After my eldest son was born, I dipped in and out of the workforce, making a bit of extra money here and there by taking occasional cleaning jobs and work in a supermarket. But by the time my youngest was about to start secondary school, I was a stay at home mum. My daily uniform was leggings and a t-shirt, and as I scoured the local newspaper for part time jobs, my sole aim was to use my newly acquired free time to make some extra cash for Christmas. It was with that attitude that I applied for a position as a freelance sales representative for a retail organisation.
The role would push me out of my comfort zone, forcing me – an unconfident driver – to venture beyond the local streets I felt comfortable in, and go off to sell to complete strangers in their own homes. I returned from my first round resolute that I was going to quit. But then the orders started coming in – £400 on my first attempt, £2,000 on my second. My confidence bolstered, I began to get in touch with strengths that had been asleep for years. As a recovering alcoholic, I’ve had my fair share of struggles, but out of all that came an ability to relate to people and their histories. Building rapport, so essential to sales, came easily to me.
More orders followed and soon the organisation knocked on the door, inviting me to step up into a more senior position. I agreed, relishing the chance to grow my income. The lady who’d originally recruited me was lovely, but she hadn’t really inspired me to see that this was a bigger opportunity than just making some extra cash. Then along came my fabulous mentor, who not only shone a light on what was possible, but also made me believe I could absolutely achieve whatever I set out to.
I started setting myself goals beyond just what I wanted in that month’s pay packet – items I wanted to be able to purchase come bonus pay-outs, and positions within the company I wanted to rise to. Within two years, I’d achieved what some of the best representatives achieve in ten, and six years after first starting out, I’ve made the cut as a top nationwide seller.
Success has seen me stretch myself, grow as a person and in confidence, and become comfortable with so many things that once frightened me. It’s also made me go easier on myself in many regards – I focus less now on past mistakes and more on future potential.
But success hasn’t come without its challenges. Being that bit older starting out meant that picking up new things doesn’t come quite as automatically as it used to. My youngest son gave me a crash course in computing, and since then, I’ve had to put in the time to grapple with new technology. Unfortunately, I’ve also had to deal with some unpleasantness from people who were affronted by my success and the spotlight it put me under. Most surprising of all was that they were often senior figures. My mentor’s advice was to rise above it. As she says: It’s a sure sign you’re doing something right!
I’ve also had a tackle my tendency to go overboard. My addictive personality drew me into a trap of working every hour I could – always wanting to do more and push myself harder, reaching the next goal in record time. As relationships and work-life balance suffered, I had to set boundaries. After all, the main reason for choosing this path was the flexibility it offered, so I had to learn to tell the difference between an evening or weekend text message that needed actioning right away, and one that could wait until Monday morning.
With that came a lesson in delegation. I’d made the rookie manager mistake of trying to do everything for my delegates. I soon realised that the stars in the team shone much brighter when I gave them information and support when they needed it, then stepped away and let them get on with it. My 400+ team is now all the more powerful for it.
I always tell people I couldn’t have done this without my amazing mentor. This job came along at a time when I was about to have more time on my hands and could easily have fallen into old, unhealthy habits. Her belief in me, her openness and willingness to share information, enabled me to see the true possibilities. She made me see that a business without goals is just plodding along and I’m more determined than ever to keep forging ahead, growing my team and being the best possible mentor I too can be to those coming up behind.