lives, and we have to let go of some of that in order to try something new.
When Ben asked me to write down my warm list, I couldn’t think of anybody at first, so he gave me some suggestions: people I grew up with, farmers I knew, anyone who was a potential customer for our products. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. I probably had 20 or 30 names on the card when he said, “Dennis, every one of those people on that card could make out a card just like yours of people they know who you don’t know. That’s the power of networking.”
He continued, “If you don’t want to get started today, that’s okay, because we’ll be here for a long time. When you’re ready, we’ll be ready, but in the meantime, would you mind if I called those people?”
There was a long pause. I don’t know what I said, but I know what I was thinking. All of a sudden I was on his side of the table, and there was a fear of loss. I realized that every time you give somebody the opportunity to become a part of your network, it’s their choice to lose by saying no. This realization was a turning point in my mind.
Next Ben asked me what I call “the five-year question.” Remember, as a college student with a Bachelor’s degree I had been offered $9,600 a year salary. He said, “Dennis, what if it took you four or five years of just getting by before you started making $40,000-$50,000 a year? Would it be worth it?”
This sounded like a lot of money back then; today, it might be equivalent to $250,000 or $300,000 a year. My answer was, “Yeah, it’d be worth it.”
By the time we handed Ben our check, Patty and I had mentally made a commitment to give it five years and not even check the scoreboard until then. We weren’t going to try it for a few weeks or months to see how it worked. We were committed to doing whatever Ben told us to do for a minimum of five years.
As a result my income doubled every year the first five years I was in the business. I’m quick to tell people it hasn’t doubled every year since then, but it’s continued to grow each year. It’s just been an amazing financial opportunity for our family, and I’m convinced that our initial five-year commitment was key to our success today.
Once you came home from that event, what did you do?
Dennis: I asked Ben what to do. Whatever he told me, I didn’t argue, I just did it. The first thing he said is you need to have a farmer dinner meeting. Our customer client base at that time was (still is today) largely agricultural producers. I said, “How do I do that?” He said, “You line up a place for a meal and you invite a group of people. I’ll do a little presentation. Then you follow up and take their orders.” I thought, “I can do that.”
I hand-delivered 72 invitations to farmers in the area where I grew up. Patty and her mom made baked beans and sloppy Joes. We rented the local fire hall for $15 and had our first meeting. Ben presented this really corny slide presentation and demonstrated a couple of products.
I stumbled around the next two days asking the 36 farmers who had attended, “What did you see that you’d like to try?” I netted $1,200 in sales and my business was off and running.
One key thing I encourage everyone to do when they get started is to listen to your sponsors and mentors and do exactly what they tell you to do. They’ve been there, done that. After you make a six-figure income, if you want to play around and experiment, go ahead; but until you’re making over $100,000 a year, just do it their way.
Right away you had customers, and eventually you learned how to recruit people.
Dennis: Exactly. Some of those customers said, “How can I do what you’re doing?” I was nine months in our business before I sponsored my first person. I always tell people we’ve never set any track records in this profession, expect for maybe longevity. We’ve been plodders, not race horses. But we’ve been persistent and consistent, which are key to building a solid business.
With daughter Sarah in Holland.
Celebrating their 40th anniversary in Rome.
Sharing local traditions in Cusco, Peru.
Nun family celebrating Christmas in Maui, 2012.
How would you say the business has evolved over the past 40 years?
Dennis: It’s certainly gotten easier. Our product offering has expanded. Our company reputation is more solid. The older a company is, the more of a track record you have. One time I sponsored a new person who looked at our management plan and said, “It doesn’t move fast enough for me.” I said, “I feel the same way, but they’ve never been late with a commission check.” He said, “I could wallpaper my office with commission checks that didn’t clear.” The longevity of the company has made everything a lot easier.
There is another factor Richard Poe talks about in Wave 3. The maturity of network marketing has been aided tremendously by the digital age—voice mail, the Internet, group texting, YouTube, all the tools we use on a daily basis. These tools weren’t even imaginable 40 years ago. The ability to communicate and develop a large amount of business quickly has changed dramatically.
Third, when I was 21, calling on crop or livestock producers who were two and three times my age was a little intimidating. Life is a confidence game, as Dan Sullivan says. As your confidence and competence grow, everything becomes easier. I encourage people to develop a never-ending spiral of success, and that’s what you have the opportunity to do as you develop the base of your business. I love Zig Ziglar’s illustration of the pump: in the early stages, you don’t get paid for a lot of work you do. Later on, you get paid for a lot of work you don’t directly do.
Since most of your business comes from customers, how many builders do you have?
Dennis: I have 27 Directors in my organization. The company has about 150. Between 20 and 25 percent of the company’s business is generated by our organization.
We deal with a dramatically lower number of distributors than most companies, but our average volume per distributor is much higher because of the nature of our business. Many of our products are shipped out in truckload quantities. Our top customer last year did $1.6 million in business through one account.
Are your 27 leaders doing the business full time?
Dennis: Yes—all of them. A common challenge for people who join network marketing is that some think they need to go full time right away. Others think they never need to go full time. We worked a year and a half part time, and when I earned my Masters degree and my assistantship was over, I had no desire to go on and earn a Doctorate. At that point it didn’t make sense to go get a job when our direct sales business was growing so rapidly. The completion of my college education was a natural point at which we went full time. Patty was working full time and we didn’t have any children, so her job was paying all our bills. This allowed me to take every dollar that came in from the business—retail, wholesale, commissions, whatever—and plow it back into our business. I tell people our business wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for those years where Patty’s job was basically funding our overhead and expenses.
Family trip to clean up in Pass Christian
after hurricane Katrina.
Nun men annual fishing trip.
How do you spend your days, and what are some of the challenges you encounter?
Patty: If you could see us right now, Dennis is sitting in our assistant’s office, one of our cats climbing on her desk, asking for attention. I’m sitting in my chair holding our one-year-old grandson as we are having this conversation. This is how we run the business today.
It’s all about trying to meet people where they are and encourage them on their journey towards their goals. What’s unique about network marketing is you make it what you want it to be. You work as hard as you want, or you can have fun like we are today, bouncing my grandson and playing with the cat while we’re talking to you.
Dennis: In terms of challenges, one of them is always priority management—figuring out what’s the most important thing to do today and learning how to manage your calendar. The asset we all have is 24 hours in a day. I love Michael Clouse’s million-dollar question: “How many times today has the story been told by you, an associate, a tool, or an event?”
The answer to this question is going to determine the income we generate and the lifestyle we have years from now.
I love Kim Klaver. One of the things she talks about is the magic 1-to-4: most people who earn significant income in network marketing will have one to four business partners who generate 80 to 90 percent of their income. In my business I have four individuals who generate about 90 percent of my income. The key here is to recognize that you can’t control who’s going to do it, but you can control how to invest your time to expose new people to the business.
Apart from recruiting, what do you spend most of your time on?
Dennis: Today I do little personal recruiting; I mostly defer to my key leaders. Instead I use my time trying to come up with new tools for my organization. I’ve written three books for the purpose of generating additional business and assisting in the sponsoring efforts of our distributors. I create nationwide advertising campaigns where we have automatic lead generation that goes to individuals within our organization.
Right now we’re in the midst of three major trade shows, which we do once a year in the summer and fall. I don’t necessarily go to the shows, but I facilitate the direct mail campaign to increase attendance. These are things that require leadership to generate teamwork. I also assist with some of the corporate training of new distributors on a monthly basis.
Fourteen years ago I joined a coaching and mentoring program for entrepreneurs called the Strategic CoachTM. Dan Sullivan started this about 25 years ago, and it’s been critical in the growth of our business. Basically I attend a quarterly workshop and evaluate what we’ve accomplished in the last 90 days. We do what we call a positive focus and project the next 90 days to a year in terms of what we want to accomplish. From there I manage my daily priorities using a weekly planner.
We just came back from a ten-day trip to South America and a weekend with our family in Chicago during which I didn’t do anything business-related. I have two employees, one part-time and one full-time, who took care of business during those “free days.” When I come back I get back in the saddle and may work five or ten days straight. I don’t have an office, our home office is for our CFO who is also our administrative assistant. I simply work out of my laptop or my iPad and have my meetings at local coffee shops.
How do you stay in touch with your network of over 2,500 wholesale customers?
Dennis: We do a lot of email and one direct mailing to the entire organization every six months to thank people for their business and let them know what’s new, asking them if they need a catalog, and to contact me if they want more information or are ready to build a business of their own.
One of the mantras we’ve had in our business for many years is: We don’t help the people who need the help; we help those who want the help. When people call me, I’m available and ready to help, but I don’t badger them to build their business. People will ask when they’re ready. If customers have been inactive I periodically remind them that we’re here and that the opportunity is great.
What are you looking forward to in the future?
Patty: Two or three years ago our son Jordan, who’s 27 years old, decided to join the family business. He’s married and has a little boy who’s currently sitting on my lap. I don’t remember ever asking him. He just saw what it was like for us and he is a natural entrepreneur. He’s excellent with people, I love watching him work. I know he and his wife will do things beyond anything we could ever imagine, They were just qualified for our company’s top management level, so they’ve proven they have what it takes to build a network and take over the reins of our business at some point in the future.
Dennis: The beauty of our business is we have the opportunity to pass it on to the next generation, but they have to be qualified. Jordan is much more talented and better equipped than I was at his age. He’s grown up in the business, which makes a huge difference. I tell people if somebody hadn’t invented network marketing a smart parent should have, because it’s a great way to raise a family. We’ve always told our kids, “We don’t pay allowances, but there’s always work to do.” Back in the day before we used mailing houses, our girls would sit down on Saturday mornings in front of the cartoons, and they’d label and stamp several thousand direct mail pieces.
We’ve had many opportunities to travel internationally, including some ministries we’ve taken on in Mexico and India. Patty went back to college when our youngest was just a baby and got her Masters degree in counseling and now has her private practice. We’ve been able to do many things through our church and different organizations and ministries here locally in our community that have been possible because of our lifestyle of freedom and independence.
The income has been phenomenal, and it just continues to grow. There’s tremendous security in our business. I hate to imagine if Ben hadn’t placed that call to me where I’d be today. I’m sure I’d be frustrated. For most people, there’s no place else they can go to generate the kind of security and be able to ease into it, so I really encourage them. If you treat this like a business, not like a hobby, it’ll treat you better than any business you could ever get involved in.