How many friends do you have that sell something to make a bit of income? Maybe it’s essential oils or spice blends. Perhaps it’s cosmetics or plastic containers. Nail wraps, dubious weight loss products, scrap booking kits, clothing or even linen? Maybe you sell something like this yourself or, like me, you’ve tried it.

No matter what the product, there’s a few common denominators. I bet you know what your friends sell because they use their social media feeds to market it. There’s a good chance you’ve been involved in multi-level marketing (MLM) yourself in some way- buying or selling. And I would lay money on the fact that the vast majority of people you know of who are trying to make a go of a multi-level marketing business are women.

My Short and Unsuccessful Stint in Multi-Level Marketing.

I signed up with Avon and lasted a few months before cancelling my account. I was terrible at it and made no money at all, instead buying cheap cosmetics and beauty products that I didn’t necessarily need. My reason for joining was much like anyone else’s: Make a few extra bucks on the side. The start up cost was small, around $20 from memory, and I didn’t need to host parties. It sounded pretty easy. But I sucked at it.

The biggest factor, for me, was my unwillingness to exploit personal relationships. I remember posting a couple of times on Facebook that I was selling Avon if anyone was keen on ordering. I would ask my closest mates, every now and then, if they wanted anything ordered. When it came to the hard-sell, I was shithouse; if they said no, I didn’t try to convince them. I figured they knew if they wanted a deodorant or some new lip gloss better than I did.

I’ve held and attended multi-level marketing parties. I’ve bought clothes, cosmetics, appliances and more. The multi-level marketing machine is partially fueled by people like me, to an extent. But it’s only recently that I’ve really thought much about it.

Multi-Level Marketing and Women.

Companies that distribute their products through multi-level marketing almost exclusively target women. The products are predominantly designed to appeal to women, whether they are kitchen-oriented, cosmetic or health-based. Perhaps the most insidious are the weight-loss products sold in this way. At one point, for example, I was flooded with new Instagram followers. All women and all with one disturbing common thread. Each would regularly feature pictures of their midsections, wrapped in some kind of cling film. Each spruiking the latest miracle in weight-loss called, amusingly, ItWorks! Amusing, because it most assuredly does not work. That’s just one company of the many selling non-evidence based “health” products that border on insulting the intelligence of their clientele.

Some MLM schemes offer benefits, like generous consultant discounts and bonuses and can be great for those just wanting to shop for themselves. But many women sign up seeking an income stream.

Why Do Women Buy in to MLM?

By and large, it’s women on board the MLM train. I think it comes down to the fact that many women are seeking flexible work to enable them to care for their families while still bringing in an income. Our society doesn’t value women who stay at home to raise kids. You might be shouldering the bulk of domestic duties or caring for kids but you are not contributing meaningfully to society or the economy, right?  You read about stay at home mums living on an “allowance” allotted by their partners or women being attacked for daring to access paid parental leave entitlements. The juggling act of work and parenting is frowned upon, too. Case in point:

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Multi-level marketing companies often claim to “empower” women to work from home. Minimal effort, terms like “passive income” and  the potential to work up to a 6-figure income? Sounds brilliant.

Where it Falls Down.

It comes down to effort, cost and collateral damage if you’re going to go hard at it.

If you are working within a party-plan framework, for example, you have to find willing hosts. Even with direct selling, you have to market the products and sell the idea. And who are you selling it to? Your friends and family. This can strain your relationships because you are reliant on their support to get your business off the ground. I have hosted and attended MLM parties purely to support a friend starting out. And yes, I almost always feel obligated to buy something.

My friend recalls an acquaintance inviting herself over to socialise and bringing along a sales-pitch DVD. She spent the evening trying to sign up my friend to sell vitamin supplements. Awkward, much? Those days are gone with the advent of social media. A lot of multi-level marketing businesses train their consultants in some fairly aggressive personal marketing techniques. Things like private messaging Facebook friends with sales pitches, posting marketing material to their friend’s Facebook walls, tagging everyone they know in sales-related posts. Social media has really taken multi-level marketing to a new level.

And while we all want to help our mates, it becomes really off-putting. The fall-out is the collateral damage I’m talking about. When you only get in touch to pressure-sell or guilt your family and friends into spending with you, you risk losing relationships.

Effort and Cost.

Let’s take one example most people will be familiar with- Nutrimetics. Nice products and they have both party-plan and direct sales. An ex-consultant told me her start-up kit cost $149 and she’d have gotten the cost back if she made $1000 in sales in her first month. She didn’t make that.

The Nutrimetics website says that the earning potential is “uncapped”. Going of their chart, you can make 30-45% of what you sell. Sell $1000 worth in a month and you get $300. The chart shows this to be achieved by having 2 parties, each taking up 3 hours of your time and therefore earning you $50 per hour. The reality is somewhat different. It doesn’t factor in making deliveries afterwards or buying anything you might need to run your parties. I’ve been told most consultants buy things like bowls, headbands, tissues and cotton wool wipes etc to conduct their group beauty treatments.

What happens when you run out of willing friends? There’s a reason so few make it to the top-tier in these schemes and I’d bet that is one of them.

Here’s the story of the last Nutrimetics party I unwittingly attended:

The Party.

To start with, we didn’t book a party. My friend entered a raffle and was told she’d won an in-home facial for herself and three friends. We stocked up on wine and dips and booked a time. The consultant showed up with her Nutrimetics kit and gave us all a facial treatment after a lengthy spiel and run-through of the entire catalogue.

She was lovely and helpful and we all felt obliged to buy something. Our total spend was less than $300 but let’s round it up to that. The consultant spent over 4 hours with us, not leaving until well after 11 pm. We’ll say 4 hours for the sake of crunching numbers. Let’s do the maths:

30% of $300 is $90. Over 4 hours, that brings her hourly rate down to $22.50. Factor in the fact that it was night time- no penalty rates here. Not to mention the petrol and time required to drop off our orders. Or the follow-up. She hand-delivered catalogues to each of us for months afterwards. I often see this same lady at the monthly local markets, where she pays over $50 for a stall. I don’t know what she makes regularly, of course, but there seems to be a fair bit more to it that simply hosting a couple of parties a month.

Fairly Warned…

I see memes and posts from direct sellers all the time, reminding their friends and family that buying through them is helping a family pay their bills or contributing to a child’s extracurricular activities, rather than buying a third holiday home for a rich CEO or whatever, but this is disingenuous. Many of these companies are worth truckloads of cash. Younique, for example, is a billion-dollar company.  So while buying through friends can help them make a bit of extra income, don’t be fooled; there are definitely CEOs and the like getting wealthier off the backs of the women that work in their MLM schemes.

If you’re looking to make some money, I’m not going to begrudge you that. Hell, I’ll even support you when I can. But I can’t help but look at multi-level marketing business as something that inherently seeks to exploit women. The remuneration generally advertised ignores so much of the actual legwork involved and it seems like just another way to tell women that the work they do isn’t important or valuable.

 

#IBOT @ Capturing Life.

Images- header via Pixabay.

Gifs via Giphy.

 

 

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  • This is so interesting and I can totally relate. I’ve been reading a lot about MLM recently. I tried it and sucked at it too. Man, I sucked so bad. I actually really loved the product and genuinely wanted to share it with my friends, but not at the expense of my personal relationships, which after all are priceless. I know of women who have made six figure incomes from running successful MLM businesses, but while their bank balances are surely fat, I can’t help but think what their business cost their personal relationships.

    • It seems to really get up to that tier, you have to live and breathe the product. And I wonder, truly, how the hours compare to another woman on a six figure income outside of MLM.

      • Exactly. And out of the thousands of people who work for the company only about 1% if that are on that elusive top tier. And that’s not all. Once you get to the top, you don’t stay there unless you continue to work your business.

        • That’s a good point, there’s no scale in MLM. You have to constantly work your ass off at the same rate. I had someone telling me I could make $60k …and they took it a bit badly when I said “So what, I make more than that anyway”.

  • LydiaCLee

    I did the AVON thing to sell the DVDs (Thomas, Angelina etc) as a fundraiser for Daycare. There were a couple of regular buyers of the lipsticks but really we raised very little for daycare. Maybe $100 or $150 a quarter…

  • I am now scared to talk to anyone if they say the Arbonne. I have a met a few and they actually hassle you – not good at all. I have requested one of these ladies removes me from her email list immediately as I am NOT INTERESTED in being an awesome consultant. I won’t buy the products now for fear of being hassled. #teamIBOT

  • I had a short stint in multi level marketing. It didn’t work for me because I refused to talk to my family and friends about it. I didn’t want to make them feel like they had to help me out. Which is silly, because I’m sure they would have if I’d asked. Which meant I had to go and try and sell without the “networking”. Anyway, it didn’t work for me. Plus the stuff I was selling was left of centre and hugely expensive. It was never going to work for me.

    I don’t tend to buy from party plan type stuff, but I do adore Miglio Jewellery which is party plan. I just buy it straight from the lady who sells it though (I don’t do go to the parties anymore). Not that I don’t love a good party … more that I find they fall at times that I am not available.

  • One of my issues with MLM is that I think it’s wrong to start a business using your family and friends. I sometimes go to friends parties, but I have no problem saying no to buying. I really don’t use and buy much stuff in general, so a “party” doesn’t change that.

  • I used to have a Nutrimetics account, mostly so I could buy stuff at a discount, I never went out of my way to sell stuff. I would send a quick email to my friends who I knew used the stuff to see if they wanted anything, and pass the catalogue around at work, but at most I think all I ever got out of it was a 20% discount off the products and a few freebies with each order. The only problem was that I had to put in an order every 5 months to keep my account active, and once I stopped working that just wasn’t possible and my account was closed. I don’t think I’ll ever get back in to MLM, I get too annoyed by all the people on my FB doing it to do that to others, lol! Except for Thermomix, I might possibly consider selling Thermomixes, purely just to get a free one and then give it up after I’ve sold the requisite amount, lol!
    #teamIBOT

  • Personally I wouldn’t do it because the rewards always seem too good to be true. I will happily go to any friends’ parties though but I don’t buy anything unless I actually want it.

  • It completely exploits women at every level – from the fact that we are guilted into buying things we don’t need because we want to support our friends to promising the world and delivering very little to those who sign up. And the sales opps that pose as “prizes” – ugggh. Not. A. Fan.

  • Tash Laughton

    In all the friends I have who are doing or have done MLM none of them could ever make it a full time gig… although they were always promised the dream. I still support my friends in their businesses but by golly they work hard for not much reward.

    • I agree- never seen anyone make the much-vaunted six figure income.

  • Amanda

    The main reason I think women do get into MLM is because of the promise to make that extra money. Mostly SAHM wanting to contribute to incomes, because, let’s face it, everything is expensive. I don’t think anyone should get into it unless you absolutely love what you are selling, though! I know a few who have made it work for them and I support them in their decision, but it makes me wonder if there needs to be more real opportunities to make a little extra while still working at your own pace/hours without needing to get into MLM. The effort put in is usually super high and payoff can be super low.

    • Exactly- I bet there are more jobs that could be done at home if employers were more flexible.

  • I can’t stand them… I think because my mum bought into about a billion of these damned schemes when I was a kid and I had to bear so many stupid parties and ridiculous products that NO ONE WOULD EVER NEED. Her latest was a set of cookware that – get this – cost more than $4k.

    So when a friend tries to invite me to one of these events, or PMs me telling me I would be awesome at selling XYZ, I thank them for the compliment, politely refuse the invitation, and go slam my head on a wall before having a long and hard think about whether we are, in fact, actually real friends or whether I’m just there for exploiting.

    Also, how bad are those comments about Larissa Waters’ breastfeeding? That makes me so sad.

  • Anna banana

    I quietly recoil when I hear a friend start the spiel. I get it. We all need to make a buck, but I completely get your point about exploiting personal relationships. It’s a wobbly line. AND I totally went through a run of plastic bloody tummy wraps on Insta, too! Boooo!

    • Yep, I get the need for $$ I just feel women in MLM are getting ripped off more often than not!

  • I can’t stand them and I’ve defriended some people because of the hard sell. Even my uber driver the other day tried to sell me Isagenix! I also can’t stand all the Instagram accounts. #beabossbabe and all the stuff. I’ve been added by friends of friends who need help with “wellness” businesses and then I’ve found out that it’s MLM… Not for me. But each to their own.

    • Isagenix is no different to any other VLC shake you can buy- which is what bugs me about it! So much more expensive and comes with additional unproven claims!

  • Aleney de Winter

    Let me start by saying or jumping on the pyramid because I’m not selling or even naming the product… but a friend, who is male, twisted my arm to try his multi-level marketing health product and just helped me to lose the13 kilograms (and still reducing) I needed to lose for health reasons (as a pre-diabetic) in 3 months. The same weight that my doctor, medicine and even a strict doctor-referred diet as outlined by a specialist nutritionist’s diet hadn’t made a gram of difference to in THREE YEARS. They are making money selling their products, just as the dude in the shop makes theirs. Only difference I could see with the people who do this with him are that they have a passion for it and genuinely get excited when someone has success, even if they’re not a personal customer.

    • Some of the stuff we can buy through MLMs is great stuff- for sure- it’s the model I take issue with. I’m currently obsessed with a clothing brand sold MLM in the states and I’ve bought other great products too! I’m glad you’ve found something that is helping you improve your health- that’s fab!

  • Fi Morrison

    I agree on trying to help friends in their endeavours – you want them to succeed as much as possible. But there are some that are overly pushy and that gets me. Especially people I don’t know on Insta, who follow me then instant message me pushing their product. Like, I don’t know you. There is so much work that goes into MLM – and I get that relationships would be vital to it all. So sad as you say that they generally exploit hard working women who are trying to make some money to do things like stay at home with the kids (which I tooooootally get).

    • Yeah, it’s really aggressive and off-putting!

  • I did Tupperware years ago when I was desperate for extra cash; didn’t make any, though I did set myself up with Tupperware for life! I think you have to be a certain personality to do MLM successfully. I didn’t like pushing people, so didn’t sell much nor book any parties. Of course this was long before social media …

    • I know a few ex tupperware people who did the same!