The True Cost Of MLMs

Multi-level Marketing, Direct Sales, Network Marketing , whatever you want to call it, MLMs can be incredibly problematic. More often than not people don’t make any money – actually it costs money, time, and in a lot of cases, some friends as well.

Sudden Personality Change

It seems like everyone has at least one bad experience to share about a friend who got caught up in an MLM business and suddenly turned into an entirely different person.

Their Facebook feed turns into one, long, continuous advertisement for whatever product it is they’re involved with. They can’t even drop their kids off at school without taking a selfie and listing all the makeup they’re wearing – that they now sell – with a “Comment below and I’ll PM you the details.”

Or they can’t eat breakfast without telling everyone they’re taking this amazing new supplement that has LITERALLY CHANGED THEIR LIFE. #askmehow

And even if they’re not openly posting about their new “Side hustle”, it’s risky to engage with anything they post online – regardless of how seemingly benign it is – because it seems to be an invitation for them to PM you and let you know that they are having some kind of promotional deal with their “biz”.

Not only that, but they suddenly start using ALL THE EMOJIS and ALL THE HASHTAGS and constantly post inspirationals quotes. Which is fine if that’s how they always used social media, but it’s just plain weird when someone you know suddenly adopts a new personality to go with becoming a #bossbabe.

You’re No Longer Friends – You’re a Sales Opportunity

I think I might come across as an easy target for friends who get involved in MLMs, because I do show an interest in what my friends have going on in their lives. That’s how friendships usually work, right?

So I have ended up going to quite a few party plan things over the years. Because when a friend invites me to something and they insist that it’s just a fun get together and there’s no pressure to buy – then I’ll go just to support them.

But of course there is pressure to buy. It’s not a fun get together. It’s not a causal hang. It’s a business. Though I’ve successfully managed to never buy anything, because my susceptibility to fall for peer pressure is trumped only by being a tight arse who could never spend $42 on a mascara.

And mostly, at the end of the day, my stance of not ever wanting to be a customer has been more-or-less respectfully accepted.

HOWEVER. I have not once, but twice now, lost friends to MLMs.

Both of these “friends” messaged me about their business so many times after I had politely declined that I actually asked them – Is it okay if I say no? Can we still be friends if I’m not interested?

Both times these people responded with – don’t be silly! Of course it’s okay!

Because who would openly admit that “No, actually, I have no interest in you as a person if you’re not buying anything from me.”

One unfriended me on Facebook shortly after assuring me we could still be friends if I didn’t want to buy from her and never spoke to me again. Which kinda sucks.

The other just disregarded that conversation and continued to message me about her “side hustle”, and inviting me to learn more about it etc, until I eventually unfriended her. Because there even comes a time when I have to draw the line.

The Proverbial Chicken Or The Egg

It’s interesting how many similar stories I’ve heard about how inappropriately people market their MLM business. I’ve definitely heard worse stories than mine. So many people targeting friends and family who have some kind of financial crisis, or heath issues, and they uses it as an opportunity to push their product or business on them.

Which is just so predatory and inappropriate.

And I often wonder if it’s people who are already lacking respect for other people’s boundaries who are drawn to MLMs, or if it’s the nature of MLMs that turn people into that kind of uncomfortably aggressive and opportunistic salesperson.

I imagine it’s a bit of both.

Either way, I think it shows how desperate they are. In the two above examples, the fact that those “friends” couldn’t take no for an answer shows that they needed to make a sale at any cost. They definitely needed that sale more than they needed my friendship.


Not all MLMs

I do want to acknowledge again that not all people who are involved in MLMs are, or turn into, weird robots who can no longer behave like human beings.

And I have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for MLMs like Avon and Tupperware because they do seem to be more focused on selling the product, rather than recruiting more salespeople… If an MLM is more about recruitment, than it is about the product, then it’s probably actually pyramid scheme.

Though I get that any MLM can be problematic, and Tupperware and Avon are still controversial… but my Nanna did Tupperware… so… yeah… I can’t say anything bad about my Nanna.

Treat it like a business

So the final thing I’d like to say if you are currently involved in, or are contemplating joining, a MLM/Direct Sales/Network Marketing Business I’d suggest treating it like an actual business.

Keep an accurate record of all of your business expenses. Track your sign up costs, ongoing membership, cost of stock and samples, etc add it all up. Also keep a record of the number of hours you spend working on the business.

Then work out if it’s worthwhile for you. Because as I said at the beginning, most people lose money on MLMs. So just be really aware of how much money is coming and going, and how you’re spending your time.

And then, I think for the sake of being a decent human being, if you are trying to recruit someone to be a distributor/seller of the product, share that information with them. It doesn’t have to be exact, but be transparent. Don’t tell them they can earn a “6 figure income” if that’s not what you’re earning! Don’t tell them it’s easy if you’re investing huge amounts of time for little reward.

And again, if you can’t make a profit until you start recruiting other people, then you’re probably involved in a pyramid scheme. So, yeah, don’t do that. It’s bad.

Also if the only way you plan to grow your customer base is to sell to your friends and family then perhaps it’s worth discussing this with them before committing to the business yourself. Because if it turns out none – or not enough – of your friends and family are interested in buying or promoting what you’re selling, at least you know before you invest time and money into the business.

And for goodness sake if your trying to recruit or sell to someone and they say no, accept it and move on.

And by “move on” I don’t mean, “Move on and stop being friends with them”…. But if you do decide that person has no purpose in your life if they’re not a customer, don’t forget to write that down that friendship under “Business expenses.” Because it just cost you that friendship.

And I hope it’s worth it.

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Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

3 Comments

  1. If you think of mlms as a business rather than a get rich quick scheme that you have to work at rather than sit on your butt they wouldn’t have such a bad name
    50% of traditional small businesses fail in the first 4 years
    And a huge chunk of the other 50% struggle 🤷‍♀️
    And if your ‘friends’ are going to disown you because you are letting them know you are selling a product I think it’s time you found new friends 😱

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