Does it sometimes seem like everybody is in a direct sales (DS) or multi-level marketing (MLM) company these days? It does to me! My Facebook newsfeed is filled, in part, with announcements about various sales and products, and even many of the bloggers I follow promote a product or two along with the wisdom and stories they share. For a long time, I watched DS and MLM friends from the sidelines, slightly amused at their passion for the company they had joined, and slightly in awe of the stories I heard of working from home and lives changed.
Then last summer, I joined them (gasp!). There was a product I kept hearing about that I wanted to try and, being the frugally-minded (a.k.a. tightwad) person that I am, I hate buying anything full price. There was a special deal for people wanting to sign up for the company that would then give me a discount on future orders. And maybe I would try selling some, too. I felt just a bit foolish as I pushed “submit” for my order, but even my husband agreed it could be a good thing. And so I became an Independent Consultant and began a crash course on direct sales and MLM businesses.
Nine months later, I am still with that company and loving it. No, I’m not making a six-figure income. No, I don’t have a new car and haven’t taken any fancy trips. But I’m having fun, I’m learning new skills, and I got the chance to meet some great people, both in my company and customers that I have met.
It’s a choice I’m glad I’m made.
At the same time, I have learned a lot in the last nine months, some of which I apply when I hear about other DS companies, and some of which I wish I had known when I first signed up with mine. If you are like I was, slightly in awe of the world of direct sales and wondering if it is worth jumping into, here are some things to keep in mind BEFORE you make that leap.
Do Your Research
Check out the company, the product, and its reputation. When you Google it, do lots of complaints or articles with the word “scam” come up? Is it a product you believe in? Is it unique in some way, which will set it apart from other similar products offered by other DS companies or an item that can be bought in a supermarket? What is the compensation plan for you as a consultant? Is it realistic? Beware of companies that make too many promises and rely more on selling the “opportunity” rather than a legitimate product.
Understand the Requirements
Many direct sales companies not only require a joining fee (which often gives you some product and marketing materials), but they may also have monthly or quarterly quotas, monthly website fees, a required number of parties, required inventory, shipping, sales tax, etc. Will you be able to just sell your product, or will you be pressured to recruit a “team?” Make sure you know up front what you will have to do to maintain your “consultant” status, especially if you are mostly signing up for the discount. That contract you are tempted to skim over quickly? Read it before you sign it.
Evaluate Your Resources
How much money do you have available to begin your own business? Think, too, about the amount of time you have to put into this new adventure, where you will store things in your home, and whether or not your spouse is supportive of your new venture. In spite of what you may hear, no product sells itself. It takes hard work, time, and some financial investment to build a business.
Keep Good Records
When it comes time to do your taxes, you will want a good list of what you have made balanced by your business expenses – marketing tools, mileage to and from vendor events, and cell phone or internet usage, to name a few. Set up a good system from the beginning.
When you are beginning something new, it can be easy to give in to the temptation to spend a lot of time on it … and a lot of money. Decide ahead of time how much you are going to devote to these two areas. Home parties are generally in the evenings, and vendor events are often on the weekends. How many evenings and weekends are you ready to devote to this? Also, set boundaries in terms of how much you will focus on your business with your friends. No one likes feeling like their friend now sees them only as a potential customer. (And please, DO NOT fill up your Facebook timeline with advertisements for your new business. That is what a business page is for. Your friends want to know about YOU, not necessarily what you are selling.)
While some people in MLM businesses do make a lot of money, most don’t, and a high percentage of MLM consultants drop out within the first year. Set realistic goals – maybe not to buy a dream home in six months, but to pay off some portion of debt, or save enough for a certain purchase. And have a realistic understanding of what you will need to put in to your business to meet those goals.
I never imagined a year ago that I would sign up for a direct sales company. Looking back, though, I am glad that I did and for the lessons I am learning from it.