These things require capital. I would say that the BIGGEST mistake startup entrepreneurs make when they start a network marketing company is the failure to appreciate the amount of capital required. They do the simple math, add up a few known expenses, and assume the company will be profitable within the first few months. Capital allows the founders to be patient and focus on longer term goals, which leads to healthier companies. Desperation for money has led countless entrepreneurs to make catastrophic mistakes. And be wary of companies listed on exchanges as penny stocks — I’ve seen very few network marketing companies navigate those waters successfully without defrauding investors.
If you insist on trying one of these MLM offers, the least you can do is look for proper business registration with BBB, toll free number, and proper address (no Post Office box). Also, you will need lots of family and friends to make it work. As a final step, check the MLM materials for one or more of these "red flags" that are associated with the worst of the offerings:
(May 2017 update: did this go under?) The sign up cost will make you do a triple take (almost four figures), but you get to set your own retail price on every product you sell. If you’ve got the skills to make people cough up the cash for their products (which, btw, are pretty legit), you could definitely make that money back. They’ve also been winning plenty of awards (even a growth award from the Direct Selling Association themselves).
Multi-level marketing (MLM) is known by a variety of names: network marketing, referral marketing—and more pejoratively (and/or when done unethically), pyramid marketing. In this structure, marketing and sales reps not only receive compensation for their own sales, but also receive a percentage of the sales generated by other salespeople they recruit (commonly known as one’s “downline”). (See also Referral Marketing)
Next comes Trump’s special adviser on federal regulations, investor Carl Icahn, who has an estimated net worth of $17 billion. Icahn is something of an accidental beneficiary of MLM wealth, having invested in Herbalife to get back at his nemesis, fellow shareholder activist Bill Ackman, after Ackman launched a public short on Herbalife in 2012 and called it a pyramid scheme. Icahn has ended up virtually running Herbalife, owning 24 percent of its shares and holding five board seats. But despite Icahn’s clout, Ackman’s lobbying effort to bring down Herbalife led to the FTC crackdown, which could pummel Herbalife’s earnings. (The company has other problems, as it recently disclosed that it is subject to an anti-corruption probe by both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice over its burgeoning China business.)
The end result of the MLM business model is, therefore, one of a company (the MLM company) selling its products/services through a non-salaried workforce ("partners") working for the MLM company on a commission-only basis while the partners simultaneously constitute the overwhelming majority of the very consumers of the MLM company's products/service that they, as participants of the MLM, are selling to each other in the hope of one day themselves being at the top of the pyramid. This creates great profit for the MLM company's actual owners and shareholders.
Pyramid schemes are illegal in all 50 states and in most countries in the world. The reason they’re illegal is because they promise extraordinary returns based on a structure that is unsustainable and will eventually collapse. In order to survive, pyramid schemes require an infinite number of recruits. Since there aren’t an infinite number of people, they always fall apart, leaving the people at the bottom of the scheme with empty pockets.
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.