It was 2008 and I had just moved to Atlanta. Like many twenty-somethings I didn’t have a lot of money. I was working two jobs to make ends meet and living with a friend in a low-to-middle-class suburb. So when a coworker told me how much she loved selling Mary Kay, and how it could change people’s lives, it seemed like a dream come true. I think I lasted about a year. I had fallen prey, like so many do, to a Multilevel Marketing scheme. That’s right, I said a “scheme” – I’m coming out swinging. I was able to get out, and you can, too. And you NEED to – your multilevel marketing business is ruining your friendships.
If you aren’t familiar with MLMs (which, I’m betting you are, because YOU CAN’T ESCAPE THEM), they used to be known as “pyramid schemes”. It’s actually less about selling product and more about recruiting people to sell under you. The people at the top make the most money off of how many underlings they have underneath them. When I was a Mary Kay rep, I sold a bit, but not nearly enough to make back my original investment. Some of my friends avoiding talking to me. The ones that didn’t, couldn’t afford the products even if they were really fantastic. We were all young artists – we didn’t have any money! The sales rep over me seemed less like a motivational mentor and more like an extra-shameful mother, disappointed when I couldn’t make my sales goals.
How they lure you in
I totally understand why people decide to sell for Amway, Herbalife, LuLaRoe, Arbonne, Younique, etc. They sell you stories of how you’ll have so much fun socializing with your friends while you just happen to sell thousands of dollars in products that everyone just HAS to have! Notice anything in the above businesses I listed? Most of them are targeted at women. They’re advertised as ideal for moms with kids, those who want to earn extra income, or people who want to run their own business.
Though things are changing, women are still primarily responsible for childcare and their careers often take a backseat. More and more families feel as though they need two incomes to survive. These MLMs seem ideal – you can make money and still easily take care of your children. The internet and social media changed the game, too. It made advertising easy and cheap. These days you can barely scroll through Facebook without being inundated with posts from your friends about “OMG U NEED TO TRI THIS WATER IM SELLING. HARVESTD FRUM A PREGNANT POLAR BEARS MOUTH. ITZ SO PURE! #BOSSBABE #MOMTREPRENUER”
Ding dong! Statistics calling!
Unfortunately, the vast, VAST majority of MLM sellers don’t make any profit. The Federal Trade Commission studied 350 MLMs and found that 99% of people who participate in them lose money. NINETY-NINE PERCENT. That’s insane! What’s worse is these businesses are practically designed that way. The people at the top rely on the failure and financial loss of the people below them. The ones at the top need the people below them to keep pouring money into their “business” without seeing any real return. I remember my sales rep encouraging me to take out a loan to buy more product! “Most businesses need a loan to start!” Yeah, but then YOU are usually the one running the whole thing in that situation, not some company over you.
Your friends don’t want to talk to you
I hate to say it, but these days, when a friend contacts me out of the blue to “catch up”, I’m always wary that she may want to recruit me into an MLM. Fortunately, my high social anxiety and negative experience with my own MLM has kept me safe from joining any of them. If you’re trying to sell for an MLM, and your friends won’t return your phone calls, or their responses to invitations for coffee are tepid at best, you have a problem. These MLMs are causing people – women primarily – to isolate themselves. They go to the meetings for the company and surround themselves with other sellers, especially the ones at the top who ARE making money (off the misfortune of those under them). They feel comforted, like the rest of the world doesn’t understand them. Doesn’t that almost sound like a cult?
Okay, they’re not cults, but they rely on a similar mentality. That people who won’t participate are lesser or weak, and that only those who sell with them truly understand. That recruiting more people into the business is “saving” them somehow. Don’t even get me started about how many of these MLMs drag Christianity/other religions into this. I’ll readily admit that I have my problems with organized religion, but the thought that these companies would use people’s better nature and religious beliefs to manipulate them into trusting the company? That’s unconscionable.
You can get out
There is always a way out of these MLMs – you just might have to dig for it. In my case, I had to sell back what products I still had in my inventory (at a loss) and basically pledge that I understood that I could never ever, EVER, EVEEEEER sell for Mary Kay again. I was okay with that (besides, I’ve read online that it isn’t true – they’ll welcome you back with open arms, if you’ve got money, at least once).
If you’ve followed my writing for awhile, you might know that I try to see both sides of an issue whenever possible. This is not one of those times. If you’ve been selling for an MLM, I strongly encourage you to get out. If you’ve been praying for a sign, consider me your sign. GET. OUT. NOW. You can Google a lot of helpful resources to get out and even find communities of people who have been where you are. If you want to start your own business, that’s great! But actually start your OWN business, not someone else’s, because multilevel marketing is ruining your friendships and leaving you in debt. With time, you’ll get your friends back, I promise. Just watch out that they haven’t started their own MLM.