5 Things I Wish I had Known When I Started in Direct Sales

My wife just introduced me to Scarlett Ballantyne’s blog and I think it’s terrific. Scarlett isn’t in the insurance business – she is an independent business owner representing Stella & Dot‘s product line and has spent the last several years selling jewelry and recruiting her sales team to do the same.

While our business isn’t “Network Marketing” or “MLM”, many of the challenges can feel the same. See if any of these phrases apply/have applied to you: “My friends and family aren’t interested”, “I can’t find anyone to join my team”, “My agents won’t go to work”, “This is a lot harder than I thought”, “Is this all worth it?”

What follows is directly from her blog – her original post is here. It should be required reading for every agent in our business:

When I started selling jewelry through ‘direct-sales’ (definition: the marketing and selling of products directly to consumers away from a fixed retail location) almost 6 years ago, I went into it completely blind with no prior experience. I had worked retail as a young woman, but I think I had been to one candle party, one Pampered Chef party and one Mary Kay party back when I was a little girl with my mom. I had been courted before by some Amway reps (back in the day when they gave you cassette tapes of conferences speeches!) and also by a Mary Kay rep when I was a young mother in my 20’s, but that was really my only dance with any kind of direct sales. Both of these experiences were a little creepy, and I knew in my gut that I didn’t want to be involved in anything like that. Not to disrespect the companies in any way of course, but there was sort of a no-hold-barred-cultish-ness to the way I was approached and I just knew that it felt icky. Fast forward 15-ish years when I discovered Stella & Dot via a friend, it just didn’t give me that same ‘ick’ feeling. The product was cool and the girls selling it were just like me. Normal. Interested in fashion. And just wanted to make a little extra money.

But hindsight is 20/20 or so the saying goes! I learned some valuable things along the way that I wish I would have known – about direct sales, leadership and business in general. Sharing them is the best thing I can do to pay it forward – and perhaps dispel some myths about starting your own direct sales business.

There will ALWAYS be people who think your business is a Pyramid Scheme.

What is a Pyramid Scheme anyway? I have heard that so many times, especially from older people that doubt the business model. They obviously have had that ‘ick’ feeling somewhere along the way also.

By definition on Wikipedia: A pyramid scheme is an unsustainable business model that involves promising participants payment or services, primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, rather than supplying any real investment or sale of products or services to the public.

Well that does sound a little icky! But most businesses like mine and other competitors out there these days are far from a pyramid scheme. They are sustainable, above-board businesses that cut out the middle-man (retailer) and sell direct to customer. Especially if they offer multiple products like we have. However MLM’s or multi-level marketing can be a different animal:

Again on Wikipedia: The network marketing or multi-level marketing (MLM) business has become associated with pyramid schemes. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, many MLM schemes “simply use the product to hide their pyramid structure”. While some people call MLMs in general “pyramid selling,” others use the term to denote an illegal pyramid scheme masquerading as an MLM.

Okay so both the terms Pyramid Scheme and MLM’s give direct marketing and sales businesses a bad rap. So be prepared to answer these questions from nay-sayers early on the game. Because you will be running across them frequently from doubters and or maybe people who just don’t want to buy from you anyway. The sooner you know the difference and the sooner you know more about your company’s mission that you can recite verbatim, the easier it is to put these questions to bed! Nothing is worse than fumbling for answers! Or wondering yourself: Is it a pyramid scheme? #badrap

Not everyone that is in your inner circle will support your business. And that is okay.

The sooner you accept this, the better off you will be. Because it is actually easier to sell and deal with people that ARE NOT in your circle. Business is business and in a direct sales business, starting off with friends and family is common practice and quite accepted. However, the sooner that you get out of the friends and family circle, the better things will be for you. When I had my retail store, I blindly went into it thinking that ‘if everyone I know buys all of their makeup, body products and gifts from me, I will have a rocking business‘. And then when they didn’t, I was disappointed! It is much easier to sell product to people that really want to buy it because they love it and they don’t feel guilted into it. Because if they do, and then they don’t love what they bought, you will have to deal with that later anyhow! If you are selling a good product that YOU love and YOU believe in, get out there and find other people that do too. It’s as simple as that. #workhard

You have to be willing to work hard.

We get paid a great commission for selling – most direct sales companies pay between 15-30% on product sales, and even more with team commissions. But you have to work to get those sales. They almost NEVER fall in your lap. If I have heard it once, I have heard it 25 times: “I am just going to give it a try and see if it takes off.” Just know that it will NEVER take off without any gas in the engine!! Or another favourite: “I am just going to play it low-key and see where I end up.” That will be no where. Because it doesn’t just happen. Unless you are coming from another very successful direct sales business where you had a massive customer base or a team of 10,000 people underneath you that want to join you on your new venture. I certainly knew that I had to work hard to get my business off the ground, but building a team and getting other people into the business so that I could earn more commissions, I learned that not everyone wants to work that hard. It’s a frustration that drove me crazy for a long while. And I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t know this?! There are multiple legs in this type of business and the sooner you realize that all you can control is your own actions, the better off you will be. #hopeisnotastrategy

A volunteer army are not necessarily the soldiers you would choose.

This is a volunteer army. People choose to do this, and basically buy themselves a job for the cost of startup. Which is why these businesses do so well in a recession – you can be employed in a day! But with this comes some difficulties sometimes….these are not people that you would hire perhaps. But you are required to mentor them, lead them and/coach them. Our head trainer at Stella & Dot spoke at one of our conferences a few years ago about how we all feel like we all have our little team of ‘weirdos’ – everyone has their team of stylists that they mentor that may be people with eccentricities or quirks – people that we would NEVER hire if we were in the corporate world. The sooner that you realize that there is not a lot you can do about ‘betty-basement-who-thinks-she-will-become-rich-in-6-months’ and just gently guide her along the way the best you can, the better you will be for it! Accept these people for who they are and what they can teach you. There really is a silver lining in every dark cloud. #truestory

Success is whatever YOU want it to be.

In a business like this it is very easy to get caught up in comparisons. Because really, everyone is doing the same Lather-Rinse-Repeat steps, just maybe at different speeds or with different techniques. But you don’t go to university and learn the ‘trade’ of direct-sales, like you would learn drafting or engineering or micro-biology. So it is very easy to look at others and wonder why they are more successful than you. I knew when I started back in 2008 that I wanted to make at least $2500 a month. That was my benchmark of success. And it still is actually! However 11/12 months of the year I make much more than this. But for awhile I got caught up in our inner-world of titles and comparison. And I became unhappy with myself! And I doubted my abilities and got cynical and snarky about others that were more successful (she lives in a better area, the American girls have more population to draw from, etc.). It took me a VE-RY long time to get to the place of being happy with my own measure of success. But that also means not achieving every company goal, or not earning the plaques and incentives that they challenge us with each season. Learning not to compare yourself with others and sticking to your own barometer will help you be successful in the long run. #hardlesson

After all, we are all entrepreneurs, and we do this business so that we can work for ourselves.

Because we are our own weirdos!

What did you learn when you started in your own direct sales business?

1 thought on “5 Things I Wish I had Known When I Started in Direct Sales

  • Thanks so much for the share. While some of these concepts seems simple, this post has resonated with a lot of people in different industries. Thanks so much for spreading the word!

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