Op-Ed: MLM Schemes Are Not Helping Your Bank Account

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By Cathy Guadagno

Remember when you were younger and the AVON or Mary Kay lady in the pink car would come over to your house and you would look over at your mom flipping through the makeup catalogs? Or the time your mom would have Tupperware parties with all of her friends and you sat painstakingly bored in the other room? As a child I thought this was cool, and when I grew up, I too wanted to sell makeup or jewelry at parties as well. However once I hit college and studied marketing, I realized how terrible this business style, also known as Multi Level Marketing really is and the loss of money and friends that comes with it.

Around the time I hit my sophomore year in college I noticed a strange trend going on through my Facebook newsfeed. Why were so many of my friends from high school trying to recruit me and other friends to sell “Ketogenic wonder coffee,” makeup, and other types of diet miracle products? Surely it was too good to be true, and I wouldn’t easily make $500 a week from my smartphone simply to sell the products advertised. As a marketing major, all received answers to all of my questions once I learned about “Multi Level Marketing;” a strategy used by direct sales companies to encourage distributors to recruit a team who are then paid a percentage of their sales. Sounds easy right? Wrong. While many of these MLM businesses such as Lularoe, It Works!, Rodan and Fields, or Younique run legal practices, not all the promises you hear from the company itself or distributors working to recruit you are true.

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In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Deb Seher, a former MLM seller says, “They prey on women that have full plates. Women that need to earn a living while caring for a family”. She worked for Isagenix, a dietary and skincare company that made her feel uncomfortable giving out medical information to other women she knew was completely false. These products would not be a “miracle remedy” to alleviate autism or fix your health; and on top of that, she didn’t even see a dime from the products she sold.

All of this sounds slightly familiar to the ads I see friends post on Facebook, promising that if I drink this coffee it’ll improve my health and I'll lose soooooo much weight. Do these sellers test the products that they are selling during their hiring process? Have they looked up the ingredients to see if these health supplements in this skinny coffee safe for consumption? Are the promises of money and promises of becoming your own boss really worth the health risks of others? When it comes to selling health related products with unfulfilled promises, when can we say enough is enough? 


Along with the risks that come along with selling goods in the realm of health, also comes the slight annoyance or breakdown in relationships with the people surrounding the MLM recruiter. The 74% of women that are apart of MLM’s can be seen from social media to your front doorstep. Virtually any situation can become a ploy to sell a product. Nobody wants to come off as rude or overstepping a boundary but when you’re on a time crunch to sell as much inventory as you can before you’re contracted to buy more, you’ll do whatever you can in hopes that you’ll make some profit. Take the case of Jamie Birdwell-Branson.

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An old friend from high school innocently messaged her around the time she moved to Toledo to catch up over coffee she tells the Chicago Tribune. She was excited to meet up with an old friend in hopes of restoring a friendship due to her moving cities. However, this meeting was far from friendly, and all her so called “friend” cared about was her sales pitch rather than their bond. Jamie says that they haven’t talked since. After all, according to the Washington Post, a study done by Magnifymoney.com showed that most people working for an MLM surveyed, only made an average of 70 cents an hour before business expenses, and nearly 60% earned less than $500 in profit after five years! These sales pitches, although extremely annoying and maybe non-intentionally hurtful are really a cry for help begging for somebody to buy their inventory so they don’t lose even more money.

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These companies promise women looking to be their own boss that they can make so much money, live an amazing lifestyle and show all the first hand accounts the world has to convince somebody that they too can have the perfect career. In actuality, these companies only look to prey on women that they know want to either make extra cash or have a flexible job to work with their lifestyle. Now what types of women do these companies create their advertising and marketing for the most? A lot of the women today that are drawn into MLM marketing range from young college aged women looking for an easy way to pay off debt, to a large amount of religious stay at home moms. Career Contessa says that due to most MLM businesses coming from Utah, which has a high rate of Mormon communities and stay at home mothers, women will turn to these companies to make some money while at home. Stay at home moms in general have become a big target for these companies because they advertise that you can still raise a family and be your own boss when in reality you’re only driving yourself into debt.


Look, I understand that everybody wants to be their own boss or have a flexible job but an MLM? More often than not it’s too good to be true. You can be both a stay at home mom, or a college student and a girlboss at the same time without working for an MLM. Sure there are people who do make money through MLM, but in reality, a minimum of 50% of people drop out after a year of working for these companies due to debt. Only around 14% of folks reach the “blue diamond earning” status, the highest tier in profit. So know that the Facebook DM or post from your friend may be tempting to want to tag along on, but think about what the risks are before you get wrapped up into an MLM. It may save your bank account and your friendships. Women don’t deserve to be taken advantage of by profit hungry companies that care more about the money they’re spending than a career that makes them happy.