Essays & Confessions / Investing

5 Important Lessons I Learned After Losing Nearly $1K In An MLM

By Saturday, November 28, 2020

“I was broke, desperate and now part of a multilevel marketing scheme…”

Before we get into any details about this whole thing, please understand that I’ve spent a long time being entirely ANTI-MLM. You’d think that being a strong-willed ‘anti-mlm’er would be enough armor against the over-optimistically-tantalizing bonuses and car incentives that these schemes offer. However, I am living proof that when your salary gets slashed due to a worldwide pandemic, your credit card is quickly reaching its limit and you have way too much time on your hands… all bets are off.   

Let’s face it, ethics aside, MLMs earn the people at the top serious amounts of money. But if you’re not amongst the ‘lucky’ few first sellers (and aren’t prepared to bully people you know for your own benefit), then the odds are 99% not in your favor — and the odds were definitely not in mine. 

 

At a time when I was desperate to make extra income, I ignored my personal policy against becoming in an MLM and “invested” over $900 into selling a product (and let’s face it, recruiting other people to sell a product) that I knew wasn’t as ‘life-changing’ as it looked on Instagram. 

I was broke, desperate and now part of a multilevel marketing scheme.

Pre-COVID I was taking home $3500 a month as a singing teacher and I was anxious to make my money work for me while I still had some to put to use. So if you’re teetering on the desperate edge of the ‘Should I or Shouldn’t I,’ cliff face, I want you to take stock of my list of things that I’ve learned after joining—and walking away from—an MLM.

1. There’s investing and then there’s joining an MLM. They are not the same thing.

My first mistake was not checking out the MLM company’s income disclosure statement. Companies are not required to release this data in the United States, however many do to maintain a sense of transparency. They are often grim reading; you can expect to see only the top 0.1% of MLMers earning any significant amounts of money! If I had seen this then it would have become clear very quickly that this was not something to put my precious, limited resources towards.

When we invest money into stocks and bonds, there is an element of short-term risk, but we have the benefit of time to offset that risk. With an MLM that risk buffer just doesn’t exist. Don’t be a dingbat. Do your research. 

 

2. No amount of daily Zoom meetings will make you successful.

My upline (the person who recruited me) continually drummed into the entire team that the more ‘team meetings’ we attended, the more successful we would be. Team meetings consisted of nothing actionable or helpful, in fact, they were mostly just 12 people sitting on a Zoom call, each cradling a cup of coffee and struggling to find things to say. There were one or two of these “meetings” daily! 

My naive self went into this thinking that these would be sessions of sharing good practice, supporting each other, and learning more about the products that we were selling. Conversely, I learned that I have the ‘same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé,’ that people who don’t want to buy product from me are brainwashed evil people and that if I ‘fake it til I make it’ then I will in fact miraculously make it. But in the end, I saw a lot of ‘faking it’ and not that much ‘making it’.

But in the end, I saw a lot of ‘faking it’ and not that much ‘making it’.

3. Hard work doesn’t equal (more) income. 

Have you ever worked to the point of exhaustion, seen zero results, and then dived headfirst into a pint of ice cream? Welcome to my club—I am the chairperson. 

I bombarded my Instagram with product-based content, was constantly in my IG stories speaking about what I was selling, and was tactical in the way that I spoke to people who were interested in potentially trying what I had to offer. Strictly speaking, my efforts were checking off all of the right boxes. However, with an overly expensive product, science that customers just couldn’t get their heads around it (no blame there at all, it was so complicated that many reps didn’t understand it either). And with pressure from my upline to not just sell products but also recruit new reps, I was drawing blanks. I was working my ass off and getting nowhere. I managed a few sales to be met by customers that didn’t want to repurchase because they didn’t see an effect, had a negative reaction to the supplement, or thought that the price didn’t match the benefit. It was demoralizing and yet I was being told constantly to just keep pushing. No thank you, that was the cue to be over and out. 

 

4. I want a business that’s mine.

It dawned on me one night while I was reflecting on my failed business venture, that as much as reps recruit you for the opportunity to build your own business and be your own boss, no part of selling for an MLM is about you.

What tempted me into this whole scenario in the first place was that I wanted to launch my own product-based business but knew that I didn’t have the capital to make it happen right now. Was this ever going to be the opportunity that I was longing for? Evidently not. I wasn’t working on my terms, I wasn’t creating a product or service that I love and when the time came to put it all to bed, I had nothing to show for it. All of that time and money for a big fat stinking pile of nothingness. 

No part of selling for an MLM is about you.

Now I know that if I’m going to invest my own hard-earned cash into a business then I want it to be something of my own design. If you’re a bit like me and aspire to create the ultimate multi-hyphen jigsaw of a career then you’re probably also looking to construct something that puts you and your passions firmly in the driving seat, however, these networking marketing opportunities are not going to do that. Put them in the figurative bin and forget about them. 

5. It is your right to maintain and enforce your personal boundaries. 

Saying no takes a lot of guts. Allowing yourself to walk away from something that isn’t working for you takes even more guts, especially when it’s going to make you feel like you failed. I really struggled with the feeling of ‘I can’t even do this right’. I cried, ate copious amounts of ice cream, and gave myself a really hard time over the whole experience. I went through phases of thinking: I’m rubbish at everything, I just didn’t do enough, and then ultimately, How could I be so stupid to get on board with this in the first place? But, you can’t fail when you’re in the middle of a completely flawed system (refer back to the income disclosure statement if you need a good shake back to reality).

$900 is a lot to lose when you can’t afford to lose $900 and if I’d stuck to my personal policy against working for an MLM then I never would have lost that money in the first place.

While selling, I was determined not to be pushy, not to be that person that only wants to sell you something or that people don’t want to spend time with for fear of getting sucked into signing up as a rep themselves. Luckily, I lost no friends over this. My friends have reassured me that I didn’t morph into some forceful ‘Buy my product’ monster. Through all of this, I managed to stay true to myself, maintain my boundaries, and in the end walk away with my head held high (albeit $900 lighter).

Sian Jones is a blogger and writer based out of the UK.

Image via Unsplash

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