I recently had the blessing of speaking with Sylvia McNiel, a Mary Kay business owner. In our discussion, I was touched by the experience and wisdom of her words. Due to a series of moves around the U.S., Sylvia has successfully started six different businesses from scratch. Three times Sylvia’s business was successful enough to earn a car through Mary Kay’s Career Car Program (and no, it wasn’t a pink Cadillac).

You may think I don’t sell cosmetics, or I have a “real” business – not a home-based business. What can I learn from her?

A LOT, I promise you.

Here are four things Sylvia emphasized in our interview.

  • Know what you want. Sylvia notes having a clear idea of how the business contributes to you personally and visualizing is essential. Understanding that the company primarily exists to serve the business owner (and not only the other way around). Design your business so its success is aligned with your core values and it will feed your success. Do not make the mistake of thinking success is just about money.
  • Build a team, not just sales. Many Mary Kay consultants add people to their groups solely to allow them to get a discount. Sylvia does not allow “buyers only” onto her team. She only brings on people who want to become leaders of their own teams, not simply buy or sell. The result? A smaller, more motivated, higher performing, and ultimately easier to manage a team.
  • Teach what you know and let them go. Sylvia believes strongly in training and invests in showing her team how to do things and why. When you hire potential leaders and teach them how the business works (as well as what to do), it is easier to gauge performance. You will be able to assign independent work more quickly and delegate responsibility sooner. And those who fail to meet the standards are separated from the team.
  • Don’t reinvent a perfectly good wheel. Among the reasons why people start businesses is so they can do things their “own way.” An “own way” is powerful when it results in a unique value to the customer. However, most things a business does are ordinary, and trying to do things differently does not add value. Here normal is sufficient. Trying to figure out a new way to do everyday things wastes scarce creative energy and often results in a less efficient process.

A final reminder Sylvia shared with me is, “You never know everything.” Even after more than 20 years of starting and growing six different Mary Kay businesses, she knows there are always new things to learn. New products, better marketing approaches, improved procedures, and significantly more effective leadership methods for changing times. It is not simply doing the same old things over and over.

Many thanks to Sylvia for sharing her wisdom.

If you’d like to discuss these ideas and how they might be better implemented within your company, click here and let’s find a time to talk.




“A leader is one who knows the way,
goes the way, and shows the way.”

– John C. Maxwell



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