I Joined a Social Selling Company and Didn’t Die
It was one of those things I said would never do. Much like I was never going to give my three-year-old an iPad, or let him have a meltdown in the middle of Safeway.
I wasn’t sure when exactly Facebook became an advertising platform — the precise moment the slimy sales gods decided it would be a good idea to brainwash my friends into peddling their goods in my news feed — but I was never going to fall into that trap. Nev-ver. I had ethics and morals. I was far too strong in my convictions to interrupt my loved ones’ daily cat videos to hock money off of them for crap they didn’t need.
I also had a really good full time job and didn’t need to sell my soul like that, thank goodness.
All of that was me, until I caved one day and bought something.
It was a nutrition and exercise program and the slope was slippery.
Three weeks into my program I was down three pounds and free of all belly bloat. I was enjoying my first shopping spree in this sleeker body when here came the coach, offering incentives for referrals. Cash money. She gave us a coded link to share and I thought, “Well damn, I’ll be sharing my excitement anyway at the end, why not get credit if someone tries it because of me?”
So at the end of my six-week session, I shuttered my eyes and pushed the button on two pitchy posts, exposing my new abs and hijacked soul to my social media following.
Oh it was icky, what I had done. People could see right through me, I thought. They were already annoyed. “Another one bites the dust,” they were surely muttering to their spouse on the way to church.
That would be it for me on that front. No bites, a new level of social anxiety, my before and after bod displayed all out there on the internet. This was not worth it.
But then things started happening. People started asking me about it. My shameless advertising had piqued interest. The photo was my most “liked” on Instagram.
One day shortly thereafter, my aunt texted me. She had recruited me as a VIP customer months earlier into her social hair care company, and wondered if I was an affiliate with this new thing I had posted about. She suggested I was good at it and could do the same with my hair results if wanted to earn product credit.
By this point, my dabbling in the social marketing world as a consumer had exposed me to concepts of multiple streams and passive income. With government funding being challenged for most social programs in America and the struggle of everyday families to maintain a proper savings account, this concept of social media influencing was emerging as a new financial safety net for creative problem-solving millennials.
For my part, I knew our means had been stretched as a young family of four for several years — too long, I was deciding — and I was starting to think I had the makings of a marketable skill if I could just hone it a little bit. If I could get my mind right around the idea of being “that girl,” perhaps I could find a place for a side hustle like this in my life.
One thing was for sure: I knew if I was going to start posting online about this, I wanted the monetary incentive, not just free product. I wanted that second stream of income.
So I threw any leftover caution to the wind and bought in. I decided I was in a good place mentally, motivated to try something new, and my hair did look a lot better now that she mentioned it. It wasn’t as if I would have to lie, I could just share my success, just as I had done with my fitness results.
The business itself was a slow starter for me. I was offered bonuses and rebates if I could sign up a quota of VIP customers and sellers in the first three months, but this was not my wheelhouse. This was so, so new to me — this social selling — and I still wasn’t all the way sure about it. Most of those starter days and months were spent re-convincing myself that I could do it at all. Reading and watching every video on YouTube about the product I had adopted, ingesting educational content on the business of sales.
I was following every fellow affiliate partner of this company I could find on social media, carefully examining her following, her content, her background. Each time I started to tell myself of the reasons she was more qualified to do this than me I would stop myself. A tiny voice inside reminded me of my investment and commitment and wouldn’t let me turn away. I said I was going to try it and I was damn well going to. Just as soon as I knew all the things.
I created a new Instagram profile to house my advertising separate from my personal following. One thing I knew from my existing social feeds and seeing other people try this, was that my friends and family were here to see my kids and connect with me on a personal level. I didn’t feel right violating those expectations against their will, so I invited them to follow my other account if they wanted to know about my shampoo and other self-serving topics.
In this new space, I would flex my creative muscles without abandon. I would post more frequently, write bloggier photo captions, hashtag to my heart’s content, share inspirational quotes, and even try speaking directly to my following through Instagram story “shorts.” My big ol’ mug and cringy “video voice” chatting away into my iPhone screen. Eek!
Everything I was doing was terribly uncomfortable, and on many days I did ask myself why. I still do — the sales, the social media, the whole thing — because the fact remained and remains that I have a good job and don’t need to be doing this.
I stuck with it though, knowing deep down that all I was is a beginner, and the only thing making this so completely weird and scary was that I was “beginning” right in front of everyone. Past that, was I learning new things? Discovering new skills, fulfilling an inner desire? Was I having fun? Yeah, I was, and enough of a trickle of friends and followers were responding to make me feel like it wasn’t all a waste of time.
It took me four months to convert my first VIP customer, but within three weeks of that I had two more. To my surprise, I didn’t feel icky at all about it. In fact, it fulfilled me to be solving a problem for people I really liked, with products I really liked. I was starting to feel like the knowledgeable representative I thought I should be to do this, and I was getting a lot more comfortable talking about it with people.
I was also starting to change my perspective on the topic of social selling. It was refreshing and eye-opening, as changing your position about things typically is. What was wrong, I now thought, with instead of hiring someone to work in your store and pay them a fixed hourly rate to sell your stuff, you contracted with them to make their own way out of it? What if they were challenged to take your stack of literature and bundle of product, seek strategies they could implement from being part of the greater community, make it their own and then run with it?
Social selling, I figured out, wasn’t only a place to build your own income and business, it was also an opportunity to build your own self-esteem.
One of the lines of advice I hear a lot from people who have success in this space, is not to compare your beginning with someone else’s middle. I can tell you I’m still very much at the beginning of this journey, coming up on just five months. I am in no place to rave about the ways it can change your life, or compare where I started to where I am now. I am just past the point of wondering if I’m in a cult, but far short of a situation I could call a “second stream of income.”
However, I can see the potential from the place I am standing now. I like how I have been stretched creatively. I like having the opportunity to sample amazing products affordably, and share them with other people who could benefit from them. I like how I’ve connected with myself and others through social media. I feel “trained” in what I have started, and ready to see where my side hustle takes me in the New Year.
As an aside, I decided to write this article at this particular time to fulfill a need I had when I first invested in it. From where I stood in August of this year, this business was a leap I had taken against all my ingrained better judgment. I combed the internet for articles about how legit it was, searched high and low for reassurance that I wasn’t involving myself in a “pyramid scheme.” I looked for ethics information on whether it was appropriate to be doing this alongside a full-time salaried job.
Here is what I have decided, for anyone standing in the position of the “old me” and wondering those things: It is a job like any other. No different than the time I took a part-time gig at a tanning salon in my twenties, clocking out of my day job and heading off to an evening shift on my own time.
As long as it’s not interfering with your professional performance or making money for a competitor, the answer to the question of ethics is: No. It’s not inappropriate. In fact, I feel armed with more innovative online skills, strategies and resources that I can bring into my day job. I have shaken up any stagnation I may have been feeling by allowing myself to learn inside the nooks and crannies of my everyday life. I’ve expanded my knowledge base and it’s not a bad thing at all.
If you are new to social selling and looking for help wrapping your head around the whole thing or inspiration to fuel your new goals — check out these resources that really helped me through the start-up days:
Goal Digger Podcast, Jenna Kutcher
Often Ambitious Podcast, Erika Sheffer and Lindsey Plevyek
Online Marketing Made Easy, Amy Porterfield
The Ultimate Sales Machine, Chet Holmes (Audible Book)
I listened to these in traffic, over the speakers in my car, learning new skills without ever interfering with my nine-to-five. Check them out and feel free to leave questions in the comments if you are considering a social marketing business or side hustle of your own!
Get more stories like this on my personal blog: michellemariellis.com
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