Sonia Harris From Primary School Teacher to Home Business Success
Sonia Harris was a private school teacher for many years when income fell short and she needed to act fast. She discovered network marketing and the rest is. Her story and interview are below.
Where were you born and raised, what was childhood like, and what did your parents do for a living?
I was born in London in the United Kingdom. My parents came to the UK from Jamaica in the 1960s. My father worked first in an asbestos factory.
I remember years of him attending annual hospital appointments to have chest x-rays to ensure he hadn’t contracted asbestosis. My mother encouraged him to change jobs and he then worked for Ford Motor Company where he stayed until he retired at the age of 65.
My mother worked as a typist in the Royal Courts of Justice. She was someone who loved to try new things and very creative.
My parents were very strict. They wanted my two brothers and I to take education seriously. They told me that my primary school head master called them into his office when I was 11 and got them to promise that they would allow me to stay in education until I was 18 and to go on to university. He told my parents that he wanted me to go to the Grammar School, which is where I went.
I was extremely shy as a kid. I loved sport and craft. I had low self confidence. I thought I was dunce. I don’t know why. I remember sitting with a group of friends at the age of 12 talking about taking the 11 Plus.
This is a test that 11 year olds used to have to take to find out whether or not they were eligible to attend Grammar School. I always believed I had failed. My friends looked at me strangely and said that I wouldn’t be attending a Grammar School if hadn’t passed.
At 16 I told my careers advisor that I wanted to be a Probation Officer or School Teacher. He advised me against these two professions. He told me that I was much too shy.
He explained that as a teacher I would need to stand and teach in front of a classroom of children. He said that Probation Officers were expected to stand up in court and talk before a Judge. I must admit this did frighten me. He suggested that I choose subjects at A level that would allow me to pursue a career associated with needlework or design.
I took his advice and at 18 went off to university to study Textile and Design. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I’d made the wrong decision. Six months after starting the course I was on my way home depressed and pregnant.
You became a teacher in a primary school and specialized in physical education. What was your life like then, and how long did you teach?
When I returned home depressed and pregnant the person I was really fearful of seeing was my dad. I knew that he would feel really let down by me. I can remember standing in front of my dad. He was sitting in his favourite place on the sofa.
He looked at me. I could see the disappointment in his eyes. He told me that I was going to end up a single mum with children with different fathers. I can remember trying to hold back the tears as I told him that I would not give up my education and that I would not end up like those girls. My father then did not talk to me during the whole of my pregnancy. That was a very difficult period of my life.
My beautiful daughter was born. As soon as I was able to I started research university courses. I always had a passion to teach and loved sport. I decided to train as a PE teacher and look for a course with a creche.
I was really fortunate to find a course at a local university. It was a tough 3 and a half years. I’d wake up sleep deprived. Get my daughter ready. Drop her off at the creche, which luckily was next door to the university.
At the end of the day when my classmates went off to the student union pub I’d go pick up my daughter. Once my daughter was in bed which was about 8 pm I’d then work on my assignments. I had some challenges and at one point I did not believe I’d get through to the end of the course.
I qualified as a teacher and got my first job in a Catholic Primary School, although I’m not Catholic myself. I remember having the interview and being offered the job. I was invited in to meet my new class.
I walked into the classroom and all I could hear was the teacher shrieking at the children in a high pitched voice. None of the children were taking any notice of her. I began to feel very anxious and I think even began to get cold feet.
I did turn up for my first day. I had a class of thirty 7 to 8 year olds. I taught at that school for a year. During that time I was on probation so I had a tutor come in to observe me each term.
I remember reading one of my reports. My tutor wrote that I had a very calm effect on the children. He said that I would do well working with children with learning disabilities. Anyone walking into my classroom would have to look for quite a while before they found me.
I was often found sitting amongst a group of children. At the end of the day I would sit quietly on a chair in the carpeted area. I would ask the children in a very low and calm voice to sit on the carpet with legs crossed and arms folded. I would then wait. I didn’t say anything more.
The children nearest me would sit down. Child by child they’d notice that there was a growing group of children seated on the carpet sitting quietly and waiting.
Those children already seated would be beckoning to others because they knew they wouldn’t be able to leave the classroom until they were all on the carpet sitting quietly. They would then do the same. I would smile. Thank them and tell them they could go.
You struggled with Depression. How dark did life get for you, and how did you turn it around?
Oh gosh! Yes that was a dark period of my life. I do see that period of my life as building resilience in me. You may recall that I left the Design course at the age of 19 depressed and pregnant.
When I think about it I believe that I first experienced depression at around the age of 15. I had a bit of a reputation in school. I was always getting into trouble with the teachers.
I was described as the “baddest girl in the school”. When I tell people this they don’t believe me. I was very shy and I think that the way I tried to get attention was to do things that would make me stand out – but not in a good way.
Something happened when I was 15 though. I decided that I wanted to change and be “good”. However, I had a teacher who seemed to pick on me. I told my parents and they met with the head teacher but she did not believe me.
Well I had a reputation and they didn’t believe that I’d turned over a new leaf. Another teacher stopped me in the corridor one day and said that she hoped I failed all my exams.
This seemed to snap me out of my depression and make me determined to pass. I did in fact pass all my O levels much to the surprise of the whole school – teachers and pupils alike.
I struggled with bouts of depression from aged 18 to around 30. I even spent periods in hospital on medication. What happened when I was 18? I was struck down with viral meningitis a month after leaving school.
I spent 2 weeks in hospital hooked up to a drip. The experience was bad enough – especially the excruciating headaches but it was having to endure those lumbar punctures that I really hated.
I got out of hospital in time to get my “A” level results and realised I had good enough grades to go to college. I decided to look for a college far from home. As advised by my careers advisor I found a Textile Design course.
It wasn’t long before I realised I’d picked the wrong course. I became very unhappy. I was far from home and felt stuck. I started to self harm much to the shock of my house mate. I couldn’t sleep and went to my doctor who prescribed sleeping tablets.
This was just a couple of months into the course. I kinda went a bit wild. I realised that I might be pregnant. It seemed that everything in my life was going wrong. At an all time low I overdosed on the sleeping tablets. I got cold feet and told my housemate what I’d done.
After having my stomach pumped I was taken to a psychiatric hospital out in the country. It was during that hospital stay that my pregnancy was confirmed and luckily it had not caused any harm.
My mum – my rock – travelled up to see me in the hospital. She told the doctors she wanted to bring me back to London. The hospital agreed on the proviso that I saw a psychiatrist. I remember getting home and my parents saying that there was no need for me to see anyone.
On hindsight I do think this was the wrong decision but they wouldn’t have realised this at the time. In the middle of my Teacher Training I sustained a knee injury during netball practice. In fact I tore the ligaments in my knee. I had an operation which meant I was in plaster for 6 weeks followed by another 6 weeks in a brace. This also meant I couldn’t attend my university course. I again got depressed and was admitted to a psychiatric ward.
For most of that period of was uncommunicative and sometimes catatonic. I remember sitting in a meeting with doctors on one side and my parents on the other. The doctors told my parents that I would not be able to complete my teacher training.
I guess when people tell me I can’t do something that is all I need to get myself in gear. I remember transporting myself into the future in my mind and imagining what it would be like have not achieved getting my Degree. I wanted to prove the doctors wrong and I did.
My breakthrough came when I read a book on Depression. I can’t remember the name of the author. I read that people have control of their depression. I realised that my depression was a place I went when I couldn’t cope with life. It was my way of running away.
I started to become self aware. I began to recognise my own behaviour that precipitated a period of depression. In fact I got angry and expressed that outward rather than towards myself.
I also realised that there were things in my life that I had no control over and so decided that I had to let those go. I began to focus on what I could control. I also did voluntary work. I found that it helped me to focus on helping others and that stopped me from being self-obsessed and feeling sorry for myself.
I made some important decisions too – I moved out of a flat where I was very unhappy and bought my home. I retrained as a Probation Officer and left an unhappy relationship.
When did you discover network marketing, and what were the first two years like, and what was the biggest lesson learned during that time?
I discovered network marketing when I was around 40 years old. My partner had given up work after getting depressed as a result of bullying in the workplace.
We were suddenly having to cope with one income but still with expenses from our previous lifestyle. We started to fall deeper and deeper into debt.
By then I had a second child. He was about 3 at the time. We started to look for something that my partner could do from home so that we wouldn’t have to put our son back into childcare.
My partner saw a work from home ad in a magazine. After a number of months of trying to get me to go to a hotel meeting I gave in. I remember saying to my babysitter that I was just “amusing” her and planned to go to a restaurant after the meeting to make it into a night out.
Well, we went to the meeting. After watching a stream of people walking across a stage saying how much weight they had lost and how much money they had made promoting the product we walked out with a Business in a box.
In the first 3 months we both got results using the product. I lost weight and people noticed just as the company promised. We started to get customers. We attended the events and travelled to different countries. Actually we had a ball and met some great people. We were even able to recruit distributors but they never stayed.
We jumped from one company to another expecting that we’d get better results. We blamed the company, the training, our sponsors.
The reality was that we were often too scared to do what was being asked of us. I was uncomfortable chasing family and friends and prospecting anyone that came within 3 feet of me.
Not surprisingly we got burnt out and left network marketing. My partner never returned but I came back to it after a period of illness. In the year that I turned 50 I was struck down with viral meningitis twice.
I suddenly realised that at that age if I lost my job through ill health I would struggle financially and did not look forward to the prospect of trying to find a job. That is when I decided to get back into the industry but this time I wanted to learn how to market properly.
I guess the biggest lesson learned is the importance of investing in my education to gain the right skills and right mindset. The importance of having a mentor and being part of a mastermind group of entrepreneurs.
I now understand the importance of being committed and being consistent. People need to know that you’re going to stick around and support them. I’ve had an online presence now for over 3 and a half years.
What is your most important advice for new network marketers and why?
Gosh I’d love to say a number of things. I think I’d have to think about what I would do if I was starting out new myself. I would focus on branding myself and building a list.
I now understand that branding is all about being myself and telling my story. I would go find a group of people that I’d love to work with and serve.
I would just connect with as many of them as possible. Getting to know them. Them getting to know me. I’d be listening to what they say. Their problems, challenges, desires and dreams. I’m already someone who loves researching and providing answers. So this is what I’d do because it comes naturally. The internet and social media has made it so easy for us to do this. I would not think about selling anything to start with.
I’d get myself an autoresponder and invite people to join my list to get information from me. I’d focus on just providing answers and solutions.
I’d be a curator of information because there are already many experts out there. I follow people like Ray Higdon, Eric Worre and Diane Hochman. I would say that my current mentor Dave Reineke is also someone I’d describe as a Service Leader. I follow and model people who are Service Leaders.
I would do this for 3 months at least. By this time I should have an idea of what the main problems are in my niche (people I want to serve). It is then that I’d go looking for a network marketing company that had a product or service that could serve my chosen niche. I’d already built a list of people who have have a relationship with. People who know, like and trust me.
You see what I’ve learned since being in this industry is that the big leaders will join a new opportunity and make thousands of dollars. New people cannot duplicate this because they don’t have a large following or list.
I love your blog! How old is it, how many posts are on it, and what is your daily traffic like?
Thank you very much. In fact this is a relatively new blog. I had a blog on another platform with a lot of posts which was getting quite a bit of traffic.
I made the decision to change my blogging platform last year which meant starting from scratch. I’m primarily a video marketer and use my blog to share my videos that I publish on YouTube. So this blog has only been going since May 2016. I have 31 published posts.
My passion is to help people do the things they need to do to get the results they want. I know that so many people struggle with this especially people starting their own business. I am often told that I am driven and take lots of action.
My original blog posts were on the subject of productivity and time management strategies. I moved away from that but more recently have found myself wanting to go back to providing people with this kind of information.
The book I published last year Record Keeping Made Easy: 7 Steps To Getting More Done With Less Stress For Probation Officers is within this subject area.
I am in the process of revamping and being more strategic about what I post to meet the needs of my target market. I’ll continue to post my videos on my blog because that is my home on the internet.
I’ll be following a strategy of creating pillar posts on three main themes – Internet Marketing, Personal Development (productivity and time management) and Entrepreneurship.
You have a lot of YouTube videos that are impressive. How important is it to do video if you’re a internet marketer?
I struggled initially to generate leads online and make sales with the first company I partnered with when I started online. I was at a point of giving up when I decided to take a look at what the leaders in my company were doing.
I noticed that most of the people dominating the leaderboards used video in their marketing. I decided to look for someone who could mentor me and had a strategy I could follow.
I was working with another internet marketer at the time and he found a guy called Dave Reineke who was getting success following a particular strategy he calls SAM (short for the South African Method)
Dave took me under his wing. He gave me access to his training for free. He would jump on a skype with me at anytime. I wasn’t in his team yet he gave me his time. I started to record videos daily following his strategy. Dave told me that if I followed the strategy for 3 to 4 months I would get results.
Initially I recorded powerpoint with my voice over. Dave told me that if I wanted the results I was seeking I’d have to get over my shyness and get my face in front of the camera.
I did what he said. At 4 months into using the strategy my leads jumped from about 8 per month to over 200 per month. All of a sudden I was on the company leader boards.
I get a lot of people coming to me after they have seen my videos. They ask for my help. They tell me that they like the way I simplify things. They tell me that I seem honest to them. The thing is that by the time people speak to me they feel that they already know me.
Video is a very powerful tool in helping people to start to get to know, like and trust you. I started recording tutorial videos for myself really when I learned something new.
I published them on YouTube because I thought it would help others. I learn something. I implement it. I get a result. I record a video showing what I’ve learned. That is my strategy.
How do you create the custom thumbnail pictures for your videos?
I use Canva to create the thumbnails that I use for my YouTube thumbnails. Canva is a free software that allows you to design pictures to use in any of your projects. You can use your own images or Canva has a range of free and paid images that you can use for your projects.
What are some marketing strategies that work in today’s marketplace?
I think many network marketers don’t understand the right way to market themselves online. They send people to their company replicated website and wonder why they don’t get sales. Marketing is all about preparing people to buy. You do this by helping them to get to know, like and trust you.
So your marketing strategy must enable you to get in front of people who are already interested or looking for what you have to offer. The people that you want to serve.
There are many marketing strategies out there. The most important thing is to use a strategy that suits you and you feel comfortable with.
A marketing strategy helps get you known. It brands you. It identifies those people who have a problem that your product or service has a solution for.
Firstly you need to identify your target market. Who is your ideal customer also known as your avatar? What is their problem?
Create a free offer that offers a solution to their problem.
Deliver that free offer in the form of a lead magnet, which can be a free PDF download, an eBook, a video training.
Have a marketing system to deliver your lead magnet. That is a lead capture page and an autoresponder so that you can follow up by email.
Your marketing strategy will be the medium you choose to share your lead capture page to get in front of targeted traffic.
I use video marketing primarily. I use YouTube as my primary platform. It’s been working for me and many others.
If you are very sociable then one of the social media platforms. Facebook is great for being social. But be social. Don’t just use your Facebook profile to pitch your business. People don’t want to see constant adverts on your page.
The other social media platforms – Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn to name the major ones are great platforms to start building an audience and engaging with your target market.
However, you need to respect the platform because you cannot behave the same across them all. It would be a bit like wearing a suit to a rave. Gary Vaynerchuk’s books give great information about how to leverage these social media marketing and content platforms.
Today it is the customer that calls the shots. You need to respect the customer. You need to listen to what they want. You need to engage with them. You need to build relationships and this takes time. You need to build your brand and you do that by being yourself.
As one of my mentors, Diane Hochman says: You need to occupy a space in your customer’s mind so that they won’t entertain the thought of going elsewhere.
Thank you for the interview and insights. Kind regards,
Thank you so much for this interview, Sonia! This was definitely EPIC!