A few months ago, when I was preparing to quit my day job, I put out the call to Facebook for anyone who might have a lead on another opportunity. I was specifically looking for something that I could do from home, mostly because now that I’m a part-time parent, I want to spend every minute I can with my kid -- I don’t want him in daycare after school, or shipped off to camp for the summer, you know?
An acquaintance contacted me and said I would be “just perfect” for a “business opportunity.” Uh oh. It turned out to be a direct sales opportunity. Direct sales, in case you are unfamiliar, is basically selling a product outside of a retail environment. It typically involves a corporate entity that relies on “independent consultants,” who sell the product and recruit other independent consultants.
The direct sales “business opportunity” my acquaintance thought I would be perfect for was a line of fitness videos and protein shake mixes. I told her I wasn’t interested, and she persisted, messaging me three separate times on Facebook to ask if I’d reconsidered.
Her final sales pitch to me was, “All you have to do is find someone who feels bad about their weight, and plug in.” (This is a direct quote from her message to me!) I don’t think I’ve ever unfriended anyone so fast. I mean, woah there.
I’ve dabbled in direct sales before. After Oliver was born, I was fortunate to be in a position where I could stay home with him for the first year of his life. My ex took on some freelance work in addition to his full-time job, we used our savings, I sold off the few shares I owned in various companies (including Apple, pre-iPhone -- oh, the humanity!), and we got some assistance from our families.
We were renting a 550-square foot one-bedroom apartment and keeping our costs down as much as we could, but when Oliver was about eight months old, we knew I needed to do something to make money, and that it would be ideal if I could do it from home.
I chose Avon because it was an established company, and the area where we were living had a lot of older women who were most likely familiar with the brand. Plus, Avon was making sort of a comeback with a popular night cream.
Another plus: I wasn’t required to purchase inventory until the customer actually ordered. I paid for catalogs, which I would then use to canvass the neighborhood. Every couple of weeks, I strapped Oliver into his stroller, put on my walking shoes, and hung catalogs on doors until I ran out.
In my four months as an Avon lady, hanging catalogs on strangers’ doors netted one regular customer. The rest of my “customers” were family members who wanted to help me out, and a couple of friends who couldn’t resist the lure of inexpensive lip gloss. I don’t know the exact figure (this was back in 2005/2006), but I probably made under $100 profit in four months.
My experience with direct sales started early: When I was a kid, my mom sold Mary Kay for a while. I remember lots of pink things, like maybe a pink travel case thing that my mom carried her samples around in. I remember some sort of cleanser that made my skin break out. And the frosted lip gloss. Oh, so many pink frosted lip glosses. My mom never got the pink Cadillac and she stopped selling Mary Kay after her financial situation improved and she no longer needed the extra cash.
Part of every direct sales company’s pitch is to feature top sellers who not only make a living shilling hand cream or whatever, but they have employees! They get an all-expenses-paid vacation! They get a free car! You, too, can get all this stuff if you just invest enough time and money!
Do you know how many hand creams you have to sell to get to that point? A lot.
I know these people exist. A friend of mine sells Arbonne and goes on a free cruise every year. But he’s the exception: Not only is he a man selling beauty and health products to women, but he is an attractive single father with a sparkling personality and a kind heart. Plus, he truly treats it as his business, not just something to make extra money. Everyone likes him, and he genuinely loves the products he’s selling. And I think this is key.
When I worked in a retail store, pre-kid (selling beauty products!) it was my policy to only recommend products that I liked. If I tried something and didn’t like it, I wouldn’t sell it. Period. And I sold a lot of fucking shampoo, you guys. I was good at it, because I authentically believed in the stuff I was selling.
Also key is the willingness to ask your friends to host parties. And those friends must then invite other friends to attend, with the expectation that they Buy Something. I just can’t bring myself to guilt-force my friends to attend these things. There’s something about it that feels dishonest to me; it makes me feel like a snake oil salesman. I just cannot do it, no matter how many tens of dollars I stand to make.
Does anyone actually make real money in direct sales, or is the whole industry based on the premise of luring in women who need extra money, and training them to prey on the insecurities (see my weight loss example above) and kindness of their friends?