Updated: Aug 7
My personal experience. What is there to love and hate about this billion-dollar industry?
I thought MLMs were such BS. I did use some of their products. My best friend was always repping something and had big goals that I dismissed. I was talked into joining a few companies because I was too nice to say no and every time I had a flash of a moment where I thought *well maybe* and then it would go away when I realized I’d have to do something and never return. After college, another best friend got huge in Mary Kay and I was wholly unsupportive of her business, something I regret to this day. I was young and just thought it was lame…but also, she was crushing it and earning cars so maybe there was a little bit of resentment there since I hated my desk job.
Cut to a decade, later a product caught my eye, I needed a safe way to manage our home. My son had a respiratory disease and so I bought a product from my friend, then threw a party, earned a whole bunch of free stuff, and then decided I wanted some more free stuff and if I was going to share the products I should at least be earning the money.
This is the problem with MLMs. I didn’t know anything about business. I didn’t even know what a “comp plan” was. I didn’t have a plan for making money. All I knew was what I would earn if I sold stuff and that seemed pretty cool and easy enough. I didn’t realize that I’d be regularly giving discounts, sending gifts and freebies, and using my earned money to try and inspire team members…thereby earning far less.
I immediately did not agree with the “leadership” I fell into BUT I did start making money, a few hundred dollars a month, right away. My husband and I were blown away. We could absolutely use the additional income. I had a master's, I had a teaching credential, I had held great jobs…but my husband is a firefighter and worked far for days and sometimes weeks at a time, we have three kids and had no family in the area. Working just to pay for childcare didn’t make sense enough for me to get a job and I wanted to be home with my kids…but I also loved earning money and feeling like I was good at something again.
I grew a team fast. My income grew. I started running my team how I felt was better and it was. I loved helping others, I loved the products, and I became a trainer and top earner. The problem was that I still didn’t know anything about business in general. I had only experienced a monthly struggle to keep a title. I had only known one company and I figured it spanned all companies. All I knew was what I was in because I had gotten there by accident. I had worked hard, absolutely, but it was within the confines of what I was taught by the company and leaders. Many of these leaders, my friends, had the same story. There were no true professionals in Network Marketing (yes this is a thing), everyone was just trying their best to keep afloat, the only thing we had ever known, and because we loved each other and the products…well why would we question any of it?
So why did I? First, because there was a deep competitive nature in the business that I refused to subscribe to from day one. Instead of ignoring it, I tried to combat it…and this was probably my first mistake in the eyes of many. When you see a problem it begins to be all that you see. It festers and frustrates, maybe it even seems bigger than it really is, but I don’t believe that. I studied it and saw how it was being played with at the corporate level, allowing members to turn one another in for not following rules in order to keep up with stringent online guidelines that in many cases made little sense other than to “keep things fair.” I watched as leaders got upset because of what others were doing only because it may bring them more business and for the life of me I couldn’t understand it. For as long as I could keep it secret I didn’t even tell my team that there was a way to turn others in, I released team members who did. All I knew was that no productivity comes from caring about what others are doing. The bigger problem though was that this scarcity and fear, jealousy, and competition were a part of the company, no matter how many times we said we were family.
I believe that the more people who know about a product, the better everyone will do, and if Janice got an influencer to share…I’d be stoked and shout that from the rooftops. If Sarah got a spot on a local news station, I’d share the crap out of that…it’s social proof of what was a great product. Others didn’t see it that way…so no matter how hard I worked and how much I tried to keep this behavior from my team and discourage it at the higher levels, it existed and would scratch at my soul constantly.
Next, is the struggle. I would push hard for a title, which meant asking everyone on our team to sell a certain amount. The amount is not huge…in effect, it meant asking people to utilize the discount they signed up for in order to place an order for themselves, ideally every 3-6 months…so that I could keep a title. A title that really means nothing. It’s not a Ph.D., it’s not a real position. It wasn't even actually a raise most months…just a title that could represent a raise if I worked even harder than I already was.
I didn’t understand this…because I did start a business. I made a decision to run a business when I signed up and assumed that’s what everyone else was doing, but it’s not. Then I learned how this worked and I started to encourage people to sign up for the discount and “see what happens”…because it’s how I had been trained and that’s what I thought this kind of business was about. I became just like other leaders and MLMers everywhere, trying to hold onto a meaningless title, encouraging people to sign up, hopefully sell, but more likely buy or give their discount away so that I could keep my title, because oh my God the horror and humiliation of losing it. I couldn’t imagine.
I started to really dislike it. But it was all I knew. I was now earning 6 figures, we relied on the income, I tried all the time to figure out new ways to make the business easier and more accessible and I trained freely to help others do the same because I knew that whether they were on my team or not if I could help others in the business it would help everyone and I'd be feeling like I was doing more for people. I gave time to corporate and I was loud about my opinions. I trained on stages and at conferences. My income didn’t keep going up. It was unreliable. To maintain required so much that growth, especially the massive growth that I longed for, wasn't even possible to think about.
Do you know how hard it can be for someone with no knowledge of business or finances to make a lot of money for a minute believing it will continue to grow and then it doesn’t? I truly thought that my income could only go up. People (mostly family) would question that all the time, but my team was growing and I was hustling and to me, that meant that it had to keep increasing. I was told it would, by the important people. When I questioned a loss in income despite a large increase in sales, team numbers, and even in titles I was told to “just wait.” It would even out. I’d be making more than I knew what to do within a few years.
So I sat tight. But I also learned about comp plans. I didn’t earn as much because I had too many leaders on my team. I had helped too many other people start making money and they fell out of the largest portion of my earnings. I had developed the most leaders in the country the year before I left. So now, as a leader, I’m faced with no longer helping people succeed or never being able to maximize a comp plan…but I wasn’t really faced with it because I have too much integrity, and money didn’t matter to me as much as helping people. So I continued on.
The soul scratching got deeper though. Why would I want people to get to this place I was in? It was a struggle. I had a team I loved and who loved me…but it was just a community. It wasn’t a business. It was people who would spend their precious money in order to help me keep a title. It was encouraging the few who wanted to build a business to do the same on lower levels just so they could struggle at a higher one. This was still all I knew. This was still what I believed every company must be, but how could it be different anywhere else? How could I have hit the top of my income in three years and now just be struggling daily to keep a title? How was this more about asking people to use their discount than about sharing products? How is that a business?
Then I asked a question. A simple question. Aimed to help me see how I could maybe turn this around, help more people, and make things easier. What I found though was that this is not what all companies are. It’s just what most of them are. So I had a big decision to make.