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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