Forgive me if I offend, but I am no fan of MLM programs. In my experience, going all the way back to the first Amway zealot I met twenty-five or so years ago, MLM people tend to see every person around them as a potential customer, or, worse, a potential “downline” salesperson. Around hardcore MLM people (and it is hard to find any other kind) I always feel as though I’m being pursued, rather than being simply met. I see MLM people developing a mindset that each new contact is a source of funds. That’s unseemly. No one wants to feel like another person’s target.
But the friends-as-income mindset can affect anyone in business, not just MLM people. You see it with small entrepreneurs – not corporate people, so much, because most corporate people are not personally charged with business development objectives, and even if they are, most corporate biz-dev and sales types know that the vast majority of their friends are not appropriate prospects for their business products or services.
But entrepreneurs can fall victim to the friends-as-dollars disease. I’m talking about career coaches proposing to simply everyone that some career coaching might do them some good. Or a real estate stager who casually suggests to every person in her social sphere that now might be a great time to do some sprucing up around the homefront. Of course, client acquisition must always be a priority for small businesswomen. But how can we tell when we’re going over the line?
Here’s my rule of thumb for letting people know about your business without viewing your friends as clients-in-waiting. Once your friends and new acquaintances know what you do professionally, cease and desist the sales pitch. If they need your help, they’ll ask. There is nothing worse than having people buy from you because they feel guilty not to. Remember, a sale today is only a sale today; but a friend who trusts you and will recommend you to others (whether or not she ever purchases a thing, herself) is a zillion times more valuable business-wise, and of course, a trillion zillion times more valuable in your life.
And, you must be sure to let your entrepreneurial friends know when they’re stepping over the line between life-and-business-banter and sales pitches to their so-called friends. “You know what, Amy,” you can say, “I’m thrilled for you that you’re doing feng shui consulting now. That’s not something that I’m thinking about for myself right now, but if that changes, I’ll let you know. Can we agree to stay on friend-type topics in our conversations? I sometimes feel as though I’m being pitched on your services, and I know you’re just excited, not being sales-y.” You will have your own variation of that speech that works for you. But don’t let your friends turn you into dollar signs – you’re way more valuable to them than that.