Direct sales professionals and friends involved in pyramid schemes have taken over my personal Facebook feed. I’ve had friends even try to sell me products in real life that they knew I was allergic to, just to make a quick few dollars off me. I find it incredibly frustrating when someone approaches me (repetitively) about a product or service I can’t use. (If you sell dog treats, contact me all you want, since I can actually buy this product!) Like many of you, I don’t often like to be sold to by people who don’t spend the time to qualify their leads.
As a professional writer, some of my clients are direct sellers. I help them keep in touch with their direct sales customers through email campaigns, social media posts, and newsletters. I’ve determined that classifying direct sellers as business owners can be tricky for quite a few reasons. This is why most freelance writers I know don’t work with direct sellers since they wouldn’t consider them as business owners. Here are some of my thoughts about direct sales as a business and content marketing for direct sellers, as well as why some direct sellers represent great freelance writing opportunities for freelance writers.
Direct Sellers are Independent Contractors
Technically, direct sellers run their own business as an independent contractor. Your babysitter is also a subcontractor but rarely would anyone call the high school kid who sometimes watches their kids a small business owner. The teen should put the income on their tax return and pay taxes on it. (I don’t think most of them do).
However, there are some independent contractors who are business owners. For instance, truckers, photographers, writers, graphic designers, and nannies may all run their businesses as an independent contractor for multiple clients. This easily blurs the line between small business owner and hobbyist, doesn’t it?
The Decisions Small Business Owners Make
As a freelance writer who is both an independent contractor and business owner at times, I think there is one difference between the titles that is really important. Small business owners are responsible for their businesses and make the difficult decisions that come with branding, marketing, sales, accounting, design, customer acquisition, and what products or services the company offers. The babysitter doesn’t care about those things, they’re performing a job and receiving compensation for it, usually by the hour. Many subcontractors, especially in the United States, live in the gray area between what could be an employment opportunity and a contract.
As a small business owner, you don’t get paid hourly for these other overarching functions of running your business. It’s just stuff you have to do. You have to make these decisions and absorb much of the costs associated with building your business. You can hire employees and invest in logos, etc., without needing to get approval from the business owner or their corporate headquarters to make these decisions. This is why I wouldn’t consider the vast majority of direct sellers to be business owners. They don’t have the ability to make these kinds of decisions about their business and can be fired or dismissed from a business they say they own.
Direct Sellers Can be Small Business Owners
After reading that, you might think direct sellers cannot be small business owners. I don’t agree with that. There are two ways to run a direct sales business. (Well, probably a lot more than just two). There are direct sellers who sell the brand of products they sell and that’s their job. For instance, if you sell Avon and if Avon went out of business, you’d be out of a job. These people say they’re an Avon Consultant as their job on their Facebook page. These people are not small business owners because they’re promoting Avon, a company they do not own. If they want to speak about Avon, they need permission.
However, I’ve met some really smart and savvy direct sales professionals who do operate small businesses. These individuals create a brand for themselves and will stay successful no matter what happens to the company who’s products they sell. For example, take Aunt Barbara, a top Tupperware salesman out of New York. He dresses in drag and sells Tupperware through parties. He can make decisions about his Aunt Barbara brand, the avenues he wants to promote it, and what assets he’d like to invest in for his business. If Tupperware goes out of business, Aunt Barbara can sell other things. I’d argue that he’s not a Tupperware Consultant, he’s the brilliant small business owner of the Aunt Barbara brand.
In terms of local direct sales professionals in the Tampa Bay area, I’ve always been impressed by Jessica Fogarty, who runs the Jessica’s Healthy Bites page. She sells Princess House cookware because she’s passionate about cooking toxin-free meals for her family. She started the Facebook page to connect with her audience who want to know how to prepare healthy food, with recipes, prizes, and games. She also is the co-leader of the networking group HER Way of Networking, which provides female business owners with networking and educational opportunities. She invests strongly in her business from a brand perspective ensuring she stays relevant to her customers no matter what she chooses to sell in the future.
Here are some other examples of how to turn a direct sales enterprise into a small business:
- Build a lifestyle brand around working at home and spending time with your kids, but still making money.
- Start a fashion brand that showcases photos and products you curate and sell.
- Create a platform about healthy eating and the products you need to be healthy.
- Travel and sell products around the United States. Show us what’s possible.
In all of these situations, what you sell is secondary to the brand you create. You’ll still sell products, but the focus on building YOUR customer base, not that of the company who manufactures the products you sell. You weatherproof your business and you keep your email marketing lists and client contacts no matter what products you want to sell.
Most direct sales people I know do not operate as a small business. It’s a shame because after a few years of incessant Facebook posts, they stop selling the products and I’m too scared to ask what happened. If you want to launch a sustainable direct sales business, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can work together to create a branding approach and all of the content you’ll need.