Multi-level marketing is a legitimate business strategy, though it is controversial. One problem is pyramid schemes, which use money from new recruits to pay the people at the top, often take advantage of people by pretending to be engaged in legitimate multi-level marketing. You can spot pyramid schemes by their greater focus on recruitment than on product sales.
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I’ve been invited by two people to join MLM businesses. I tried to explain to the first one that she was involved in a legal pyramid scheme, but once you’re sucked in, it’s like you’re brainwashed. When the second person came along, I didn’t even bother trying to talk him out of it. I wrote a post about MLMs back in June and came to the same conclusions that you did.
The overwhelming majority of MLM participants (most sources estimated to be over 99.25% of all MLM distributors) participate at either an insignificant or nil net profit.[12] Indeed, the largest proportion of participants must operate at a net loss (after expenses are deducted) so that the few individuals in the uppermost level of the MLM pyramid can derive their significant earnings. Said earnings are then emphasized by the MLM company to all other participants to encourage their continued participation at a continuing financial loss.[13]
I spent about 3 years selling Amway back in the 70’s. There was a lot of hype but I made enough money to achieve several of my more modest financial goals. I went on to use some of what I learned to make extra money in various ventures and eventually started a small business out of my home. The business grew until mainstream retailers began offering the same product I was selling at comparable prices. The MLM as a learning tool has some value as long as the product is decent. This MLM ranking is a good way to attract attention and I am curious about Your service. I am selective about what I spend my time and effort on.
Fast forward to 2017. LuLaRoe is the biggest MLM for women. “More than 80,000 women have paid around $5,000 for several boxes of low-cost clothing and worked as much as 80-hour weeks to outfit hundreds of thousands of suburban women in multicolored polyester. But according to a report that studied the business models of 350 MLMs, published on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, 99% of people who join multilevel-marketing companies lose money. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a brilliant business model or a predatory practice — or a little bit of both.” (FTC)
Right now, MLMs are preying on lower-income, often undocumented immigrant communities and taking advantage of their lack of knowledge and finances. Their reps lure them in by telling that they are giving them the tools to start their own businesses and that they can create jobs for their friends and family members. In the 2016 documentary, Betting On Zero, director Ted Braun talks to several Latino families who have lost their entire life savings to Herbalife. They were told by MLM reps that it’s easy work and that it’s not dangerous, and so they sold their construction businesses to invest in Herbalife.
I’d like to point out a few things: statistically something like 96% of businesses fail within the first 5-10 years, which is a much more impactful loss, both financially and time wise, than the few hundred dollars one puts into whatever product they’re using in MLM. So realistically the success rate as a “self employed business owner” with MLM is probably a bit better than it is with launching a traditional business, or at least consistent with it. It takes discipline and tenacity that many people don’t have- that’s why they chose to remain employees in the first place.

Multi-level marketing is a legitimate business strategy, though it is controversial. One problem is pyramid schemes, which use money from new recruits to pay the people at the top, often take advantage of people by pretending to be engaged in legitimate multi-level marketing. You can spot pyramid schemes by their greater focus on recruitment than on product sales.

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