Before reading Athena’s experience, please remind yourself that all views presented in this blog are as told to us by the authors, and simply reflect their own opinions. Your own personal experiences with MLM companies may differ, negatively or positively.
Take it away, Athena!
[Athena:] Thank you, Red! So — have you seen this episode of The Office (US) (Michael’s Birthday)?
Jim: No, um. How is this not a pyramid scheme?
Michael: Alright, let me explain. Again. Phil has recruited me and another guy. Now, we are getting three people each. The more people that get involved, the more who are investing, the more money we’re all going to make. It’s not a pyramid scheme, it is a… it’s not even a scheme per se, it’s… [Jim draws a triangle around Michael’s diagram] … I have to go make a call.
(I retrieved the image and the script from dundermifflinite.tumblr.com.)
That was my realization with my Nu Skin “business” adventure. I did the posts, I did the cute selfies tagged with #bossbabe, and I supported my fellow ‘entrepreneurs’ with positivity and great reviews because I believed in it. I thought I was doing rather well. I started branding with cute hand-outs, making friendly conversation and having people follow up for more product. It was all great—when I was making free shipping on orders and could deliver them for free. When I didn’t make enough for free shipping, I paid out of pocket for that. I paid for the delivery fees with the difference of the wholesale and the retail cost. At $23, where $10 of it must go to the product to the company, I ended up with only $6 from one sale. If that was my only sale for the month, and to keep up good responses and relationships with customers, I used my “profit” for shipping fees to get product to people.
Now, I can already hear people whispering that I didn’t work hard enough, or could have sold more, but at a full course load of an average of 15–17 credits in my undergrad (where upper divisions get harder and more focused), and working to barely make rent, I do not see how I could shell out more of me to this company. I should say, for this company.
I fell in love with the way people’s lives seemed so perfect on social media, and I wanted more from me. I was raised in a hard-working home, and a bloodline of farmers, ranchers, and loggers. My grandfather always had a hard-working job, and I never grew up being anything other than my nose to the grindstone from my athletics in high school to my future jobs and positions, as well as with me to college. When I changed my major the third time, I was kind of lost. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I was desperate for a sign. A dear friend of mine suggested selling their toothpaste to put more change in my pocket, and I was severely depressed from the delusions of social media, my lack of a career path, and how college felt never-ending; I was considering it deeply. I knew my life was going to get better, but I felt like I was going through the motions, so I decided to try something new.
Despite my cousin trying to sell energy drinks (remember Le-Vel Thrive?) and her dad relentlessly and brutally explaining pyramid schemes, I still tried. In my first year of undergrad, there were rumors going around about internships, specifically from companies like College Works Painting. They try to recruit students for work experience, but the “internship” forces students into labor painting houses for very low pay. Even this mimicked an MLM or multi-level marketing system/program, where you “work up” based on your profits or success.
Even though I knew all this and pride myself on being a sharp young woman (no irony for the Cutco reps), I still fell into trying to sell Nu Skin products on social media. As an artist there are plenty of platforms that social media gives to people to sell their goods, but being a distributor, aka, reselling a company’s product, is not one of them.
I’m going to run through the first two questions from this pyramid schemes checklist:
- Is there a joining fee? Pyramid selling schemes often have start-up fees which are not for purchasing commercially viable goods or services since most earnings come from introducing others to the scheme.
- Does the promotional literature indicate unrealistic earnings (eg “make $100,000 a month legally”)? Promoters who make unrealistic claims risk breaking the law.
>> If you answer yes to (1) and (2) then regardless of whether the scheme is pyramid selling or not, you should seek financial advice before entering.
While my first answer is no—the distributors rely on no start-up fees or maintenance fees (monthly premiums or benchmarks to hit to stay a representative)—there were a lot of my “earnings” that went to keeping up with distributing the product to customers. Upon digging more and expressing frustration to my upline (and dear friend), she suggested I keep trying and try to get some other gals (mostly women are targeted from these companies) to distribute under me.
This is where the “real magic” happens, and that’s when I started to feel even more wary. I was also more skeptical and from my experience, people who came from money immediately could do better for themselves in these environments, since they had the time and the funds to support their business. From that point, I started doing fewer and fewer sales. Recently, when people have messaged me for more toothpaste, I have told them I am no longer selling, but can redirect them to someone who does. Interesting enough, the responses have been, “No, that’s okay, I wanted to support you!”
I do not like to tarnish others’ businesses or lose friendships (some still sell Mary Kay, Avon, LipSense, and even some other less known ones like Perfectly Posh) BUT – I do not support these companies and their parasitic and cult-like mindset of recruit, recruit, recruit.
To those who are making it work, I hope you truly do love what you do, but it is not for me. But if there comes a day when you find your relationship with work to be toxic, where you feel like you live in an Instagram filter, I hope you can recognize what is healthy and what is not. With the recent digging I’ve done with Younique and trying to wrap my head around how they both pay out their reps and fund victims of sexual assault recovery trips, all I have found is that the “magic” stretches two dollars from their sales to cover their Foundation Retreat (but not travel costs). But where does the rest go—to uplines? I just hope people do their full homework: on the company, the industry, the products, and the ethics.
All of this is my own experiences, but before you get involved and especially before you put your name, face, and own money on the line, just do a little digging. I will no longer purchase MLM products, even if it makes my friends feel like I am not supporting them. I merely want to put this out there for people to do their own homework, and to make their own decisions. Thank you.
Connect with me (@nucvnt) on Twitter
[Red:] Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Athena.
Further Reading & Support
- For some ideas of how you can help your friends, if you find yourself in Athena’s position, take a look at this selection from our General Advice category:
- For those in MLM:
Would you like to share your MLM story or opinion with the Anti-MLM movement? Be our guest, check our submission guidelines and get in touch.