When we started Silpada Designs 14 years ago, all we had was a big idea, a deep passion for sterling silver jewelry and a friendship that was stronger than steel. For more than a decade, we’ve focused on providing an unmatched opportunity for women to succeed and define their own level of success. And now, more than ever, women are relied upon to contribute to household incomes, and direct sales is the perfect vehicle for growth.
What we didn’t realize in the mid-1990s, as we brainstormed business ideas over McDonald’s Diet Cokes, was that we were laying the foundation for a business model that would soon explode onto the economic scene—an idea called the “she-conomy.”
Research shows what we’ve known for years—that women hold the purse strings in their households. As the chief purchasing officers of the family, women make 85 percent of the buying decisions. And what’s different today is that in addition to the many roles women play at home (mom, chef, accountant, housekeeper, taxi driver, etc.) they are also the earners!
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. workforce became nearly half female in October 2009; women held 49.9 percent of all non-farm labor jobs and 51.5 percent of high-paying management and professional positions. Statistics also show the number of female-owned businesses is growing twice as fast as all businesses.
In today’s new world of the “she-conomy” direct sales is a natural fit for female entrepreneurs because it lets women have the best of both worlds—the opportunity to have a career they love while maintaining the freedom and flexibility to take care of their family.
With direct sales, women can define their own success. We’ve always said, “Let your passion drive your profession.” And simply put, direct sales allows women to do just that.
Entrepreneurs of our generation didn’t have the educational opportunities they do today. We had to try, sometimes fail and try again. That’s why we’re very excited that the Direct Selling Education Foundation is partnering with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) to offer college curriculum aimed at educating and preparing female and male entrepreneurs with the business skills to be successful direct sellers.
The pilot curriculum—called the Direct Selling Entrepreneur Certificate—will professionalize the direct selling entrepreneur with education, business acumen and third-party validation from publicly funded community colleges. The pilot is expected to be tested this fall with a larger roll-out planned for late spring or early summer 2012.
This is the first widespread curriculum that will be made available through a network of publicly funded higher education institutions in support of direct sales. No individual company could have piloted this program alone, and it is phenomenal to have the support of the DSEF on our industry’s behalf.
The curriculum, a major project under the DSEF’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, will give direct selling entrepreneurs every opportunity to strengthen their skill sets and get entrepreneurial training that will support the education each individual direct sales company provides.
A better educated workforce, regardless of age, will help improve salesforce retention for all direct selling companies.
The Direct Selling Entrepreneur Certificate curriculum provides an option to Generation Y—the most ambitious entrepreneurs we’ve seen in years—who are joining the workforce. Today, 30-40 percent of graduates from top schools are bypassing corporate America and starting their own businesses. These savvy Millennials are using the recession to create their own opportunities, be their own boss and make money on their own terms.
Entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 24 are now starting up businesses faster than their counterparts in the 35 to 44 age range. Instead of becoming a casualty of today’s unforgiving job market, Gen Y-ers are turning to direct sales as a way to start their own business. Whether it’s a desire for independence or the impact from the economy, Gen Y-ers are on the move to become masters of their own destiny.
The Direct Selling Entrepreneur Certificate curriculum can provide Gen Y-ers and other generations with the tools and training necessary to become successful entrepreneurs. And, it will help all direct sales companies attract and retain the next generation of customers and representatives.
Entrepreneurs hold the key to economic recovery, growth and prosperity. And, direct sales is the perfect vehicle for men and women who want to become self-employed. The business model offers a relatively low-risk, low-cost method of owning your own business. Direct sales is especially appealing in a slow economy since there is no job interview, no resume needed and you never have to worry about being laid off. It is our hope that the Direct Selling Entrepreneur Certificate curriculum will help us share the benefits of direct sales with even more people.
Every direct sales entrepreneur that we can inspire, guide and help is vital to our economic welfare.
As entrepreneurs who are passionate about what direct sales has to offer, we challenge each of you to fully support entrepreneurship education and help make the Direct Selling Entrepreneur Certificate curriculum sustainable so that we can build the next generation of new businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators.
Bonnie Kelly and Teresa Walsh are best friends and the Co-Founders of Silpada Designs.