Work life balance through direct selling

Elaine Wan talks about how she got the flexibility she needs through direct selling.

Elaine Wan was an engineer and travelled extensively for her job, but changed direction after going on maternity leave because she did not think her career was compatible with having children.

Her employer proposed a desk job, but she didn’t think that was for her. “I prefer to get my teeth into something,” she says. “I don’t just want to do something to earn money.”

She spent more and more time at children’s groups and meeting other mums and decided she wanted to do something that made a difference.

She thought about setting up her own business and started making cards and gifts, which was fairly time-consuming. She was at an event and had a stand next to a direct selling stall. She picked up a leaflet. She was impressed by the structure which allowed you to get out of the business what you put in, was flexible and gave sellers access to leadership opportunities.

She bought a £99 starter kit and started hosting parties selling children’s products through contacts and friends.

Within a month she stopped making her cards and gifts as she could see direct selling had more potential. She started recruiting others to direct selling and building a team. Now she has built up a good business for herself and oversees a team of 1,200 sellers.

Elaine is one of a growing number of women turning to direct selling. According to a report out earlier this month from the Direct Selling Association, 20% more mothers have started direct selling in the last year. The DSA says over 120,000 mothers in the UK are now generating an income via direct selling. Of the 400,000 direct sellers in the UK, 30% are working mothers. This represents a rise of over 20,000 more working mums in the industry compared to the previous year – a 20% increase.

Commercial sense

Elaine built the business as her children grew and says in the early days eight years ago it was good to have something for herself.

“Being with a baby all day can be exhausting,” she says. “Plus it can be very difficult if you are used to earning to suddenly have to ask your husband for money. It feels like you are losing your freedom. Even if you just make £50-100 extra for a few workshops it can make a difference.”

In the last three years she has switched from selling children’s products, which she chose because she was surrounded by people with children, to Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic skincare products.

She says the switch makes sense commercially. Children’s products are more one-off purchases whereas she could see a global and ongoing demand for the Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic products.

Elaine, who now has two children aged eight and 10, says her team is mostly made up of women, many of whom have young children and that direct selling provides a great work life balance. She believes that if she had gone back to her old job full time she would not have seen her children and that working part time would have meant sacrificing career progression and doing a job just for the money. “I felt I have so much more to offer,” she says. Although she took a massive pay cut to start direct selling, she thinks she will ultimately earn more money. “It may take 10 years to get there, but I will have a better quality of life and it will be more fulfilling as I will have made it myself,” she says.

Elaine, who won a Guiding Star award earlier this year for the support she provides to her team [see photo],  mainly divides her time between doing home demonstrations and sales and training those who come to the demonstrations who want to set up their own direct selling businesses. In her first year she got 48 new members to join the business and the numbers have built up rapidly. She gets a commission on what they sell as well as from her sales. Elaine says they range from professionals who treat direct selling as a proper business to those who just want to sell to their friends and family and earn some extra income.

She trains in her region and also uses teleconferences and Skype [particularly for her team in Ireland] and has created a network forum. The way she works has changed as her children have grown. She used to do evening parties and workshops, but now, since they are at school, she does more coffee mornings and tends to work during the day. Her husband’s job has changed recently too which means he is away more and she has to be around in the evenings. “The beauty of direct selling is that it is so flexible,” she says, “and I am always around for the children. You can’t get that time back.”

She says business has not dropped off due to the recession. In fact, there are more people looking to get into direct selling to boost their income. She reckons she makes around £2.5k a month at the moment, but says her income keeps going up. “I will soon be approaching the level I earned before, but without all the running around like a headless chicken and doing overtime,” she says.

*To find out more about direct selling, visit the Direct Selling Association. Elaine is pictured second left with Neal's Yard Remedies Organic owner Peter Kindersley, Barnabas Kindersley & Head of NYR Organic Denise Bonner.

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