There used to be a group of people for whom work simply wasn't an option. Either caring for small children or elderly relatives dominated their time, or they were retired and entitled to finally put their feet up.
The trouble is that when the work stops, the costs continue, and an increasing number are discovering that their pension, savings or partner's income will not cover the bills. What they need is a 'spare time' job. So how do they go about finding one?
There will be those people for whom this is a cinch. They have handy skills like gardening, photography or painting, which easily translate themselves into making a fortune from selling their wares. They have the time and energy to start a small business and rake in the profits.
Flexible employmentFor the rest of us, we need employers who can accommodate the kind of flexible working that lets us choose our hours and build them around our lives and our other commitments. It's here that becoming a rep for some of the UK's big household names could work for you.
The traditional way this works is that you are given a round and deliver catalogues to specific streets in your location. You then sell products to houses on your round and make commission.
Fitting it inThis works well in fitting it around your life. Gill Westlake, a 64 year old Avon Sales Leader from Weston-Super-Mare became a rep 27 years ago. She says: "I was a single mum with two children and desperate for money, so I reluctantly gave it a go. I did very well at it, and it worked very well around the children. I actually went on to be employed by Avon, but when I took early retirement at 57 I signed up as a sales leader the next day, because I knew it would fit in very well with looking after my grandchildren."
Rebekah Testar, a 39 year old married mum of three also found it was flexible enough to fit around life as it changed. She said: "My children were two and four when I became a rep eight years ago, and my husband had been diagnosed with severe hypertension. I decided it would be something I could fit around the family and it would get me out of the house for a while. Now it's a full time job."
Becoming an Avon RepIt is a simple process. If you already have someone in your local area you can approach them. Alternatively, you can fill out an application online. There are a couple of these set up by sales leaders, including http://www.apply-today.co.uk and http://www.become-a-rep.co.uk/.
The process isn't free. You will need to pay a £15 registration fee, although this will be split over your first two campaigns, and if you make enough money it will be taken from your earnings. You will also be given catalogues and order forms for your first two campaigns, but after that you will need to pay for them. The catalogues aren't cheap, but the per-pack price reduces as you buy more. Assuming you buy 40 brochures a time that's £7.26. If your total orders are less than £10 you'll also need to pay for delivery.
EarningsCommission comes in two bands. To earn any commission at all you need to get at least £78 of orders, at which point you get about 20% commission. If your order is over £148 then you'll get 25%.
The amount of work you put in is up to you. Gill says: "It's 100% flexible, and the more you work, the more you earn." She says that a rep would usually not work more than two hours a week on the streets, and that some simply sell to family and friends to make a little extra cash. However, there is the flexibility to do more. In the early days, for example, Rebekah put the legwork in and went door to door in the village. Within 90 days she had 300 customers.
Essentially if things go well you'll make £1 for every £4 you sell. Assuming you sell £200 every campaign (roughly every three weeks) that's £50, minus the cost of the brochures. Putting the time in, you could easily sell double or treble that.
ProgressIf things take off, you can move up the chain, become a sales leader, recruit reps, and get a slice of their commission too. Rebekah currently has about 3,000 reps working for her (between her and her husband) and Gill has 400.
However, it's not a guaranteed success. If things go badly, you are £7.26 down for the brochures, you get no commission for sales under £78, and have to pay for delivery for an order under £10.
Not for everyoneAnd while for the right person it can be a real money-spinner, for the wrong one it can be somewhat thankless. In the interests of science I signed up three months ago. So far I have bought an awful lot from the catalogue trying to make enough to earn commission. I have slogged through the rain and the snow in order to pick up 40 catalogues and no orders, and I have discovered that sales is absolutely not my cup of tea.
In all I have made just enough commission to pay for the products I have bought, and that's in return for putting in about 10 hours work.
Gill says before you get started it's worth thinking carefully if its right for you: "You have to have people skills, good customer service, and be polite. You have to be able to relate to people."
If you're happy selling then this could be the start of a whole new career - designed to fit around your life. If you can't sell for toffee it's probably just a great way to get trained on.