Thoughts on MLM (from someone who’s been there, done that)

These days, everyone is looking for a side hustle. And multi level marketing/direct sales companies can certainly be appealing with their relatively inexpensive start-up costs, and stories of those at the top who have left their 9-5 jobs to earn lots of money (not to mention the cars in the company color, trips and cruises, and other high-value freebies) selling a product they love. When you truly love what you do, it doesn’t even feel like work, right? [insert barf noise here] Oh, and don’t forget the product discounts.

Is it possible? Absolutely. There really are people (typically women, many of them moms) who enjoy the flexibility of a work-from-home job that can actually provide significant income for their families. We see those women in their Facebook groups talking about how their MLM company has changed their lives, how they are so grateful for the sisterhood and the extra time with their kids, and we want that, too.  And rightfully so. As a mom, I’m constantly trying to find a way to make enough money to quit my day job and work on my own terms so I can spend more time with my son. Side note, I haven’t found it yet, so if you have any brilliant ideas that aren’t an MLM (I’ll get to that in a minute), let me know.

Within the last eight-ish years, I’ve joined three different MLM companies, and am currently still a member of two of them. I won’t name names, and I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about any of them, but I will refer to them as X, Y, and Z for the purposes of explaining my decisions.  I’ve been with X the longest and continue with them because there is no fee to remain an independent consultant (that’s not what this company actually calls it, but I’ll use that general term universally) and you get the same product discount even if you’re not active, so there’s really nothing to lose.  Plus, I genuinely do love their products and I still hold out hope for an occasional sale (which I do get, but I mean very occasionally). I joined Y because I loved the product and still do. However, the commission per product was very low and there was a monthly fee; albeit a small monthly fee, but when you’re pretty much breaking even, it just doesn’t seem worth it. That’s the problem with a product that doesn’t cost much; the percentage you make from each sale/the percentage discount on your own purchases isn’t significant unless you’re selling a whole lot. I joined Z less than a year ago. Again, absolutely love the products and wanted the discount. This company charges a relatively low yearly membership fee and actually frames it as the opportunity to become an independent consultant OR wholesale customer. Fair enough.

With all of these, no matter how great I believed the products were, I quickly blew through friends and family who were willing to purchase or host Facebook parties for me, and then I gave up. I just didn’t know where to go from there, and all the Facebook groups and online trainings in the world just couldn’t make me good at it. So this is where all of you who are currently working your MLM business look at me and say, “Well, that’s it…you’re not good at it. It’s because of you, not the company.” And you’d be right. I’ve come to terms with the fact that, no matter how badly I wanted an MLM business to be my ticket out of the 9-5 (or for me, 11-7) world, it’s just not for me. So, that’s why I say don’t come to me with promises of wealth and freedom as part of your downline. Oh, that’s another thing. I’ve never sponsored, or even tried to sponsor, an independent consultant. I wasn’t successful, and just couldn’t bring myself to try to drag anyone else down with me.

Now, with all that being said, I’m not knocking MLMs at all. It’s not a bad business model, if you ask me (granted, I have absolutely no business background or expertise whatsoever), and I know for a fact that many people are successful with them. I’m not entirely sure what they have that I don’t; more perseverance, more general confidence, more connections, more sales experience (although, if you ask anyone who is successful in an MLM, they’ll tell you that you don’t need any sales experience if you truly believe in the product), better networking skills? I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter. Back in the day, before everyone and their mother/daughter/sister/niece were getting into MLM, I remember hearing the term “pyramid scheme.” It’s a pyramid alright, but I don’t like the word “scheme.” The word “scheme” implies deception, and I don’t think that’s the case. In my experience, MLM companies are pretty transparent in their compensation plans.  We may receive an unrealistic, or atypical, message of the level of success to expect, but that’s kind of on us to navigate, so you can’t blame the company. And for those at the top who have grown large teams and are making significant income, some of it passive, it is a full-time job. Those who do it well and actually care about what they’re doing put a lot of effort and time into training and supporting the teams they’ve built. I’ve seen some truly fantastic leaders in the MLM world.

These days, it’s easy to log on to Facebook or Instagram and become inundated with posts and messages from people who want to tell you all about why you should buy their product or join their awesome MLM company. You’ll ask an innocent question in a Facebook group and suddenly you’ve got 20 direct messages from other women “just like you” who have the perfect solution (but only after they’ve tried to form an at least somewhat inauthentic relationship with you because that’s what network marketing is all about…relationships) and I understand why you’d be annoyed by that. To be honest, I get annoyed sometimes, too. But the point is this… at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to make a living doing something we can actually get excited about. No one is trying to deceive you or get you to join a cult. There’s a kind way to let someone know you’re not picking up what they’re putting down. So, try to remember that the next time someone approaches you with their MLM product or “opportunity.” It’s not about you. It’s just about the hustle. And the struggle is real.