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Thursday, December 4, 2014

How direct sales helped me with genealogy

OK, so you are probably wondering what in the world I am going to tell you that could link direct sales to genealogy.  Well, believe me, I can.  Plus I think the lessons I learned could be helpful to many of you too no matter what your goals are. You may never take a paying client, but even hobby genealogists can hold themselves to professional standards and professionalism.

But first, a little back story.

When my oldest was getting ready to start preschool I found myself in a bit of a crisis.  All the sudden I would have time to MYSELF!  After 3 years of caring for him as a stay at home mom I literally was in a panic about what I would do alone for 4 hours a day.  Now, my circumstances were different from a lot of stay-at-home mom’s.  My eldest was born at 25 weeks gestation and spent 72 days in the NICU.  We were very lucky by the way, it could have been a lot worse.  In his first year of life I was not only mom but I was his medical caregiver 24 hours a day seven days a week.

He came home on oxygen, a feeding tube, and multiple medications.  There were near weekly doctor visits plus 3 days after he came home he had his first physical therapy visit.  We had 4 therapists come to the house every week until his 3rd birthday (PT, OT, Developmental, and later speech).  Life was regulated.  I like regulated.  I can deal with regulated.

3 weeks old with my husband's wedding
ring for scale
One day in May before his 3rd birthday I got a phone call.  A friend had put my name down on a list of people who may want to have a makeover at one of these at home party things.  “Sure, why not” I replied to the bubbly woman on the other end of the receiver, “I don’t have anything going on tomorrow afternoon.”  That was when Mary Kay Cosmetics walked into my life.

I won’t bore you with the details of what my life was like the next 3 years until I moved to Virginia.  What I did discover was that I have a knack for talking to, helping, and managing people.  Before I left Mary Kay I was a Director in Training, had earned a car, was responsible at the highest point for 15 team members and actually was closing in on becoming a Sales Director.  Moving and having another preemie baby derailed those plans.

It wasn’t a waste though.  Those skills helped me to the path I am on today.  That is what I wanted to share with you, the skills that I learned which have helped me in my genealogy business and with my personal research.  Maybe you will find some inspiration somewhere in my rambling thoughts below.

Suit-up and show-up
I attended weekly team meetings and as many workshops as I could the entire time I was in Mary Kay.  Making the commitment to myself, my team, and my director to suit-up and show-up was one of the things that I decided to do early on.  If you have ever been to a Mary Kay meeting, well, you know how interesting they are.  Part rah-rah go team and part recruitment plan.  However, I always learned something new and something that I could take away for my own business.  Making that commitment to my business kept me accountable to my success.

Education in genealogy is the same way.  We are primarily a self-taught community since there are only a few (when compared to other professions) degree programs or professional outlets.  Genealogists have to make the commitment to themselves to suit-up and show-up to advance their knowledge in the field.  Making yourself accountable to participating in whatever way possible will only help you be a better researcher and professional.

Cold calls aren’t so hard with a script
To be successful in sales you have to be comfortable with cold calls.  I was petrified the first time I made a cold call to someone on my client referral list.  The what if’s were everywhere.  What if they say no, what if they hang up, what if they don’t like me?  Cold calls were easier when I learned and stuck to a script.  Writing everything down and then practicing it or saying it into a mirror when I talked made the process much easier.  Eventually I didn’t need the script to make those common phone calls.

What do you do if you are going to call an archive, court house, library, potential client, distant family member, or to look for paid / volunteer work somewhere?  Those calls can be nerve wracking if you are the least bit unsure of yourself.  In the beginning have a script handy for any phone calls that you need to make.  By having what you want to say written out ahead of time it will help you calm down, get it all out, and sound professional.  After you say it a few times it will be old hat and no problem.

Being well dressed and well-mannered can only help your image
We had a dress code for appointments: skirts or dresses, business suits preferably, dress shoes preferably with a heel, pantyhose preferred not required, nice jewelry, hair done, make up on, and lightly perfumed.  The thought was if you dressed for success and represented your brand then people would take you seriously.  Why would they want to buy beauty products from someone who didn’t wear their own product and was not put together?

It is the same in genealogy.  Especially if you are going to be a professional.  While there is a time for jeans and grubby clothes (like in a cemetery) if you want to be taken seriously as a professional you should dress the part.    If you are lecturing wear a suit or something appropriate for the venue.  If you are attending a conference, seminar, or society meeting consider wearing business casual.  You do not want people distracted by your appearance.  You want them to think “yeah, they have it together.”

If you have a business remember that wherever you go you represent it.  Are your business cards professionally done?  Do you have a letter head designed?  These things are quick and easy ways to come off as a put together professional.

Manners and professionalism comes in here too.  As a consultant I always wore a smile, even when on the phone.  Did you know that smiling on the phone, even when the person can't see you, still comes across in your tone?  Being friendly, approachable, and easy going are traits that people respond to.  No one wants to be around a sour-puss so even on my grumpiest days I put on that smile and saved my smart-Alec comments for my close friends and family.

Frequently I see many self styled genealogists with very bad manners and habits. Number one infraction, rudeness. Talking down to people only makes you look bad.  Being abusive to staff (no matter where you are or the circumstances) is simply uncalled for.  You can be polite and yet firm if you are upset just like you can patiently sit through someone's family brick wall without looking bored.  Trust me, even if you are having a bad day and an outburst is justifiable, that will be what people remember.  If you slip, apologize.  Saying "I am sorry, that was uncalled for.  It's been a rough day" can go a long way to making you look better.

No one will manage you, but you
While you may have someone you report to in a direct sales system they will not be there for the day-to-day rigmarole that goes on.  As a self-employed person it is up to you to pay your bills, manage your money, keep your appointment book filled, stock your inventory and so one and so forth.  If you are going to be a success you have to do it all yourself.

It is the exact same way in genealogy.  If I don’t go out there and respond to calls for papers, write articles, market myself, pay my bills, make contacts (and then nurture them), plus a whole host of other items I will never be able to pull in an income to help support my family.  Spread sheets and calendars are my friends.  My smartphone is glued to my hip and I am constantly working on something.

You have to hold yourself accountable.  It’s the hardest thing to do but the only one who can keep it all going is the person you see in the mirror every morning. Your success will not be handed to you.  Work hard everyday.  Accomplish something (even if it is as simple as writing an email) everyday and success will follow.

Goal planning is constant
On my very first night of training as a consultant we made a dream poster.  We were supposed to think about goals we wanted to accomplish with our life, business, family, or whatever we wanted.  Then we talked about what it would take to make those happen.  I can’t remember mine for the life of me but I do remember one of the other girl’s posters.  She wanted to take her whole family on a Disney cruise and wanted to earn enough money through being a consultant to do that.  It took her 2 years of steady work but she did it.

As a consultant I goal planned on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis.  Each big goal was broken down into smaller chunks.  Those chunks broken down into even smaller more manageable pieces.  I was never afraid to dream big.  In fact we were encouraged to do that.  This is where I learned two of my favorite sayings.  “You can eat an elephant one bite at a time” and “Shoot for the moon because if you miss at least you will land in the stars.”

In genealogy I have continued this habit.  I have yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly goals.  Every 6 months I reevaluate the annual and the upcoming quarterly goals and adjust as needed.  It may sound complicated but remember you need to dream big and reach for those stars and if you don’t make it's alright.  Just re-group and do it again.  If you don’t have a vision for yourself or your business you are bound to flounder and success will be difficult.

Failure is ok
When I went into DIQ (Director In-Qualification) it was the toughest thing I had ever done.  I tried twice to qualify to become a director and both times failed because I was unable meet all the requirements.  Yes, it was heartbreaking.  Yes, I had to get over the shame I felt inside for being what I considered a failure.  However, it was pointed out to me that because I had dared to strive for that next level I had other successes. Those success were even more important than failing to achieve the goal I wanted.  I had raised the bar on myself and now I knew what I could do if I put myself out there and went for it.

It is very hard for me to put myself out there.  Many times I do not feel confident in my abilities and worry that I may make a total idiot of myself. You know what?  It's true.  I have made mistakes and there are things that now I would have done differently.  Working through the set-backs and learning from those mistakes, especially when I started my genealogy career, only make me better.  If you can kick aside the failure when it happens and see what the accomplishments were along the way you will find that the world really isn’t that bad.  Your successes should be touted and your failures learned from.

I have more I could say, but I think that is good for now.  If you want to hear more, let me know.  I am happy to tell you my little thoughts any time!


  1. Excellent article! I like the "suit-up and show-up" motto. I went to a few Mary Kay meetings years ago (they were trying to recruit me and almost succeeded). You described them perfectly. Everything they did was for a purpose and was focused on success. Wonderful tips throughout your article. I need to save it and re-read it whenever I find myself low on motivation.

    1. I have a ton of stories. Just ask and I give them to you. Maybe at an upcoming conference?

  2. You draw such insightful parallels between direct sales and genealogy! I'm off to suit up and show up.