How to Work from Home, Part 1: Don’t Sell Mary Kay

I get so excited about invitations. Hand delivered, e-vite, Facebook invite–I love them all! So when a friend from chorus handed me an invitation, I was pretty psyched.  Until I saw the words “Scentsy Party.”

Le Sigh.

If you don’t know what Scentsy is, let me rephrase: Amway, Tupperware, Mary Kay, Avon, Pre-Paid Legal, Thirty One, Lia Sophia, Pampered Chef…but with candles and lotion.

These companies are called “multi-level marketing” programs.  Someone recruits someone else to sell a product, making that person a “consultant”. The recruiter gets a cut of the consultant’s profits (or some type of kickback), and the consultant sells the product and recruits other people. Sales are made by convincing friends to host “parties” made up of friends. Typically, consultants offer the hostess free stuff, bring brownies and Sun Drop, and everybody pretends the event isn’t just a sales pitch to a captive audience.

Stay at home mommies looking for extra cash are the bread and butter of these companies.  Why? They make two claims about being a consultant:

1. You can work “your own hours.”

2. It’s fun!

Lies and more lies.

Truly successful multi-level marketers work their buns off.  Ever seen a pink Mary Kay Cadilac? The woman at the wheel works 50-60 hours a week, supervises dozens, if not hundreds of junior consultants, conducts training sessions and workshops, and still runs a few “parties” for her clients.  She may find her work fulfilling, but not “fun,” and she’s not working her own hours.  She’s working ALL hours.

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay, was smart as a whip. She knew what would get women to buy stuff: guilt. She also knew how to get women to sell stuff: prizes.  So she created a company where women guilt their friends into buying something in order to get a prize, culminating with the mighty Pink Caddie. It’s not about selling a great product, it’s about selling an ideal.  Check out the Mary Kay slogan:

“Mary Kay–Enriching Women’s Lives.”

If it was about selling great make-up, it might say something like “Mary Kay–everything a makeup addict can’t live without.” (That’s actually MAC’s slogan.)

In 2007, a Mary Kay consultant approached me and my sister about selling. We were psyched up, sold by the enthusiasm and glamour she conveyed. She brought us to her “boss” (If you read vampire novels, you can think of her as our friend’s “maker”) to get our training.

The first thing the woman did was convince both of us to buy $2000 dollars of Mary Kay products with our credit cards to build inventory.  “If you want business results,” she said, “you have to treat this like a business. If you want hobby results, treat it like a hobby.” Right. So only dumb people forgo inventory–and credit card debt–right?

I bombed at selling Mary Kay for the simple reason that I realized that I was cheating folks.  Oops. I didn’t mean to say that out loud. What I meant to say was that I was selling a low or average quality product for twice or three times its true value. I knew I wasn’t actually providing anybody with something that they needed. Shoot, I wasn’t even that good at putting the make-up on myself, much less being someone else’s “beauty consultant.”

The question was: what did I have to offer? Was there a service I could provide, or a product I could create that would make me deserve the hard earned cash of my friends? I was sure there was. I just had to find it.

Coming Up, How to Work from Home, Part 2: Niche-Finding Fail.

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4 thoughts on “How to Work from Home, Part 1: Don’t Sell Mary Kay

  1. Christiana says:

    Yeah I went to a tupperware party once, and I felt bad that the poor girl selling had wasted so much time, so I bought stuff I didn’t really need. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again…

    • Judith says:

      That’s what happened to me too. I went to a Lia Sophia party bought earrings that were pretty, but way more expensive than I typically would spend on trendy, costume jewelry. It was also difficult to turn my friend down later when she asked me to host a party–but I didn’t want to put my friends and family in the same awkward situation.

  2. I got suckered into being a Mary Kay consultant once! It was…uh, well…not good. Eep! Great post 🙂

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