I am absolutely thrilled today to introduce you to Karen Clark. Karen is a direct seller who is very successfully using social media to build her business, and she very kindly agreed to be interviewed on my blog today.
Here’s some background information on Karen:
Karen Clark is a wife and mother of 3, who are 14, 11, and 5, living in Sonoma County, California. She is an Executive National Director with Story Time Felts and also their Director of Consultant Development. Karen is the Chapter President of the Sonoma Marin Direct Selling Women’s Alliance, proudly uplifting the direct selling profession in her community. You can find Karen on her business website at http://www.funfelt.com or her personal blog at http://www.karen-clark.com. You can connect with her on Facebook at http://profile.to/karen-clark, and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/funfelt.
Jennifer: Karen, can you give us some background on your direct sales experience? How long have you been in direct sales, and what have been some of the highlights of your career?
Karen: I joined the direct sales profession in 1998 with the company I still represent today. My direct selling business has been a constant in my life and I appreciate all that it’s taught me and the friends all over the US that I’ve made. When I was fairly new, I was awarded our company’s Star Gazer Award in 1999 for sharing innovative ideas and bringing the company to the internet.
Shortly after joining, my then-husband was transferred to Washington state with the Navy. I had dabbled in website design and had been connecting with other moms online for a while and with some help from a friend, I began my website. This enabled me to continue my business while transitioning to my new state. At the time, the company did not have an internet presence, and seeing mine grow, they asked for my guidance in creating an internet policy for their consultants that would encourage them to continue selling person to person but also allow them the ability to market online for extra exposure. We were able to connect consultants to each other and potential customers online during an age when most direct selling companies were not open to it. I found ways to train and educate my rapidly growing team using the internet and it enabled me to grow the company nationwide and open up areas we had not previously had consultants. It was a high point to be recognized for this innovation!
I became Director relatively quickly due to my online connections, and had a strong home party business and large personal organization across the USA. In 2005 I was offered the position of Director of Consultant Development. We conduct online meetings, conference calls, and an interactive forum and I value each person on my “team” as we truly are like one big family!
Lastly, in 2008, having been an active member and Chapter President of the Direct Selling Women’s Alliance, I was recognized at their Education Celebration, as the DSWA Spirit Award recipient. This award is an immense honor – to be recognized not only by my peers but by those in a vast variety of other companies, and by those who are the kinds of leaders I strive to become one day! It was truly a thrill for me to receive this award as it meant the DSWA, an international organization, sees me as representing their core values as a businesswoman.
Jennifer: How long have you been using social media in your business, and why did you start using social media?
Karen: I’ve been using social media since the very first day I started my business 10.5 years ago. Back then it was done through text-only forums on ‘telnet’, or in folders on AOL communities. I would visit message boards and connect with other parents or teachers on subjects not directly related to my business, but always was sure to have my business information in my profile or signature. Social media has changed over the years but the principles are still the same.
The reason I began was because I knew it was yet another way to reach out to people who have a need or would benefit from my product, and would not have otherwise found me or my company. I had already been connecting on a mom to mom level, so extending it to my business presence was a natural progression for me. Some of the best friends I had ever had were ones I had never met, so I knew the potential for relationship-building online.
Jennifer: What are some of the considerations that you’ve kept in mind when creating your online presence?
Karen: I think it is very important to use your best judgment and only conduct yourself in a way that you would in your “real life” business. The online world parallels the real world – people have feelings, sensitivities, and opinions, and it is important to conduct yourself with respect even though you may not be looking them in the eye or reading their body language. In everything you say or do online, ask if you would be saying or doing this in person? There will be some differences, but there is a time and a place for everything online, so be discerning (or ask if you aren’t sure!) and represent yourself and your company with honor so that you build trust and rapport that will warm your heart, and maybe your pocketbook.
Jennifer: Can you tell us about some of the social media tools that you’ve found most helpful in building your direct sales business online, both for sales and recruiting? How do you use them?
Karen: I have tried just about everything under the sun and it is important to note that, as my Mom always says, “There is no such thing as a free lunch!” In this case, the cost of your lunch is going to be the time invested and the patience you will need to exercise! There is no specific tool that can be traced to sales or sponsoring, as anything you do will add layers and depth to your online presence – it all counts, and it builds over time. When I started my website, I did not see a ‘random’ sale for nearly 2 years, and that was after spending 2 or 3+ hours a day promoting myself online. Over time though, the back-links, search engine rankings, and word of mouth spread to where people looking for what we sell were able to find it through my website. That said, I was able to recruit online almost immediately due to the social networking – mentioning that we were looking for consultants on a stay at home mom’s message board or email group, sharing what I did and how excited I was on a local forum…I found that there were people hungry for home-based business opportunities and often went online to research them.
One of the best ways to get sales and recruits through social networking is through referrals. Be the kind of person you would like to do business with, and others will see you the same way and be more likely to share your links or information with their friends, and their friends, and so on. You can do this through whichever method you choose, it is all good! I happen to like Twitter and Facebook right now but to be honest the landscape of the internet changes so quickly I truly feel that it isn’t one specific tool that will get you results – it isn’t what you are doing, it is who you are being. You can express yourself and build relationships in any interactive space online, whether it is through Facebook or Twitter, or LinkedIn or blogging. You can search for forums or message boards on a related topic and participate in discussions, or you can post comments on other people’s blogs. The main thing is to get out there on the internet somewhere, meet new people, find a common interest, be helpful and service-minded, and be visible in that community – just like you would in “real life.”
Jennifer: Please describe one specific time when social media made a big difference in your business.
Karen: There is a syndicated radio talk show host who had some very strong opinions about a certain topic that was corollary to my product and business opportunity. Since I knew she had an interactive website, I posted a message stating my opinion (agreeing with her) and thanking her for bringing the topic to the public on the air. Since I had a blog, and a website, when she looked at them to check them out, she liked what she saw, and decided to read my letter on the air and gave out both my business website and my blog address to her listeners, and told them to all shop from me for Christmas. This was huge – I had so many orders I could barely keep up with them, and met many of her listeners who later became consultants! When I posted another message thanking her, she read that one too and it happened all over again! It was a wild ride but it really drove home for me the fact that Sharing and Caring and Appreciating are where it’s at – that and the ability to express yourself through writing!
Jennifer: What advice would you give to the direct seller who is thinking about getting started with social media?
Karen: Start with one thing – study it, observe what others are doing, especially those you seem to feel set good examples – someone you’ve come to respect or admire just from who they are online. Try some things out for yourself, and do just a little every day, or even every week. It does not to be an all or nothing thing – a little bit over time will show you results over time, and will not distract you from your bread and butter – your home party or person to person business! You will want to still pick up the phone, still set appointments and still get out in front of the people. Social media doesn’t replace your “real life” business but it can be another way to meet more people that can enhance your business. The important thing is to get on the train – this social media age is really just beginning and the explosion is on the horizon. Get involved in something so you are in the game. Take just one hour a week or 10 minutes a day but work on something consistently over time and be patient!
Jennifer: What do you think is the number one mistake direct sellers make when using social media?
Karen: I think the number one mistake is forgetting that there are people on the other side. Even though you may be looking at the printed word, the audience is made up of people just like you and want to be treated with kindness and respect. Treat people the way they want to be treated! Don’t come onto the scene and advertise your product without the rapport built up first. Would you walk into a party or other crowd and start telling people to buy your product? Consider offering something helpful (unrelated to your product), or asking a (non-leading) meaningful question, or sharing about your (non-company) self as a better alternative. Allow the relationship to build, allow them to observe you interacting with others and allow the trust to build. Remember always that you are a representative of you, your family, your company, your team. Know that sometimes you will say something, make a comment or write an article and not get a response. This is OK, and remember that often people are still observing and opening up to who you are slowly. When you share something in a group in “real life” you do not hear feedback from every person who is in that group, but the others who do not speak up are still participating in a way that they need to at that moment – observing, maybe conducting some internal dialogue, relating to you in some way. So be patient and don’t just come onto the scene with that big D (desperate) written on your forehead! If you aren’t sure, ask someone what the protocol is, people like to help!
Jennifer: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Karen: I’d like to just emphasize that placing the primary focus on your “real life” business is so important – that is how you will duplicate yourself and grow your business in a systemized way that you can count on – when you call the people and see the people you will grow in sales and sponsoring, traditional direct sales is a proven business model with measurable results that are directly related to the amount of people you talk to. For direct sellers, social media is more of a branding or reputation building tool, that sometimes turn into sales or recruits but are even more effective at reinforcing trust and rapport, and then referrals to new clients or opportunities that lead to them. Enjoy learning about social media, and especially enjoy the richness of the new friendships you will make along the way, and you will take your business to a new level beyond sales and sponsoring!
Karen, thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!
Social media can do incredible things for a direct sales business, and I will, from time to time, be highlighting direct sellers that have used this media successfully. If you’d like to recommend someone to be featured, please email me at jennifer (at) learningisanart.com.
And please take a moment to leave a comment below, and let us know what you think, or experiences you have had building your business with social media!