My love/hate dilemma with MLM “opportunities” to earn residual income

Multi-level marketing seems to be all the rage these days. Stay at home parents are making a living off posting on social media about products they are now using. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then head over to your Facebook or Instagram feed and let me know how many posts you are seeing with things like: before and after photos using Rodan + Fields skin care, or the many uses of Young Living Essential Oils or Beach Body 30 day challenges or the Plexus “pink drink” slimming supplements or 31 Gifts or Juice Plus whole food vitamins or (fill in the blank here). If you still have no idea what I’m talking about then your friends just haven’t started selling something yet.

All joking aside, in the last month I have had 5 friends contact me with “opportunities” to learn about their new product that they “love” and are making money from using and sharing with others. I am quite intrigued actually and to be honest I have considered (and still am considering) taking one of these opportunities on and making it a business. But let’s back up… what the hell is a MLM company? A MLM or multi-level marketing company is a business that uses person to person direct sales to move their product instead of going the traditional route and having retail locations. Think Avon or Mary Kay.

Basically, you become an independent contractor and buy in to the business to sell their products and more importantly, recruit other people looking to start their own business to join your team and sell under you.Β Now, some of you may be screaming… “yahhhh, its a pyramid scheme… remember those” Here’s a quick reminder: you get approached to join a company with promises to make a fortune and all you have to do is pay a bunch of money to join; then you find out the only way you make money is to get other people to pay a bunch of money and join the company too. Pretty sketchy and not to mention illegal.

So back to multi-level marketing… MLM or direct sales is different and I think the model is kind of cool… people are empowered to be a product of the product by using it and then sharing it with their social network. You get paid when other people buy the product from you and you also get paid when you recruit other people to sell the product. I am totally simplifying it but you get the idea. So right now you’re like, Ok, Jess where are the positives here because this sounds like an annoying thing that people do and guilt you into buying stuff from them while spamming up your social media feeds. Well yes, in some ways (if done poorly) that’s kind of what can happen. On the other hand, the five friends that approached me recently are some of the smartest, practical and coolest people I know! And none of them were annoying or pushy, they were genuinely excited about the product and wanted to let me know about the opportunity. And I bought some stuff! I’m pumped about getting rid of my wrinkles by using the skin care products Kate suggested… I’m excited to get Aaron on some better probiotics for his gut health from Lauren, I love love love using essential oils that Ashley shares and I’m always open to try new things from people I trust and love.

So, after doing some research and talking to lots of people I have my own opinion about MLM companies and for the most part my feeling is a good one. I think this style of business is the way many people will make a living in the future. The thing that MOST people want out of a career includes: flexibility, balance between work life and home life, the ability to have time off to travel, to be in charge of your own time and to have the ability to make as much money as you deserve…. are all the things that are quite possible when you take on a direct sales gig. I’m not saying its easy because its probably hard as hell to make a living.

But you do have the opportunity to create this situation for yourself if you do it the right way. By the way, I think the wrong way is annoying or quilting your family and friends into supporting something that a.) you yourself do not believe in or b.) something your family and friends are not really interested in or something they don’t really need. If you do it the right way and share your new thing with your network in a way that is not pushy and truly genuine (and you don’t keep pestering people who have not expressed interest or who have already told you NO) then these MLM companies could be a fantastic way to earn a living while being present in your home with your kiddos and/or create residual income for your retirement.

Here are some positives about joining a MLM company:
  1. You have the freedom to work whenever and however you want. You can also work as little or as much as you want… your success will depend on how much effort you put into running your business. This is huge since so many people are seeking an alternative career… one where you can work from your campsite while hanging with your family… or you one where you can rent your home out on and travel anywhere with Wifi to do you work.
  2. You have a product that has been vetted, packaged and is ready for you to sell. You don’t have to create any of it yourself. You also have access to all the marketing materials, back-end biz stuff like websites, ordering, shipping, etc., plus you have a “team” of people rooting for you to succeed because when you are successful everyone feels the impact of your sales.
  3. You get to use the products for a discount or even for free!
  4. You get instant camaraderie with the other distributors, consultants or ambassadors from the company and usually there is a TON of mentoring from the higher ups to help you get your biz going. Everyone wants you to succeed!
  5. You get to help people you care about get awesome products (as long as you truly use them, love them and are excited about them) and/or help people start up businesses of their own under you. You may also cultivate leadership skills if you get a team of people selling under you which can be really rewarding.
  6. You don’t have to spend all your time creating a product or service of your own. This struck a cord with me since I know how much time, effort, blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into keeping my blog going and doing personal wellness coaching. There is a natural limit to the amount of time you have in your day. I’m realizing the value of scale-ability… doing one on one coaching is awesome because I get to see people transform their lives but I can only work with so many people before my energy + time is used up. I see the benefit of having another stream of income that is not dependent on trading my time for money.
  7. Money. Yeah from what I’ve read you can make a lot of money as part of a MLM. Of course you will hear lots and lots of stories of people making six figures a month after 4 years in the biz… those people are real however the percentage of people that actually reach that level of success is very small. But, there is potential to make an extra couple thousand dollars a month and a large percentage of people do just that. I mean, an extra $2,000 (residual) a month would be sweet to add to my retirement.
But then there are the negatives… and after writing the positives I’m almost like, hey wait a minute, why don’t you just do one of these MLMs and be done with it? Well I’m always questioning things and I love playing devil’s advocate. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
So here are some of the things I think are real barriers and certainly stand in my way of going full throttle:
  1. Your personal brand becomes the brand of the company you represent. All of a sudden you become “the girl who sells essential oils” or “yeah she is doing the face cream stuff” instead of standing for what you create yourself. This one is important to me because I love writing on this blog. I love discussing wellness, mindfulness, personal development, marketing, being a parent, etc and I wouldn’t want to muddy those waters with an inconsistent message. Is it possible to do both? To promote a product like skin care or essential oils AND be able to write about all the other stuff I want? What happens when I want to do something different… will it be hard to switch gears and will people trust me?
  2. Inadvertently you end up taking advantage of your friends and family because they love you… I know this isn’t entirely true but its a true feeling I have. I’m pretty protective of my social network and of my reputation. I want people to listen to me when I have something to say and I feel like aligning myself with a product that isn’t me may take away from that. Pretty soon you become the girl who “always posts about taking those supplements” or even worse… “I’m afraid to hang out with her because I don’t want to buy her stuff but I feel bad and now its like we have nothing in common because all she talks about is this lifestyle…”
  3. Commitment. Always it comes down to not wanting to make a commitment. If i start selling a product and make it my business then I feel like I can’t do something else. I’ts my thing, I’ve always been adverse to committing to anything (ask Aaron, it took me forever to actually call him my boyfriend after we were dating for 8 months).
  4. False promises of making a living. I know you reap what you sow and that big rewards come from hard work. But just how hard do you have to work to make a decent income? I know from chatting with two of my friends that within a few months they were both making between $400- $800 a month (I didn’t really get clarification if that was profit after spending money on products… but either way it was a good sign).
Some MLM companies I know of and some I currently buy their products from my friends:
Young Living Essential Oils from my sister-in-law Ashley
Rodan + Fields skin care from my highschool bff Kate
Plexus nutritional products from my mama friend Lauren
Chloe + Isabel jewlrey from my Denver pal Beth
Juice Plus whole food vitamins from my mama friend Jenna
BeachBody weight loss programs and Herbalife supplements from my high school friend Clare

Some things to consider if you are thinking about becoming an independent contractor for an MLM company:
  1. USE THE PRODUCTS YOURSELF FIRST! make sure you know what the heck you are getting in to
  2. Look into the compensation plan and see how you actually make money and what you are required to purchase before you start earning commissions
  3. Make sure the company is recognized by the direct selling association
  4. See how many people are selling this product in your immediate network (if your best friend is selling essential oils to everyone you both know it may be harder to get your biz going)
Hope this helps if you are like me and not wanting to miss an opportunity… but at the same time skeptical! Let me know what you think in the comments : )

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