Virtual academy

Julie-Anne Jones grew her business training party planners out of necessity after becoming a single mum.

Julie Anne Jones has made a virtue [and a rewarding career] out of necessity. When her sons were very young she started working in direct sales and when she split up with her first husband and found herself a single mum in the US she found the evening work associated with direct selling difficult. So she thought laterally and created a range of online training programmes for direct sellers which have brought her an international clientele.

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Julie Anne, who has a degree in theatre studies, was an image consultant, teaching women how to dress and doing personal shopping and closet audits before her second son was born 15 years ago. Her first son, born around three years earlier, had been in childcare and she didn't want to do the same with her second son so she began looking for a job she could do with a baby in tow.

She had recently moved house and didn't know many people. Party plan allowed her the flexibility to work around her children, but many party planners tend to start by approaching friends and family. Julie Anne didn't have that benefit. Her family lived far away. So she started by approaching people like her hairdresser, her doctor and the person who did her nails and using parties to sell jewellry. She says: “I leveraged my acquaintances and I have found that women tend to help other women.”

She quickly had success and grew her business, holding three parties a week and winning national awards.

However, after working in direct selling for several years her marriage broke down and she separated from her first husband. That required another rethink as she could not do the kind of evening work required of party planners. She didn’t want to lose all the experience she had built so she decided to share her expertise by training party planners.

Systems

Over the years Julie Anne, who also has experience in building network marketing teams, had established her own work routines. To save on time, since she was working around her children, she had to be very organised and systematic. She knew exactly what she was going to say in presentations and devised a schedule for when she made phone calls.

“Most direct sellers do not have any systems, but I set up my systems so I could control how much time things took,” she says. “I developed a whole organisational business management programme which deals with the unique challenges facing direct sellers. Many direct sellers work from home, especially if they have children and the business is all about relationships. You feel you have to be available 24/7, although the vast majority of direct sellers are mums so they need to have ways of controlling the business and not letting the business control them.”

It took a while for her to translate her training programmes online. Firstly, she started as a trainer with the person who recruited her to party planning. He had his own training business and asked her to be his business manager. She started coaching and training party planners.

In 2006, however, she left the business and set up on her own, coaching one on one over the phone. She created CDs and a range of other training tools and was dealing with around 15 clients a week, but she was finding it very tiring.

Virtual training

Things changed again in 2010 when she discovered Jigsaw Box, an online coaching system, and by January 2011 she had launched her first virtual academy so she could work with a lot of people at once and to her own schedule. The online system means she can even coach people while she is sleeping and she can work from anywhere in the world. “It has really changed the way I work for the better,” she says. It has certainly increased her earning potential. She reckons she has earned over $100,000 in the last two years through the virtual academy, more than she has made in her ordinary training work. And she can promote the academy at the various speaker events she is invited to, ensuring it is always full.

Julie Anne, who is based in Walla Walla, Washington, adds that she wouldn't have earned that much if she had started from scratch, but she already had a strong base and has built on that since the academy gives her a global reach as she is not constrained by US working hours. She has got clients in Canada and Australia and people around the world, including in the UK, follow her on Twitter and Facebook and buy her training material. She also has an online radio show on a station for small businesses and she does an online Q & A every Monday on her blog. The main question she gets asked is how to get bookings for party plan. Other top questions include how to motivate a team and how to manage time.

“People tend to feel uncomfortable about asking people to host parties. Most of the time it is due to a fear of coming across as pushy and forcing people to do something they don't want to do. It's a very female thing – women don't like to make people feel uncomfortable so they kind of sabotage themselves. It's just about changing their mindset,” she says. She has developed easy to use tools for direct sellers and direct selling businesses, including an ebook which scripts 12 different settings to help people know what to say. Julie Anne, who has recently remarried, now has the work life balance she wants. She tends to work 8am to 2 or 3pm so she can focus on her children, but when she has a big project on she can work 10-12 hour days. Her children alternate one week with her and one week with their father which means she has weeks when she can work longer hours.

“What I'm doing is applicable internationally and for many businesses. The principles work no matter what because it's all about establishing relationships.”


Comments [4]

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for doing such a great job with this piece. It was a pleasure to be interviewed and I appreciate how well you communicated our conversation!

  • Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure how this article came across my desk but I just wanted to say congratulations to Julie and the people at Jigsaw Box. I’m inspired to look into doing business this way.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for doing such a great job with this piece. It was a pleasure to be interviewed and I appreciate how well you communicated our conversation!

  • Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure how this article came across my desk but I just wanted to say congratulations to Julie and the people at Jigsaw Box. I’m inspired to look into doing business this way.


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