Posted: Wed 27th Jun 2012
There are many ways to start a business and many kinds of business to start. Direct selling - ie, running your own business selling someone else's products on their behalf - offers a flexible and convenient way of running your own small venture while protected by the umbrella of a larger organisation. You may not have full control over products and branding, for example, but you have the assurance of working with an established business that has already done much of the thinking for you. It also enables you to earn as much or as little as you like. Unsurprisingly, direct selling businesses tend to draw many of their recruits from mothers taking a career break or people who are looking to be self-employed but don't have the 'big idea' they can back.
Usborne Books at Home is one of the UK's most successful direct selling businesses and has thousands of organisers across the UK (and further afield) who sell Usborne's children's books at home parties and to schools and other organisations. Sellers operate independently within a support structure that ensures new organisers receive the mentoring and materials they need to get their venture up and running. "You're self-employed and it's your own business, so you're responsible for a lot yourself," explains Mark Franklin, marketing director for Usborne Books at Home. "You do your own tax, VAT, public liability insurance, and so on. But obviously we use our relationships with other organisations to get preferential deals." "When you join (new organisers pay an upfront Â£38 fee), we try to provide you with all the professional materials you need so you don't need to spend time and energy and money yourself," Mark continues. "You get your first set of books, business stationery and a password to our website where you can access our handbook that explains the nitty-gritty of how to set up and run your business." On top of this, new organisers are assigned a mentor - a successful seller - who will guide them on the first steps of their journey. Mentors are very often team leaders, who look after four or more organisers; above them are the group leaders, who care for two or more team leaders. It's a self-supporting network that ensures everyone has information, contacts and a listening ear when needed. It also offers successful sellers a route towards expanding their venture, should they wish. "Leaders take a commission from the people they mentor," says Mark. "And that obviously grows as you mentor more people. It's entirely possible to make a healthy full-time income and to run a long-lasting business. Some of our organisers have been with us for decades."
Finding customers and actually selling to them is often the greatest challenge facing a fresh venture and many new business-owners are unsure about their ability to do the actual 'selling'. But Usborne's reputation and well-established routes to market mean new organisers can ease their way in. "You can sell anywhere," Mark stresses. "The only limitation is that you can't sell on to another seller, such as a bookshop. It begins with your immediate circle of friends. That's your initial customer base - friends, family, friends of friends. "The most successful starting point is the home party and the selling side actually comes very easily. It's basically personal recommendation that comes from knowing the product and - for example - talking about your own child's experiences. It works best when an organiser can speak with passion about a book." It also helps that the product itself is very attractive. Usborne's books are noted for the quality of their content and illustrations and the publisher won the Bookseller's Children's Publisher of the Year award this year. The books are colourful, engaging and easy to talk about. As Mark says, it's less about selling and more about recommending. Plus, it's a distinctly non-competitive environment - there are no 'patches' to guard jealously and plenty of opportunities for organisers to use their initiative and build their own connections. Usborne will even provide a templated website for organisers and is developing its approach to social media. There's little reason why a new organiser shouldn't be able to build a customer base relatively quickly and easily.
It sounds almost too good to be in true. But, in truth, every organiser gets out what they put in - whether they plan to just make a small short-term addition to their household income or build a full-time living over a long period. As organiser Sarah Deakin says in this video profile: "It's your business, your way." Given this degree of flexibility and the party-planning approach to selling, it's no surprise that the business appeals strongly to mothers taking a career break who may well have an established network of other mums they can sell to. "It's true, we don't have many men," admits Mark. "But there's no reason why a man can't do this and one of our most successful organisers is a chap. Men tend not to be prominent in the home party area, though; the school side of the business is where a lot of men have good successes." So why not? In the forthcoming weeks, we'll be profiling some Usborne organisers and looking at the business itself, which has maintained an independent, family atmosphere, despite its global growth. In the meantime, if you want to find out more about becoming an Usborne organiser or what it involves, visit the Usborne website.
Usborne Books at Home is an Enterprise Nation partner. Find out all about them!
[How Usborne turned "edible" books into a globally-recognised brand](http://www.enterprisenation.com/blog/how-usborne-turned-edible-books-into-a-globally-recognised-brand/ "Enterprise Nation: How Usborne turned "edible" books into a globally recognised brand")