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Lynda Mills is the first woman to be appointed Director General of the Direct Selling Association since it was set up 49 years ago.
Lynda says the appointment of a woman, and a mum at that, to head such a female-dominated industry – 75% of direct sellers are women – is significant. “I think it is quite important that I am a mum,” she states.
“I have had to juggle bringing up my daughter with earning a living. I understand first hand how difficult that is and what opportunities there are in direct selling. I can relate as a female.
Women are often not just bringing up children, but managing a household. It’s like running a small business and direct selling is just an extension of those skills. I can talk from experience about that.”
Lynda, who has been Deputy Director of the DSA since 2010, has spent most of her working life in direct selling in different companies and roles, from PR to HR, so she has a very good grasp of all aspects of the industry.
She started working for Avon’s head office in Northampton in the 1990s, during which time she had her daughter, and gained a lot of experience in different departments and working with other countries in European sales.
“It gave me a broad knowledge of the industry and its different aspects which has been really useful at the DSA when I am working with other direct selling companies and with those working in the field,” she says. “It gave me a more detailed picture. When I talk to new companies and potential members I bring a significant knowledge base.”
Lynda divorced when her daughter was seven and says the people she met in direct selling inspired her a lot as a single mother and that it helped that she was able to work fairly flexibly. After Avon, she freelanced and worked in the public sector for a few years.
She highly recommends the world of direct selling and says it is an industry centred on people. “Everything is done face to face which is why it is so exciting, fun, friendly and vibrant,” she says.
“I have met a lot of people in my career who seem ordinary which have done extraordinary things. It changes people’s lives. It’s open to anyone, from successful business people to people with little previous experience. It’s so refreshing and rewarding to see people who perhaps thought they could never achieve anything then go on and do so.
There are such a cross section of people who do this for so many different reasons.”
That includes people who are doing it full time and those who do it for fun as well as a growing number who are doing it to supplement their other income.
Direct selling is also very flexible and people can put as much time in as they want to and work around family life. “What you put in your get back, but the flexibility means you can select what works for your situation, “says Lynda, adding it has typically been a real opportunity for mums.
“It allows them to work flexibly and get out and meet people. If they have moved to a new area it gives them a good reason to meet people,” she says.
She is keen, however, to widen direct selling’s appeal and open people’s minds to different ways of working. “I’m quite passionate about making others aware of the opportunities direct selling offers,” says Lynda.
That includes people over 50 who might find getting a new job difficult and young people for whom getting a foot on the work ladder has been an uphill struggle.
“We are talking to university about promoting direct selling to students. It gives them another skill as they are essentially running a small business, but under the umbrella of a company so there is no risk and they get all the tools and support they need. They can put it on their cv so it can help bridge the gap between studying and work. Plus it is flexible enough to fit around lectures,” states Lynda.
She advises would-be direct sellers to find a product they like. It is important to feel strongly about the product, she says.
The risk is low, she adds because the initial investment direct sellers are required to make is typically around £100 and never over £200. For that money, they get the first range of products to sell and if they don’t sell the products, there is usually a buy back policy in place.
Lynda thinks there is a lack of understanding about what direct selling has to offer and suspicion that it may be a risky endeavour. However, the DSA regulate their members who have to abide by two codes of practice and UK business regulations. The universities will only promote DSA members.
“One of my key objectives is to portray direct selling as a modern, vibrant industry which brings a lot to the UK economy.
We are very proactive in how we support our members and are always looking at ways to better support our members,” she says. Recently the DSA launched a new website and is developing a new social media strategy.
She adds: “Over the last four years the DSA has changed dramatically to become the modern, supportive organisation it is today. I want to continue that work.”