On Network Marketing, Heaven Help Me

*Before you de-friend me, PLEASE join the conversation (do this 2 second survey I made) and give me a different perspective. I am very open to having my mind changed or learning more about some of the positive sides of things from you personally (not your brand's PR materials, or sales -speak).  I hope this doesn't come off as slamming or condemning!

I would also love to hear from folks who maybe know more from the inside of these things and aren't involved anymore about why you stopped.  I am no expert, and have done only moderate research on a fraction of the companies out there. 

ABOVE ALL this might just be me! I don't have the sales gene and can see how this isn't WRONG across the board. I am attempting to speak 100% from my own weird little heart about how I feel when I'm on the receiving end of these MLM invites and how I think through things if I were to consider becoming a rep of one. 

I have been struggling with this for a LONG time. But just like the Chick-fil-gay thing, election night nonsense, and a few other hot-button issues that my brain REEEEALLY didn't want to write publicly about...the nagging feeling in my heart that I need to speak out just doesn't go away--until I do.

Deep breath.

I made a hard and fast rule a few years ago to never attend a Multi-Level-Marketing party, presentation, sales pitch or recruiting meeting. This has been tricky because there are some brands that have products that actually seem interesting or to fit my style. But the blanket NO is more important to me.

Here's the catch: many women I love and respect and don't want to hurt or piss off are involved in these businesses (and have managed to do them without making me feel the ways I am talking about), so I have found myself incredibly conflicted working through my feelings openly regarding MLM without feeling like I am condemning their choices. 

I feel prayerfully led to write about this for a few reasons:

1. To let folks in MLM be aware of how your customers and friends could possibly feel. These 12 things are churning around wreaking havoc in my brain every time I am contacted about this, so just be careful where you cast your net and think about potential risk/rewards. It wouldn't be fair for me to be mad at or hurt by you in our friendship if I never spoke up!

2. To give a voice to a topic that's tough to talk about (I've been afraid to even share funny articles about MLM for fear of offending people I love). I bet there are more than a few folks who feel like me on this but don't advertise it because you don't want to be "anti" anyone. If I stay quiet for fear of offending, and doing so mean I am hurt or a relationship suffers, that sucks and isn't worth the fake peace of shutting up.

3. To work out and put words to the angst this has given me.

There are a few angles at work here for me that make this stuff a problem (again, I'd love to hear if/why I'm operating under incorrect assumptions).

As an Informed Customer 

When a soliciting stranger comes to my door, or into our office and tries to cold-sell me something that I didn't ask for and don't need, and I have to turn them away, I am left with blood pounding in my ears, flushed face, and elevated heart rate. I feel sad that this is their job and must be told NO so often, but I also feel angry that they are putting me on the spot and not respecting my boundaries (my initial No, thanks)--in hopes of getting some money out of me. I feel dirty afterward.

(1) I hate that feeling and I never want to make ANYONE feel like that, and definitely not a loved one.

So when it's a friend or neighbor or Facebook acquaintance who approaches me, things get even more complicated. Do I believe you that you love this product? Yes, I usually assume my friends tell the truth and aren't snake oil charlatans. Do I think you care about me? Yes. (with the glaring exception of people who never speak to me in real life but try to recruit or sell to me on FB). 

But if these two things are true, then (2) why do I not seem to hear about these products BEFORE someone starts making commissions from selling them?  Often, the first time I hear of someone's enthusiasm for a business is when they've already become a seller. It's a lot more believable to me if you have been a brand enthusiast for some time and talked about how you love buying/using something AND THEN LATER decided to then turn that passion into a job.

This excellent, well-balanced, rational article says it great:

Is there ever a reason to join up with an MLM company? Actually, I think there is! If you and/or your friends are fanatical supporters of a company or product, by all means, save yourselves some money on the bulk purchases you’d have made anyway!

So stop there if that's you. I'm not really talking about these folks.

There is nothing new under the sun. I didn't make that up; it's from the Bible. When a new drug comes out from a big Pharmacy company, there is almost always a generic version soon to follow. When there is a new kind of cosmetic made by Clinique, there will be an Oil of Olay version in Target in a month or two. So the businesses that are pushing products with proprietary ingredients or technology that only they have just seem like liars to me (the businesses who know it, not my MLM friends). (3)but if the formulas are so miraculous at making you skinny, wrinkle free, full of energy, gorgeously hairless, then why aren't the mass production companies reverse engineering/wooing away their scientists to help make similar ones? 

And moreover (4) why isn't my expert--doctor/dentist/nutritionist/trainer prescribing them? Why should I trust a chick I knew one summer at volleyball camp in 1997 on how to moisturize over my Board Certified dermatologist?

As a Fellow Internet Seller:

I get the appeal of network marketing. Hello, this is my blog that has ads on it. A large chunk of people who read this blog are my friends--they are in my network--and every time I link to a post on my personal Facebook page, and a friend clicks it, I do get a tiny amount of money. If you sign up for Stitch Fix from here, I get $15!

TRUTH: I am happy when I get more pageviews because it makes me money. I am happy when a friend buys something from my Etsy shop. Let's be clear: YALL MAKE ME MONEY AND I LIKE IT! Doing something (sewing and writing) I love and helping may my billz? Yeah, it's cool, I know, because I do it too.

But my blog and Etsy shop both have a little red X somewhere up top, and you can make my words and my ads disappear forever with one little click. You don't have to email me personally, or look me in the eye and say 'No thanks' repeatedly, or ever worry that you're fracturing our relationship by opting out of my jibber jabber.

I can guarantee that I will never email, text, call, or approach you in real life to say, "would you like to read my blog?" or "can I tell you about the things I sew and sell?"  (5)You can opt out of my "business" or brand without unfriending (literally or digitally) me. The gift of the anonymous "No thanks, not interested, but I still want to be friends" is a courtesy everyone deserves

I have been hurt to discover this isn't the case with some of my MLM friends who have used our relationship as a shield to protect them against me getting rude or short. Their companies will equip them with scripts, a la telemarketers, and train them in how to get around my polite refusals. As another woman who conducts business online, it angers me to see aggressive tactics at work that seem to rely on pressuring a potential customer/current friend to choose between keeping her money or keeping her friend.

From conversations I have had with friends who have been sold to, (6) it seems that the product with the most allure is often guilt-relief ("I'm just supporting you in this because I love you") or breathing room ("ok, fine, I'll buy something so you will just stop bringing it up"). 

As Your Friend

The #1 feeling I get when I walk away from a MLM pitch or encounter (that went beyond my first "No, thank you," or came out of nowhere pretending like we're friends to make a sale off me) is USED. I feel used that you wanted my money (or the money my friends would eventually give you) and were willing to leverage our friendship to get access to it.

I have sweet, sweet friends (AGAIN, I dearly love many MLMs!)  who say (and mean!) "you can totally say no and I won't ever bring it up again or be offended." I am envious that they can move on so easily, but I CANT! I think I could make a pretty comprehensive list right now of  every friend who has tried to sell us something and I have had to tell them no. Because (7) it sticks with me and leaves me with a bad taste in my heart for a long time afterward (did they use me? did I offend them? what are they really in this  friendship for? can I dare ask them for anything in the future?). That may just be my introverted non salesman personality, but there ya go.

PLEASE don't tell me you want to share a business with me because you know I'd be great at it and just want to bless me. That might be part of the reason, but in reality these business models can only sustainably profit reps when they have more and more people beneath them/on their team/in their "family"/in their downline. 

That supplement that I get my coworker to buy for $150? It's making a profit for me, the person who recruited me, the person who recruited them, and up and up to the fat cat who spent $7 to manufacture a green tea powder with some added cool-sounding ingredients.

The straight up truth is that whoever got you into a MLM is making money off of you. If they are smart business people they will recruit people who would be great at recruiting others (no shame in that game!), but the problem I have is that it's almost never advertised that way. (8)  I'd so much rather hear "If you start selling this stuff you will make money AND I will too!" than just the promises and flattery of "you would be so good at this, and these products will change your life." (to be fair, one R+F rep did try to recruit me and said she would make money off my skills, and I respected her a lot more for it!) 

(9) If I feel like my friend is willing to be less than candid, shade the truth or even lie to me to make money, I lose respect for him/her and the friendship is strained (MLM-ers: take care to nott just copy and paste the same "hey girl" message to me repeatedly. Or to people I talk to because when I realize that's what you did I feel extremely used and uncared for.

(10) It's cliche because it's true: mixing money and love/friendship can be a dangerous practice.

As a Christian

Oh this one is so so tricky. I am going to write this one first person, and not assume anyone else feels the same and say outright that it's totally okay to feel/do differently from me. But how I would or would not do things does tend to shade how I feel about what's being done to me (also a Biblical principle).

As someone who publicly loves Jesus and talks about him in hopes of showing him to others, one of my most valuable asset to people in my life is my voice (in Christianese my "witness"). Am I authentic, am I truthful, would I tell you if there were yucky things about it? Am I believable in what my personal experience has been? Do I care about you? Do I love you for who you are?

If I do something along the way that makes someone doubt these things, then it's going to be a lot of work or even impossible to earn that back, so (11) I want to be jealously protective of my voice/influence/circle and am very hesitant about appearing to leverage it for any gain that isn't Jesus himself and could therefore tarnish or call into question my motives when I am talking about him.

Another aspect of this related to my faith is an economic one. For everyone to be as successful as the success stories that go along with recruitment/sales pitches (free cars, vacations, enormous paychecks, freedom, family time), there ALWAYS has to be downline (and mathematically downline has to expand EXPONENTIALLY to maintain up line profits I need 3 people to make money, they need 9 more, and on and on). At some point the market (be it your neighborhood or your planet) is saturated and there simply aren't enough people buying at market price to sustain profits for the people above who get a cut of your sales and discounts themselves. (12) So from a wisdom perspective, I don't want to invest my time, money, voice, efforts into an unsustainable business model, or encourage others to. 

UPDATED: (13) The product that is raved about most seems to be the "stay at home, make my own hours, freedom and money." It's the money and the job that seem to get marketed, NOT the products. And it is simply impossible to offer that kind of success (even if youve had it or known those who have) to everyone the same way you would offer a jar of jelly or whatever the product is.

I wish I had been less serious in this entire post so I could make a joke about a pyramid versus a cross here, but it feels too soon.

Repeating my disclaimer and request for a conversation: 

*Before you de-friend me, PLEASE join the conversation and give me a different perspective. I am very open to having my mind changed or learning more about some of the positive sides of things from you personally (not your brand's PR materials, or sales -speak).  I hope this doesn't come off as slamming or condemning!

I would also love to hear from folks who maybe know more from the inside of these things and aren't involved anymore about why you stopped.  I am no expert, and have done only moderate research on a fraction of the companies out there.

If you are a CUSTOMER (only buy and never sell) of these companies, please tell me which ones and why and how your experience has been. This feels like a rare breed to me due to pricing structure versus selling discounts and would love a perspective of someone without a downline who ENJOYS this business model (versus guilt purchases).

Ok. Talk to me.

Lord, beer me strength.

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