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Profile: A smile and an independent living for Natalie Fieldhouse

Profile: A smile and an independent living for Natalie Fieldhouse
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Posted: Fri 13th Jul 2012

"I never imagined I'd run my own business," admits Natalie Fieldhouse. "Further education didn't excite me - you always assume business-owners are graduates and have degrees coming out of their ears.  I never thought I'd be accomplished enough to do it myself."

"I'm not a salesperson either," the Usborne Books at Home organiser from Aylesbury continues. " If anyone had said to me 'You're going to end up selling as your career', I would have said 'No, not in a million years'. Put me in a room full of strangers and I'm quite reserved. But put me behind some books and I can talk to anybody." Like many people who have set up their own home business selling Usborne's children's books, Natalie started at the prompting of a friend, Emma Butt, with the intention of earning a little "smile money" for family treats while on maternity leave from her job as a recruitment consultant. Returning to work part-time, Natalie kept her home business running at a low-level. But then she fell pregnant again. "I thought I'm not going to go back to work," she recalls. "I'm going to work for Usborne properly and try to do it more or less full-time." Six years on and she's now earning more than she did as a part-time employee while still working reduced hours as she raises her two young children. The beauty of a direct selling business, says Natalie, is in the control it gives her over her time. "I spend quality time with my children and my job fits around that, which is amazing. There's not many companies that will let you work when you want. It also gives the children some quality time with their dad, who's very supportive of me."

An independent business

Though it sounds as if Natalie works for Usborne, it's more accurate to say that she works with Usborne within a self-supporting network of independent businesses that sell the publisher's award-winning children's books. She's quick to stress that it is her business, not someone else's - and this gives her options. "I love the fact that what I earn is up to me," she points out. "If I need a quiet month because of family commitments, the business will still be there and I can pick up the reins again. Because it's your business, you fit it around your life and that's the great thing. It also means both parents get to spend time with the children and that helps to make us a very strong couple."

A route to small business growth

In the meantime, she's laying the foundations of a long-term venture and the option to grow the business into a full-time enterprise with a full-time income is there when Natalie chooses to take it. As explained previously on Enterprise Nation, the Usborne Books at Home model enables growth through a combination of recruitment and promotion. Organisers recruit other organisers who they mentor as team leaders; team leaders become group leaders, and so on. Each step of the way, organisers take a percentage commission from the sales of the other business-owners they mentor and support. Now a group leader, Natalie has a measure of responsibility for co-ordinating some 100 other organisers. The growth of her venture - and her own growth into the role of business-owner - has overturned quite a few of her assumptions about business-owners. "When I worked at my old job I always enjoyed it but I never envisaged being my own boss. Now I can never envisage going back," she laughs. "I don't think there's any part of my job that I dislike or is a bit alien to me. Recruiting is talking to people. Selling is talking to people. Ordering books is like going shopping. There's no part of it that I think 'Oh I can't do that.' You can do what you want. "When I started, I thought 'I'll just do some parties' and that's all I wanted to do. I had a new baby," Natalie explains. "Later on, I started to recruit and doing events and now I'm a group leader. "Some of the organisers just want to earn smile money and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But the love of books gets everyone in the end. We've got iPods and Xboxes and all the rest of it, but nothing is better than sitting down with your child and reading a book."

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