Study your products and know them well. It’s your job to sell these products, so you should dedicate yourself to knowing everything about them. You’ll need to plan how you will pitch the product to potential customers, how to answer any questions or doubts they may have, and any relevant research or studies that support your product.
The most recent, high profile multi-level marketing company to defend its practices is Herbalife Ltd., a manufacturer and distributor of weight-loss and nutritional products with more than 500,000 distributors. Although the FTC has been investigating Herbalife, it was activist investor William Ackman who shed a national spotlight on the company by shorting $1 billion of the company’s stock in 2013. Ackman accused the company of operating a pyramid scheme and backed his allegations with a bet the company’s stock price would fall under the weight of the scam. As of May 27, 2016, the company’s stock price traded at $59 a share, about where it was five years ago. A lawsuit filed against Herbalife accusing it of misrepresenting its sales practices as legitimate was dismissed.
MLMs and related schemes are remarkably uniform in their structure and business model, the appearance/writing style of their promotional materials, and the behavior of their members. They’ll deny it, which sometimes makes them difficult to spot, but the similarities reveal themselves with even the smallest amount of due diligence and research, and are surprisingly consistent.
But even if LuLaRoe were to go out of business tomorrow, another MLM pushing scented candles, jewelry, or kitchen products would rise up to take its place. “The regulators cannot keep up with these companies,” Brooks says. “There are so many of them. When one company blows up, the founders and high-level distributors move on to another company, and it goes on and on.” At best, LuLaRoe is a company that grew too fast; at worst, it consciously preyed on business-naïve communities eager for a sense of self-sufficiency.
It is important to distinguish between the MLM company itself versus the so-called “independent businesses” run by the MLM participants. Many MLM companies generate billions of dollars in annual revenue and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profit, however, an MLM company’s overall profitability does not correlate to the profitability experience of their participants.
At this point, even if she had quit the next day without selling a thing, LuLaRoe would have made its profit. Kayla acquiesced on Jan. 1st, 2016—and was then immediately encouraged by her upline to buy an additional $1,000 in Valentine’s Day-themed clothing. (Brooks says this tactic is called “channel stuffing” or “inventory loading.”)
In a normal business, the purpose of commissions is to encourage sales; in an MLM, the purpose of sales is to encourage commissions. Everyone wants to be at the top (earning commissions), and nobody wants to be on the bottom (selling). The fatal flaw of pyramid schemes (and MLM, by extension) is that there has to be a bottom somewhere. If everyone recruits, and nobody sells, that’s a pyramid scheme – in all but name.
NXIVM, a self-described MLM specializing in LGAT, turned out to be an abusive sex cult in which members signed themselves into sexual slavery and were branded with the founder’s initials.
Whichever oils company you decide on, one of the best decisions I made was to take oils with me wherever (almost) I go. This carrying case is the perfect size to take while on the go or traveling so you always have your oils with you should the need arise.
No one can perfectly predict “X,” and the situation is not nearly as simple as considered here, but the objective for marketeers is to forecast “X” as closely as possible in order to provide lasting value to all parties involved: to avoid missed opportunities as well as waste, loss, or failure.
The claim that an MLM is merely a “common man” implementation of a normal real-world distribution channel becomes even more absurd in this case. Imagine buying a product or service in the real world and having to pay overrides and royalties to five or ten unneeded and uninvolved “distributor” layers. Would this be efficient? What value do these layers of “distributors” provide to the consumer? Is this rational? Would such a company exist long in a competitive environment?
In fact, Hassay draws a link between MLM’s popularity and the employment opportunities (or lack thereof) available to women. “If you look at ’40s and ’50s, which was the heyday of direct selling, women could be teachers or nurses. There were no other opportunities,” he says. “So, if you wanted some independence, direct selling Tupperware or Avon was all there was.” Unsurprisingly, considering the challenging realities of the job market today, Hassay believes we’re in the midst of a second MLM heyday right now.
Buying products from a network marketing company isn’t cheaper, faster, or more pleasant than buying them on the open market, and it’s often considerably worse in all three of these categories. That’s because unlike normal retail business, where the supply chain is direct and logical (from manufacturer, to wholesaler, to retailer, to customer), in MLMs the supply chain follows the customer’s upline, accumulating markups and compounding inefficiencies at each level of the pyramid. The result is higher prices, frequent unexplained delays, and products that are constantly “on back-order.” MLMs will often try to artificially suppress competition by claiming their product is unique or superior to all others – even claiming that their competitors’ products are poisonous or even Satanic – but equivalent products are always available from normal retail outlets, often at a fraction of the cost.
In some cases, of course, direct selling does replace full-time, salaried gigs. That was the case for Sarah Millar, a 25-year-old personal trainer from Ottawa who joined Stella & Dot because she wasn’t making a consistent enough income on her fitness biz. Since signing up in January 2016, she’s paid off her student loans, gone on two vacations and started saving for a down payment. (She and her high school sweetheart are aiming to buy a home this spring.)
Finally, everyone knows that a good bit of the pricing of MLM products go toward rewarding “top reps” with trips to Hawaii, etc. One company told me that the percentage of their pricing that goes toward commissions and rewards is 40%.
The upper echelons of LuLaRoe’s consultant community have a reputation for being vicious to their downline. “It’s like the policy police,” Ashley says. “‘We’re going to find you, stalk you, tell on you. How dare you guys say a single word bad. We’re going to shame you.’”
Investigate companies. Choosing the right company is key to your success. Quick and easy internet searches can usually answer many of the questions you may have. Do some research to determine which company is best for you personally. Some questions you should ask yourself when researching companies are:
Question your recruiter. When you’ve found a company you’re interested in, you’ll likely meet with a recruiter or another representative. Be skeptical during the recruitment process. Remember that your sponsor makes more money if you sign on, so he may not be as open with you as he could be. Don’t get distracted by promises of how much money you’ll make and really think about what you’re about to do.
Business Students Focus on Ethics: “In the USA, the average annual income from MLM for 90% MLM members is no more than US $5,000, which is far from being a sufficient means of making a living (San Lian Life Weekly 1998)”
More than professional success or flexibility, though, community might be one of MLM’s biggest draws. Like Donald, “a lot of women will join direct selling companies when they become a mom,” Hassay says. “They’re looking for something to do to get out of the house. That one party a week is a significant contributor to mental health, income, a sense that they’re contributing to the family.”
The Pyramid-Scheme-Alert (PSA) organization offers consumer information on MLMs, news of legal cases, analytical tools, insightful articles, and an opportunity to affect new laws and social change by membership and contribution. You can do your own evaluation of any MLM program or suspected pyramid scheme.
Traci Costa, Chief Executive Officer, President and Director of Peekaboo Beans Inc., can speak to that disparity. Not long after Costa founded her company, a kids’ clothing retailer, in 2005, she realized she needed to rethink her sales strategy. She’d tried the boutique route, but found the experience impersonal, and she didn’t feel like she could compete in the online space. That left only one viable option: direct sales.
^ Jump up to: a b Taylor, Jon M. (2002). “Comparing Recruiting MLMs with No-product Pyramid Schemes, and with Gambling”. Consumers Awareness Institute. Archived from the original on March 10, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
Direct selling does not necessarily incorporate the endless chain of recruiting that makes MLM so controversial, and is not necessarily unethical. However, the modern direct selling industry is utterly dominated by MLMs. According to the Deceptive Direct Selling Association (DSA), the industry’s trade association and lobbying arm, 97% of its members are MLMs as of 2017. The distinction between direct selling and network marketing, which many MLMs hide behind to maintain their legitimacy, is therefore essentially meaningless.
Indeed, one of the biggest complaints we’ve heard about MLMs is that once someone joins one, they see every social interaction as an opportunity to make their sales, or add to their downline. Friendships have ended and relationships have broken up through this.
Stern decided to get out after she realized she had $20,000 in unsold wholesale inventory sitting in her living room. “It clicked for me that if you order 30 items, they send you 10 quick movers and the rest sit. It’s a false sense of actually being successful,” she says. “I noticed all these people started going out of business. I started getting scared that my inventory would be worth nothing, and I would be stuck with $8,000 on my credit card.”
But the rest of the business world didn’t always take her seriously: “I took my company public on my own, raised millions on my own,” she says. But “it’s very challenging being a woman in the financial industry trying to raise money for a kid’s clothing company. Investors would ask, ‘Do you sew the clothes?’ Or say, ‘You have a home party business.’ All I do, all day long is prove myself.”
A few people do make big money from MLMs. And these people are often trotted out in promotional videos, celebrated at annual events, and very publicly ‘rewarded’ with prizes like prestigious cars (although these ‘prizes’ aren’t as generous as they first appear – you simply get a discount on the lease which you must take out in your own name, and if your sales fall, the discount ends…). You also need to promote the company on the car they ‘give’ you.
Some modern incarnations of MLMs attempt to address this particular problem by limiting the number of people you can sponsor, say, to four. But the same geometric expansion problems exist; the failure mechanism has just been slowed down a bit. And now there is the added problem of even more unnecessary layers in the organization.
Multi-level marketing is a strategy that some direct sales companies use to encourage their existing distributors to recruit new distributors by paying the existing distributors a percentage of their recruits’ sales; the recruits are known as a distributor’s “downline.” All distributors also make money through direct sales of products to customers. Amway is an example of a well-known direct-sales company that uses multi-level marketing.
Investigate the products or service the company sells. Since you’ll be responsible for pitching and selling this product, make sure it is reputable. Some MLM companies market questionable or dangerous products, and you could face legal action if you take part. You should keep the following in mind when considering a product:
To represent MLM distributorship as a “business opportunity” or “additional income stream” or “side hustle” – let alone claiming that it’s a way to get rich – is manifestly deceptive and a complete misrepresentation. To succeed in an MLM, you must essentially con your downline into buying tickets for a plane that has already taken off.
“Network marketing” and “multi-level marketing” (MLM) have been described by author Dominique Xardel as being synonymous, with it being a type of direct selling. Some sources emphasize that multi-level marketing is merely one form of direct selling, rather than being direct selling. Other terms that are sometimes used to describe multi-level marketing include “word-of-mouth marketing”, “interactive distribution”, and “relationship marketing”. Critics have argued that the use of these and other different terms and “buzzwords” is an effort to distinguish multi-level marketing from illegal Ponzi schemes, chain letters, and consumer fraud scams.
Shortly after, Stern began to pull in anywhere from $18,000 to $24,000 a month in sales. She was working 80-hour weeks with seven women selling underneath her. “The moment I woke up, I was taking pictures and answering questions,” she says. “My husband had to do the food shopping. My daughter has dance one day a week. While she was dancing, all the other moms would talk, but my face was always in my phone. I was uploading albums, or I was part of a multi-consultant sale.”
She was told by one of the consultants in her Facebook group to take out a low-interest credit card to pay for the initial buy, and that she would pay it back within eight weeks at the most. If a consultant’s credit isn’t good enough for a card, some communities of sellers encourage would-be consultants to raise money; there are currently over 400 GoFundMe campaigns to start a LuLaRoe business.
In a classic and severe case of crank magnetism, MLMs are notorious for specializing in products of dubious value (supplements, essential oils, laundry balls) and making pseudoscientific, questionable or outright false claims.
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The Times: “The Government investigation claims to have revealed that just 10% of Amway’s agents in Britain make any profit, with less than one in ten selling a single item of the group’s products.”
So, yes, money can be made with MLM. The question is whether the money being made is legitimate or “made” via a sophisticated con scheme. And if MLM is “doomed by design” to fail, then the answer is, unfortunately, the latter.