co-written with Alex Grey @kitchenfuckery
I would like to offer you an exciting opportunity!
💪🏻You can work whenever and wherever you like, and you’ll make enough money 💷💶💵 to pay all your bills, and the BEST part is that you’ll be able to spend more time with your family 👨👩👧, who doesn’t want that? ♥️♥️♥️
What if I told you that I have made enough money 💰 to stay at home with my children 👶🏻 by doing this very job?
Let me show you a photo of the amazing car 🚗 that my friend earned as a reward for being a top seller in our team. She only started a couple of months ago. 💯 💯
If you are a little wary, you should be. I’m trying to recruit you to an MLM scheme.
MLM stands for Multi-level marketing. They’re the modern version of a pyramid scheme, also known as network marketing, referral marketing, and direct selling. They are a marketing strategy for the sale of products or services. Companies make their profits from non-salaried representatives selling the products and/or services, and the earnings of reps is usually based on commission.
Most people recruited to MLM schemes are women. Whilst some men do get involved, companies realise that female social circles are more likely to bring results, especially if the products are cosmetics, personal care, or household items.
Examples of MLM companies (there are hundreds!) in those categories are:
Avon (cosmetics and personal care)
FMWorld (cosmetics and perfumes)
Scentsy (wax melts and burners)
DoTERRA (essential oils)
ForeverLiving (supplements and personal care)
Enjo and Norwex (cleaning products)
Two of the oldest known companies are Avon, and Tupperware.
Targets include, but are not limited to, new mums, single mums, people whom they perceive as easily manipulated, those with little or no qualifications (this is not to say people with little or no qualifications aren’t smart, but MLM schemes like to make that foolish assumption), and vulnerable women with physical or mental health problems, especially if they have low self-confidence.
They convince candidates that becoming a rep will change their life, turn around their financial situation and make them successful businesswomen. If they’re low in self-esteem or have few friends, they will imply that they too can grow a strong circle of friends and clients, whilst growing a massive and lucrative client base. This is the “talk” designed to get people excited and get them to part with their money.
The main issue with MLMs is that before a new agent / representative can sell anything, they must buy a “kit”, or pay a subscription fee which can cost hundreds of pounds. Some of the kits are low priced with the deception that there is a sale on so it’s the best time to join. The lower priced kits are almost always not enough to start a new rep on their “journey”, and they end up having to buy extra just to get the ball rolling. Whomever recruited the rep will tell them they will make the money back in no time, they just have to trust the system. Many new reps borrow money from friends or family members to pay for their demonstration products, convinced by the company’s promises that sales commissions will bring in large amounts of money very quickly.
Once they are ready to go, they begin targeting people within their own network, usually friends and family members. This can create awkward situations where people may feel a duty to help a friend or guilt for not buying, and it can also alienate them completely resulting in someone losing good relationships. Marriages and friendships have been destroyed by these tactics. If someone with low self-esteem finds the few friends they have don’t want to talk to them anymore, it can be a crushing blow.
Unfortunately, the real money comes when reps recruit a “team” to work underneath them, so they begin trying to recruit others which perpetuates the pyramid network. For every sale a recruit underneath them makes, they earn commission. Sadly, the vast amount of profits line the pockets of those right at the top of the organisation, leaving the lower levels of the network broke and in mounting debt.
Many of these schemes over inflate the cost of their products to make them appear exclusive or aspirational. The fact that they can only be bought from a company representative adds to the mystique surrounding them, it makes people think they’re part of a club in a way.
People who work for MLMs will refute all of the above points because the organisation has usually invested a lot of time and money in building their hopes and convincing them that their scheme is legitimate.
A hypothetical example of a recruitment tactic might be as follows:
An MLM representative contacts someone they know who they perceive as lonely, easily manipulated, suffering with low self-esteem, and in need of a “pick me up.” They will reach out in the guise of friendship at first, take them for a coffee, listen to personal problems and offer a shoulder to lean on. After a short while, the hard sell will surface, and it’s quite likely that someone who falls into those categories will snap it up, because they’re interacting with someone who has shown them kindness, even though it’s entirely false.
Even if initially they say no, they may go back later because they feel they have just lost a lifeline to friendship.
Maybe they buy the kit or pay a fee, but because they’re not confident it’s unlikely they will be able to build a client network. When this happens, the person who recruited them will drop them like a hot rock, and will never be heard from again, leaving the recruit in debt, unable to sell their kit, and their confidence at an all-time low.
An upline rep sometimes tells a new recruit that in order to sell, all they need to do is buy the latest products, knowing full well that they will never be able to shift them. This lines the upline’s pockets, and exploits the recruit. For a recruit, the only way to try and earn anything is to employ the very same tactic with anyone they manage to bring in, which keeps the vicious cycle going.
Before we had the luxury of the internet, the most common method of recruitment and selling was the “party model”. You have a couple of glasses of wine, talk for a bit, maybe get acquainted with someone new you haven’t met before, and you’re shown a catalogue of products, along with some live samples to try for yourselves.
The modern method of recruitment tends to happen through social media. Facebook groups are perfect for this, and given that reps can spam hundreds of recruitment messages to strangers on the Internet, as well as their friends, it means there is little need for party model recruitment, and more time for impersonal and emoji filled attempts to draw you in.
What if you don’t want to be a representative, but you do want the product? It’s your choice whether you buy or not, however bear in mind that your money will feed the MLM machine. For every MLM product available, you can most likely find a cheaper and better product on the high street, or via reputable vendors online.
If you want to read real accounts and the effects of MLM schemes on families and relationships, please visit r/antiMLM.