Madame C.J. Walker overcoming all odds on business
The following is not written by me:
Frank Kern tells a story of perseverance.
Occasionally, the unthinkable occurs.
I run out of the trash-fiction that I like to read – and as a last resort, I pick up “emergency reading material” like Oprah Magazine. (My wife gets it. Not me! I promise! I only read manly stuff like “Liquor Soaked Brawler’s Digest”.)
And usually, like I do with all magazines, I just like to read the ads.
I was about 78 pages into it when, for some reason, I started reading an actual article about successful women.
And that’s when an amazing lady jumped out of the page at me.
Her name is Madam C.J. Walker and here she is:
And let me tell you, this lady could have …
Kicked All Of Our Butts …Combined!
First, the article in Oprah didn’t say much about her except that she became extremely successful selling hair products door-to-door.
All I can really remember is it had her picture and then it mentioned her success.
Now, being a former door-to-door man myself, I decided to check her out.
Here’s what I found:
First, she was born in Louisiana.
On a farm.
Not really an ideal time and place to be born if you’re:
But she had plenty of additional challenges to face.
She was an orphan at age seven.
At age 14, she got married …reportedly to escape the abuse that she was suffering at the hands of her brother-in-law.
She became a mother at age 17, and a widow at age 20.
She supported herself and her daughter by picking cotton on a farm, by being a laundress, and by working in a barber shop. From what I can tell, the most she ever made during that time was $1.50 a day.
But It Got Worse
At around 25 years old, she began to develop a a condition that caused her to start balding.
Can you imagine? As if she didn’t have enough to deal with …now the poor lady’s hair is falling out.
(And we whine when our cell phone drops a call every now and then… kind of embarrassing.)
Here’s Where It Gets Good
It shouldn’t surprise you that she quickly became a student of “how to fix this balding problem”.
In fact, she researched all kinds of treatments, and eventually discovered that sulfur could abolish the scalp disease that was causing people to lose their hair.
(Apparently, people lost their hair a lot back then because they didn’t bathe as much. They would get some nasty scalp infection and their hair would fall out. But if you treated the problem with sulfur, you could knock it out.)
So she did the only logical thing to do, which was to start her own business …selling a product called “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower”.
Keep in mind, she was just starting out and didn’t have a big budget (probably NO budget at all) so she had no choice but to …
Go Out, Grab The World By The Neck, And Bend It To Her Will!
And the first thing she did was to go door to door, selling her product.
Listen – nobody really embraces a door to door sales person with open arms these days, you know?
But imagine what it must have been like for Madam Walker in the racist and male dominated environment she was working in back then.
…That took some cojones.
How many times do you think she was rejected?
How many doors do you think were slammed in her face?
How many insults did she hear?
I’m willing to bet she even was threatened …regularly.
But did that stop her?
Not only did she survive …she thrived.
Mrs Walker hung in there and sold more products, developed new ones, and finally opened up a factory in Indianapolis.
By 1913, she was traveling around the world training other women to sell her products.
…And by the time she died in 1919 at age 51, she had become
The World’s First Female Self-Made Millionare!
Against incredible odds, wouldn’t you say?
Man – what a story.
Did I mention that her parents were former slaves? I don’t think I did.
So her story is amazing, and I think her success is largely due to one critical characteristic:
The Amazing Ability To Get Off Of One’s Ass And Get To WORK.
Seems we have a lack of that ability these days.
Think about it.
The real secret to success is to get out there and work like hell.
And when we think about Madam C.J. Walker, it’s painfully obvious that …
We Have Absolutely NO Excuse For Failure
Actually – let me rephrase that.
In the beginning, failure is pretty much inevitable.
A first-time home run is about as rare as an honest politician.
I’ve been at this game for about 4,000 consecutive days. All day, every day – and almost everything I start takes a few tweaks before it works.
And some projects don’t work at all. Such is life.
So yeah, failure is OK.
But here’s the thing,
You Have To Get Up, Brush Yourself Off, And Get Back In The Game
That is the magic power of the successful entrepreneur.
Actually, there are really only two magic powers that I’ve seen – and these are present in every successful person I’ve met, worked with/for, or studied.
Here they are:
Magic Power #1: The ability to get started.
Holy crap, this is a big one.
I just got back from two straight weekends of speaking and the biggest thing I saw plaguing the people who were struggling was the inability to get started. This really interested me so I tried to discover the hold ups.
People were stuck on trying to figure out what web host to use, what microphone to use, what email provider, and so forth.
And look – I’ve been there, and I was broke when I was there – so I can relate.
But here’s the deal.
Most of the time all the research, the preparation, the making sure everything is “perfect” …most of the time that’s secret code for
Scared it’s not gonna work.
Scared you’re gonna look stupid.
Scared you might lose some money.
Scared you’ll be judged…
So let me help you out here and tell you right up front that …
All That Bad Stuff Is Almost GUARANTEED To Happen!
Your very first site is probably gonna look kinda terrible. (Mine still have that “made in 1998″ look).
Your first sales letter is probably gonna need tweaking.
Google will probably “slap” your first ad campaign. And if they don’t, you’ll probably spend and “lose” a few bucks getting enough traffic to test your offer before you start making sales and profits.
Your square friends will almost certainly judge you and talk behind your back about what a fool you are for trying to make money on the Internet. At least one of them will believe you’ve fallen for a get-rich-quick scheme.
And since you’ll be putting yourself out there in the interwebz for the whole world to see …you’re probably going to look stupid to someone. (And if you don’t, you’re doing it wrong.)
So …that’s the way it is.
And since you know it’s all definitely going to happen (barring some miracle), you can finally stop worrying about it and just get it all out of the way!
Better to go on ahead and power through it, you know? Hurry up so you can get to the good stuff. Like cramming down the vegetables when you were a kid so you could finally get dessert. (I still do this).
And once you do …you can practice
Magic Power #2: The Ability To Step Back Into The Ring
Business is like boxing in the sense that you will, without question, get knocked around a little.
Know what I mean?
And do you think there’s ever a conversation where a dude wants to become a boxer and this happens?
Dude: “Coach? Can I talk to you a minute?”
Coach: “Sure, son. What’s on your mind.”
Dude: “Well, I think I want to be a boxer.”
Coach: “That’s great. We can start training on Monday.”
Dude: “OK. But …Coach?”
Dude: “Do you think I’ll ever get …you know …hit? Like, do you think anyone is gonna …you know, punch me?”
Coach: “GET THE HECK OUT OF MY GYM!”
I know, I know …never happens. In BOXING.
But it sure happens in business.
People get started (which is a huge feat in and of itself) and then just get floored by the first setback.
It takes them by complete surprise and it makes them want to quit.
I suppose it’s natural.
But what’s not natural …and what really breeds success …is that ability to brush yourself off and start over.
Just like the champion boxer, you gotta get up and step back into the ring. If you do that enough times, you’ll be tough as a pit bull and you’ll start winning.
And it doesn’t take too many wins before it all starts to add up.
But man, if you don’t get back in there and take another shot …you’ll never win.
And listen: EVERYBODY I know who’s achieved lasting success has, often on more than one occasion, gotten the mess kicked out of them in business. Many have lost everything before they finally “made it”.
Sure happened to me, I can tell you that.
Here are some of the businesses I’ve effortlessly run straight into the ground (it’s a talent.):
1. Used Car Lot (the prestige!)
2. Underground Dog Fencing (don’t ask)
3. Roofing Contractor and Commercial Repair (even more prestige!)
4. Merchant Bank Card Processing (failed attempt at “legitimate” business)
…And of course, this is before I got online.
Once I got online, I was able to have my most spectacular failure to date …the dreaded Instant Internet Empires, which got the attention of the FTC and ultimately earned me a nice lawsuit which cost me everything I had.
And you know what? All those failures SUCKED. They were embarrassing. And sometimes scary.
…Getting back up and stepping into the ring again was hard.
But worth it.
And if an orphaned daughter of former slaves can work her way up through the racist hardship of the economically depressed deep south …and become the world’s first self-made female millionaire …then what possible excuse do WE have?
Do you think it was easy for this lady to just walk outside and start going door to door? Heck no!
Do you think it was easy for her to keep going after hearing insults and rejections every day? Of course not.
But she did it anyway. Because that’s what it takes sometimes.
Now get out there and take what’s yours.
– Frank Kern
Note: Special thanks to C.J. Walker’s great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, for sharing her writings with the world at http://www.madamcjwalker.com. …And for giving bloggers permission to reference her work. A’Lelia has written a book about Madam Walker’s life and you can get it here.