"Multilevel marketing companies are defined by their business model," Janet Lamwatthananon, career advisor for ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace, wrote in an email. "Rather than having a traditional storefront or a website, MLMs sell their goods through consultants who are paid on commission. One way to think about MLMs is as collections of small businesses sharing a name and product line."
Pyramid schemes come in all forms. A really simple example are those chain letter things where you’d get a letter with seven names and addresses. You were supposed to send $1 to the names on the list. After you did that you were supposed to add your own name to the bottom of the list and send the letter off to at least 7 people. Supposedly you could make tens of thousands of dollars in just a few weeks doing this.
Tracy Willard of California began her MLM career out of necessity. “Prior to getting involved in my business, I told my friends to never let me join one of those things… but when our family was hit by the mortgage crisis I had to do something different.” She started her business with the intention some retirees may also find themselves. “I started with the idea that I just needed to make my month easier. My company helped me figure out what I needed to do in order to make an extra $500 per month.”
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The process sounds simple and fun but it can get complicated quickly. As the training for Initial Outfitters highlights, each method of payment comes with quirks. For example, a credit card payment is processed by the company and you basically get the commission as a refund. With cash, you keep your commission and pay Initial Outfitters the difference.
Some people may think this is the definition of a pyramid scheme, or believe that Multilevel Marketing (aka MLM) is synonymous with Pyramid Scheme. However, there is a massive distinction between MLM and Pyramid Schemes. You wouldn’t call Mary Kay Cosmetics, or AVON a pyramid scheme, would you? Both of those companies are prime examples of Network Marketing or MLM companies. The distinction comes in how the company compensates its employees or distributors. When a Network Marketing company’s primary compensation is for recruiting rather than selling, then it could very well be considered a pyramid scheme, which actually, is illegal.
Each distributor is essentially an independent business owner, or more accurately put, an independent sales representative. Each representative gets paid for sales he or she makes, as well as sales made by each person he or she has recruited. Network marketers often earn bonuses for acquiring new distributors and customers and residual income on repeat business.
Some multilevel marketing companies sell protein powders to high performance athletes. Others sell multivitamin supplements to pregnant mothers. And some sell memory-boosting supplements to elderly people. The world of health and nutrition companies is vast, and there are all sorts of new niches to explore. New MLMs are springing up every year trying to best the next USANA.
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Much has been made of the personal, or internal, consumption issue in recent years. In fact, the amount of internal consumption in any multi-level compensation business does not determine whether or not the FTC will consider the plan a pyramid scheme. The critical question for the FTC is whether the revenues that primarily support the commissions paid to all participants are generated from purchases of goods and services that are not simply incidental to the purchase of the right to participate in a money-making venture.
By using the network marketing model, they stay ahead of the competition against their traditional counterparts. Not only do they level the playing field by allowing small businesses the same opportunities which their competing large corporations enjoy, they also build valuable relationships directly with their customers which generates customer satisfaction and a loyal following.
I’m very surprised at the rankings. In full disclosure I am partnered with Isagenix International and we happen to be ranked #22 globally by DSN in only our 15th year. We do $1B/year in sales and are breaking records every day with an annual growth rate of 30%+ annually. Some of the “top 10” are nowhere near these stats. We have also won 45 Stevie Awards, 10 years straight on the Inc. 5000 list, and more. I think all of these companies are great and doing great things but I question the criteria for what makes them tops!