Note: I have started writing this piece a handful of times and every time I think about posting it, someone inevitably approaches me about “joining their team” or “having a party” and I worry they’ll think I wrote it in response to our conversation. I promise, this is not about any one person. This is more about the overwhelming presence of MLM’s in my life.
When I was just out of high school, the very first lesson I learned about looking at job listings is that if they make promises that seem too good to be true, it probably is. That and a legitimate job offer will never make you pay for something upfront.
Vector Marketing (or Cutco). That was my first encounter with a Multi-level Marketing (MLM) business. They sent me a letter after my high school graduation promising an income around $15/hr and vague things like, “working one-on-one with people, building your own team, etc.” Luckily the internet existed so I could look up what exactly the company was before I could find out more at an “interview.” Knives. It was selling knives–a sales job. Well, why didn’t you just say so!?! Yeah, I had no interest in that AT ALL. It’s not like I’m passionate about knives. Plus, recruiting others, meant selling them a promise that had yet to be fulfilled for me. Oh, not to mention, that you needed to begin by buying your very own “demo set” of knives for $200!!!
Fast forward 3-4 years to when I began freelancing in events and social media. The nature of my work and the city I lived in led me to lots of networking opportunities. I was happily exchanging business cards with a freelance copywriter, when she invited me to a bar for a presentation with some people in her “business network” who had “really helped her grow her business.” No other info. I was, naively, picturing a tight-knit group of savvy marketing entrepreneurs who give client referrals to each other and who might spend time together getting advice and support on their businesses.
I’ll never forget arriving there early to talk with my new business pal. When I asked for a little more info about what we’d be doing. She just gushed about how much money these people make, “Oh, and the people on top?” She said, “They’re millionaires!” People on top? I wondered. She continued to boast about their success yet continued to leave out any specifics about how these people make their money. Dread set in. I should’ve made an excuse to leave right then and there, but I didn’t want to be impolite.
What followed was an hour-long presentation about communication bundles (internet, cable, phone) and how to sell them in order to help us, as entrepreneurs, fund our passions/endeavors. It was, quite literally, the biggest waste of time in my life. I had actual work that I could’ve been doing.
So, why am I sharing all this now? Well, I find myself in a very conflicted position. As a SAHM and military spouse, I am now inundated with MLM business pitches, invites, groups, etc. on an almost daily basis. I know a handful of people in just about every category of these network marketing businesses (make-up, skincare, housewares, essential oils, workout/nutrition supplements, etc). Now, more frequently than ever, I find myself in that uncomfortable dreaded position of wanting to escape, but also not wanting to be impolite. So here are a few of my personal procedures when I get approached:
- I WILL accept invites to “like” a consultant’s business page
- If I am invited to a Facebook group for a consultant I hit “MUTE NOTIFICATIONS” and then I regularly purge my inactive group memberships (If I didn’t regularly leave groups I’m inactive in, I’d still be a part of about 50 that are just MLM related)
- I WILL attend “online parties” of new businesses I’m not familiar with just to see and understand what they’re about.
- I WILL NOT attend a party for a business more than once if it has already disinterested me.
- I WILL turn down any personal invitation to try out a product or “challenge group” if it’s not something I’m actively seeking out.
- If I see promotions for MLM businesses pop up several times in my feed, I mute whomever is posting them.
I know some people DO find great success or fulfillment from these types of businesses, which is great for them, but they’re usually the exception, not the rule. Just look up “[business name] income disclosure” and you’ll likely find a little asterisk that essentially says that high income is usually only typical for about 1-10% of their salespeople. Somewhere near this footnote you’ll probably also notice some sort of illustration of their recruiting structure, which may or may not resemble a dismantled pyramid.
Still, I can’t help but think of the people like me who tend to feel like they’re getting suckered into opportunities like this; people who might join and start losing money or people who are at a loss with how to get out of the business especially when it’s become intrinsic to part of their social circle. Worst of all, I think about all of the incorrect claims about health and science that are made when peddling some of these products. Remember, almost none of these “consultants” are formally educated in science, nutrition, fitness or the medical field (you can read some snarky commentary in this vein about a couple of popular MLM’s from one of my favorite fitness writers here and here).
I don’t know. Perhaps I should’ve just left this subject alone. I’m not the only one up to my eyeballs in offers and invites though. I do welcome anyone to offer up your thoughts in the comments. Who knows, maybe we’ll have a rebuttal to this post up next week. Until then, I continue to keep MLM’s at arm’s-length.