Selling for extra cash, flexibility

It's Saturday night and a dozen women are in Carmen Rojas' living room, passing around edible lotions, flavored body powders and adult toys. For Rojas of Miami, this night is about more than getting these women to buy her products.

By the party's end, Rojas' guests have spent more than $300, and she will pocket 40 percent of the sales. More importantly, she has ensured future income by inspiring at least one to host a party.

Direct selling has become a money-making option more people are considering to cover rising gas costs, be their own bosses and better balance the responsibilities of career and family.

There are tons of direct sales companies to choose from, such as kitchenware, fashion, jewelry, tools and cosmetics. The goal with direct selling is to ramp up your earnings by recruiting enough people under your network so that your income benefits from their sales, too.

More than 15 million people worked as direct sales consultants in 2007, generating more than $30 billion in sales, according to the Direct Selling Association, which insists: “We're in the middle of a boom in home-based businesses.”

“There are so many more reasons today that people are going into direct sales,” said Amy Robinson, spokeswoman for the Direct Selling Association. They are looking for income while searching for permanent jobs, their salaries no longer cover costs, or they might be stay-at-home parents who view it as a flexible way to supplement household income, she says.

Just three months ago, Rojas was working in a bank. After her position was eliminated, she figured she would give direct selling a try adding, “I never really liked the 9-to-5 thing.”

Direct sales, also known as network, multilevel or referral marketing, compensates those who use and enthusiastically recommend their products or services. The ease of entry makes it accessible for people of all walks of life with a gamut of motivations.

But you must be comfortable pitching products to family and friends and recruiting others as hosts and consultants. You also will need to work hard to earn money – these are not get-rich-quick businesses – and be prepared to pay start-up costs and not get benefits such as health insurance.

Of course, unlimited earning potential and working on your own schedule attracts many direct sellers, particularly in today's economic environment. Only 10 percent of people who work as consultants do it full time. Most work less than 10 hours a week and earn a median income of $2,400 a year.

Bonnie Ross, a stay-at-home mother for eight years, wanted to find a job that would bring her family some income but still allow her to be there for homework, play dates and dinner. About 10 months ago, she fell in love with sterling jewelry and signed up to sell Silpada Designs.

“Silver catches people's attention,” she said. “ … It jiggles and shines, so it's like I'm a walking advertisement.”

Ross laid out $1,750 in start-up costs. She now manages four women and earns commission off her own sales and theirs.

Ross said it took about eight parties to recoup her initial outlay, and she now earns anywhere from $200 to $600 a week hosting parties on nights and weekends.

Her advice: Set goals. Hers is to double her business next month.