MLM businesses get a bad rap because they have such a high "failure" rate. However, there is much misinformation regarding these stats. First, the failure rate in business in general is fairly high. Second, it's easier to walk away from a business in which you invested $50 versus one in which you invested $5,000. Finally, because of the way MLMs are presented, many people sign up for the quick buck, instead of paying attention to whether or not they like the product or are willing to follow the marketing plan.
To put these statistics into context, John compared them with the failure rates for traditional small businesses using the Small Business Administration’s statistics for 2008. And he discovered that 44% of small businesses survive at least four years, 31% at least seven years, and 39% are profitable over the life of their business. In 10 years only 64% of small businesses fail.
Multi-level marketing, abbreviated as MLM, also called pyramid selling, network marketing and referral marketing, is a controversial marketing strategy for the sale of products and/or services where the revenue of the MLM company is derived from a non-salaried workforce (also called participants, and variously known as “salespeople”, “distributors”, “consultants”, “promoters”, “independent business owners”, etc) selling the company’s products/services, while the earnings of the participants is derived from a pyramid-shaped commission system.

Carl Rehnborg is credited as having started the multi-level marketing industry back in the 1930s. After learning about the benefits of dietary supplements in China, Rehnborg came back to the United States and started a company called The California Vitamin Company, which was later rebranded to Nutrilite. Six years after that rebranding, Rehnborg reorganized the company’s structure and the way it sold products into what we know as MLM today.


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The term “MLM company” isn’t exactly accurate because the company is not necessarily defined by the fact that it uses a multi-level marketing structure. Instead, a good MLM will be a product-centric company, meaning that it will be, for example, a cosmetics company that uses an MLM structure. Test the product of the company you are interested in; the product must be something that you would willingly advertise even if you weren't working for the company.
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Great job on the top 25 MLMs. Really like what you’re doing for the industry as a whole. Your analysis is spot on. However, a closer look at retention rates for each company might give you another perspective on the value proposition of any given company. As a Doterra Wellness Advocate we are told by our corporate execs that we have a 65% retention rate with customers repurchasing the product within 3 months. And that if we based it on the industry standard of 12 months our retention would go up to 85%. I’m told that this is unprecedented in network marketing. So I’m believing that Doterra is succeeding because its selling a product that works and that users and word-of-mouth drive the business in the long run.


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Great listing and especially the honest look at what being in an MLM means. Direct sales is a hard business, especially if you’re not passionately using the product daily. You see too many people who join thinking it will be a get rich quick scheme and don’t actually care about the product or their customers. Genuine lasts and is successful, companies like Avon and Mary Kay have been around for generations because people love their products.
“What causes the average, otherwise shy person to suddenly think they can be a wealth-generating salesman? Because someone showed them “the math.” I’m sure you’ve heard it. All you have to do is find 5 people to join, and those 5 will find five, and those five will get five, and 6 months later you will have 20,000 people working for you, and you’ll be earning $10,000 per month. Really?
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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!


Instead of focusing on just the product, the MLM distributor wants you to buy the product and become a distributor.  You will usually be invited to come to a conference at a local hotel where the higher level distributors (sometimes called diamonds) come in to pitch the product and get everyone emotionally excited about where this magnificent new business can take them.
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