I've thought about dipping my entrepreneurial toes into one of these company’s waters, myself. If you have, too, there are some important aspects to consider and some tips for getting started that can make your decision easier and help you generate more revenue if you decide to take the plunge.
Consideration #1: Do you have a passion for the product?
You've got to love what you do, and while it may be tempting to sign on with a company that seems "hot" right now, you must also consider your individual passion. For instance, I love jewelry, and I find some of Silpada's designs irresistible—but they specialize in sterling silver jewelry, and I like a little more color and a pop of gold now and again. Premier has more pieces to my taste. If you have a passion for what you are selling, you'll be more successful than if you half-heartedly try hocking something you don't really love.
Consideration #2: Do you have storage space?
Let's be practical: running a business from home is going to take some space. You'll need room to store catalogues, brochures, samples, shipping supplies, stationery…not to mention dedication to checking messages online and via telephone to take orders, answer questions and more. If your home is currently cramped and you can't spare a bedroom or corner of living space, being your own boss may create problems in other areas of your life.
Consideration #3: Do you have support?
Any career change or foray into an income-generating hobby is going to be easier with family and friends’ support. Sure, you hope they buy your products—but the business will also be more successful if they can be your cheerleaders, whether by serving as sources of new customers (perhaps by hosting a party or two) or simply by offering words of encouragement when you feel down. Going on any new venture alone can be tough, so consider the value of your human resources and whether you'll get their backing when you need it.
Consideration #4: Does your area need another representative?
Thirty-one bags, the pretty Vera Bradley-type cloth totes, purses and travel bags, were all the rage in my area about two years ago, resulting in lots of sales consultants signing on with the company. Today, my region is saturated with reps, and in-home parties are not very popular (since most people now have all the bags they need). Too bad for those who signed on in my area late. So before you take the independent-sales plunge, do your research to see if you're truly filling a hole in the market—or just jumping on an already-full bandwagon of sales folks.
After careful consideration, if you've decided that the leap into independent sales is for you, follow these three tips to save money up-front and to earn more over time:
1. Sign up during a promotion
Getting started with an independent sales company can take as little as $10 (such as with Avon) or as much as nearly $200 (for a company like Pink Zebra). Many companies, however, offer enrollment specials where the fee is discounted (like Pink Zebra's was in June, by $25) or cut in half (like a 2012 promotion by Mary Kay for a half-price starter kit for only $63.50). So if you are interested in signing up and are not in a hurry, it can be to your advantage financially to wait for a monthly promotion.
2. Get an online site
Your potential customer pool of family, friends and neighbors may only get you so far. An online site is an easy way to increase your outreach and sales potential. Check into the possibility of a site with your company of interest—some are free, but some charge fees. Even a fee, however, may be worth it. My good friend who sells Mary Kay swears that her site generates half her customer base, reaching people she wouldn't normally have connected with otherwise. However, if your site isn't generating the traffic you expect, you can always drop it later.
3. Give yourself a year
It's not uncommon for independent sales representatives to sell a lot their first few months (when enthusiasm and new customer interest is high) and then hit a lull when people no longer need merchandise. A year as a rep will allow you to see trends, especially around holidays and special events. You'll get a more balanced picture of your success by waiting a full calendar year. At the end of that year, you can reassess: stay on? . . . Expand? . . . Or drop out?
Now, let's hear from you! Use the "Comments" section below to share your experiences—good, bad, or otherwise—with KCL readers regarding your involvement with independent sales companies.