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Following a direct path to work-life balance

A new generation is ditching the office job and taking up direct selling. The ease of social-media networking and the desire for a better work-life balance make it a more appealing career for many women.

That's what attracted Amanda Lise. After trying a product from It Works!, which specializes in contouring wraps and health products, she signed up to be a direct-sales distributor for the company.

Ms. Lise had just moved to Cambridge, Ont., and was looking for a new opportunity.

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"I wanted to raise my son and not be away from him eight to 10 hours a day, five days a week," the 37-year-old single mom said. "I have a lot of freedom and flexibility in my days. I can work in my PJs. I can take my son to doctor's appointments and I don't have to sit in traffic."

According to the Direct Sellers Association of Canada, this country has more than 880,000 direct sellers, 91 per cent of them women. Avon and Tupperware are household names, but about 42 per cent of Canadians made purchases from up to 75 other direct-sales companies in Canada, which racked up more than $2-billion in sales in 2014.

Traci Costa's Peekaboo Beans is among them. As a new mom, Ms. Costa was frustrated by the lack of quality children's clothing. In 2006, after 10 years in investment banking, she began selling high-quality kids clothes with features such as easy-to-use zippers and no-drawstring hoodies to more than 100 boutiques across Canada. When the recession hit and those stores went out of business, she switched to direct sales. Her goal was to sign up 10 sales consultants by the end of 2011. She ended up with 175 – and a waiting list.

Today, Peekaboo Beans has more than 1,000 reps across Canada and has paid out $2-million in commission. The company is also poised to be listed on the TSX this summer.

"It is such a powerful model. A tribe of like-minded women who are passionate about their children and passionate about their product. We have an amazing product, but we also create an environment where we are empowering women," Ms. Costa, 44, said.

The South Surrey, B.C., mother of two said the way people buy goods is changing. Social networks make it much easier for shoppers and sellers to find each other. "It is more about social selling, networking and brand loyalty. Instead of going to the mall, have a play date. The kids can play, and you have coffee and shop. It makes more sense," Ms. Costa said.

Peekaboo Beans sales consultants, which the company calls "play stylists," sign up under a coach and pay $199 for a starter kit. Commission is between 15 per cent and 25 per cent, depending on your earnings. The goal is $2,400 a month, which puts you in the 35-per-cent bracket. Stylists are also compensated for being a coach and building their team.

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"You can run a $5,000 a month business or be a side-preneur. You can build your business to your needs and pause and accelerate as much as you want," Ms. Costa said, adding that many teachers do direct sales as a side business during the summer and school breaks.

It Works! distributors pay $158 for a starter kit and can land bonuses between $500 and $10,000 for building their team. They earn commission from team building and loyal customers, and cash from sales of body contouring wraps or energy drinks.

But there are challenges, Ms. Lise admits.

"No one wants to buy health products during Christmas. But after the New Year, everyone is concerned about their health. So there are up and down times. You need to be motivated and put work in consistently," she said.

Many people also associate direct sales with pyramid schemes – companies that force sellers to purchase many products with the promise of earnings down the road or new recruits who end up funding the earlier investors.

"I wish people would get over the stigma of it being a scam," Ms. Lise said. "If they get past that, they see a bunch of amazing people and really kick-ass products."

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The direct-selling model also worked for Tonia Jahshan. Ten years ago, while on vacation in Nova Scotia, she tried loose-leaf tea for the first time.

Ms. Jahshan, 42, had discovered a product she was passionate about, and with a background in marketing and sales, she founded Hamilton-based Steeped Tea.

Today, Steeped Tea has almost 9,000 consultants in North America and annual sales of more than $20-million. Consultants earn commissions between 25 per cent and 39 per cent. Last year, the top seller earned $120,000.

"Life is supershort," Ms. Lise said. "We wake up in the morning and most people go to work all day – for someone else – and have an hour with kids and family, clean the house, go to sleep, wake up and repeat. At some point, they think, 'There has to be more than this.' I like to tell people that there is."

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