Since her start in 2003, Jenny Hillenburg has grown from the first-ever consultant with Thirty-One Gifts to its National Executive Director, and today she’s bringing her 20 years of insight to our Modern Direct Seller Podcast audience! She shared tips for continually working your business long-term, suggestions for confronting new challenges, and advice for stepping out of your comfort zone and into successful sales. When you have the right tools and mentality, your business will only get better with time!
Time based notes:
- 1:26 Jenny Hillenburg introduction
- 2:31 Thirty-One Gifts in 2003
- 6:44 Working your business for 20 years
- 11:47 Navigating changes over 20 years
- 15:25 Stepping out of your comfort zone
- 19:25 Best tips to grow in 2024
- 22:06 Jenny’s favorite office supply
Commit to Your Business Long-Term with Jenny Hillenburg
Since her start in 2003, Jenny Hillenburg has grown from the first-ever consultant with Thirty-One Gifts to its National Executive Director, and she recently brought her 20 years of insight to our Modern Direct Seller Podcast audience! Read on for her tips about continually working your business long-term, confronting new challenges, and stepping out of your comfort zone and into successful sales.
Jenny, word on the street is that you were the very first consultant at Thirty-One Gifts. So, you probably have lots of knowledge to drop on us. Why don’t we start with you sharing a little bit about yourself, what you do, and who you serve?
So, I’ve been married to my husband Jason for 27 years. And, we have three grown children. So, we have an empty nest, which is amazing. We have two grandchildren; we love loving on them. We also have a dog, Leo; he’s our Shih Tzu. He is now our baby. And, we live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And, like you said, I was the first consultant to join Thirty-One, 20 years ago, in November of 2003. And basically, I now serve my team and my leaders. So, I do have the Number One selling team in the company, and my first-line team is 1,200, and I have lots of leaders. So, that keeps me very, very busy, but I absolutely love it.
So, when you joined, did you know you were the first person that said “yes” to this opportunity?
I knew I was the first, but it wasn’t a big deal. Like, at all. I think I might have been Cindy’s second party. So, she was boots on the ground, trying to get the business started, and doing the parties herself. And, she introduced it that night and was like, “Join the team!” And I was like, “Okay, sure!” Like, I had no idea what I was getting into. How could I have possibly had any idea what was going happen next?
A great lesson for others in there is that she simply asked a question, and you were like, “Yeah, let’s go for it.” Right? I mean, joining on a whim like that still holds true in the world of team building and direct sales today. I was a kitnapper; I had no intent of building a business. But, it was an easy “yes” for me when the time came, because it made sense for me in that season of life, and the discount that I wanted on the product, and all of those kinds of things. So, it doesn’t have to be complicated, and the ask doesn’t have to come after some long discussion. It can be as simple as, “Well, let’s go for it!”
Right! “Let’s jump in!” I think we overcomplicate it and think we have to have all our ducks in a row to be able to ask the question of, “Do you want to be a part of my team?” And really, if you take yourself out of the equation and put that person in the forefront of your mind, then you see things in a different light and approach that request in a whole new way.
So, I’m sure you weren’t thinking about this back then, but we talk a lot about the long game in direct sales. And, I think more so here in 2023 than any other year before, people are looking for that overnight success story. They want money to come flying out of thin air and to have this residual, passive, lifelong income. But clearly, you’ve been around for the long haul. So, I’d love to hear how you’ve kept yourself engaged in building a business and committing to the mission over these two decades.
For me, training is important. And so, I’ve never missed one of our annual conferences. I don’t ever miss the leadership training that we have. And, I understand that’s not possible for everyone. But, even if you can’t attend those things, you can find other ways to learn—like listening to the amazing Modern Direct Seller Podcast and hearing what other people are doing. So, my philosophy is, “You never stop learning.” Twenty years in, I am still learning new ways to run this business.
Another thing that is really important to me and that has kept me going for so many years is, of course, setting goals. With Thirty-One, we always have a trip that we can earn, so I’m always trying to earn trips. But, I also recommend finding a small group of people to work with on earning trips or setting goals, like an accountability group. I’m really huge with that on my team and with my leaders and for myself. It’s kind of like you’re creating this workspace. If you were going to an office and you had coworkers, it’s easier to work in that environment. When you work at home, it’s a lot more difficult. So, you’ve got to find some people in your company—or even outside of your company—to network with, set goals with, and check in with either daily or weekly. At Thirty-One, we call it “The Sisterhood.” So, The Sisterhood is like a family. I always want to be a part of it. I can’t imagine a trip being on Facebook, and everybody’s posting their pictures, and I’m not on the trip. Like, that’s just not an option. I’ve got to work hard, because I wanted to be with my Thirty-One family.
I think that there’s this assumption or rumor in direct sales that, after you reach a certain level, you can kind of check out, or you can step out of the business, or you don’t have to be as hands-on or involved with your team, and money’s just going to flow on in. But, from what you’ve just said, you’re definitely still in the game. Any tips on what that looks like, or maybe how the day-to-day has changed for you over the years?
I have not checked out, because I think I just love it so much. Like I said, it’s my family, and I love being a part of it. And, I am an empty nester now, so I do have more time. But, there are times throughout the year that I do need to check out. Like, everyone needs to check out and go on vacation and just reset. So, the way I’m able to do that with the size of my business is that I have an assistant who helps me with the day to day. I could not do this without her. So, what I have done is basically taught her how we do things on Team Hillenburg—because I have a lot of systems. And then, when I need to check out, she can run it as if it were me. So, my team doesn’t know I’m checked out and I’m on vacation, because it doesn’t appear that way to them.
Out of all that, my main point is “systems.” Like, creating systems that you can really go to, that you can use to quickly knock out whatever you need, and automating those systems.
I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of change, too, right? I mean, 20 years. When you got started, there were no Facebook parties. There was no, “Let’s hop on and do a live video.” And, I know there’s ups; there’s downs; there’s inventory decisions; there’s personnel changes; and there’s lots of things that happen over time. Any tips on how to navigate those challenges?
Yeah. In the last 20 years, the amount of change that I have been through is unreal. I’ve had to learn to roll with the punches. And, I guess I always try to remember that the home office, at the end of the day, has the best interests of our field at heart. I have to trust that. And, sometimes that’s really hard. And, I do have a close connection with our home office people and Cindy, and I’m able to share my frustrations—or, you know, when something’s great, too—and often better handle those changes that they suggest.
Just to give you a little perspective: When we very first started the business, we started local in Chattanooga. So, we did not use UPS or FedEx or anything like that; we hand-delivered our orders. And, a lot of us went to church together. So, we were doing that in the parking lot after church or before church, switching the orders from one car to the other. Well, there was a point in the first year or two that Cindy wanted to switch from doing that to delivering our orders through UPS. And I was like, “Why? Why would we do that? We haven’t been doing it that way, and this is working great.” But, that kind of shows you how small-minded I was, not seeing how this business could grow through that one little change of being able to deliver outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. That was just so crazy to me. But, change is so important. You have to change in order to grow.
One of the things that I think is important to highlight is what you said about knowing that your home office has the best intentions for the field. It’s really hard to see that when you’re in the field, when there’s a direct impact on your day-to-day business, so I love that you mentioned trusting the process.
I mean, they want to make money, too. They want everyone to grow and build their businesses. So, you have to trust the decisions, even when you don’t understand the exact “why” behind them. If you give it a little bit of time, you’ll probably see that, “Oh, this was a good decision.”
So, what advice do you have for those that might be new to direct sales, or those that have been in this business for a while that may be reinventing themselves, or really kind of trying to rediscover what this business means for them and how to jumpstart things as we’re rolling into 2024? What are your best tips for those that are really looking to grow this next year?
Well, I really think it comes down to goals. At Thirty-One, we call it our “why.” I don’t know if that’s a term in the direct selling world. But, our “why” is like, “Why do you sell Thirty-One? Why are you a Thirty-One consultant?” It could be that you want to pay for your children’s ballet, or save for a trip to Disney, or whatever. But, once you figure out the “why,” then that really helps you break down the goals.
So, our direct selling model is that we do parties. So, I tell my team, “If you want to earn $500 a month, then break that down to the number of parties that you need to have in order to get to that goal. And, once you figure out how many parties you need to have, then you know how much work you have to do.” So, “How many asks do you have to do to get to that party goal?” I call it “party math.” Just breaking it down to figure out, “This is the big goal. Here are the steps that I need to get to that goal.”
And, I think it’s a good check-in every three months. I get overwhelmed by trying to plan goals 12 months at a time. That is too much for me. I cannot think that far in advance. But, I can do three months. So, I try to have, like, three goals at a time, and then the steps to get to each goal. And again, it goes back to having that accountability group that you can check in with and say, “These are my goals. This is what I’m doing to reach my goals.” That’s really what keeps me going.
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