Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Saleswoman's Diary: Life Like That

I wasn't out setting appointments at 7:15 a.m. yesterday as I planned the night before.

I just couldn't. I couldn't put my lipstick on and get out and sell stuff yesterday.

I felt heart-broken after learning about 10 p.m. Monday night that Khristine Elliott, a friend and paper newspaper colleague, had died suddenly.

I'd received the news from another friend of ours on Facebook via a personal message. It was a little strange to hear about it on Facebook but it was one time when I felt really grateful for the social networking site. A few years ago I walked in a bar I had worked at in college to find memorial pictures of the owner and longtime bartender. I hadn't any idea they'd passed. For all of my complaints about the modern methods of information distribution, I admit there's an upside to online social networking.

Khristine's death is really sad. She was a kind and happy person, only 40, and she leaves behind a husband and an eight-year-old daughter. I had no idea she was sick. We'd been reconnected on Facebook for about two years and her posts and pictures always seemed happy and optimistic. She made sweet comments on my posts sometimes. When I posted a Black-Eyed-Peas Flash-mob-dance video in late April, she had commented to say she thought it was great and she and her daughter liked to dance to that song sometimes.

That was the image I'd had of Khristine -- a happy mom who had become a stay-at-home mom after her 11-year-career as a journalist had been cut short by the downturn in the newspaper industry. According to everything I saw on Facebook, life seemed good for her. I thought she was making the transition from paper newspapers better than I was because she had a home life, because she had a family, because she didn't have the workaholic tendencies I've always been prone to having. But after reading her obituary online from the Battle Creek Enquirer I gathered she had died of cancer, seemingly breast cancer. The family is requesting memorials for the Susan B. Koman Foundation.

Grief hit me like a brick.

Another beautiful smiling woman, another mother, another sister, another friend snatched by breast cancer. I hate breast cancer and Khristine knew that. Maybe that's why she never told me she was struggling with it. She was never an attention seeker. She went about her life quietly. Khristine would never have been one to launch a whole series of stories about her career transition and solicit a bunch of fans for it. She was a team player, not a headline grabber. She supported me with research help when I was going after big stories during my tenure at the Battle Creek Enquirer. She was reliable and well liked. She loved her husband. Her daughter wasn't yet born when I worked with her.

Khristine knew how much I hated breast cancer because she'd seen me hurt by it - twice - and she'd supported me through those times by getting me out of the newsroom for a change. She took me to garage sales. I bought two wooden chairs for my porch. I painted them white and covered the seat cushions with blue plastic material. They looked great and I only spent about ten dollars on the chairs and refurbishing materials.

When I began working at The Battle Creek Enquirer in 1997 my mother had terminal breast cancer. I had come back to Michigan to work because of my mother's cancer and had landed in Battle Creek where the newspaper operated out of a classic paper newspaper building with an operating press, four full-time staff photographers and a film darkroom, a quirky staff of veteran and cub reporters, a hierarchy of editors, a publisher with a full-time secretary, a full-on copy and design staff and, unique to the Battle Creek Enquirer, a basement cafeteria where Ruthie, our southern cook, made outstanding casseroles and pies. Beyond the cafeteria was the smoking room. Though I'm not typically a smoker, I have my stress-runs with the habit. Sometimes I'd wander into that smokey haze of newspaper employees from every area of the building -- distribution, marketing, editing, news. But you'd never catch Khristine in there. She was a healthy and balanced person. Actually, that's what she generally wrote about -- health.

My mom died of breast cancer in August 1998. I was devastated although I'd known for two years the end was nearing. I'd been my mom's baby, the youngest in our family with seven kids. She had been my greatest fan in life and I'd never had to accomplish much to impress her. I made creamed tuna on toast and she thought I hung the moon. In her eyes the fact that I was a reporter at a daily newspaper was equivalent to being a superstar.

Eighteen months after my mom died, our beloved Battle Creek Enquirer columnist Leslie Rardin died from breast cancer, too. Leslie died in October 1999. In April of that year I'd travelled to Italy with her and her daughters and a few of her other friends. It had been a bucket-list vacation. She had rented an apartment overlooking the southern tip of the Italian Riviera in Chinque Terra. It was lovely but she hadn't been well on the trip. After going through breast cancer with my mom, I could tell what was coming.

Breast cancer is ugly. The demise of old-school paper newspaper operations is sad. I miss Khristine. I'm sorry I didn't do more to stay in contact with her and the other people who I'd worked with in Battle Creek during the pinnacle of my paper-newspaper career. I was recruited by a bigger paper in 2000. But it was nothing like the community we had at the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Those days are gone. Khristine is gone, too.

I think Khristine was quite wise in her quiet way. On her Facebook page she left some of her favorite quotes about life including this one from John Lennon:

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

And this one from The Kooks:

"Wasn't it you who said life was like a plastic cup? To be used and then disposed of? That's no way to live a life like yours."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Diary Of A Newbie Saleswoman

I like the quietness of this Google blog. I'm so happy for my few friends who have signed on officially as Google Followers. Yay! Sorry I have had trouble becoming your follower, too! The truth is, I'm so freaking busy, I hardly have time to read anything that isn't headline and local (like the stories about the tornado's that've been blasting through Michigan this year! Dang. Whatsuup with that?).

Writing helps me organize my thoughts. This career change is getting STRESSFUL and fascinating. It's make-it-or-break-it time, babies! Seriously -- if things don't start really picking up steam in the next six weeks, this probably isn't the right career for me. But I'm like the little red engine (not Shel Silverstien's little blue engine that went smash, crash, bash into engine hash on the rocks below). You know -- I think I can; I think I CAN; I THINK I CAN!!!

I think it will be helpful to me and perhaps interesting to you, to approach this blogging project as a diary for awhile -- maybe for the rest of this project. I'll just recount the successes and failures of the day and set some goals for the next day.

So here goes....

I went out with a veteran agent today -- nice guy, graduated in 1986 from a northwest Detroit High School that's now closed, goes to a big non-denominational church, has a grown son, lots of good friends, a girlfriend with an eight-year-old son, likes to do yard work. He was really helpful. I didn't ask if I could use his name, so I won't. But I'll just say that he had a very nice approach with the business owners we came in contact with -- informative and very assertive in a chill way. I've worked with some other veteran agents and my district sales coordinator and they have some great ways of approaching situations, too. I think this guy's personality is a bit more like mine, though -- maybe because of our similarity in age or the fact that we were both born in Detroit. I don't know. But I think he's going to help me kick up my sales quite a bit and I appreciate it.

He's opened a lot of salon groups and today he helped me iron out the details of a salon enrollment that's happening on Wednesday. Seven people work there and I am hoping to sell something to everyone. They all would benefit from our insurance products, I wholeheartedly believe that! He's going to be there with me for the enrollment. He also helped me secure an enrollment for mid-July with a hardware store owner who I had spoken with in the past. He had been very positive about the idea of the insurance products I sell but he had thought I was pushing him a little too much for the enrollment date. The veteran agent worked wonders with him. He seems very pleased with the arrangement we made to hang out in his break room for a few hours on two days and see his employees one on one.

I'm finding I really love small-business owners. I especially respect anyone who has opened a business in the middle of the recession. The hardware-store owner and salon owner both are new business owners. The salon has been open only a few months and the hardware store for two years. I really respect that!It inspires me because I am not just an insurance saleswoman but a small business owner. There's so much to learn that it can feel overwhelming. But I'm getting good mentorship. People who have walked this road before me are being pretty patient with me.

One thing that didn't happen today was a meeting with a second salon owner who I thought we could schedule an enrollment with. She had had lots of questions about rates and product when I met with her a week ago and since the veteran agent who I worked with today has lots of experience with salons, I was hoping we would be able to meet with her. Her salon is closed on Mondays, though. So that didn't work.

I'll be by myself tomorrow.

My goal is to get to the gym at 6 a.m. and to go for a morning swim. I haven't been to the gym ONCE since I began this sales career and I feel it would help me so much to start the day with exercise. I want to be out and about following up with business owners by 7:15 a.m. I don't want to mention the specific businesses I plan to call on until I have met with the business owners because there are other agents who may read this blog and try to steal my deals. That's the world of business. We're all independent -- like Realtors.

Concrete goal for tomorrow: I want to get another new group and schedule enrollments this week for Thursday and Friday. This week is the end of what we call "Power Weeks." My district sales coordinator wants me to really push it to try to sell $14,000 -$15,000 in premium this week. That's a tall order. Yearly to date I am under $13,000. But I've learned so much in the past few weeks and I have a computer that works quite well. So, I could do it.

I think I can! I think I can. I think I can!

I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Crunch Time

The pressure is on for me to write about $15,000 in business between now and the Fourth of July. I'm taking a rest and reflection day at home today. Went to Church this morning, picked up a few staples at Trader Joe's on the way home (Strawberries, raw almonds, cheese, Ezekiel Bread) and I am getting mentally prepared become a saleswoman.

The truth is, I haven't crossed over yet. I'm not selling very much. I can set appointments with pretty much everybody. No kidding, I think I can set an appointment with like four out of five business owners I meet. People don't want to say no to me. The only problem is, I haven't learned how to get them to say yes to me, either. It's really time consuming -- and I wouldn't mind the time if it was leading to a sale and referrals. But I am starting to see that in some cases the stall tactics are a blow off.

So, today while I am doing my laundry and cleaning house, I am going to be listening to some sales CDs. Also, I'm going to read my books about selling and better memorize some of our product brochures so that I can convey the information with more confidence.

I've been spending too much money buying potential clients pizzas and sandwiches and cupcakes. The products sell themselves if the information is conveyed correctly. No more feeding people to get their business.

This is crunch time!

Have a great week everybody and keep me in your thoughts and prayers! Want some Aflac? No kidding. Let me know, I'll come sell you some! I should be really pretty good at it by the end of the week!

Oh.. and this is the thing...

I think having a gift for setting appointments but having trouble with closing deals puts me in a worse situation in some ways than that of somebody who isn't so good at setting appointments. It's like everybody wants to be my friend. They like me. They trust me. But hey -- I've got friends. Nothing personal. I love friends! I need clients.

And just one more thing...

I did invest a little bit of money in Aflac incentives (some really cool plush ducks that fish and wear cute outfits and stuff and some pink ball caps for breast cancer awareness... stuff like that). I think they were a good investment. I'll keep you posted on the outcome of that, though. I think they are a better investment than pizza and cupcakes.

OK, Maybe just a few more tidbits to convey...

A veteran insurance salesman has generously volunteered to spend some time in the field with me this week and I think it will really help me get my game on. I hear he's killer at salons! I have one salon enrollment on Wednesday and another salon enrollment in the works -- possibly to be scheduled later in the week. I'll keep you posted.

Sales is pretty much all psychology I guess. The truth is, so far in this life I've filled the role of being a really nice sort of nerdy girl. You know, the somewhat submissive and fun-making youngest child in a boisterous family. I'm the person you want to read stories to your children. I'm the best friend of the most popular girl in school -- you know, the one the guys call to figure out how they can get a date with the most popular girl.

But I can't keep being that sweet nerdy girl if I expect to sell anything. I need to take it up a notch. I need to become a force with which to be reckoned!

Crunch time!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Starting a career that's 100-percent commission based can throw a wrench in the diet and exercise regime of someone who has to pay strict attention to what she eats -- especially when she is starting such a career with no savings account, really on a wing and a prayer, I suppose (although, I am not certain what that means, exactly... a wing and a prayer?).

During the first few months of this career transition, my eating program has fallen by the wayside and I'm fatter for it and less healthy. That isn't good, not at all. Some people can do fat gracefully. I am not one of those people. It's not just that I don't like the way I look. I don't like the way I feel. That's the big thing -- feeling effective and healthy.

Friends and family who support me in this career transition have been so kind. They gave me bags of groceries, grocery cards. I felt their love and I really appreciate them. But by the time I admitted I needed help with healthy groceries, I had already strayed from my program. Once I stray at all, it takes me months to find the willingness to follow it again. I thought I was willing to follow the food plan a few weeks ago but I wasn't. Today I am feeling willing and I took action by calling other people who follow the program I follow.

When I feel effective and healthy I have more energy. When I feel effective and healthy I'm a much more dynamic salesperson.

I spoke with a friend of mine who does the same food program I do on the phone today. Like me, she has had a number of slips and road trips from the behaviors and community that support our healthy lifestyle. Currently she has been following the program for about sixty days. She's a mom, a teacher, a full-time student.

"Maybe the 57 K goal was unrealistic given that I didn't even get through sales school until half way through the second quarter of the year. I said, really, the 57 K goal is more like 90 K, maybe even 95 K. I think I might have been looking at this a little bit ridiculously. I mean health has to come first, right?"

"Yah!" She said. "I mean what is this 57 K goal anyway? I mean everybody knows about it because you published it. I mean the goal is paying your bills, not how much you make. The goal is paying your bills and putting some healthy food in your stomach."

Everyday wisdom.

Everyday goals.

This is why I need people in my life who know me outside of computers. This is why I need people who understand my eating and health issues.

Making 57 K may well be possible. Heck, I could make even more than that, I am told. Some new agents do. But none of it matters if I get fat in the process. Because, like I said, I just don't do attractive, robust, healthy fat. If I get fat it's accompanied by stressed, depressed and lethargic.

Just for today -- not going there!

I won't be blogging much about the weight and eating issue. I think it's a private matter and I'm not out here to become a diet guru. But I do think it is important to note that it is something that I deal with while I make this career transition. Everybody has something, right? We all have our issues that can throw us off our game. Eating is mine. I'm really grateful to have a way to deal with it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Green Laptop

By Patty Jane Maher,

(Writer's Note: This story is part of my series Poor Journalist Gets To Business. Visit!/pages/Poor-Journalist-Gets-To-Business/364775722055?ref=mffor for the index and to be a Facebook Fan of this series. I'm documenting my career transition from journalist to saleswoman and my goal to earn $57 K in Michigan in 2010 during the recession.)

I'm a little sad about moving my "Poor Journalist Gets To Business" series to this quiet Google blog from its birthplace on Open Salon. I really appreciate many things about Open Salon. Truly, that boisterous cyber cacophony of writers, dreamers and fanatics is what gave birth to this series.

In a way I feel like I'm letting my Open Salon friends down by retreating to this veritable dirt-road blogging oasis -- out of the rapid-fire-speed-race of the Open Salon Autubon of blogging.

But let' face it. In my heart, I'm a small-town girl. I'm a paper newspaper lover. All that cyber dagger throwing -- I'm just not cut out for it. I don't want to feel compelled to talk about my religion several days a week just to prove that I belong to a group of people who are extremely diverse and shouldn't be put in a box. I don't want to defend the religion of my childhood or anything else. But out there on the Open Salon, all's fair in love and war and blogging. And as a journalist, I can't just let really inflammatory comments and stories go unaddressed when they refer to something very close to my heart.

So, here I am -- blogging in the Googlesphere. It's pretty cozy, especially with my new laptop computer. I bought it off of Craigslist for $250 this week with a loan from my dad. Thank you, Dad! Happy Father's Day! It's lime green on top, a Dell Inspiron 1520. I like it. It's easy to type on. And it's all mine! Yay! No more driving to meet another guy on our sales team to exchange the computer a few times a week. It was a pain in the neck. Plus there were some real problems with that computer that interfered with a few business transactions. Eventually I would have understood its quirks. But I really like having my own laptop. I'm typing here on the couch in my sweat pants. It's snugly! I like this.

I sold more insurance this week than I think I ever have so far. I felt more involved in the sales. I feel like I'm really learning to be a saleswoman.

This morning I sold a cancer policy to a barber before seven o'clock. We had a nice chat in his business. He made me a cup of coffee and told me about the hot dog stand across the street that has been in business (through different owners) since the 1930s. He has been in business for twenty-nine years and his barbershop was established in the 1950s.

I enjoy historical little old small businesses and their owners and I really had a fun week.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Car Radio Song of the Day....

I love this one...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

UM.... bare with me!

Dear Google Blogger Friends,

I am so excited to have five of you signed on.

The only problem is I've been unsuccessful in my attempt to "follow" you.

I will, though. Once I figure it out!

Have a great week.

Peace and joy and love,


Taking Business Ownership

By Patty Jane Maher,

(Writer's Note: This story is part of my series Poor Journalist Gets To Business. Visit!/pages/Poor-Journalist-Gets-To-Business/364775722055?ref=mffor for the index and to be a Facebook Fan of this series. I'm documenting my career transition from journalist to saleswoman and my goal to earn $57 K in Michigan in 2010 during the recession.)

I’m not just learning to sell stuff. I’m learning how to own a business.
That means I’ve no time for monkey shines.

Blogging has been an interesting part of my career transition from newspaper journalist to saleswoman/small-business owner. For one thing, I do much of my best thinking when I’m writing. So it’s a way of organizing my life, of setting goals.

The downside of blogging is that it has pitfalls. It’s quite a bit like junior-high school when it comes to social etiquette (that is if you happened to go to a junior high school with a ton of really mean and loud kids who liked to use foul language and get in food fights).

There were some things I liked about blogging the Poor Journalist Gets To Business series on the Open Salon. For one thing, I liked the attention of occasionally being picked by the editors. Everyone likes recognition – especially in junior high. Feeling like a teacher’s favorite or an editor’s favorite can ease the pain of you feel when you’re a bit of a misfit. And isn’t everybody a bit of a misfit in junior high? For another thing most of the commentary is quite thoughtful. Probably only about five or ten percent of it is mean spirited. But the culture is worlds away from the culture of the daily newspaper. Light years away, really.

In the end, it was too time consuming to keep blogging at Open Salon with all the dust ups and social expectations. That’s why I’ve retreated here to the Google blog neighborhood where the commentary is quite sparse. Comments are welcome, of course. But hardly anybody does that here. And there’s no social expectation about commenting. Or if there is, nobody has clued me in to it yet.

Time organization and keeping on task and schedule will be my theme in the week ahead. Also, I am investing in a $300-$400 laptop computer to enable me to do my business more efficiently. I have been sharing a computer with another agent and I find it is just too time consuming to pass it back and forth. The computer has our company software on it and belongs to our district sales manager. It was generous of her to let us use it but it is time for me to get my own laptop so that I can have better control over my time and business. In addition to spending money on the computer, I will have to spend $500 on software.

Where did the poor journalist come up with the cash for these business investments, you ask? Dear old dad! Thank you, Dad! Happy Father’s Day! Honestly, I don’t know where I would be without my eighty-year-old dad. He has been incredibly supportive of me in this venture I began in February. He has given me $3,000 so far. It’s a loan and I intend to pay him back. But the fact is, he isn’t holding his breath about it. And he isn’t a rich man. He’s a generous man. God bless him.
Seriously, I’d never be able to do this without my dad.

I think I’m going to make it. I think I’m going to beat poverty and nail this career transition. I think one year from now my life is going to be much different than it is today. There’s a bunch of hard work ahead, no doubt. But thanks to my supportive family (sisters have given gas cards and stuck $50 bills in my purse when I visit. My brother paid for me to take the course and exam for the Michigan Insurance License) I believe I will make it.

When I think about the support I do have, I feel blessed. And I wonder how anybody could make it through such a major career transition without the support of a family. Honestly, I think most would not make it. I don’t think I could. Without my family, I’d probably have given up a month ago and taken a job at a coffee shop.