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.
For full disclosure, I want to point out that I am not affiliated with any multi-level marketing or direct sales companies, and that I don’t receive any compensation from the industry for my opinion on it.  I’m sharing this with you because after I wrote what is considered the most widely read, copied, and quoted MLM article in the history of the industry, I was accused of writing it to promote my own MLM business or the industry in general, which is not the case.
To understand how network marketing works, it may be helpful to think of a business model that most consumers are familiar with, franchising. In a franchise, an owner pays a company for the right to do business using that company’s products, services, and name. The parent company agrees to provide the owner with training, development, advertising and marketing support. While the name on the outside of the building is that of the parent company, the actual location is privately owned by an independent business owner.
The big difference between MLM and a pyramid scheme is in the way the business operates. The entire purpose of a pyramid scheme is to get your money and then use you to recruit other suckers (ahem - distributors). The entire purpose of MLM is to move product. The theory behind MLM is that the larger the network of distributors, the more product the business will be able to sell.
Take it all the way to the top. Ask yourself questions about the person who introduced you to the opportunity and whether you can trust what they tell you. Make sure to ask if they are willing to divulge exactly how much they've been making. Probe into the founders of the company, assuming it's a newer company. Research whether they have been successful and reputable in their previous businesses. Investigate your entire upline just like you would a business partner you've never met before.
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When you look at our hypothetical MLM, it’s hard not to notice that it pretty much works like a pyramid scheme: you make money by recruiting people below you. Instead of the people below you giving you and the people above you money in order to be part of the MLM — as in a traditional pyramid scheme — you (and the people above you) get a commission off the product purchases the recruits below you are required to make from the MLM. Distributors make little to no money selling product to people outside the company.
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Now this company is a true innovator in the MLM industry.  Their product: Herbal supplement capsules. Where can you find them? Everywhere! The pair that were the first to do it was a husband and wife that are behind Natures Sunshine.  If you visit a local health food store (or your yoga fanatic friend’s medicine cabinet) you are bound to find their product and proof of how well-known they truly are.
As far as the retirement saving crisis is concerned, more and more people are coming to terms with the fact that they probably aren’t going to be able to save enough money to just sit around and slowly deplete their nest egg from age 62 to 100.  With the average 50 year-old estimated to have less than $50,000 in retirement savings, there is an obvious need to find alternative ways to either save more or generate supplemental income starting now, and continuing throughout retirement.  Moving beyond just the dollars and cents, boomers are growing tired of feeling guilty or bad about their past savings habits and are interested in moving towards possible solutions.
In the earlier 2000’s everyone in the network marketing industry new about ACN.  Accelerate time and land in 2017, the telecommunication strategy company has seen better days and has continued to decline over the last 5 years.  However, with $800+ million in yearly revenue still coming in, it’s not bad at all.  You can still call them a “has been” company and they have ultimately met their demise by a failing to update themselves.

You want to go back in a time machine and relive the old days of your younger, fitter and slimmer self?? Well if you just said yes, you are a part of the targeted market: everyone!  With their insane sale profit numbers, this company always makes the list for the top 20 MLM companies in the world, bringing in about $1.4 billion dollars in yearly revenue.  Not only are you selling a product people already have so much trust in, but the new associate cost to sign up is only $30, really one of the lowest.


With her departure on Feb. 10, there are only two commissioners remaining on the FTC and the acting chairwoman, Republican Maureen Ohlhausen, is a staunch supporter of self-regulation by MLMs. Trump will appoint three new FTC commissioners, including the chairperson. Whether it’s Ohlhausen or someone else, the next chairperson is also likely to be sympathetic to the MLM cause. The only name floated for the spot so far has been Republican Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who was also greeted with glee by MLM shareholders when his consideration was reported by Politico on Jan. 17.
This article was really informative and honest! I’m not presently involved in an MLM and I don’t ever plan to be especially after reading this article and the comments below. Why? Well because of EXACTLY the kind of “networking” and “recruiting” that these companies and many of the people commenting on here are advocating. I have been bombarded on my facebook, and other social media from people I haven’t spoken to or seen in years. Its becoming constant, and I am not on social media to make money. Roden and Fields, shakeology, some girl I went to high school with is now trying to get me to buy leggins from her. I have a cousin that I actively avoid now because he is constantly steering every single conversation to Herbellife and why I NEED it to be healthy. Jesus. Its just enough already. I’m all for empowering people, and I love the idea of earning an additional income to take care of your family or yourself. But I could not imagine alienating or even just annoying friends and family in order to make an extra dollar. What I dislike most is that many of those that are recruiting make it seem as if they recruiting you simply because they want to “help” you or provide you with an opportunity. They make it seem as if they are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, when really the actual motivation is line their own pockets with more money, because the more people you recruit for your team, the more money you make. That feels dishonest and slimy to me. Unless I’m asking for “help” or an “opportunity” I wish people would assume that I don’t need and am not interested in one!
Not all MLM companies are created equal. Many see an initial burst of success followed by a gradual tapering off of profits, causing them to collapse and go out of business. MLM companies that succeed have sound business models, both for those who run the company and for those who sell product and recruit new sales agents. There are many sites devoted to MLM rankings, creating lists of companies likely to provide a return on investment to sales agents interested in the industry.
Although there are no specific educational requirements for direct sellers, individuals interested in network marketing may find it beneficial to take advantage of one of the selling and sales management degree programs available in the United States. Some general course topics include professional selling, marketing, prospecting, sales motivation, consumer behavior, customer relations, and sales management.

I’m truly sympathetic to this desire. A lot of folks are struggling financially out there; Dad’s salary alone isn’t enough to support the family (or he’s out of work altogether), and Mom getting a job may not be a big help once the cost of childcare is factored in. Plus, a lot of moms simply don’t want to send their kids to childcare and want to be able to stay home with their children.
First, Elliot, thank you for this article. Your sense of truly wanting to help comes through and it’s refreshing. Like MommyFinance, I too have suffered PTSD from previous runs at MLM but I have been looking for legitimate ways of making extra income and seems I’m being directed toward trying MLM again. Your article gave me hope that there are some good ones out there. What you said about finding the one that fits me and leaving a legacy for family really turned on a light for me and I greatly appreciate that. A wine business is not quite up my alley but I will certainly direct those who might be interested your way.

During the Obama administration, the Federal Trade Commission made its biggest-ever effort to curb this industry when last summer it slapped nutritional supplement–seller Herbalife with a $200 million fine and, as part of a settlement with Herbalife, demanded it restructure its business so that it would “start operating legitimately,” as FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez put it. The FTC alleged Herbalife had engaged in “unfair and deceptive practices,” and put it under a federal monitor for seven years, demanding onerous changes to its compensation plan and requiring extensive documentation of customer sales. Ramirez then set down an ambitious posture for the FTC: In the future, she said at an MLM industry conference in October, these companies should adopt the new Herbalife rules when structuring their businesses, as the FTC would be watching.
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