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This is an honest post on my experience with an MLM. I’m not going to name and shame here or single out any particular company. I simply want to share my story and allow you to form your own opinion of the industry.
Also known as Network Marketing, MLM stands for Multi Level Marketing. The business structure is often described as a pyramid scheme and requires those who join to both sell products and recruit others to do the same. All businesses have different tiers of what they often refer to as management, with different terminology used by each. Perks are offered at each new level, most famously cars and cash bonuses. Whilst some people make large sums of money from this business model, the majority invest in getting started but never manage to make it past the first level of management.
Why I Joined an MLM
Five years ago, when I was first approached about joining an MLM, my career situation was at an tricky stage. I had recently graduated from seven years at university during which I had worked in a number of different offices. I was now trying to settle into a new full time job.
So much time spent focusing on architecture was beginning to wear on me and my restless personality was keen for a change. Working in an office full time wasn’t the best fit for me. I found the five days of sitting in the same seat and looking at the same four walls very monotonous. The reality of architecture in practice was very different to the creative flare that university had promised.
Still in the midst of wondering how to move forward, I was presented with the MLM opporuntity. I made the decision to join after just one meeting. The person who signed me up was a friend and someone I trusted. With the promise of financial freedom, big bonuses and frequent trips to destinations around the world, the idea of working from 9-5 came to seem ridiculous. After just a handful of months of building my “business” I made the decision to leave my job. At this stage I still wasn’t making an income.
No matter the company you look at in the network marketing world, the promise given by each is the same. “If you join us you will live the life of your dreams”. When I was taken to my first big meeting I heard the very same from women at the top of the company. Sadly I was naive and unhappy and clung to every word of it. The friendly group of girls I was introduced to and the fancy hotels that meetings were held in certainly helped to encourage my confidence in my decision. “If these girls do this every day and call it work” I thought, “why would I be daft enough to work from someone else?!”
My Selling Experience
When I first began my business I distinctly remember having a complete lack of understanding about what a consultant (the name for a base level “business” owner in this company) actually did. Every time I asked the question I received the response “this, this is what we do!”. It was so unclear. What my sponsor meant by that was, we meet with potential team members and do our best to convince them to buy products and join the company. This was never said out loud though. Not word for word anyway.
With a little more clarity, other members of the business explained that the products our company produced were incredible quality. Even better, each time we bought them from our own shops we made commission. This basically meant that you received a discount. If we could convince others to do the same, we would earn a small commission from those sales too. The wording always suggested what was required but never explained the system clearly. Put bluntly, you need to have other people buy from you and also sell to others in order to make money.
The most commonly used phrase was “what do we do? we just share this incredible opportunity”. Followed closely by “you decide how successful you are. If you believe it you can achieve it”. Now I’m all for a positive attitude and firmly believe that we can all benefit from working on ourselves. However. I do not believe in the pressure and judgement placed on people by those in MLM companies if they choose not to race to the top.
To begin my own selling I was encouraged to host two parties. Within the first week of my business. Read that again. Within just seven days of setting up my business I was enthusiastically encouraged to host two full parties with guests. I don’t normally make plans with friends with such little notice so this was the first big red flag for me and my first experience of stress and discomfort around selling. It was presented to me that if I hosted these parties quickly and did a good job that I would come across as a serious business owner. Of course the reality was that the sooner I made my first sale, the sooner my sponsor and the team members above her could reap the rewards. Not just in commission, but also in stats.
This was the next thing that hit me. Sales were important. More important however, were the stats. The points that you achieved each month. With every MLM company, as far as I am aware, all sales and business targets are set from month to month. In order to receive a cash bonus you require X number of points in a month. In order to promote to the next level of management you will need X number of points in the a month.
When I first signed up to the business I was told that I was self-employed and could go at my own business. Once I was in, every word spoken was about those targets. “You want to show people you’re serious.” “It’s important to support your team members.” “Don’t make it all about you. Make it about the people you can help.” These were all phrases that were dished out daily. Suddenly “my business” was filled with pressure and huge goals. Of course I loved the idea of being successful and earning a good wage. With everything that was thrown at me though I just felt overwhelmed and honestly, scared.
The most frightening part of all however, is the money that you are expected to “invest” in the beginning. How can you possibly promote your business if you don’t use any of the products that you’re selling after all?! This is when I was encouraged to “become a product of the product”. At first it seemed reasonable. I could order a couple of items and make sure I liked them, no problem. No no. Not a couple. I was asked to buy over £1000 worth of product. This is what they consider a standard starter kit.
When I explained that it simply wasn’t possible for me to afford that much a credit card was suggested. I was asked to go into debt. This was asked of me on the day that I signed up. Instead, I opted to spend about £300, which is still far more than anyone should.
Sadly, with the pressures of both account maintenance and big targets and the support I should show my team mates I did end up spending far more and it still upsets me now. To clarify, not only are there big targets which you are encouraged to set each month. You are required to hit a minimum number of points each month just to keep your business running. If you do not hit this minimum amount you will not be able to make money.
My “selling” efforts for the six months or so that I had my business were few and far between. I booked as many meetings as I could, often with people that I hadn’t seen in years. Reaching out to strangers was even encouraged. Looking for people who might be in need of something else, such as a new mum or a poor student for example. When I had exhausted my list of potential candidates social media and the local high street became the next place to search. It was bizarre and incredibly uncomfortable. None of my attempts were successful in achieving me sales or a new team member.
As you can imagine, none of this was healthy for my relationships with friends and family. My fiance and parents were furious about the money and time which I spent on the business. Whilst still convinced that I was doing the right thing I fought against them, certain that I was going to turn things around. My poor friends had to put up with invites to parties and text messages asking if they would like to buy anything. I’m so fortunate to say that none of the damage was lasting, but the embarrassment I faced ran deep.
Overall, I made no profit from my business. In fact, I lost of £1000. I’ve never actually calculated the total and I never will. Five years on I have let go of the mistake and mark it as a huge life lesson.
My Warning to Others
My attitude in life is very much “each to their own”. We are all adults and we can all make our own decisions. I would however like to just place a warning here to others. When presented with an opportunity, no matter what form that comes in, take some time to really consider it before saying yes or no. Especially when you are at a point in life when you are potentially vulnerable and looking for change.
When I jumped on bored with the company I had a “business” with I was not thinking rationally. In that moment I was looking for something different and the promises of big earnings and a secure future sucked me in. I was convinced by the picture that was painted for me, by people that I really felt I could trust.
What I didn’t do was take a step back to do my own independent research of the company and of the reality of how I might earn an income. I was oblivious to what was really required of me and the impact which that would have on both myself and my relationships with friends and family.
I think that it is fair to say that most people join an MLM business for the income. Especially as it is suggested that they could make a large amount of money and quickly if they are dedicated enough. In reality, there is no such thing as getting rich quick. Nothing happens without effort and commitment. You have everything it takes to be successful. Huge success, that many of us dream of is entirely possible. Just remember, it doesn’t happen overnight.
One Positive Outcome
There was something positive which came out of having an MLM business for me. I understand this will sound strange, but hear me out. In my determination not to go back to the 9-5 job which I had really struggled with, I came to realise that there are other routes to making an income from home. Many many other routes. The complete failure of my MLM business kick-started my search for another option and lead to the work I now do. Working from home is not quite as glamorous as many MLM promoters will have you believe, but it can bring you a lot of happiness and it certainly doesn’t have to involve any awkward selling parties.
If you have any questions please just leave them in the comments below. I’m sure I will have missed large portions and important details of the story.
If you have been caught up in an MLM as I was and find yourself with left with a lot of debt, this book really helped me to regain control of my finances. Don’t worry, it won’t tell you to stay positive and be a boss babe. Dave just gives solid money advice. (Ad affiliate – I recommend it because it helped me).
If you are interested in reading more MLM experiences from others there are a couple of well known stories that are definitely worth a look. Possibly the famous is Elle Beau’s account of her experience with a well known beauty brand. Most recently, the story of Kimberley (@miss_valetti) has also brought to light the extreme approach that many MLM business owners take to growing their team and their income. Kiki Chanel on YouTube also shares many many stories about this industry. If you are UK based, Charlotte Dickerson has made several YouTube videos on her own experience with network marketing, which was scarily similar to my own!