5 things being an Avon rep has taught me about business

Have you ever got a weird idea stuck in your head? A vision of the future that bears no resemblance to your current reality?

I used to get it while I nursed a Sunday hangover watching the London Marathon on TV. “That will be me one day,” a voice whispered, years before I eventually took up running. I’m now 44 and it still hasn’t happened, but I just KNOW it will.

The same goes for being an Avon rep. There was nothing to suggest this was on my path. I’d recently left my job to become a freelance writer. I’d never been one to take ages putting make-up on and my nails are a car crash. The only sales job I’d done was behind the bar at my local. But I’d always known.

So the only person who wasn’t surprised when I woke up one day and applied to be a rep was me. What did surprise me though was how much I’ve learnt about starting a small business in a few short months.

1 Friends will support you to the hilt

If your friends are the same demographic as your target market you’re onto a winner. They’ll be your sounding board, your guinea pig and, hopefully, your customer.

I test marketing messages with them, I seek feedback on my social media, and I’ve run Avon parties to find out what products they want to see in the flesh and buy in the moment.

And they’ve been amazing customers – beyond buying a token product or two to keep me quiet. There are plenty of places where you can buy kids’ shampoo, lipsticks, face cleanser… But they keep coming back, and it means the world to me.

2 Print is dead

My background is in print marketing, so my first instinct was to design a flyer to spread the word. The feedback from pals was positive, so I confidently ordered 1,000. Oh, make it 1,500 – why not?

It took hours and hours to put a small dent in the huge pile, but I kept going. I became familiar with every letterbox design in HP4. Guess how many enquiries I got. Zero. I still can’t quite believe it.

At one point, perplexed by the ‘No cold callers’ and ‘No junk mail’ signs on some doors, I’d posted in my town’s feisty Facebook group. How did they feel about unsolicited leaflets through their doors? The unanimous response was that social media and word of mouth was king. So far, this has been backed up 100% by my experience.

3 Print is not dead

But everyone goes bloomin’ mad for an Avon brochure! No matter how much I push customers towards the website and digital version, all I hear is that nothing beats a browse with a cuppa and biccie. Maybe a throwback to when we scoured the Argos catalogue as kids?

4 Buy low, sell low

With Avon, there’s always a deal to be had – whether it’s buy one, choose one for free, 50% off, five for £5 or a free gift. Everyone loves a bargain, right?

Although it’s tempting to pocket the biggest possible profit, I always do right by the customer and make sure they get the most for their money. If they know you’re on their side, hopefully they’ll keep coming back.

5 Make your customers feel awesome

With make-up and skincare products it’s easy to harp on about how they’ll make you look younger or more attractive. This concept makes me want to claw my face off.

For me it’s about making customers feel fun, funky and fabulous. It turns out that’s how my business makes me feel and I want to spread the love! And if they try something and don’t love it, they can wash it off and know they’ve only spent £4 (and I don’t feel bad).

I’m sure there are plenty more lessons ahead – every day’s a school day and all that. I’d love to hear the mantras you’ve picked up in and outside your day job.

To see what I’ve been up to, check out my Avon pages on Instagram and Facebook – and you can visit my shop.

The 5 Ps for creating a strategy narrative

You know me. I love to waffle on the interweb. So when Sarah Browning, of internal comms specialists Browning York, asked if I’d like to write a guest blog, I said “Yes please!”.

The brief was ‘How communicating effectively can solve organisational problems’ and I went big – outlining all the elements you need to tell the story of your strategy.

Pleasingly they all begin with P.

You can read my blog on the Browning York website.

Blue Christmas

Is it possible to be ‘over’ Christmas? Have the songs that have been your seasonal soundtrack since the 70s turned stale? Does the prospect of evening after evening of festivities leave a bad taste in your mouth? Has your tree lost its twinkle?

This was me about four years ago. After nearly 40 years of riding the Christmas wave of tinsel and tequila I was done.

In the beginning, December had been the most exciting month imaginable – the multicoloured lights, old-fashioned glass ornaments and plastic sacks at my Nan and Grandad’s embodying a truly magical time of year.

Later came the tradition of hitting the pub with school friends on Christmas Eve – still going to bed buzzing at the thought of what was waiting under the tree.

And then children of our own – a chance to pick the best bits of our own childhoods and try out new twists.

So why was I just not feeling it?

The music

Seriously, why are there no new good Christmas songs? Since Mariah’s glorious All I Want for Christmas in the 90s, the best of the modern offerings is Bob Dylan’s Must be Santa and Kelly Clarkson’s Underneath the Tree.

The solution: I propose that, next year, shops and radio stations are only allowed to play post-2010 tunes – a chance for songwriters and artists to create a classic! But if that doesn’t happen, try introducing a bit of jeopardy to the Big Day build-up by playing Whamageddon.

The food

We’ve jazzed it up with Jamie’s gravy and Nigella’s goose fat, but Christmas dinner is still fundamentally a Sunday roast with extra leftovers. The expense! The hassle! Is it worth it?

The solution: Ditch the bird. Yes, you heard me. Take a year off setting the alarm for 6am to prep the turkey and treat yourself to your very favourite food instead. Even if you’re vegetarian or vegan, the world is your Ottolenghi.

The pressure

Not only are there presents to buy and cards to write, we decorate our homes, have a Christmas jumper on standby, contribute to the teacher’s present collection, go to the office party and countless other nights out, and everything else. It’s a drain on our time, energy and pockets.

The solution: You can say you hate Christmas, and not engage with any of this, like Kyle recalls doing in his blog for the mental health charity Mind. But you might not need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Just saying no more and being honest about how some aspects of how Christmas make you feel can bring some of the joy back.

The reflection

The older we get, the more quickly the year rushes by. Christmas can be a reminder that we’ve nearly run out of time to follow through on our New Year’s resolutions. Have I ticked them all off? The answer is probably no.

The solution: Forget the plans you made at the start of the year – they’re old news. Think instead about what you’ve actually achieved instead. The new friends made, the things you’ve learnt through failure and success, the progress you’ve made towards filling your life with what’s important.

This Christmas, celebrate as little or as much as you like, and in your own way. Embrace the traditions or kick them into the fireplace. And if you don’t do Christmas at all, just enjoy the break if you’re getting one. 

But if it does get too much, there are lots of tools and people you can talk to, and hopefully it won’t be long before the springtime flowers are poking their way out of the ground.

In it to win it

I had a wobble this week. I’m in my second month of freelancing and imposter syndrome had set in. Who did I think I was believing I’d be lucky enough to find new clients, make a decent living, do something I love every day?

Then a chance trip to my local library for a half-term craft session with my kids led me to a book* that screamed “BORROW ME!”. I only had to read as far as the third page before I reached a line that restored my sanity. It read, “The harder you work, the luckier you get”.

I’ve had more than my fair share of luck over the years, the most significant piece being how I met my husband.

If I hadn’t been laying low in my friend’s room while she kissed a boy in the living area of our holiday apartment and picked up her book to read… If I hadn’t joined the ‘cult’ the book was about** and gone to their annual get-together, ‘Karmageddon’… If I hadn’t gone up to one of the real-life characters (after several gins) and told him I’d fallen in love with him when I read the book… If he’d run away… I wouldn’t now have a ring on my finger and two awesome daughters at football camp as I write.

Was it luck, or did it happen because I made and seized an opportunity? One thing I know is that we can’t shut ourselves in a room and expect amazing things to happen out of nowhere. That’s why “yes” is my default answer, whatever the proposition.

For the right numbers to come up, you have to throw the dice.

So will something exciting happen because I read a line in a book and it inspired me to write this blog? Time will tell!

*Find Your Extraordinary by Jessica Herrin
**Join Me by Danny Wallace

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash

Why don’t you like me?

You have to admit – you get a teeny tiny thrill every time a thumb or heart pops up in your social media notifications. Someone has taken the time to read your post … enjoyed it … supports you … and wants you to know. Yay!

Compare that with the feeling you get when you realise you’ve posted a dud – that only your sister and your lovely friend who likes everything show any interest in. It flaps and flounders in the public gaze, tainting your timeline like a toxic turd. Disaster! What did I do wrong?

Don’t even mention the horror of finding out all your friends have been invited to a party and you haven’t made the cut. Does the host hate me? Does everyone hate me?? IS MY ENTIRE LIFE A SHAM???

OK, this is all a bit of exaggeration (unless you catch me on a bad day), but it is true that most of us like to be liked.

And it’s never been easier to count how many friends we have. To see photos of pals out and about, having fun without us. To find metrics to compare our popularity with others’. To judge the quality of our relationships without even leaving the house.

A friend and I were having an insecurity fest the other day, and she mentioned an article she’d read. It said that it’s actually ingrained in us to fear social isolation: “Being rejected by our tribe in our pre-civilised past was a matter of life and death because it would have meant losing access to food, protection and mating partners.”

Phew – I’m normal! My social anxiety is a natural reaction, and designed to keep me alive. It’s a personality trait I should celebrate!

So please don’t like or comment on this blog. I’ll be thankful that you’ve given my survival instincts a workout and saved me from potential starvation. Or I’ll cry and throw my laptop in the canal. To be honest it could go either way.