Women around the World Are Breaking Barriers with This Established Business Model
According to the International Finance Corporation, globally, women are now starting businesses at a faster rate than men. More than 250 million female entrepreneurs are powering economies, creating jobs and new income opportunities, reducing poverty, and increasing equality where it is needed most. A report by Deloitte concludes that women now own as much as one-third of all enterprises worldwide.
Despite progress in recent years, many women still face significant barriers to starting their own businesses. These include a lack of capital, time, and the needed skills. An industry that subverts these barriers is direct selling:
The World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA) reported that in 2020, a staggering 74.4% of direct selling representatives are women – a trend that that is unsurprising considering the nature of the industry. More women around the world are making the decision to turn direct sales into an opportunity for personal success as it leapfrogs the aforementioned barriers faced by female-led ventures in the modern world while still offering balance for women seeking fulfilling careers, without compromising traditional familial values or personal growth.
Direct Selling: A Time-Tested Distribution Model for Entrepreneurs
Direct selling is a retail channel used by top global brands and smaller, entrepreneurial companies to market products and services directly to consumers outside traditional shops and outlets. Direct selling is a multi-billion industry that has demonstrated strong growth in various markets, enabling aspiring entrepreneurs to build their own businesses through working with legitimate direct selling companies selling everything from household goods, beauty tools and supplements, to various other consumer products.
The direct selling channel differs from broader retail in a significant way. It isn’t only about getting great products and services into consumers’ hands. It’s also an avenue where entrepreneurial-minded people can work independently to build a business with low start-up and overhead costs, and move those products into the market efficiently.
Direct selling predates retail. In early history, tradespeople sold and bartered goods to the community without a retail middleman. Later, travelling salespeople roamed from town to town, selling products directly to consumers who had no access to the big city markets. In the mid-20th century, the model evolved as direct sellers, mostly women, engaged their networks of friends and neighbours to demonstrate and sell products such as Tupperware and Mary Kay.
Direct selling has proven to be a resilient model. As many industries have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, direct selling set record sales in 2020 of US$76 billion in Asia alone, with countries such India and Kazakhstan demonstrating some of the highest percentage year-on-year growth in the region. The direct selling model adapts quickly and efficiently to changes in market conditions while providing consumers with the products they want.
Today, a new generation of direct sellers is harnessing mobile technology and e-commerce to discover new opportunities in this time-tested distribution model. For those willing to work hard, direct selling can break barriers and create opportunities. In 2020 the global direct sales industry was worth more than US$180 billion. Women are generating an overwhelming portion of this wealth.
Direct Sales is A Woman Powered Industry
Women comprise nearly 75% of direct sales representatives worldwide. One factor accounting for the immense impact of women in direct sales is that this model enables them to overcome the barriers that often keep them from entrepreneurship: lack of capital, lack of time, and lack of skills.
Direct Sales Requires a Low Capital Investment to Start a Business
Studies have found that women entrepreneurs have less access to credit and tend to receive smaller loan amounts than men. With these impediments in their paths, women are far less likely than men to fund their business with outside investments. This lack of funding limits how much women can invest in their business and stunts their potential.
The average start-up cost in the West with a direct selling company is about US$100, according to the Direct Selling Association of USA (DSA). This cost represents a fraction of the investment required to rent a shop space and purchase the inventory needed to start a retail store.
Direct selling provides women with the products and materials needed to start earning money immediately with minimal costs. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the low entry cost of direct selling empowers women in impoverished regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America to lead the world with the highest entrepreneurial activity rates.
The direct selling model is scalable, meaning an entrepreneur can start with a small inventory and quickly increase it or reduce it as necessary without worrying about burdensome overhead costs such as warehousing or shipping. These features of direct selling provide women entrepreneurs with low risk, low-cost business opportunities without the need for outside investment.
In Direct Selling, Women Set Their Own Schedules and Priorities
Many women entrepreneurs must split their time and attention between their business, family, school, social life, and other competing interests. As primary caregivers, many women struggle to balance their commitment to their home and children with the demands of running a business. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this struggle as schools and nurseries have been forced to close, leaving many families without childcare.
While direct selling requires the same commitment and hard work as other business models, it also enables women to operate according to their schedules. As an independent representative, a woman in direct selling can fit her work around her other commitments. The added convenience of technology and e-commerce provide women with even more flexibility and independence as they build their direct selling networks.
Direct Selling Empowers Women with Skills and Education
According to the United Nations, only 39% of girls attend secondary school in rural areas, compared to 45% of boys. This gender gap in education puts women at a disadvantage, robbing them of the knowledge, skills, and training they need to power their businesses.
Direct selling does not require specialized skills to get started. But many direct selling companies, such as QNET, provide their independent representatives with training, mentoring, and education that develop valuable skills and knowledge they can apply to their business and all aspects of their lives.
While direct selling requires hard work and commitment, it also empowers women entrepreneurs by providing them with a low-cost business model that offers independence, flexibility, and an opportunity to grow at their own pace.
Asma Abid, a high-performing representative of the leading Asian direct selling company, QNET, and a member of the exclusive QNET Achiever’s Club, exemplifies how women are succeeding in direct selling. Born in Kerala, India, Asma had no work experience before beginning her journey with QNET.
“The toughest part of the journey was at the beginning because I didn’t have any experience of running my own business. Learning how to overcome my fears and accept setbacks was essential because I wanted to succeed. I wanted to feel empowered and be able to lead and help others become entrepreneurs too.”
“Direct selling was the ideal training ground as I had the flexibility and freedom to pursue a career at my own pace, and the overwhelming support from other women in the direct selling community really helped me through to become the person I am today.”
Asma believes that women can succeed in direct selling because the model complements their values.
“The core of direct selling is not just about the money, but the genuine connection and care you have with your community – it is synonymous with the values that women have, which are to nurture and care.”
Asma’s words reflect how direct selling has long realised and relied on the strength of women in leadership and female-centric entrepreneurship. One of the earliest opportunities for women to make their own living, break traditional gender roles, and enable them to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity started in direct selling: in the late 1800s, it was a group of women doing direct sales that brought beauty company Avon it’s century-long success, to the point where the term “Avon Lady” was coined to represent the outstanding passion and dedication towards success that these women brought to the market.
The success of women under Avon’s banner set the precedent for the future of direct selling: today, direct selling companies across the world have built a reputation for being businesses that give no credence to glass ceilings and place huge emphasis on nurturing and empowering women leaders across the globe. The proof is in the pudding, as can be seen in multinational giants such as L’Oréal and L’OCCITANE en Provence who are actively investing in digital-based direct selling platforms, tapping into their largest demographic and transforming it into a sales force that will produce a force of women entrepreneurs to be reckoned with in the present and well into the future.
Malou T. Caluza, QNET’s CEO, and a vocal advocate for women in leadership, credits women with the success of the direct selling model.
“The success of direct selling today is the result of the hard work of women. Women pioneered the hugely popular ‘Tupperware parties’ – stay-at-home mothers and enterprising young women – and broke gender stereotypes to build the multi-billion industry that we know today.
Direct selling would not see its current success without the hard work and passion from women. Even though I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years, it has never ceased to inspire me when witnessing women from all walks of life demonstrate passion, tenacity, and drive and emerge feeling empowered when their entrepreneurial journey brings them success.”
Whether a woman dreams of building a multimillion-dollar business or simply wants to earn enough extra income to send her daughter to dance lessons, direct selling opens the door for her. By empowering women entrepreneurs, direct selling is building a stronger global economy for all. When women are economically empowered, they drive growth, reduce income inequality, and contribute to building a more inclusive, robust economy for everyone.
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