Confessions of a Cosmetic Salesperson

Everyone's looking for a way to pick up a few quick bucks in this economy, making many wonder if selling cosmetics is as easy and fulfilling of a career as it is touted to be. Maybe or maybe not, say a variety of sources. A few cases of cosmetics won't necessarily get you the promised Cadillac after a couple of months (or years), and, if pursued improperly, your eyeshadow enterprise could put you in worse shape than before. However, if you're careful, crafty, cunning, and a cosmetics queen anyway, there's a chance that investing in door-to-door cosmetics companies could boost your self-esteem while putting a few extra dollars in your bank account.

Buy Now, Profit Later

First and foremost, if she's honest, whether she represents Avon, Mary Kay, Arbonne, or any of the other companies that rely on a nationwide home sales force, the cosmetics salesperson you speak with about starting your own venture should inform you that this is not the business to be in if you're already broke and are in need of a quick source of income. In fact, in almost all cases, you're going to need to actually spend your own money to get your business started. Upfront costs for materials and products, uniforms, sales catalogues, and training videos can range from $100 to a few thousand dollars, depending on the company and the level of involvement you choose.

Margo from Connecticut is single and supports herself full-time as a 7-year veteran Mary Kay salesperson, and she warns potential product pushers about having eyes that are bigger than their wallet, explaining that "Mary Kay is a numbers game, and you can't just look at your sales in order to pay your bills." Margo, who didn't turn a profit for two years because she only sold to her immediate family, makes her business profitable because of her strict attention to detail.

"After each purchase, in order to find the actual profit that can go towards your household bills, you must be able to immediately extract the cost of gas, product samples, gifts, and other odds and ends that eat away at your margins and can cut your gains."

So when you're signing up, calculate real estimates about how much time you'll be able to invest in your new business, how many products you think you'll be able to sell, what foraging for future clients will cost you in gas, clothes, and products, and how much effort it will take for you to turn a profit before throwing in the towel. Finding new customers who remain customers and who also refer their friends can take some time, so prepare to be patient and have other sources to pay the bills in the meantime.

>> See Who's Hiring Cosmetic Salespeople

Read the Fine Print

Go through every word of your contracts carefully – while many companies allow flexibility in the amount of stock you carry, some companies have iron-clad agreements that limit your ability to refund unused products and that don't allow you to lower the amount of product you agree to pay for on a monthly basis after you've already joined. So regardless of your optimistic outlook, start off at the lowest amount necessary to get involved and see how it goes.

"You can always grow your business later," says Margo, "and starting out at a low level keeps you from being overwhelmed by ten boxes of unsold product sitting in your house and stressing you out." In the initial sales pitch to prospective salespersons, some companies will woo you with lines like "no one will buy what they can't see," and "women won't wait for products to arrive," but don't fall for this scare tactic. You don't want to have to give away cosmetics for all of your Christmas gifts over the next ten years, so start small.

Friends + Family = Profit...or Pain

Just like everyone chips in when the area kids have cookie sales and school fundraisers, expect to call on friends and family for your first few sales and key recommendations to get your business growing.

But be careful – if you're usually clean-faced and not especially particular, don't expect the people who know you best to come running when they see you hawking a cosmetic line for profit.

"If you never wear eyeshadow and you're trying to convince those who know you how to put it own and to pay you for it, people are going to be wary," Margo chuckles. Because she and her mother had been using the products for years before they decided to start their businesses (Margo's mother is also a Mary Kay saleswoman), others were more likely to trust her opinions. Which goes to show that family and friends can be worth more than just a few tubes of lipstick; they can become your sales team as well. While it is possible to make a profit selling on your own, the real money is in the controversial pyramid scheme many cosmetic companies thrive on.

By enlisting those you know as salespeople under you, you'll earn a small percentage of the sale price of each item they sell. Even better, every person that they enlist, you'll receive a fraction of their sales as well. This concept is the root of the enticing "earn money while you sleep!" promotionals that many companies lure interested parties in with in the first place.

However, it's not all roses. If the people you sign up live in your same community, you will be fighting for the same customers, and that can lead to rivalry and rocky relationships. And, if they don't succeed, you might be to blame.

>> See Who's Hiring Cosmetic Salespeople

Savor the Small Stuff

You might not make a million dollars from the cosmetics alone, but there are plenty of positives that can come from getting involved with these types of companies. For one, if you're cooped up in the house a lot, having to get gussied up and pitch to strangers can greatly enhance your self-esteem.

You'll also likely get invited to conferences and tradeshows, and if you attend (usually on your own dime) you'll meet like-minded people who can help you feel good about yourself and your goals. It's possible to truly help others, too.

"My favorite part about selling Mary Kay is how makeup can shape a woman's perspective and self-confidence," Margo continues. "There's nothing better than going out and changing how someone feels about themselves and giving them a brighter outlook on life and saying that's your job."

You might even be surprised by side projects that pop up because of your involvement with cosmetics. One woman in Virginia didn't make much selling her cosmetics but found that she had a genuine knack for makeup application. Soon, she found women whom she had made up in hopes of a sale or two not buying her makeup but asking what she might charge to make them up for their weddings, proms, and other formal events.

"Eventually," she said, "I started using my cosmetics company as a way to show-off my talents and get hired for the actual makeup application for fancy events, which paid way more per hour."

Know When to Say No

For some people, cosmetics companies are budget-savers and career-starters. For others, the toil becomes burdensome. The Cadillacs or Mercedes or other glamorous prizes that top-earners proudly display are the holy grail of cosmetics companies, but it's a smart move to not initially be wooed by these incentives. Your aspirations might be high, but your chances are slim, and if you're not profiting after the first few months, you might want to move on to a more stable, predictable source of income.

Having an exit strategy from the beginning is very important, as once it becomes clear that it's time to stop selling, quitting can be very hard to actually do. Once you've decided to call it quits, hold strong to your desires and cut your losses (or savor your thin profit margin). Just make sure to follow your contract's cancellation policy to the letter or you may be surprised by a collections letter a few weeks down the road!

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