Besides earning money off your own sales, you also earn a percentage of the income generated by the distributors that you've brought into the program (these are known as your downline). Often there are bonuses for selling particular amounts of product or signing up a certain number of new members; you can earn cars and trips as well as cash. Sounds good, doesn't it? And being part of a well-run MLM business can be a lot like being a member of a large extended family.
Then there’s Congress, where critics also fear the passage of legislative efforts they say would virtually legitimize many pyramid schemes. One such bill, introduced last summer by a bipartisan caucus organized by the industry lobbying group, the Direct Selling Association, was opposed by Ramirez because it contradicts the terms of the Herbalife settlement. Days after she announced her resignation, Ramirez wrote a letter to the DSA chastising it for its opposition to the FTC view, which the DSA had laid out in a press release shortly before Trump’s inauguration. The question is whether there is retail demand for the products of MLMs or whether the purchases are just a camouflage for recruitment. The DSA, and the bill, argues that purchases by participants in the scheme, called “internal consumption,” can represent true demand, which means they would count when determining commissions paid to salespeople. Ramirez and the FTC disagree. Even if MLM participants do want to buy products for their own use, they shouldn’t be compensated for doing so, Ramirez said. To ensure compensation is driven by retail sales, she noted, companies should keep track of all customer sales outside the network (as Herbalife is being forced to do).
Diana Bendit of Virginia has used a home-equity loan to pay off a car. I “reduced the interest I would have to pay by more than half and paid it off faster with less cost. If someone is paying 8 percent and can reduce that to 3.5 percent over the same time frame using a home equity loan, that is a no brainer to me. I wouldn’t roll that debt into a refi because the payments over 10 to 30 years are not a good deal. The only reason to do this is to reduce interest payments and pay off the debt faster.”
At the end of the 1990s, network marketers were learning to harness the power of the internet. The implementation of online shops and electronic orders made employing social networks much easier for individual distributors and businesses. Since the rise of social media platforms, it’s become common to see advertisements by people in your network for companies like Rodan + Fields or ItWorks.
Good companies find ways to intelligently leverage technology. Thanks to Amazon and Wal-Mart, we’re all spoiled. We want what we want, we want it NOW and we want it delivered for free. Smart network marketing companies are eliminating as many barriers as possible to make it easier for consumers to place and receive orders. They’re finding ways to make it easier for consumers to connect via mobile apps, tell stories via social media tools, provide best-in-class web experiences and leverage as much data as possible to stay ahead of consumer demand. The corporate team also needs to leverage technology to enhance workflows.
“We decided to take a cash-out refi to pay off unsecured debt,” wrote Kimberly Rotter from San Diego, a personal finance writer and frequent commenter. “The debt was incurred for emergency maintenance on our property, including several months of lost income for my husband while he did the work. Our home was 100 percent paid off so this was a very hard decision for us. However, our alternative was to do the zero percent shuffle on multiple credit cards to handle $85,000 in debt, which I know from past experience is difficult (although possible) at that level. We got a loan against the house for 5 percent and have a very strong and committed 36-month payoff plan. The pain of this choice will hopefully keep us on track. I am optimistic that we will meet our payoff goal.”
As you read these disclosure statements, you need to keep in mind that the companies do what they can to paint a bright picture of your income capability. Instead of giving you straight figures, they’ll share percentages and percentages of percentages. There’s a whole lot of intentional obfuscation going on. You’ve got to bust your mathematical chops to really understand what the numbers mean. We spent hours carefully reading through the above disclosure statements and crunching the numbers ourselves in order to verify Taylor’s conclusion that 90-99% of distributors in each respective MLM were only receiving at most a few hundred dollars a year in commissions. And it’s absolutely true.
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).
Trump’s Cabinet picks also have MLM links. First there’s his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, whose husband’s family fortune derives from its ownership of Amway, the world’s biggest MLM, with $9.5 billion in annual 2015 revenue on everything from soap to cat food. While the company’s sales have been in decline, falling from a peak of $11.8 billion in 2013, Amway remains the 29th largest privately held company in the U.S., according to Forbes.
I initially spoke to a retired friend who said she joined a health and beauty direct selling company as a means of meeting new people. She had recently remarried and moved to a new location, so she combined the practice of meeting new people with making extra money. After almost a decade in the business, she’s built a small niche business with family and friends despite switching to from one company to another competitor after three years.