Ding Dong Avon CallingWhen I started out I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur, a business guru – I was just a nurse who got fed up with the politics, the time away from her family and so set up on her own. Except that nurse was the national lead for emergency nursing, had a multi million-pound budget and over a 100 staff from a variety of professional backgrounds.

That nurse had her first business at 16, – I was an Avon Lady!! Although I didn’t think of it as a business at the time, being an Avon Lady funded my college life. Instead of being proud and selling to my friends – many of whom bought Avon in those days – I felt ashamed; that I’d be laughed at. So I kept it a secret, none of my friends knew (my baggage, not theirs by the way).

I worked out that where I lived there were a lot of older women who didn’t necessarily want to go to the make up counters, but they did want to look good. I took the time, built relationships and got to know the sorts of things they each liked and didn’t like. I did really well out of my ‘patch’ and provided a great service. I think some of my most important selling lessons were learned here – not that I realised that at the time.

1. Listen: you can’t keep banging on a woman’s door and putting makeup or toiletries in front of her unless you know what suits her, what makes her feel good and what she is interested in. If you do, the door will soon stop opening. The only way to find out these things is listening. This applies to all business, online and offline: if you are not relevant your clients will move on. The only way you stay relevant is by listening to what they have to say.

2. Respect: know your clients. Don’t call at mealtimes, the kids bedtimes or the weekend. Ask when it is convenient and follow their lead. Obviously there is a balance to strike here. You need to have control over when you work and when you don’t. I’m not suggesting you are at the beck and call of your clients, I am suggesting you create the boundaries – when you are available and when you are not and if you respect them chances are they will respect you too.

3. Make a difference: know where you can show up consistently and make a difference. So ok, we’re talking about makeup here, I wasn’t changing the world, but I was, in a small way, changing the worlds of my clients. I was providing something I believed made a difference to them. For my clients it was convenient, non-threatening and financially safe (Avon had a 100% satisfaction guarantee back then). It was also a place I felt safe, not comfort zone safe, I still had to go out and sell the stuff; but safe that I could help these women, they didn’t intimidate me in a way selling to people my own age would have done.

4. Authenticity: there’s a big difference between feeling you’re on a steep learning curve, or not quite ready for what you are taking on and feeling a complete hypocrite. With my ladies I was on a learning curve, not a business one as it happened, a personal one about my self worth, You see it would have been just too intimidating to sell to people my age, I wasn’t cool, I didn’t wear much makeup myself (if any), I wasn’t even into fashion particularly, so to talk to people who were fairly consumed by looks, fashion, makeup etc was a step to far for me. When you look at who you prefer to work with, consider where you do your best stuff, where you can be yourself, and just focus on what you are doing. Trying to be something or someone you are not is exhausting.

My days as an Avon Lady were about so much more than the money. They gave me confidence, a sense of worth, a feeling of achievement. I often think I got more from my clients than they did from me and I will always be grateful for the metaphorical lifeline that role gave me at a time when I really needed it.

However hard something seems, if you want it to work all you really need to do is start and then refine along the journey. What do you need to start?