This time last year I was dipping my toes into the most parasitic region of the private sector in an act of desperation, and unsurprisingly, they very quickly got bitten off. Whilst I’m sure that there are a lot of principled and decent businesses out there in the vast and formidable ocean of employment, I, unfortunately, didn’t manage to fish any of them out. I was working on our neo-liberal free-market economy’s roughest edge: direct sales and marketing.
I don’t want to chirp on about how difficult I have been finding it as young graduate entering the job market, but eating soup with a fork might be easier as far as I’m concerned. After numerous rejection letters, emails and telephone calls I finally got offered an interview with a Marketing and Sales Company based in Southampton. I didn’t actually remember applying for a job with them but I had filled out so many applications that I might not have remembered. The energetic woman on the phone said that they had looked at my CV and wanted to invite me in for a first-stage interview for a position on their ‘management training programme’. I was over the moon with delight; finally someone had actually read my CV and seemed to like what they saw.
So I went in for the first round of interviewing. When I stepped into their offices I thought that it seemed like a very cool work environment with bright red walls, fish tanks and a pool table. There were quite a number of other applicants waiting in line for an interview which made me quite nervous and desperate to set myself apart from the rest. The interview itself lasted a total of about three minutes most of which consisted of my interviewer talking about herself and what she did within the organisation. I walked away quite bewildered and not fully understanding the exact specifications of the job at hand.
Alas, I received a call that very evening from my interviewer who claimed that she was very impressed with my interview and wanted to invite me in for the second stage. Again, I couldn’t believe it and celebrated at the fact that I had got this far along the interviewing process.
The second interview consisted of me being taken out onto the street with a bunch of other young graduates and foreign students and being ‘observed’ by a ‘lead account manager’ as they knocked on doors and tried to sign people up for loft and cavity wall insulation. It wasn’t exactly or even slightly what I expected but I was willing to give it a chance, after all, it was promised that this was just the first stage of the ‘management training process’ and I would “soon have my own office and team and be making an average of £1000-£4000 per week.”
Surprise, surprise, I was given the job! From this point onwards it was a downward spiral of lies and greed. I was made to do two days of unpaid training which lasted from 10am until 10pm, I was exhausted but keen to prove myself and work my way up the ‘metaphorical hierarchy’. They could justify not paying us because we were technically ‘self-employed’ despite telling us where and when to work (and thus breaking what I understood to be employment law). Everything was commission-based which I would never usually go for but I had no other prospects so I felt like I had to accept this.
I soon got to know my colleagues and quickly found that many of them hadn’t even graduated high school, never mind university, some couldn’t speak or comprehend English fully and one of them had apparently been convicted of a violent crime. It seemed that they were hiring anybody and everybody and not doing any background checks.
Every morning we all gathered in the office with false cheer and hopes, you could see the desperation and greed in people’s eyes; hoping that they might one day ascend into management. I had been drawn into the cult-like atmosphere where we were force-fed positivity through American style chanting and daily inspirational stories.
Then we went out in the freezing cold and spend hours knocking on strangers’ doors hoping that we might be able to convince at least a few people to sign-up so that at least our travel expenses would be covered. I actually did quite well, I ‘rang a bell’ most days (this means I got at least four). I was excited to receive my long awaited pay but was disappointed each week as it came as it was always much less that I had anticipated and the managers were all ‘too busy running a business’ to look into it. I wasn’t the only person in this position, we weren’t supposed to discuss negative topics when working but three of us cracked and had long discussions about all the things that had gone wrong i.e. underpayment, the managers sending us out without badges or insurance or CRBs, etc. and we decided to quit.
We decided that we could in fact do it better, we would set up our own business and learn from the mistakes of the company we had worked for; we would treat each other and our sales reps with respect and openness, we would make sure that we were all protected and provided a sense of security to our reps by covering training costs, paying them properly and giving them a higher commission rate alongside making sure that everything was above board; seeking legal advice and writing up contracts and agreements.
HOW WRONG WE WERE. We may have started our sales and marketing company up with good intentions but ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. It must have felt something like when Lenin wrote ‘What is to Be Done’ and started the Communist Revolution across Eastern Europe but eventually the ends got forgotten in the means that were taken to get there and true communism was never actually realised because man is inherently selfish and greedy.
To cut a very long and tiresome story short the result was one of my ‘Directors in Partnership’ arguing with me about asbestos outside the front of a back-alley pub and then telling me using his best Alan Sugar impression that I was “out”. A very direct ending to my career in Direct Sales and Marketing. I felt like George Orwell’s Boxer the horse getting taken to the glue factory; I had written the business plan, drafted the contracts for our sales representatives, made a leaflet, picked up appointments and set-up our Facebook and email and now I was redundant. I was just another finger in the honey-pot and they wanted more honey to themselves so I was getting carted-off by the knackers.
Our business had become just like the one we had previously been working for, if not worse, and all within three weeks of setting it up. It felt exactly like the story of ‘Animal Farm’ but also exactly the opposite as our story was reared by capitalism and not communism. Within the first month, the principles on which we had hoped to build our company on had become reduced to a single principle: All directors are equal, but some directors are more equal than others.
I’m writing this article for one core motive: to warn any other naïve young people like myself not to get sucked-up by a Direct Sales and Marketing company and cling on to the hope that it might actually work for you and make you rich. It’s not a safe and steady environment to work in and it’s full of dodgy dealings and corner cutting fuelled by people’s greed and desperation. It will leave you feeling violated and scammed.
Hollie Weatherstone is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.