More thoughts on direct selling and party plans

Kate Godfrey’s comment yesterday got me thinking about party plans and direct selling, which is interesting because I doubt I’ll ever actually do it again. Never say never and all that, but I don’t think it’s my cup of tea. And that’s fine because I’m on a mission to find what is my cup of tea.

Kate was my team leader during my brief stint as a rep for Usborne Books At Home, and she was a great team leader – and no, she’s not paying me to say this! She was always available for advice, she was upbeat, positive and had a sales background too. This made her knowledgeable about how to sell and a mine of creative ideas for selling books that went way beyond simply parties. Best of all, she knew when to pick you up and dust you down after an underwhelming party without making you feel remotely under pressure.

Kate’s comment got me thinking about why I wanted to write about direct selling. Firstly, if you’re thinking about giving it a try it’s very difficult to get balanced information. You’re either given a glowing review by someone who is trying to recruit you to their team or you get the cynical view of someone who has tried it and not succeeded. You’ll also hear from people who are sick of being hassled by friends who are trying to sell to them. Which is a shame because you need to go into any business with your eyes wide open and the facts in front of you.

Secondly, direct selling has such potential – where else would you get a chance to start your own business with minimum risk, a low initial investment (usually), needing no business experience and with a team leader to mentor you?

What intrigued me was this: why do people who try direct selling often fail make any more than pocket money?  The flip side of the easy entry means that direct selling attracts people without business, sales or marketing experience, leading to a steep learning curve and therefore probably a high drop-out rate. Although it’s easy to get in the door, success depends on the same factors as for any other business – hard work, consistent, regular marketing, a good quality product and great customer service. All this takes time, effort and experience to learn. I would also argue that, compared to setting up your own business, the scales are weighted slightly against new starters because part of the price of the product you’re selling will effectively be commission for people higher up the network, so making the product more expensive.

I’ve heard people say that anyone with an outgoing personality and a love of the product will do well at party plans. I disagree. That’s like saying anyone introverted will automatically make a good computer programmer. Selling is a skill that is undervalued – true, some of us are naturally better at it than others, but like any other skill it needs to be learned however fabulous your product is.

So when the end of your maternity leave is looming and you’re looking for a way to avoid going back to your old job, direct selling could be for you. But it certainly isn’t a quick or easy fix. To earn more than pin money will take the same  skills, hard work and determination that you’ll need in any business.

How to start a children’s party business

party hats(Last update: 22 April 2015)

What is it?

Many parents want to give their children a memorable birthday party but can’t face entertaining a crowd of excitable children themselves! But if you do love entertaining children, a children’s party business could be right up your street. Here are some ideas…

  • Being a clown
  • Running party games
  • Face painting
  • Art and craft parties/ Cooking parties
  • Music parties – you sing, play an instrument and maybe bring instruments for the children too.
  • Soft play parties  – you provide the equipment to the parents venue of choice such as their garden or a hired community centre.
  • Pampering/ beauty parties
  • Or the ultimate whole-party package where you provide food, plates, cups, party bags, entertainment and clear up afterwards.

You can tailor your service to fit your previous experience, interests or to enhance a business you already run, for example a beauty therapist could run pampering parties or someone already running a pre-school class might branch out into art and craft parties.

The benefits

  • If you love working with children this could be seriously good fun.
  • The work is likely to be at the weekend  so if you have a partner who works Monday to Friday, you could share the childcare between you and not have to pay for a childminder or nursery.
  • By putting your website and contact details on your party invitations and in party bags, you could cheaply and easily market your services to other children and parents.
  • Start up costs are usually low compared to some businesses. You can try a few parties to see if you enjoy it and to test the market without investing too much time or money.
  • You could branch out – a face painter or clown could be hired for weddings to keep children entertained during the speeches.

Things to consider

  • You must be reliable

If you take a booking and then don’t show up, you’re ruining a child’s birthday party. Obviously this is not only disappointing for the children, it’s spectacularly bad for your business. For this reason you need to be sure that you’re committed to running the parties you have booked – that you don’t give up the business after a couple of months and cancel parties at short notice. Also, what will you do if you (or your own children) are ill? It could be worth making contact with other mums in the same line of work so you can cover for each other if the worst happens.

  • Do you want to work weekends?

This is the flip side of not having to pay for childcare. Working weekends means that you will be missing time with your partner and your own children – how much does this bother you?

  • Be careful not to undercharge

When researching how much other entertainers charge for their services, it’s easy to conclude they are ripping people off.  Maybe this is true for a handful of people, but if you take into account travel costs, good quality equipment, party bags, any future training you might want to do, food (if you’re providing it), set up and clearing-away time and insurance (vital!) the fee doesn’t sound so steep. It’s easy to start off by saying “I’ll charge £2 per child because that’s reasonable” only to find that this doesn’t even cover your costs, let alone pay you a wage. Look carefully at how you charge. If you charge per child and only three show up, you’ll be out of pocket. If you charge per hour or per party then the onus is on the parent to get enough children to make it worthwhile. Or you charge a flat fee for the first (say) ten children then a price per child above that number. If you’re doing a job you love and that’s based around having fun, it’s easy to short-change yourself because it seems mean to ask for much money. Remember you have a talent, you’re providing a service that people want and you’re entitled to be paid what you’re worth. Finally, remember that parents are trusting you with their children – if you’re too cheap, that might suggest that you’re not properly qualified, experienced or reliable.

  • Don’t forget to get adequate insurance

Whether you’re painting faces or encouraging children to run around like wild things, the potential for mishaps is high! Make sure you’re well insured.

Further information

Not convinced that running children’s  parties is for you? Take a look at other business ideas for mums.


Mumpreneur Mistakes Number 2 – Following Your Passion When Nobody Wants To Pay You For It

I was delighted with all the comments and feedback from my post 'Mumpreneur Mistakes Number 1', especially from people who have succeeded at running a business from home around their children. But one comment from Chloe Wilson really got me thinking,  'I think it’s very hard to find work that is really what you want to do that actually pays you any money!', she says. I've had some personal experience of this when I tried to set up a coaching company. I was fully qualified by a well-respected coach training company, I got great reports from my tutors and I took their advice to find a niche I was passionate about. But it was incredibly hard to make any money. One of the tough lessons I learned from my coaching experience was this – it's great to follow your passion and to do what you really want in life, but you must also offer something that people are prepared to buy. And at a price high enough to both cover your costs and give you a decent standard of living. Otherwise you end up as a starving artist – doing what you love but  struggling financially. It's surprising (and depressing) how you can end up hating what you used to love when you feel you're failing. Another way of deciding what to do is to look at your skills, your talents and the network you already have, which is an approach suggested by many careers books. But what if you are skilled in something that just doesn't set you on fire? I'm pretty good at helping kids to make things and I enjoy doing it too, which is why I started off as a design and technology teacher. But doing this all day, every day took all the fun out of it. So the secret must be to look at where my skills and passions coincide with an opportunity. A service or product that people are prepared to pay for. I can also see that I mustn't be afraid to not make use of some of my skills , because that could keep me hanging on to my old working life when I need to be stepping off into my new one. There's no easy answer here, but the journey is certainly interesting. Stay tuned…

Mumpreneur mistakes number 1 – one week on…

working mumAfter last week's light bulb moment (see Mumpreneur mistakes number 1) I've been working through 'Finding your perfect work' by Paul and Sarah Edwards. It's a much bigger book than I expected! And it's full of worksheets, which will take me a little time to work through, but I'm hoping it'll be time well spent. I've realised that I'm not just starting a business from home which has to work around two small children, I'm also planning a complete career change. Which is a tall order for anyone, especially as I'm also coming up to eight months pregnant. But then again, I never do things the easy way! I'm still stunned by how much having a baby has totally turned my working life upside down. A year ago I fully intended to go back to my old job full-time while Little Lindop went to nursery five days  a week – so much has changed since then. I feel a bit daft for being so naive and my head is still spinning from all the changes that have happened to me in the last couple of years, but I feel positive about the future and that there IS a business out there for me.

Business ideas for Mums: Party plans and direct selling

I’ve researched quite a few business ideas since my daughter was born just 14 months ago and while I wait for the right one for me, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. First up are direct selling and party plans.

What is it?

Direct selling is selling a product for commission on a self-employed basis. This can done by holding a party,  distributing catalogues door-to-door,  selling direct to friends and family or holding a stall at a fete or craft fair. Products include toiletries, cosmetics, kitchen/cooking equipment, childrens toys, clothes and books, cleaning products and even utilities. Well known names include Avon, Kleeneze, Usborne Books, Body Shop at Home and many more.

Some companies encourage reps to build their own teams and you may already have been approached by someone hoping to recruit you onto their team. The team leaders are sometimes known as ‘uplines’.  There’s a financial incentive to recruit reps, perhaps a higher rate of commission or a payment each time a team member places an order.

What are the benefits?

  • It’s usually cheap and easy to get started – compared to starting your own business from scratch, anyway.
  • Catalogues, leaflets and other marketing material are produced by the company, so you don’t have to do this yourself.
  • Often companies don’t give you any targets or pressure to sell (E.g.  if you just need to make some cash on the run up to Christmas and not the rest of the year).  But check this to be sure.
  • You don’t need any business experience.
  • It can fit in around caring for children. You might host parties during the day or push a buggy around the neighbourhood distributing catalogues. Or you could host parties in the evening when the children are in bed.

Things to consider

  • How much money will you actually make?

If you ask this question of your recruiter they will probably, quite rightly, tell you that it depends on how hard you work – although any previous experience of selling, your personality, your feelings about the product and the geographical area you work in will probably be factors too.  So you’ll need to do a few simple calculations yourself.

Lets say that you host a party and your takings are £200. You get 25% commission*, so far you’ve made £50. But you may then have to pay for catalogues, order forms, postage to have the products sent to you, petrol to deliver the goods to your customers, tax and national insurance plus nibbles and drinks for the party. You might not have to pay all of this, it’ll vary from one company to another.

So lets say you actually earn £35 for the party – how many parties will you need to host to make the income you need (e.g. per week or month)? How many hours work will it take you to host the parties, get party bookings, place orders then sort and distribute the goods when they arrive?

If you’re distributing catalogues door-to-door, how many people will need to place an order and  how much will the average order amount need to be for you to earn the income you want? How much time will it take you to cover this area?

  • Is becoming a team leader the only realistic way of making the income you want?

Having done a few sums, will you be able to make the income you need from selling the product alone? Or will you need to recruit a team of your own? This is not a criticism of direct selling, it’s just that recruiting a team is a different prospect from selling the product – do you have skills?  If not, could you learn them? Do you want to have your own team?

  • Are there any targets?

Some people are motivated by targets, others loathe them. Which one are you? Does the company match you, your family commitments and the way you want to run this business?

  • How experienced is your prospective team leader? And what level of support will they give you?

Once you have signed up with a team leader you may not be allowed to change to another, so it pays to ask what level of support you can expect beforehand. Many companies encourage new reps to get recruiting straight away, so you may find yourself with a team leader with only one week more experience than you! If you’re a complete beginner at selling and party plans, it could be really helpful to pick someone with lots of  experience who is able and willing to share that experience with you.

I would even ask the team leader how much money they make a month. This will give you an idea of the potential of the business and the success of your team leader. If they give you a figure, make sure you know exactly what this is – is it the takings from their parties, their commission and if they’ve subtracted their expenses and tax/national insurance or not?

  • Do you LOVE the product?

It’s an uphill struggle convincing people to buy something when you don’t 100% love and believe in it.

  • Is the product a) good quality and b) favourably priced compared to similar (or the same) products in the shops or online?

Again, it’s an uphill struggle trying to sell a product that people can buy in Tesco next time they do the weekly shop. Especially if it’s cheaper in Tesco. The products sold by party plan are usually very good quality, but that often makes them more expensive – are customers prepared to pay extra for this quality?

  • How many other reps for this company are there in your area?

You’ll stand a better chance of  party bookings if people haven’t already been approached by three reps from the same company as you. But it can be tough to find out how many reps there are in your area, because it’s often a free-for-all. Some reps will be signed up with the company but might not be active, so even the company itself may not be able to give you very useful information. Instead, you could try looking in the places reps might be  (e.g.  school fairs), checking local websites or asking around your friends to see if they have been asked to host a party or have had catalogues through their doors.

  • You will be self-employed so responsible for paying your own tax and national insurance.

You will also need to keep records as evidence of what you have earned and your business expenses.

If you’re not making much money then you may not reach the threshold for paying income tax and national insurance, but you will still need to inform HRMC that you are self employed within 3 months of starting work.

For more information

Direct Selling Association

Netmums Working For Yourself and Self Employed chat boards

HM Revenue and Customs self employed pages

Not convinced that party plans and direct selling are for you? Take a look at other business ideas for mums.

* £200 per party and 25% commission are nice, round figures I made up to make the sums easy. They aren’t necessarily typical.

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