Network marketing. Does
the expression set alarm
bells ringing? Some people
may be suspicious of the
idea – but it could be just
the opportunity youre looking
for, according to some
farmers. Tim Relf reports
MARY Peters has lived all her life at Mayfair Farm, a Surrey farm with a small dairy herd, some beef cattle and a riding stables.
But a few years ago – approaching retirement age – she discovered her pension would fall short of what she hoped. She did some figures – found, in fact, that it would do little more than cover food bills. "It was awful," she recalls.
Having to give up the farm was even a possibility. "But its my roots – I was hell bent on not losing it," she says. So, two years ago, she looked at selling aloe-based health, beauty and nutritional products made by Forever Living Products.
Mary was already a great believer in the powers of aloe vera, a subtropical succulent plant of the lily family. She had a cancer operation in 1996 and was convinced the Aloe drink was instrumental in her recovery. "I was back milking cows in eight weeks."
Network marketing – the system the firm uses – means the product goes from manufacturer to consumer via a distributor, rather than passing via a combination of distributors, wholesalers and retailers, each of which takes a cut of the profits. And as you – the distributor – do more business and introduce others to the company, so you get more money.
* Saw the light
Now, age 62, Marys hoping to make between £500 and £1000 a month. "I saw the light at the right time," she says, excited by the prospect of what the scheme might bring her.
"I cant believe how Ive altered – its purely the excitement. I feel happy because Ive got an income and know Im not going to lose the farm."
The starting point in finding customers is to write a "FROGS" list, charting everyone you know in the categories friends, relatives, organisations, geography and social. "An endless potential.
"I do more work in the milking parlour than anywhere else. Its natural to me to milk cows. I can think about other things at the same time. I dont go out selling; I dont knock on doors. Its word of mouth."
Another advantage of FLP is that many of its products are "daily" products like soap. "Everyone washes their hands." The potential, she insists, is huge. "We have not touched on the market yet."
Now Marys introduced other people to FLP, its like a non-contributable pension fund, she says. She gets money on the business they do.
"People dont believe it. They think its so simple, theres got to be a catch," she says. "And they think of pyramid selling, which this is not – thats illegal. You think that its too good to be true – but its not.
"My aim with this is to carry on farming but not have the stress of wondering how Im going to survive. Whats the point in retiring and being miserable. I wanted to retire and be happy.
"Yes, I could have sold up. But if Id sold up, Id have been so broken-hearted Id probably have died anyway."
Helen Clark is another devotee of FLP and network marketing. Problems with her back – and worries about rising business rates – were making her reconsider her future at Petasfield Stables, Hertford.
But Helen didnt want to leave that business. "That wasnt an option. Its not just your livelihood; its a lifestyle. I built it from nothing. I wasnt prepared to walk away from it."
She reckons she earned £34,000 last year with FLP. "Thank goodness I came across network marketing," she says. "No-one can touch me now."
* Hard work
While she now does it part-time – putting in about 15 hours a week – its not a get-rich-quick scheme. It requires commitment, devotion and hard work – especially in the early stages. Put the time and effort in and build a team, though, and you start getting paid on what the team is doing.
She, too, speaks highly of FLP and the system. "Im 100% committed to the product, network marketing as an industry and particularly our company. Youve got to believe in it."
Farmers, she agrees, are sceptical. "When you earn money from the land, you know earning money is hard work."
But scepticism is healthy. "If you sit down with a sceptic and all the questions are answered and they are satisfied, they are the best distributors," says Helen.
"If, God forbid, the rent stopped coming in, I can live and I can pay my bills. Thats the power of this business."
Mary Peters can be contacted on 0118-928 7686; Helen Clark on 01992-504201.
ADVICE FROM THE DIRECT
• Select a business with a product range that appeals to you and which you consider to be fairly priced.
• Beware of exaggerated earnings claims.
• Good business opportunities in direct selling require only modest investment.
• Ensure that you receive a proper written contract and that you understand it.
• More information from the DSA (020-7497 1234 www.dsa.org.uk).