This month, Powerhouse Planning is featuring superstars of the direct sales industry who have taken the time to share with us their experiences and viewpoints gained over time. Through the words of those doing it—and doing it well—our Powerhouse team aims to help both new and established direct sales professionals grow their businesses as a result of the insights (including some of the harder lessons learned) of those in the field who are finding success.

Company: Mary Kay
Industry Professional: Ashley Virnau
Title: Independent Senior Sales Director

Top beauty brand Mary Kay has been in business selling cosmetics and skincare products for over 53 years. The multi-billion-dollar company, which is headquartered in Texas, supports entrepreneurial ventures across 40 countries, according to its website. It all started with the vision of one woman: Mary Kay Ash. At a time when men dominated careers outside the home, Ash was a trailblazer who wanted to create opportunities for women to have their own earning potential. The company also prides itself on empowering awareness efforts for domestic abuse prevention.

Air Force wife Ashley Virnau first learned about Mary Kay when she was in high school and her aunt introduced her to the products. Ashley fell in love with the products to the point where she started sending customer referrals to her aunt. By college, she made the decision to get into direct sales on a part-time basis to make some extra income. Today, Ashley has attained status as an Independent Senior Sales Director, which means she not only has her own customer base whom she assists with their cosmetic needs, but she also educates and mentors a team of consultants to build successful businesses themselves. Her career with Mary Kay complements her unique lifestyle as an on-the-go military family. She can bring her business from duty station to duty station and stay fully engaged with her team of consultants and customers.

Ashley spoke with Powerhouse Planning about her experience with Mary Kay and her advice for achieving success in direct sales.

What challenges have you faced in establishing your business?
My biggest challenge has been myself. I am my own worst enemy in just having the confidence that I can do this—that I have the skills and that I have what it takes to run a business myself. But what I have found is every year the personal growth that I’ve experienced no longer makes it a challenge; it makes it … worth it. I’m learning new business skills and new communication skills, and I’m learning how to keep up with technology because I don’t have anyone doing that for me. It’s up to me, and I need to believe in myself.

How has technology helped the functions of your business?
It helped my reach—the availability that I have to stay connected to my customers and consultants. I am able to do more, and because I move around a lot, I am not physically with my people as much as maybe another director may be. Social media has provided me an opportunity to stay connected much more than before. When I started there was no such thing as Facebook.

Why has direct sales been a good fit for you?
The flexibility and being able to adjust my schedule around my husband’s training schedule.

What is your greatest accomplishment with your company?
I would say earning my first pink Cadillac in 2015. It is an achievement based on unit production as a team.

Whom do you consider a mentor?
There is a retired Mary Kay national director, and she is one of the most successful active sales directors. She has tough love, and she understood the business so well she opened my eyes to long-term possibilities.

Below, Ashley shares her tips for using the trending tools of direct sales to expand a customer base and strengthen relationships.

Online Party Tips:
Facebook parties provide an opportunity for connections to be made. But don’t only go after the one-time sale because establishing those long-term relationships are valuable. I truly believe every man or woman on this planet has a skincare need.

Utilizing Social Media Tips:
Don’t overdo it with your social media strategy. Direct sales are a people-driven business, and you can only connect with people so much online. Face-to-face interaction is important.

Establishing a Customer Base Tips:
The beauty of Mary Kay is that we service men and women. Consultants have to open their eyes and see every person as a potential customer. Start with your real estate agent—the first person you get to know in a community. Join local Facebook groups. Invite everyone to try the products.

Finding Local Customers Tips:
There are community events in every area where you can set up, meet new people, and put your face out there. The second thing I will say is military spouses are looking to connect with people. I have been my best hostess when I’m inviting the spouse groups over. It creates community. I present it as an opportunity to connect. I don’t make it just about trying the products; I cook for them, I take care of them, I invite them into my home, and maybe we’ll have a play date after.