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An embarrassing business venture which taught me an important lesson

In my younger years I did catalog sales to supplement my income. I’d just become a Dad and cash was really tight so it seemed like a great way to earn more money in a flexible way. I was young and eager and feeling the weight of providing.  At this point in my life I wanted to make some extra money and tried a few things to see what worked.

In the usual fashion any ‘home based business’ is part of an MLM network. If you sign people up to sell products via catalog you can earn more money. We focused primarily on selling products through the catalog and we were not really interested in signing other people up. I think partially because  I was a bit embarrassed to tell friends I was delivering catalogs in my spare time.

I was connected ‘up-line’ to a very excitable couple who were making thousands every month and passionate about getting us to sign up more catalog sellers. I was very cynical of the MLM part. I saw the couples house and car so I know their portrayed lifestyle was legitimate. They didn’t hide the fact that the vast majority of their income was commission from other people selling ‘down-line’.

Inside catalogs there was good products many of which you would see on a shopping channel today. There was a lot of products including Carrot peelers, Tupperware, and extendable garden hoses. Many of products were good but once purchased we would play with a few times and consign to the rarely used kitchen cupboard.

Part of being in the team, we were invited to monthly network meetings. These meetings were designed to keep everyone motivated and limit the drop out rate. Despite the mental picture I am probably presenting the people we met were all lovely and genuine. At nearly every meeting lead couple would always say ‘just get your books out’. When they said this they mean’t deliver your catalogs and collect them in, turn them around as fast as you can. If you have 200 catalogs put them out 3 times a week, not just once.

Their philosophy was to play a numbers game, the more people saw the catalog the more likely you were to make a sale. Make the most of the catalogs you had. Using the same catalogs three times in a week to triple your potential for orders. In business we’d call it sweating the asset. What was surprising is that they did practice what the preach, they delivered and collected 600 catalogs per week. They did their catalogs with finesses with their BMW 5 series estate and a branded trolley compared to my battered Renault Clio and a messenger bag.

There little saying has stuck with me. It’s become one of my personal mottoes. To me ‘get your books out’ means don’t just dream about it. Do it. Take action. Do as much as you can with what you have got. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect just ‘get your books’ out.

Circumstances will never be perfect. There will always be a reason to delay, postpone or do it next month, but we all have to act if we want achieve and succeed. In the catalog world a rainy day can be incredibly demotivating, but, if you want to get orders, come rain or shine those books have to go out.

I eventually decided to hang up my catalogs but we did make some semi decent money at the time. If you enjoyed walking, delivering and collecting catalogs each day, you could earn a modest income. The most profitable part of delivering catalogs, which has made me hundreds of thousands of pounds over the last ten years, was the day I heard the couple say “get your books out”.

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