Don’t Fall Flat on Your Face: 8 Tips for Becoming an Independent Sales Contactor or WAHM

I was just sitting here thinking about my experience with independent sales in 2004 and 2005, and a list of lessons learned started forming in my head. It occurred to me that I might have a reader who was considering signing up with something like Mary Kay, Avon, or another direct sales company. Before you sign on any dotted lines, please take a moment to learn from my mistakes.

Let’s start with your recruiter. The number one thing to keep in mind is that your recruiter has an incentive to sign you on. Even if they say they don’t, they do. It may be money now, it may be money down the road, it may just be recognition. But the more time they spend trying to pull you in, the more clear it is that they have something to gain.

Your recruiter may seem like the sweetest person in the whole world. They may tell you that they just want what’s best for you, or for you to realize your potential. And they may honestly mean it. But their incentive still colors their perspective.

Second, remember that just because your recruiter says something doesn’t mean it’s true. Again, this doesn’t mean your recruiter is dishonest, just wrongly informed. In my year in Mary Kay, I can’t tell you how many times we were given too-good-to-be-true statistics at our meetings. These statistics didn’t come from MK Corporate, they came from the director’s friend who is also a director who got them from a director in Michigan who got them from her director… Can you see the potential for breakdown here? Also, if it’s not on glossy paper (and maybe even if it is), someone probably just made it on their computer. Don’t trust anything just because it’s in writing – make sure it comes from Headquarters.

Third, remember that you only see success stories, never failures, at meetings. There are two reasons for this. The first is that most of the failures have already left the business or at least stopped attending meetings. The second is that the people in the room who are struggling are discouraged from speaking up about it. This is to keep the mood positive and motivating. Don’t say “I feel so discouraged,” they’re told. Say, “I need a new strategy! I’m gonna try this and this and do better next week!” This may be good for motivation, but it doesn’t give you a good idea of what the average salesperson in your company is actually experiencing.

If you want to know how the average person does in your company, ask around! If you are part of an online discussion group that encourages off-topic posts, post and ask people for their experiences with your company! Send an email to everyone on your email list, asking if they or anyone they know has ever tried selling your item. Run a few Google searches! It will be worth the trouble to get a truly unbiased perspective.

Fourth, don’t fall for the “greed tactic”. I once went to a presentation (not for Mary Kay), in which we watched a video about some of the highest people in the company. We were shown their house – the size of a luxury resort, with a huge, winding pool – and told how they had hosted the entire company there for parties. We were told all about their lavish lifestyle, as they showed the cameraman their collection of expensive vehicles and the woman’s 10 carat diamond ring, which she wore everywhere without fear, she said, “because it’s so big, no one believes it’s real!”

But there are two things to watch out for here. First, these people started years ago, when the company was smaller. If you are being told that your product or service is “one of the best-selling in the country, with a huge sales force!” then there probably isn’t nearly as much room for growth as these people had. Climbing the ladder of success requires assembling your own sales force, and that requires a large enough market in your area to support a brand new, thriving group of sales people.

You also need to realize that greed is not a good “why.” People talked a lot in Mary Kay about your “why.” Your “why” is your motivator – what is the real, underlying reason that you want to succeed? Generally, the most successful people in the company had “whys” like supporting their family during a crisis, proving their worth to themselves or others, or LOVING sales like nothing they’d ever done before. Very few of them say, “I saw a Mercedes and thought, I must have one of those before I die.” There ARE people who become successful with nothing but greed as a motivator, but you have to want all that STUFF more than relationships, pride, or free time in the here and now. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice most of your life in the hopes of getting rich, getting rich is a worthless reason to start a business.

Fifth, invest as little money upfront as you can practically. If you are in a company that encourages it’s contractors to hold inventory, don’t jump on the bandwagon too fast. Some companies provide “first order only” incentives to tempt you to sink a lot of money into your new business. I believe that this is bad form. When you first start, you cannot know for certain if the business is right for you. You might have fabulous visions of yourself easily conversing with your devoted clients and selling them on huge orders, but where will you get those clients, and how do you know that you’ll be so smooth in real life? Ask yourself, “what would happen if no one but my mom ever placed an order with me?” If you would be in financial hot water, re-think your plan.

Sixth, never use a credit card as a “business loan.” If you need a real business loan, go get one, but try to start your company in the black if you can. When you put inventory or other expenses on a credit card, you are placing a bet that you can sell your product faster than your interest will rack up. So what happens if you’re only managing to sell $50 a month, and you’re paying $25 a month in interest and $25 minimum payment on the principal? You make zero profit, that’s what happens. Take it from someone who’s been there.

Seventh, do not expect to sell as much as your recruiter says you will. Your recruiter doesn’t know your friends and family, which is where most sales start. And the better your recruiter has done in the company, the more likely she is to give you an overly-rosy perspective. Remember, if everyone did as well in the company as your director, they’d all be directors.

Finally, if you realize you’ve made a big mistake, GET OUT! When I started Mary Kay, I put $2,400 into inventory. I stuck around for a full year to try to make it work, then backed out at the last moment. But I knew that things weren’t working for me within only a few months. I was able to sell my inventory back to the company – I still had $1,000 in inventory left! – but I had $2,000 left on my credit card. I had sold over $1,000 in products – $2,000 retail, minus sales incentives – but it was only enough to knock $600 (there was an extra $200 spent on sales aids) off of my credit card, when interest and business expenses were included. I was left with over $1,000 outstanding debt.

Do I regret getting out? No way! At that rate, I would have sold the other thousand dollars worth and only knocked off another six hundred, for an outstanding debt of $1,400. Meanwhile, my friends were getting sick of hearing about my products, and I was becoming more convinced every day that I was a failure. Selling back took a huge weight off my shoulders.

But here’s the thing – if I hadn’t bought so much inventory, I would still be selling today part-time, and enjoying it. I liked selling Mary Kay, I just didn’t like being aggressive. I had about 10 clients, and I was happy being their consultant.

Unlike what my recruiter had told me, my clients did not expect me to have their products on-hand, and they did not decide whether to purchase based upon my inventory. If I had simply signed up and placed a small order for personal supplies and samples, I would still be selling today. If I could go back and do that, I would in a heartbeat.

So let’s review:

  • Remember that your recruiter has an incentive to sign you on
  • Just because your recruiter says something doesn’t mean it’s true – check your facts
  • Don’t rely only on success stories – seek an unbiased perspective
  • Don’t fall for the “greed tactic”
  • Invest as little money up-front as you can practically
  • Never use a credit card as a “business loan” – stay in the black, if at all possible
  • Do not expect to sell as much as your recruiter says you will
  • If you realize you’ve made a big mistake, GET OUT!

Keep these tips in mind as you consider your future in independent sales, and you will avoid a lot of regret.


6 Responses

  1. Wow! That was a GREAT article, Jenni! I am probably the last person on earth who could do sales, but it was still a really interesting, educational read. You’re a really good writer!

  2. It’s interesting to read your perspective now as you look back on all that you went through. Good article – smart words of caution.

  3. Loved reading your advice! I just started my Arbonne Business and I must have joined a great team because they are pretty low pressure and have helped me do fairly well without putting up to much money. My team encourages spending more time talking to people you don’t know intead of hounding your friends and family.

  4. This is a good article. I sold Partylite for a few months, several years ago now, and these are words of wisdom I wish I had before doing that.

  5. I would only add one thing, don’t be a SAHM and try to build a business like these. Many businesses, like Mary Kay, do better when you have the opportunity to meet and build relationships with new people. Once you get to the level you’ve decided is OK for you, staying at home would be fine–you can maintain a clientele that way but it’s REALLY hard to build one. If you’re a really active outside the home SAHM–lots of organizations, etc you might be able to do it but otherwise it’s very tough. Hope that helps!

  6. […] your page.  That way, if you don’t think I’m awesome in general, but maybe you think my tips for sales consultants was pretty helpful, you can just share that one post with the StumbleUpon […]

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