Representatives for direct selling companies affirm that most participants in their companies aren't making much. "Earnings are typically quite small," says Joe Mariano, president and CEO of the Direct Selling Association. He notes that nearly three-quarters of people involved in direct selling are "discount customers," meaning they're buying the products for themselves – not selling them. For that majority, earnings aren't just small: They're nonexistent.

Consultants involved in multi-level marketing usually sell products directly to consumers through relationships and word of mouth. Nearly 9 out of every 10 consultants are part-time, and work out of the home as distributors of a given line of products. Many multi-level companies also employ a “party plan” strategy, where consultants (and possibly also the consultant’s “upline”) invite friends and other interested customers in the area to a party at the consultant’s home (or other available location). Many products are demonstrated, everyone has a good time, and by the end of the party the consultant has hopefully made several sales—and possibly even recruited a new consultant (who in turn become that salesperson’s downline).
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