Mar 21, 2017

Let's Talk Multi-Level Marketing

At some point Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) went from an occasional novelty to a pervasive influence in our daily lives. I'd estimate that at least 1/3 of my Facebook friends are or have been involved with an MLM company at some point and the sales party invitations are as incessant as candy crush invites used to be before I blocked them.

But I can't block the MLM invites and posts and not-so-subtle hints from friends. And I'm burning out on this whole sales party concept pretty hard. Which is the polite way of saying I hate it. Absolutely cannot stand it.

I'm assuming the prevalence of sales parties would indicate that the majority of people do not share my distaste for MLM. I was trying to figure out why it bothers me so much and I think there's a few different factors at play.

Part of it is the blatant consumerism. With the shift in my own priorities lately to deliberate purchases rather than spontaneous or spur of the moment shopping, the likelihood that I want whatever it is that's being pushed at this sales party is low. If I need leggings, I'll have already purchased them from whatever my company of choice is. I also prefer online shopping where I can compare reviews and shop around. While it is nice to have the option of trying clothes on before purchasing, Facebook sales parties don't offer that, so they're lacking both the benefits of try-before-you-buy AND the ability to compare different companies and read reviews.

One of the big things MLM does to garner interest is giveaways and freebies. I want nothing to do with that because as far as I'm concerned, giveaways are just a way to acquire more stuff for the Goodwill box. It's highly unlikely to be something I need or that will bring me joy, so why would I participate when it doesn't add any value to my life? And then there are charity sales parties. It's a great way to get people interested and collect donations (not unlike a 5K - people are more likely to participate in an event than to just donate on their own), but I personally don't want to buy leggings and have 10 cents of each dollar go to the charity. I want to donate outright or not at all. The cost of the leggings is just one more thing reducing the impact of my donation.

It's surprisingly difficult to explain this to the friends who are consulting for MLM companies. One of Ryan's pet peeves is sidebar ads, but in my mind sales party invites are far worse, because it's from your friends. You can't just ignore them, and it's hard to say, "No thanks" without feeling compelled to offer some sort of explanation. And that's exactly what MLM relies on - the feeling of obligation that comes along with friendship. It's easy to say no to a stranger, but a lot harder when it's your friend excitedly telling you how much they need this money or love the freebies or whatever other sales pitch they give you.

And I can't tell you the number of times that I've offered up some excuse automatically before realizing I have left myself open to attempted persuasion as the sales-friend attempts to explain away whatever my bullshit excuse was. "Oh it doesn't matter that you always ruin your nails - you won't be able to chip or peel this special nail wrap!" "Oh, but it doesn't matter that you're pregnant - you just buy clothes in the size you were before you got pregnant!" "Oh, it doesn't matter that you don't have money - this fitness program is really cheap and offers free resources!"

I'm a terrible networker. And part of that is because the idea of pressuring friends for sales and referrals just doesn't sit well with me. I hate it being done to me and I absolutely refuse to blast everyone with my own advertising. I'm not going to use a personal connection or friendship to guilt someone into buying from me. And that's for my own company that I run by myself and am trying to build into my sole source of income.

I'm probably snobbish about what I consider entrepreneurship to be. I get excited when one of my friends says, "I'm starting my own company" because I love seeing other people fulfill a dream or goal. Helping entrepreneurs and startups to build their identities and chase their dreams is what I do! But when I find out it's MLM, I can't help but feel disappointed because it's not your business. You're not running your own company by selling smoothies or nail wraps or sex toys. You're a salesperson for the smoothie/nail wrap/sex toy company.

There's nothing wrong with being a salesperson, but I hate that people act like it's their passion and make it into something big and grand and noble and use that to push sales. "Come support my company." No, I'm supporting LulaRoe or JamBerry or Pure Romance and you will get maybe a tiny fraction of the profit. Or more likely just free stuff and no money, despite the "make money with minimal effort" aura surrounding this sort of thing.

Which brings me to my final point. I hate how misleading the company structure is. I had a friend whose personality was about as unsuited to sales as you can get. Shy, not persuasive, small social network. I would never in a million years have pictured her in sales. But some "entrepreneur" running some sales party convinced her that it was easy and fun and the money just rolls in, and it was a great idea to invest in!

Now, to be fair, I don't think she lost much more than her time trying to get her "business" rolling, but free sex toys do not a second income make. And that's all you're going to get with a lot of these companies. Free stuff as a bonus for getting other people to buy. The company gets your work as a sales agent for the cost of manufacturing a few extra products. If you really think about it, is that a good enough value for your time?

If the answer is yes, then more power to you! But it's not for me, so please don't try to convince me to sell your stuff so that you can a bonus for my referral to give someone else a bonus for referring you and on and on to the person who actually makes money somewhere up the pyramid.

Oh right, and this is something I've never understood. Multi-level marketing sounds all professional and legit, but is this really any different than a pyramid scheme? I honestly don't know what differentiates the two.

Do you love or hate multi-level marketing and why? What's the weirdest sales party you've been invited to?

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  1. These bug me too, and they're everywhere, and I unapologetically refuse to engage. That's somewhat hard for me because I like to support friends' endeavors, but there's a difference between supporting a friend's Etsy shop or donating to her fundraiser and buying a product I have no use for/no legitimate reason to buy so she can make $.30 off the sale (check out Jon Oliver's segment on MLMs when you have a chance, it's great).

    I 100% agree with your first few points about rampant, unfocused consumerism. I get that some people enjoy shopping and just acquiring stuff. They want 45 options of pants when getting dressed in the morning. Good for them! But that is so NOT me. Tangent: with my birthday coming up a few family members who haven't listened to me the last 50 times I told them not to buy anything for me for my birthday/Christmas are popping up with their "wish list requests" again and I actually have to thank you for your brilliant advice sometime I think last year... I'm telling them I REALLY REALLY DON'T WANT ANYTHING, as I always have, but adding now that if they feel the need to spend money they can make a donation to a charity (and I usually offer up a few that might actually get a donation from that particular person--ASPCA and NRDC for my dad; I know he'll never bite for Planned Parenthood or the ACLU).

    You really nail it with the social aspect that's so hard for more empathetic people to navigate. I'm trying to balance not wanting to be unsupportive with trying to be MORE assertive in my own right and using "No" as a complete sentence. And YES, you are NOT "starting your own business" or "becoming an entrepreneur" when you sign on in MLMs. I've been pitched by MLM girls about "starting my own business" enough times to know how the structure works and it's just BS on every level. (Again, see Jon Oliver's segment.)

    Although, I will say: I've attended more than a few Pure Romance parties for bachelorettes and birthdays and stuff, and maybe it's my personality but I love them and actually really like all the products I've purchased from them. But now I also have one consultant who I go directly to if I want to buy something and we're FB friends and all that, but she's an actual human and not PR Robot which is cool.

    I didn't realize I had so many thoughts on MLMs, but thank you for the comment space to express them all, hah!

  2. Girl, yes. I feel the same way. Sales is...sales. And that's fine, but let's not act like LLR is any different than your aunt selling Tupperware.

  3. I don't participate, as a blanket rule, but there are some that appeal to me. I have a friend who does Pampered Chef sales and they have A+ products, but I won't order a ton. I just let her know when I need one thing and she adds it on to her next big order. Easy peasy. There's also a green beauty brand that works this way, but I haven't ordered from them yet. Considering it, when I need something. I think that's the issue a lot of people run into when it's a friend selling things - you don't consider your actual needs. Luckily everyone knows I'm a minimalist so they rarely even ask if I want something.

  4. Similar to everyone else here, I think the key is having ONE *chill* person on your friends list that sells something you might want every once in a while. For example, my best friend's cousin just started selling LLR. She actually has a whole room in her house lined with bars for hangers and she sells it like a boutique. She doesn't pressure me to buy a thing, but if I want something I only call her. Same with a PR consultant. Everyone else I just ignore.
    But you're right- it's super annoying and I feel like I'm being taken advantage of by "friends" most of the time. I dislike hosting parties because I don't want my friends to feel like I'm using their money to buy things for myself. Also, I'm glad you wrote this b/c I keep seeing MLM and I know what people are referring to, but I didn't know what it stood for. Lol

  5. YESSSS! I'm trying to figure out when MLM stuff became so prevalent but I'm so tired of it. I know about 4 different people who sell Scentsy or wine or Younique or Avon or Lash something or whatever and if it's earnign them money, great. But let's call a spade a spade. You're not running your own business. You're a distributor. And that's ok. But leave me out of it because I'm not buying.


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