Thursday, November 20, 2008

'Aunty' talking business

This is a rather 'cheong hei' post so if you think I'm writing rubbish mid-way reading, stop lah...
I'm becoming more and more convinced over time and looking at things and people around me that doing your own business is a better way to achieving freedom, not only financial freedom but freedom to live life the way YOU want and not how your EMPLOYER dictates.

I know I'm delving into a topic that involves many schools of thought, many perpectives, sub-issues, and opinions etc but well, I'm writing here in my journal (which just happens to be a public one), turning my thoughts into words, that's all.

Between my second and third year (I'm touching fourth year now) of being a stay-home mum or what is proudly termed more commonly as 'housewife', I considered and ventured into an industry that is still, despite its 50-odd years' history and proven track record, perceived as a housewife's business, 'aunty' business, scam, no-class business. I'm sure if you've been around long enough in this world, you'd guess right what business I'm talking about lah! Some call it another sales pitch, another fly-by-night business or simply put, a pyramid scheme. Ding dong, now it rings a bell loud and clear right?

It's right in some cases as like in any industry, there are the legitimate and there are the illegitimate ones. Do you buy original-only DVDs or three-for-RM10 night market ones? Or wait, there's places like Pirate Bay and the likes now too! Some get original Windows from Microsoft, some get copies from their neighbourhood IT shop. Or hold on, your Proton spare part costs twice the OEM-but-'Proton'-branded one, but both serve the same purpose so which one do you get ah?

If you go to a restaurant and found that the food is superb, what do you do? Tell your friends and family of course, especially if you are a food-loving Asian. Found a good deal at the supermarket? Share it with your housewife neighbour over the fence while you put the laundry out together. Your paediatrician has worked magic on your sick child? Before you know it, all your mummy friends will flock there, especially if their child have the same illness as yours had.

Aiya, word-of-mouth marketing lah... Does the restaurant give you a free meal the next time you show up because your aunty told them you recommended their food to her? Did the supermarket give you a discount because your housewife neighbour said she bought that box of cereal from them upon your recommendation? And does your paediatrician give your child free treatment for life because he's got more business now from all your mummy friends?

Direct selling, multi-level marketing, network marketing, and whatever it's called, is one way for ordinary Joes and Janes to start a business of their own with a small, affordable investment, unlike the Warren Buffetts, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or closer to home, Ananda Krishnans, Lim Goh Tongs and other business tycoons of the world. Even they started from somewhere, even from scratch for some.

This industry in general operates on the idea that when you sell or recommend their products for them, you earn, and if the person you sold to also started recommending to others who end up buying, they could earn and so would you. If the resaturant business operated this way, then you'd have earned that free meal when your aunt told them it was you who recommended its good food to her.

In fact, quite a number of businesses have jumped into this sort of marketing to increase its customer base and hence its bottom line. Take for example AAM. They give you a member-get-member form and if you fill it up, they'll give you a free toolkit. Or Reader's Digest, fill up their form with a list of your friends' names and contact details and you get a free address book. Even Citibank and some other financial institutions have followed suit. Refer a friend who signs up for a credit card with them and you'll get a rebate, a free gift, something in return. The network marketing business as I choose to call it, usually 'pays' by giving you future discounts, vouchers, redemption points, and of course cold hard cash.

It becomes a business when you make it a business to sell to others who also make it a business to make it a business for others. I hope I've illustrated it simply and not too confusingly. Soon you'll have a network of business people directly or indirectly within your business circle. Different companies sell different products and services, and offer different types of remuneration schemes. As I mentioned, some are legitimate and some like any other business may not be. Some research and testimony plus consideration as to where your interest in terms of product and service lies should be done in order for you to find the right fit if you choose to delve into it. Just like looking for a salaried-job, would you become an accountant if your interest actually lies in teaching? What are you looking for in that job? Lots of money in lieu of personal growth, freedom and happiness or a balance between job satisfaction, growth, freedom and sufficient monetary reward?

But if the company keeps paying out to your ever expanding business network, wouldn't it go bust? That's what's likely to happen to the pyramid-scheme type of companies which many have fallen prey to. For a network marketing company to sustain, it must have systems in place to avoid overpaying its business reps. It must structure its reward scheme properly, legitimately according to the law relating to this industry, and have set requirements for its reps to meet in order to qualify to reap the rewards. Just like how a bank cannot simply pay customers high interest in order to boost its depositor base and how it has to adhere to the laws regulating the banking industry, or how it has set a minimum balance for your deposit in certain types of accounts before they start calculating/paying you interest.

Go in with eyes wide open. Be open to listen to others who have been there, done that, and listen to as many people as you can from as many companies as you can. Take in all the good and bad and do your own thinking. A smart kid would have talked and discussed with practising neurosurgeons if he was serious in wanting to study neurosurgery and become a brain doctor, wouldn't he? So what's the diff if you're serious about going into business?

That's where I sometimes wonder why people shut network marketers up, shun them and object before they can even explain their intentions. Network marketers tend to bear the brunt of the bad image the industry has received from the unethical, unscrupulous practices of some bad apples. It's something unavoidable but manageable.

Having said that, I feel that those who haven't the slightest inkling or experience with this type of business should be more open. There's nothing to lose in getting more information. No one is pointing a gun to your head to say you must do the business. But in many cases, when one is approached and asked if he/she would be open to simply listening to a new business idea, most times, the person's mind immediately puts up a wall with the notion that it's a hardsell to get them to jump into the business and get cheated.

Most of us have been conditioned that our life evolves from going to school, getting a degree and then a good job and earning a high salary and you've got it made to retire rich and happy. Not quite right. More millionaires and billionaires have emerged from doing their own businesses compared to those who rose from the ranks in employee-dom. And a majority of those in employee-dom who are millionaires are so not because of their great salaries dished out by their businessmen bosses, but from their extra-curricular pursuits in some investment/business or other.

So, having said all this, be a businessperson or employee? I'd say do your own business unless you have a super-unique talent or skill like Michael Jackson (his idiosyncrasies aside). If you have lots of money, start a business that is expandable as your experience and capacity to grow it expands. If you don't have lots of money but still want to venture into business, the network marketing industry is one of many options. But like any business venture, big or small, you can make or break. The difference is how resilient, focused, determined, disciplined you are in chasing that dream, no matter what it takes.

That's where you differentiate the Protons from the Rolls Royces. It's the quality of your inner self that plays a part in determining how high you reach and how far you go, not only in business per se, but in life. I'm sure everyone who has a brain already knows that lah...

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