Direct selling: what you need to know

Finding and selling to customers can be hard for UK small businesses, so here are some tips advising you on direct selling.

Direct selling is where products are sold directly to consumers by sellers outside of a fixed retail environment

Direct selling is where products are sold directly to consumers by sellers outside of a fixed retail environment

Direct selling is a booming industry in the UK – every year, more and more people are starting their own direct selling business. There are over 400,000 direct sellers in the UK and as an industry, it generates £2 billion worth of sales annually.

But what exactly is direct selling and what is involved – well, some might say that the clue is in the name! But, as with anything, there’s always more to it, so for those thinking about starting their own business, here are the top things you need to know…

Direct selling in a nutshell

Direct selling is where products are sold directly to consumers by sellers outside of a fixed retail environment. It can include one-to-one selling in person, over the phone, via social media – it will probably be an acquaintance that introduces you to it. It may also include parties – sellers will host get-togethers and invite a group to try products that can then be purchased.

What would you be selling?

There is a huge variety of direct selling companies in the UK, offering everything from cosmetics and cookware, to home interiors, books, food and fashion. Think about what it is you’re interested in and then look into the companies that work in that sector.

One of the things that attracts people to direct selling is the quality of the products available – by its very nature, direct selling cuts out a lot of the processes that retail ordinarily has which reduces costs, meaning customers are able to get higher quality products at a better price.

Each company will have a slightly different offering for you as seller; look into this and ensure you understand how it works and that you’re happy with that.

Choosing a company

The Direct Selling Association has been the recognised trade body for direct selling in the UK since 1965. All member companies of the DSA sign a code of conduct which ensures they uphold ethical trading standards, and the DSA carries out comprehensive checks of prospective members.

By choosing a member company, you and your customers will be protected by the DSA. Almost two thirds of direct selling companies in the UK are a member of the DSA – it represents their commitment to best practice, so make sure the company you’re looking at is a member.

Getting started

Once you have chosen a direct selling company, you can sign up and begin selling their products to your friends, family, colleagues or neighbours.

It’s relatively cheap and easy to get started – no DSA member company will ask you to pay more than £200 for a starter kit. This will contain core products (usually worth a lot more than the £200 you pay!) that will help you get started with testing the products yourself; carrying out demonstrations; and selling to people within your community. You will gain access to a supportive network of sellers that will advise you and help you in getting started.

Networking

Direct selling uses network marketing, which relies on your network of contacts. You’ll probably start by talking to your family and friends about your products, and some of them will become your loyal customers, then you’ll contact acquaintances, friends of friends, neighbours, maybe other parents from school or work colleagues.

Your network will grow gradually and most of your connections will be made through word-of-mouth. You will need to nurture those relationships – keep in touch when you have special offers, new products, are hosting a party – as they are your core customer base.

It can also be very motivating to meet other direct sellers and share experiences, so don’t forget to take advantage of the regular opportunities to meet other direct sellers within your chosen company.

Making money

You will be paid a percentage of the value of the sales you make. Direct selling doesn’t guarantee you a fortune; it’s like any other business venture though – the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.

Most successful sellers set aside a certain amount of time that they will commit to their business, whether it’s full- or part-time. Set yourself achievable goals and you’ll soon see what a difference it makes.

Flexibility

For many people, direct selling offers an opportunity to balance work and family life. It is a flexible industry that is ideal as part of a composite career – 62 per cent of direct sellers are running their business alongside another job, which may be full- or part-time, and whether they have another job or not, 95 per cent of all sellers run their direct selling businesses part-time.

It offers complete flexibility – you can work as many hours as you want to, when and where you choose, to fit around your own life and commitments. Direct selling is very popular with mums that want to work around their family, and increasingly, students and retired people are topping up their income by becoming direct sellers too.

For more information on direct selling, visit www.dsa.org.uk.

Further reading on direct selling

Nominations are now open for the British Small Business Awards 2017, the leading event celebrating the brightest stars in the SME sector. Click here to enter, and make sure you get involved today using the hashtag #BSBAwards. Good luck!

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