Career/Essays & Confessions

How I Accidentally Ended Up Working At An MLM

By | Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Photo of lady boss name plate

On my first day at my new company, I walked into the office dressed business professional with my binder and pen in hand. I walked up to the door of the room, where our introduction meeting was to be held, and found six or seven other employees waiting outside. “We’re supposed to wait outside until the leaders’ meeting is done,” one of my new co-workers said. After a couple of minutes, the door flung open and a bunch of excited team “leaders” greeted us with high-fives as they led us into the standing meeting room. We learned a couple of sales techniques, reviewed a business article led by our boss (let’s call her *Jessica), then we were off to do our selling, “in the field.”

Now I’ve never had an issue speaking to customers, so the selling part of the job came easy. It was an 8-hour shift and I hit my sales quota for that day, so I felt good leaving my shift. Following each shift, we were required to call Jessica for a daily run down and evaluation, and our conversation reflected that. 

The next day, while I waited outside with my co-workers to start our shift, I noticed one of the employees without a blazer. One of the leaders noticed it as well and made mention that we should always have a blazer on. After going over sales techniques for the day, Jessica prepared for our day’s lesson. “Today I want to talk about beginner’s luck,” she started. “In business, you never want to get too comfortable or think there’s no room for improvement.” I quickly humbled myself thinking, There’s no way she would do an entire lesson around me, but my instinct was right. The following day, our lesson was, “Showing Up to the Job We Want” which consisted of the importance of appearance and how you may come off if you show up without a blazer. The girl without the blazer the day before was bright red and it was clear my boss was basing her lessons on how she could both motivate us, while passive-aggressively reprimanding us. 

Obviously, this got annoying, but Jessica’s questionable leadership technique wasn’t going to get in the way of my career growth. So, I sat quietly…

And then I got promoted. 

It had been three and a half weeks and I hadn’t even gotten my first paycheck but somehow I made it to this new leadership role. I received a “Leader’s Binder” and Jessica asked me to stay a bit later to discuss my new position. I had a little pep in my step walking to her office because obviously a promotion meant more pay right? WRONG. While Jessica explained my new role, I patiently waited to hear anything regarding a salary increase. In the end, when nothing was mentioned, I asked, “And what is the pay for the leadership position?” My boss replied, “Oh, well, a leader knows that they’re not going to get paid for all the investments they make upfront.” She continued, “I’m training you as a leader now and giving you the tools for success for when you have your own office.” 

I was shocked. This lady wanted me to take this promotion and work extra hours for the same pay. I’m sure my face showed my confusion as I left her office. “Oh wait! I have your first paycheck!” Jessica said behind me. I took the envelope from her with a smile because AT LEAST I was finally getting rewarded for my first weeks’ worth of work.  

The total was $1,100.

I had spent three weeks working at this new job and made $1,100.

I  worked 6 days a week, upwards of 60 hours a week,  for nearly an ENTIRE month, and only brought home $1,100

With student loans and regular living expenses, you can imagine how disappointed I was. I called Jessica for more clarification and was told that I only make commission once I’ve sold enough product to cover my 8-hour shift. So basically every day had to be a good selling day or I wouldn’t make much money. 

That day, I spent my whole drive to my selling location with my jaw on my lap and my entire shift looking on LinkedIn for new jobs or crying in the bathroom. How did I not know about this pay structure and why hadn’t I asked in the beginning? It probably goes without saying that when I did my daily evaluation at the end of the shift, I had very little to say. 

The next day, while in my new “Leader” role, I reluctantly entered the office to start my unpaid promotion. “So leaders,” Jessica started, “I know our pay is a little weird but let me explain why we pay the way we do.” Clearly, this lesson was directed towards me and I was eager to hear this justification. 

“So I am the owner of this office right?” Jessica said.  “And since I have all [of you] are underneath me, I make passive income off of everyone here.” 

While writing on a dry erase board, Jessica wrote her name, and started to write all of our names underneath hers. 

“Once I train and develop you guys, you’ll also be able to build your own teams and make passive income!” She then wrote three X’s under each of our names to denote the future, unnamed employees who would work “underneath” us. 

She proceeded “Then you’ll build your own leaders to bring up MORE leaders! Pretty soon you won’t even have to work anymore because you’ll be able to live off your passive income!”

That’s when it hit me. I realized I was in an MLM: a multi-leveled marketing company where my success was determined on how quickly and successfully, I could attain — and maintain — recruits. 

Jessica was only making money because we were out making it for her, and the only way we would make sustainable money is if we hired and developed people under us to do the same. 

Jessica continued, “I base my lessons on how people break down their day. If I notice the break downs are negative, I try to pick articles that address those issues and pick up my team. You have to take notice of how your team is feeling and make sure they stay successful for the sake of your business.” So not only was my paycheck going straight to my boss but each of these “break downs” we did were being used by Jessica as a means of keeping us motivated and from quitting. 

Now I consider myself to be a smart, young woman and I could not believe that I had gotten myself in this situation, yet I didn’t quit right away. The following week consisted of more unpaid leader meetings, psychologically funded business lessons, and crying in the bathroom while on LinkedIn. Luckily, due to my degree and previous work experience, I was able to land a new job two months into working at the MLM. I couldn’t have been happier since I was ready to quit since week three, and had resorted to stealing toilet paper from my local coffee shop to save on expenses. I gave Jessica my two weeks’ notice, but since I didn’t have what it took to be an “owner” she said I was free to go that same day.

To this day,  I still can’t believe that was a part of my life. I’m grateful for the lesson but even more grateful that I didn’t work there long enough to have to include it on my resume.

(This story was originally published October 2020)

Alexis Vaughn left her hometown state right after her college graduation. Now in her mid-20s, she hopes to inspire people through her own career and financial journey, while reminding them it’s never too late to change your plans or your goals.

Image via Unsplash

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