WHEN Grazyna Bylinka came to Huddersfield from her native Poland in 2004, she spoke barely a word of English.
Now the 34-year-old, who came to this country to improve her career prospects, is a chatty, successful businesswoman and a well-known face at local networking meetings.
Grazyna, who is known as Grace to her English friends, runs her own business promoting and selling Swedish cosmetics and skincare by Oriflame from her home at Birchencliffe.
She is one of the company’s most successful traders in Britain, turning over £500,000 a year and leading 10 nationwide teams comprising about 500 people.
She first sold Oriflame products to her friends when she was a student at Warsaw University. She resumed the link-up after coming to Britain by becoming a consultant in 2007 to make a bit of extra cash alongside her full-time job.
She rose quickly through the ranks and in 2009 became a regional manager – a job title referring to her level of seniority, not geographical responsibilities.
She has built her teams through talking to people, networking, referrals and recruitment and manages them via social media and webinars as well as face-to-face meetings.
As well as being responsible for the sales and growth of her team, she sells Oriflame products across West Yorkshire via online orders, stands at local events and networking meetings.
Grazyna is a prominent member of the Ladies 4 Networking group, which meets in Milnsbridge, but also attends networking events in Huddersfield, Brighouse and Halifax.
Grazyna studied tourism management at university, but discovered that her graduation certificate was not enough to get her a job. She decided to come to Britain to get work experience.
“I got an ‘open ticket’ to stay for a year, thinking I could always go back home if I was not happy,” she says.
“That first year was the hardest because I had no family here, no contacts and very little English, but I decided to stay a bit longer!”.
Grazyna initially worked as a waitress at Casa Mia and the Radisson in Leeds before becoming hospitality assistant at KPMG – and renewing her Oriflame connection.
“I knew the brand and the products and I saw an opportunity to earn some extra money,” she says.
“I realised there was an opportunity to run a business when I invited other people to join – and my team grew enough for me to give up my full-time job in catering and become self-employed.
“I have managers based in Batley, Leeds and Doncaster, but I have a team of 500 people all over the UK. One of my main aims for 2013 is to look for additional managers for the team.”
Says Grazyna: “I am a big believer in personal contacts, helping people in the team and developing their skills.
“When I joined, I never thought I was going to be a manager – but people helped me on the way.
“Ninety per cent of the people in the team are mothers or students, people wanting to earn extra money to supplement their income.
“They like the products, they use the products and they sell them among family and friends. And, yes, the majority of the team members are ladies.”
Grazyna stresses that her job – and that of her team – is to “promote” the products rather than giving it the “hard sell”.
She says: “It is a well-established brand established in Sweden by two brothers who are still in charge of the company.
“It has been going for 45 years and started in the UK in the 1970. I joined at a fantastic time, four years ago when the company was being relaunched across the UK.
“I am passionate about the products and I have never had any regrets about joining. I can be working from home or visiting team members, having a meeting with one of my managers or out delivering orders.”
While Grazyna has big plans for her business in 2013, she has other reasons to look forward to next year – an August wedding and a honeymoon in Australia. She’s engaged to Christopher, who she describes as her gorgeous Yorkshire lad. Much of her spare time is spent organising things for the big day.
Meanwhile, there are contacts to make and networking events to attend. Says Grazyna: “When I joined the networking group I couldn’t believe there were so many businesswomen out there, so many friendly faces and people happy to help.
“After being a member for a few months, it felt like going to lunch with friends. It isn’t hard work or the ‘hard sell’ – it’s building relationships.
“I learned a lot – how to present, how to talk to people – and it helped me become more confident to talk about myself and what I do.
“Attending networking events is an investment. You always get this big buzz from the meetings and there are so many useful businesses who can provide services you need.”
Grazyna’s talents also extend to sewing – a skill she acquired over several years. She jokes that if things don’t work out, she has sewing to fall back on as a career.
And she adds: “I went to a party and found I was wearing the same dress as another girl, which felt awful. Next time, I will make my own dress!”