Greetings all. My name is Emma – you may already know me as the “Naked Typist.” I can usually be seen anti-MLMing on Twitter as @MLMshyster, but I thought it was about time I officially wrote something for the coalition, about my recent coffee shop catch-up with a friend.
Before I begin, what brought me here? Well, my interest in multi-level marketing (MLM) started when I was approached by a ‘Mindset Coach’ to ask whether I would like to join her coaching business and “use my training as a psychotherapist“. How? In her words, “to influence potential MLM reps to sign up” and to pass on any clients I had in private practice who “may be malleable and easily persuaded” that Arbonne could “raise their self esteem“.
I was very angry about this approach (she won’t ask me again!). However, it sparked an interest in me about what these shady organisation were capable of, and what individuals were prepared to do in the name of their MLMs. I began to watch them, and over the years I’ve been appalled by the behaviour of the companies towards their “independent business owners“, and also by the abandonment of good behaviour and a moral compass by many of the people under the spell.
However, despite studying these organisations for a number of years I’ve never actually met someone first hand who is entering an MLM for the first time, but today I did and it’s left me feeling really quite sad. This is what I will be sharing with you today.
What Happened on Emma’s Day Off
Today I have a rare day off, and I arranged to meet a friend, Roz, for coffee in our local cafe this morning. During our chat, we noticed one of Roz’s friends sitting alone, and we invited her to join us. Her name is Anna. We chatted generally for half an hour or so, during which we talked about her son’s learning difficulties and about our own lives – it became clear Anna had a lot on her plate.
My friend asked her how her health was and she started to cry. She turned to me and explained.
‘I have a congenital heart condition. I have to have the valves in my heart replaced in the next year which they’re saying means open heart surgery as they can’t go through my groin – I’m really scared’.
The conversation then developed:
‘It’s what’s been stopping me working for years; I’m scared for my health and worried about stress. I’ve had a bit of trouble getting back into work; you know, a few false starts. It’s really knocked my confidence and self esteem. That’s what’s so good about what’s turned up in the last couple of months’
‘Oh yes, how is your makeup business, Anna?’ asked my Roz.
My MLM antennae started to twitch.
‘Oh it’s great; it’s all speculating to accumulate at the moment of course’
Now, I am really listening.
‘It’s a great way back in to the world of work and really supportive because I’m really nervous. I got my starter kit a few weeks ago and to be honest it’s worth it if you like makeup just to get hundreds of pounds worth of product for seventy quid. You probably haven’t heard of it, it’s called Younique.’
Roz gave me a sideways look. She’s listened many times to my opinions about MLM.
‘I think Emma’s heard of it’
‘Run for the fucking hills, love, before you experience all of the things you moments ago told me you want to avoid!’ …is what I wanted to scream, but I knew I had to keep calm. I needed to actually try and understand what was happening to this really lovely girl, who sounded like she deserved a bit of a break. Poker-face time.
‘Yes, I’ve heard of it. Out of interest, how did you find out about it?’
‘Oh, a really good friend of mine who’s seen how hard I’ve been finding things told me about it. She’s been really great, helped me get the kit and order what I need to get going’.
‘Did she help you order samples?’
‘Oh no she didn’t, I mean she helped me select stock so I’ve got a range of things, but as I said, it’s ‘speculate to accumulate’ right now and in any start up there are costs like training and product’ and I can send it all back if I don’t like it, but actually I’ve kept it’
‘Did you pay for training?’ I asked as lightly as I could.
‘Oh not all of it, but it’s been brilliant. I had wanted to start before Christmas because of all those potential sales but my friend said I needed to leave sales at Christmas to her until I’d had training, and that’s been really intense; how to use social media and find people to market to, that kind of thing, and have the right mindset’.
‘What is the right mindset exactly’ I asked, through gritted teeth.
‘Just being positive, and pushing through negative feedback from the sort of people who don’t like seeing others succeed. You know, I did my first Facebook Live the other day and my son joined me, he’s only 8 years old bless him, and we did his makeup! And you know what? My best friend – of all people – was really negative, she said, “don’t put Oscar out there and don’t mix your family with this thing you’re doing”, I guess that’s the kind of thing I am going to come up against’.
Under the table I feel a sharp kick from my friend, I hurriedly rearrange my face to look less horrified.
‘Actually I find the Facebook Lives really hard, quite stressful and I’m not yet really getting out there, you know, no one’s liking my posts and Lives, just my friend who introduced me and sometimes her friend who introduced her’. I’m a bit worried about how long it will take to really get going. But my friend is doing really well’.
‘How do you know that?’
‘Oh because she’s told me so. Anyway, I need to really work at it because I’ve already spent quite a bit.’
‘Yeah, I suppose seventy quid’s quite a lot,’ I agreed [when similar quality products and a cheap plastic bag could be bought for less than £25].
‘Oh no, that was a bit of a bargain. No, I mean my investment of about £700’.
At this point my friend gasps. ‘£700?!’
‘I know it’s a lot but what price do you put on something that could be my route back into work, and such a new start? I’m already a Yellow Status presenter and as my upline says, it’s flexible to work around my health issues. If I’m out for weeks recovering later it’s going to be workable around that’.
‘You really have been a good customer, haven’t you!’ I say. ‘Tell me how did you research it?’
‘Oh I went for all the negative stories on the web, but when I can see how amazingly well my friend’s doing, I’m hardly going to dismiss that because some people who didn’t succeed are saying it’s rubbish online, am I?
‘Did you look at their Income Disclosure statement?’ I asked.
I’d actually forgotten that Younique doesn’t publish one. But of course, she hadn’t even heard of this.
By her own admission, she said she isn’t very internet-savvy.
We know that in the first twenty listings in many search engines a negative story pops up about Younique (I know because I’ve just tried it) so her research can’t have been very stringent anyway.
Anna also went on to say that she knows nothing about makeup either. That’s how Younique wants you, Anna – naive.
‘You know you’ll need to recruit don’t you’ I say.
‘Yeah’, she says doubtfully. ‘They’ve told me I need to do that but I really don’t want to ask my friends. Are you interested?’
‘Me???’ I say, incredulously. ‘No, it’s not for me and, Anna, can I just say – if it turns out not to be for you, or doesn’t work out, please know that it won’t be your fault – whatever you’re told. That self-esteem you talked about…well…just be careful’.
And with that, Anna went on her way.
When she’d left, Roz turned to me.
‘You know, I’m not surprised she’s fallen for that, she’s been very evangelical about the chapel she attends. Before that, she was a staunch Catholic and equally consumed by it. It’s like she can’t think for herself. I don’t get it; she isn’t stupid.’
I came home and later looked Anna up on Facebook. There she was, a daily presence since the beginning of the year; awkward Facebook Lives for pricey, dated-looking products, and the tumbleweed blowing through her page.
Her upline had ‘liked’ everything and so I had a look at her too. Of course, I know her – she works in a local shop, I see her in there all the time, she must do a lot of hours. How successful is her Younique business? From her page it’s obvious who her upline is, so I take a look at this one too. Again, I recognise this Elite Overlord and Super Successful Presenter – she’s a barmaid in the pub next door, and I know enough about her to know that Younique isn’t paying her bills either.