Click here to order the December 2017 issue in which this article appeared.
In This Issue:
The Most Influential Women in Direct Selling
Bringing Gender Parity to Direct Selling
Advocating for the Direct Selling Community
Navigating the Millennial-Driven World
Sticking to a Winning Business Model
Leading with Passion and Commitment
Launching New Products and Segments
Recruiting and Retaining the Field
Direct Selling Icons
Mary Kay Ash remains an ever-present figure in direct selling. Sixteen years after she passed away, the legendary founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics continues to inspire female entrepreneurs and leaders. A trailblazer when she formed her business in 1963, a time when very few women held the reins of any company, Ash championed the direct selling business model to ensure women had every opportunity to become their own bosses and achieve financial security.
Today, half of the 20 most influential women in direct selling follow in Ash’s footsteps as founders who lead their own direct selling enterprises. While much has changed over the past 50 years—certainly when considering technological advances and the ability to instantly communicate across the globe—today’s founders continue to face the same challenges as Ash once did: how to infuse passion and energy into the sales field, how to compete in a crowded marketplace, and how to encourage and train first-time entrepreneurs to grow into successful business owners.
Leading by Example
Employees and independent representatives of a direct selling company embody the vision and mission of its founder. They also reflect the passion and energy of their leader. As a channel with its foundational structure built on interpersonal relationships, direct selling’s independent representatives are finely attuned to the pulse of the executive team. Today especially, with easy access to both positive and negative information about a company, the executives we spoke to felt communication directly from the founders to the field is critically important.
Chrissy Weems, Co-Founder and CEO, Origami OwlChrissy Weems co-founded Chandler, Arizona-based custom jewelry company Origami Owl with her then 14-year-old daughter, Bella, in 2012 when Bella’s desire to own her own car inspired the entrepreneurial family.
“In the fabric of my DNA is die-hard passion, purpose and boundless energy,” says Chrissy Weems, Co-Founder and CEO of Origami Owl, a custom jewelry brand. “When you’re passionate and committed, people around you feel it. When you’re not, they feel that, too. For me, it means staying true to our genuine intention to be a global force for good. It also means, during the good times and the bad, I work hard to keep myself in a peak state of energy. I’ve learned that even as a founder and CEO, I cannot control what happens, but I can control how I respond to it.”
Mary Young, Co-Founder and CEO of Young Living Essential Oils, says she believes the best way to infuse energy into the field is by allowing them to freely offer their insights and opinions. “Personally, I enjoy building friendships with those with whom I work,” she says. “Treating those people as equals and valuing their opinions builds tremendous passion and motivation. Great creativity comes out of allowing others to express their feelings and share their ideas, knowing that the leadership or management is listening with sincere interest.”
For Melanie Huscroft, Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of social-selling beauty company Younique, allowing employees and consultants or distributors to share in successes and wins, and giving credit to those involved with those successes, also breeds loyalty and passion. “Setting business goals as an organization and ensuring that everyone is aligned is very important,” Huscroft says. “Passion starts at the top and breeds its way down through the organization. Owning mistakes creates a culture of learning—I truly believe that. When the big wins happen in business everyone helps to celebrate those, but we can also celebrate the learning that comes from those mistakes as well. It helps everyone to feel passionate and motivated and personally invested in the long-term successes.”
Melanie Huscroft,Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer, YouniqueMelanie Huscroft founded Lehi, Utah-based beauty and personal care company Younique with her brother, Derek Maxfield, in 2012 and leads areas in marketing, advertising, product selection and branding.
There will always be ups and downs in any business. Executive leaders as well as the field understand that. But how those downs are managed is critical, especially for the morale of employees and the field. The key to managing such challenges, say these founders—especially regarding reputation, a recurring theme in direct selling—is being open and honest with everyone so they fully understand the company’s business decisions.
“Transparency and honesty—we need more of it in business,” Huscroft says. “Employees and consultants/distributors appreciate it and respect it. Not all business decisions end up being the right ones, but owning those decisions and then evaluating and sharing the insights learned helps everyone to understand the motives and filters used to help make those decisions. Decisions and outcomes can evolve as the learnings of the business evolve. Staying laser-focused on the company’s vision and mission is the purest way to stay true to what is most important in managing those inevitable challenges.”
Young agrees that communication is the key to all interaction. “If management is honest and puts the well-being of those with whom they associate first, whether they are employees or distributors, everyone will feel respected and regarded as important to management and the company, which makes it much easier to solve problems, make decisions and have positive growth and success,” she says.
Competing in the YouEconomy
In this age of the YouEconomy, honesty and legitimacy in business practices are even more critical when one considers Uber, Etsy and Airbnb. These companies also offer independent workers similar business opportunities, with a few key differences, including that earning potential is capped by time. There are only so many hours in a day to drive a car and so many days in a month that your property might be available to rent. But with direct selling, distributors have the opportunity to build their businesses through networks. Those networks can work for them, even when they are idle. That can make a big difference when looking to establish the flexibility to pursue the work-life balance important to younger generations.
Mary Young, Co-Founder and CEO, Young Living Essential OilsMary Young co-founded Lehi, Utah-based Young Living Essential Oils with her husband, Gary Young, and directs the company’s day-to-day business as well as leads the global outreach efforts of the Gary D. Young Foundation.
Consider this: According to an Intuit report, 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors by 2020. That represents a tremendous opportunity for direct selling leaders—4 in 10 working Americans looking to start their own businesses. The challenge, both now and over the course of the next few years, is to successfully communicate the benefits the direct selling channel offers to these workers.
“Everything in our world seeks to pull us further and further away from connection with others: We shop online, we pay at the pump, we have groceries and meals delivered to our doors, we text instead of making a personal phone call,” says Weems. “What the social (direct) selling industry offers is an opportunity to earn income through flexible entrepreneurship while creating lasting relationships and empowering others to reach their definition of success. What we do connects people in meaningful ways that is so fulfilling. We offer people the opportunity to be a part of something way bigger than just what they can do or earn on their own.”
Young agrees that connection is what draws people to direct selling and what makes the channel a true community. “Our type of business offers lifestyle changes and a desire to share and help other people have the same opportunity,” Young says. “We build interpersonal relationships, trust and lasting friendships, which is the foundation that makes network marketing successful.”
The flexibility is also a key driver, Huscroft adds. “The beauty of direct sales is that one can decide the level of commitment one wants to give,” she says. “It isn’t necessarily bad nor good to realize that one individual may want a part-time investment of time and resources, while someone else may want to invest more time and energy into building an empire. It’s all possible, and proven, at all levels of success.”
A Coaching Philosophy
Another key differentiator that direct selling has over Uber, Etsy, Airbnb and many other YouEconomy companies that draws potential business owners to the channel is the focus on personal development. Direct selling was founded on the philosophy of coaching people on how to successfully build a business from the ground up. Often, new business owners have little selling or leadership experience, and personal development training helps them establish the growth mindset and learn the critical skills necessary to build their businesses. It is this focus on self-improvement that helps to set the channel apart from other businesses.
“Personal development is so critical to the very foundation of what we do each day,” says Weems. “New business owners need tools to help them succeed and strengthen their leadership abilities. We have the ability to provide the tools to help build confidence.”
The focus on personal development also shows that the company is personally invested in the new business owner. When a company leader, especially the founder, offers encouragement and support, it goes far in motivating the salesforce.
“It’s the old saying that when people feel you care about them personally, they will respond to your suggestions and perhaps direction,” Young says.
“I don’t believe in telling people what to do. I believe in giving them choices and new ideas to think about,” she adds. “Most people, when introduced to the idea of building a business, are excited because of a product they would like to share, but they don’t know how to do that. Business tools are important if they are simple and easy to follow. However, it is more important that you teach them how to use the business tools. You set the example, go with them, encourage them and show them how to talk to other people by being sincere and not desperate in their approach.”
As she notes, when new business owners share their personal experiences and why they are excited about a product or business opportunity, they can create immediate excitement in those to whom they speak. But some business owners might have the same desire to share yet are paralyzed by insecurity, and they need support and encouragement the most.
“Through coaching, when these people realize that they can do it, the idea of building a business becomes very exciting,” Young says. “The first taste of success, if it is just in being able to express themselves, can be the beginning of a new path in life for individuals who have never had this kind of an opportunity. Selling and leadership will develop with time and persistence. And with a good mentor, anything is possible.”
Huscroft agrees. “Building genuine relationships is the first fundamental principle of coaching,” she says. “While personal development tools are very important for learning valuable business-minded philosophies, I tend to believe that truly caring about others’ goals and showing a personal investment into someone else’s success is what is really going to help create a coachable mindset that will lead to duplication and, ultimately, long-term success in this industry.”