[Elle:] The Anti-MLM Coalition recently received a message from a UK-based reader by the name of Zoe (not her real name), who wishes to share her own personal experience as an independent Forever Living representative. She has a lot to get off her chest, including lying to her downlines about how her aloe vera ‘business’ paid for a trip to Disneyland, and hiding things from her family members.
Before reading Zoe’s story, 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 multi-level marketing companies may differ, negatively or positively. All names and identifying details have been changed at the author’s request.
Over to you, Zoe.
[Zoe:] Hello all.
It was Summer 2013. As a family of 4 with a mortgage and running 2 cars, cash was always short. My husband’s job had just been relocated which meant more petrol, higher outgoings etc. My eldest son had asked to go skiing with his school and we were struggling to meet the monthly payments for that. I asked to increase my hours at work but was told there was no space to do so. Things weren’t dire but very, very tight.
I was sitting one Saturday morning scrolling through Facebook when I noticed a post on a parenting network page which said ‘Too much month at the end of your money? Do you have 10-15 hours per week to spare and want to earn an extra income plus the opportunity of a company car? Inbox me for more info.’
I sat up in my chair! Extra income? Company car? This could be my solution! I hoped I was qualified.
I sent off an inbox to Mel, the original poster, and eagerly awaited the promised info. I was delighted to see her reply land very swiftly. She explained that rather than type a long message to me it would be easier if she sent me a video made by her ‘upline’ (upline? What’s an upline?) which “explains in detail what the opportunity is“. However, she warned me, “the video is approximately 30 minutes long so make sure you start watching it when you have the time to spare!“
Okay, a little unorthodox way of finding staff, I thought, but I’ll do half an hours ironing and prop my phone up so I can watch the video.
I set my phone up on the windowsill, started my ironing and pressed play. The video opened with a picture of an emblem of an eagle and the words Forever Living. Then a slim, beautiful, glamorous pixie-cropped lady appeared sitting on a luxury sofa in what looked like a holiday villa.
“Hello and welcome to Casa Vera, my home in Playa Del Inglés. My name is Enja Highwalk and you’re watching this video because one of my team members think you may be worthy of the opportunity to join our amaaaazing team.”
Enja proceeded to illustrate her wonderful lifestyle. The video showed her amazing villa; her fabulous sports car (thanks to the car plan?) her unbelievable physique (thanks to the products?) and her obvious wealth (all thanks to Forever Living).
As the video closed, Enja advised me to contact the person who sent me the video NOW to “take that first step towards changing my life“. I was impressed but confused. This Enja woman said I “could have this amaaazing lifestyle too” if I joined her team, but I was still no clearer on what the job actually entailed. I sent Mel a message:
“Wow, Mel! What an amazing opportunity! But I’m not sure I understand what I need to do, what skills I need etc?”
Mel responded: “Soooo glad you liked the video! Well it’s all about sharing! That’s it! So if you go to a restaurant and you think it’s amazing, do you tell people? Of course you do. So this is about using our fantastic products then sharing their amazing results with people!”
“Oh, I see! So like writing reviews?”
“😂😂😂 nooooo, silly! You actually get to use all of the products then you also get your very own website to sell them, plus full comprehensive amaaaazing training from top reps across the company! For the initial joining fee of £249 you get over £500 worth of FREE products, PLUS did I mention your very own website??”
Oh. £249. The next ski payment was due, I had another week to pay day and I was skint! I felt so flat. The car opportunity, the extra income, the glam lifestyle all disappeared before my eyes.
“Sorry, Mel…it sounds amazing but I am so broke. £249 is just too much for me right now.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. Don’t you have a credit card? See you’d make your joining fee back in your first month if you work hard enough, you could just pay it straight back next month?”
Hmm that was an idea! But what does she mean “if I work hard enough“?? Of course I’d work hard enough! So technically it was barely really using the card, I could pay it straight off! The car and the money reappeared! They were achievable again!
I told Mel that I would use a credit card and asked her what to do next. I was sent a link to a form which I duly filled out, and then parted with the £249. I messaged Mel immediately to tell her it was done. She congratulated me and told me how excited she was and that she was “adding me to some groups which would form part of my training“. I was feeling a bit shaky after spending £249 without even consulting Dom (my husband) but I felt determined to crack on with the training straight away!
Suddenly my Facebook account exploded with notifications! I’d been added to 6 different groups and tagged in 6 separate pinned posts. I struggled to keep up with the groups and their different purposes. Then came a friend request from Enja Highwalk! None other than the Casa-Vera-villa-owning, sports-car-driving, Forever Living superstar! I was star struck!
Mel directed me to the pinned post on one of the Facebook groups, ‘Team V for Vera’ This was Enja Highwalk’s direct group, and we were “incredibly lucky to have her as a mentor“. The pinned post contained my training which I needed to complete inside a week. I was eager to get started, OK start from the top, I guessed.
I opened the first link. It was a video. This time it was an older couple featured. Similarities were there though – amazing country manor style house, huge Range Rovers on the drive, expensive watches. They described how “their lives have been changed soooo much“. Rather odd training I thought, but I was enthralled nevertheless! Had I literally hit the jackpot here?
So throughout the following week I worked through the training (which in no way shape or form actually resembled training). Mel insisted that I must install Skype on my computer, as “this is how we conduct our meetings,” plus, she had a very special surprise for me!
Mel and I Skyped each other, and she explained my box would be here soon containing “all of our amazing products plus everything I could possibly need to launch my business“. She said my first job was to record a video of myself with the products, using them and testing them and explaining to all my friends how great they are.
“What? Then what do I do with said video?” I gaped.
“Share it on Facebook, silly!!”
Okay, yeah…this was not a comfortable thought for me. I did not feel at all happy about sharing a video of myself gushing over products (in the back of my mind, I did consider how I hadn’t even received these products yet, and what if I thought they were dog shit??)
I’m a down-to-earth person, and if my friends and family saw me doing a video like that they’d think I’d been abducted by aliens. I shared this concern with Mel during our Skype session. And then came the first of many (so very, very many) of the ‘comfort zone’ cliches.
“You need to step out of your comfort zone with Forever Living. Everything you’ve ever wanted is just outside of your comfort zone!”
Okay, okay. Perhaps I’d do the video then. I’ll wait till I get my box. The box that was going to change my life. The box which was referred to as the ‘business in a box’ in the various Facebook groups I’d been added to.
One of those pages was ‘Forever Living Fotos.’ I decided to peruse this group as part of my ‘training’ so I started to flick through the images. I was absolutely astounded! These products actually were amazing!
The before and after photos of a woman with severe psoriasis on her face was unbelievable! The toothpaste was a marvel! The Clean 9 diet plan was revolutionary! I started to get really, really excited.
Eventually, the elusive box arrived. Ohhhh, how fantastic! I eagerly opened it and started pulling out the products. I lined them all up and took out all of the paperwork too. Ooh these products are quite nice! Ooh some vitamins! Ooh look a pretty little gold eagle pin! Oh great, brochures! I’ll need those! Let’s have a look.
Jesus, Mary, mother of god!! The prices!
My enthusiasm deflated at a rate of knots. £17 for a small tube of moisturiser? £24 for a tub of vitamins? £17 for a carton of a really foul-tasting juice? I live in the North of England – my family and friends just don’t pay prices like that!
I shot a message to Mel stating my concerns. She replied immediately.
“These products are high-end, chick! You get what you pay for! You’ve seen the results yourself in the Fotos group!”
Yes, that was true. I headed back over to the image group for some inspiration. The amazing Aloe Vera Gelly literally made sunburn disappear. The garden blend of Forever Daily vitamins made somebody’s acne virtually nonexistent overnight. Okay, I can send these images to people, this could still work!
So apparently it was time to get cracking, and I still had my big surprise from Mel to receive! She revealed it to me that night: I was booked in for a training session via Skype with none other than Enja ‘Casa Vera’ Highwalk! I felt a bit giddy! Thanks so much for arranging that, Mel – I will do as I’m told and have my pen and paper ready to soak up the knowledge she is willing to impart.
I locked my dog and kids away in preparation (not really) and settled down on my bed in front of my computer with Skype open. Bang on time the call came through, and thus appeared a very glam but bored looking Enja. She proceeded to talk at me whilst getting on with jobs around her amazing kitchen, never once actually making eye contact. She talked about ‘world rallies‘ and ‘bonus cheques‘ and ‘business presentations‘ which I didn’t really understand, but I duly and eagerly took notes.
The call ended and I felt a bit brain-battered. I messaged Mel and asked about these ‘world rallies’ and ‘business presentations’ and she said, “why don’t you and I go to the next business presentation? It’s only in Stockport!”
Now this sounded like progress! An actual tangible training thing I could go to. It was a date.
I met Mel in the foyer of a lovely hotel in Stockport (less than ten miles from where I lived). There were business people everywhere, the surroundings were sumptuous, it smelled of coffee and I felt excited!
We were ushered into a conference room which was already set up with water, tea and coffee. The projector screen showed the famous golden eagle emblem. We settled into some seats; the room was packed!
The first speaker started and introduced herself as a ‘Manager’ within Forever Living. She told us the story of how she’s escaped a 9-5 job with a 90 minute commute, and now she “worked for herself when she wanted, where she wanted“. As she clicked the remote the screen changed and showed her at some sort of celebration, being presented with a giant cheque for £17,000!
She explained that on top of her monthly wage and her white Range Rover, Forever Living present her with a yearly bonus and they do it at something called the ‘world rally‘. They take you to a different location every year – all expenses paid! I felt weak with anticipation.
Next came a former vet. He explained how he had a failing veterinary practice. He was quite elderly and he was concerned about how he and his wife would afford retirement. Then a patient was brought in, and it looked extremely bleak for them. A Golden Retriever with severe hip dysplasia amongst other issues. The vet was convinced there was little hope. The owner was evidently crushed, but did want to try one last thing that had been recommended to him. The vet thought ‘what harm can this do? At least they will think they tried everything to save him.’
The very next week the Retriever is brought into visit the vet and the vet is shocked and astounded that it’s the same dog. After being administered Aloe juice three times a day with his food, the dog is now cured – fetching sticks, eating and drinking normally, managing long walks! The vet researched Forever Living and it’s products, promptly shut up shop and started his ‘Forever Business’! He and his wife are “now enjoying travelling, whilst running their business on the side.”
Well blow me! I walked out of that presentation on air. I was gobsmacked and excited and raring to go. I’d read the marketing plan earlier and been very daunted by the amount of ‘points’ you had to earn per month but now I’d seen proof! I’d seen it with my very own eyes! Having completed the ‘training’ I knew one of the first things I had to do was be “loud and proud” about my business. The only way people will buy from you or want to join your team is if you’re loud and proud!
I arrived home after the presentation and promptly recorded my business in a box video. I felt sick with nerves and absolutely fraudulent gushing about products I hadn’t so much as opened really! But I recorded it, posted it and asked people to share it. I set straight to work on my business page, setting it up, lifting images from the other groups, inviting people, sharing it etc.
Dom shouts from up the stairs, “Zo, I think your Facebook has been hacked!”
Oh no! I check my privacy settings frantically but see nothing wrong.
“Why do you think that?” I asked.
“Well, someone is posting and sharing a load of shit from your profile!”
“Erm…no Dom, that’s MY shit!”
Dom wasn’t alone in his confusion. I spent the next few days explaining to people that I hadn’t lost my mind, and that this was my new business.
By far, the hardest to deal with was my Dad. Phone call about 15 minutes after inviting him to ‘like’ my business page:
“Zo…tell me how much you paid those robbing pyramid-scheme bastards for that box of shit, and I’ll put the money back in your account if you promise to never give the stupid thing another thought!”
Great. I avoided seeing him for as long as possible.
I told Mel about my woes. I was told “they hate us because they ain’t us” and I was to “cut out anyone who didn’t support me!”
I didn’t feel quite ready to get rid of my Dad and my husband, so I decided to lay low from them, even hiding them from viewing my posts on Facebook.
I did everything that was asked of me. I distributed brochures, I made a little custom basket (buying more and more products to make it look nice) and offered my ‘pamper hamper’ to anyone who’d have it. I bought business cards and leaflets from Vistaprint. You had to buy samples, so I bought those too and made up little wallets with the samples and my business card inside – I would hand them out and leave them in public places. I organised tables at local events. I watched the Facebook groups avidly and took any piece of advice or knowledge I could get my hands on.
And slowly but surely, I became a truly horrible person.
Intent on achieving the shiny new Range Rover and the revered ‘Manager’ position (which promised £4-5k per month), I decided to do whatever it took. That’s what I was told, “step out of your comfort zone, do whatever it takes, build your network, see every situation as an opportunity“. And that’s what I did.
I preyed upon people I knew were vulnerable and persuaded them to join my team. I arranged to meet friends I hadn’t seen for ages with the sole intention of recruiting them; if they declined, I cast them aside. I recruited 9 people to my team and I became a liar.
I lied to every single member of my team. I faked it to try and make it. I did all the old tricks of putting empty boxes in photos with my orders to make it look like I had three times as many orders as I did have (Elle Beau mentions this particular tactic in Chapter 8 of her #Poonique tale!)
I took a photo of an expensive pair of shoes I’d had for donkey’s years but not worn, and posted it on Facebook alluding to the fact I’d bought them with my Forever wages. And I did something really shameful. My father-in-law paid for us to go to Disneyland and I told my team I paid for it with my Forever Living wages. How disgusting.
I was starting to see Forever Living reps everywhere! Aloe vera was literally all over Facebook. And when I’d had my latest delivery the driver said “blimey, I can’t move for these Forever boxes in my van!”
I shot Mel a message.
“I’m worrying the market is flooded, Mel.”
“Nooooo chick! That’s something called the law of attraction! The universe is showing you Forever Living things because that’s what you’re wishing for at the moment!”
I was losing faith. My latest ‘pay’ was £17. That was after a so-called promotion. I looked at the Messenger box on Facebook – the red bubble containing the number ’18’. 18 messages, all declining my offer of the “pamper hamper” and asking not to be added to my mailing list. I read them all. Some were polite. Some weren’t. A few friends were asking “what’s happened to you??“
I thought of Lanette, who I arranged to meet with the sole intention of recruiting her, then ignored her when she declined. I thought of Katie, who I invited to my house under the pretence of collaborating with me in a piece of writing, then cast her aside when she wasn’t interested in Forever. I thought of my team striving their little arses off for a measly £17 when they thought they’d be able to take their kids to Disney.
I looked at my pathetic dream board which I’d been told I must make and “focus on every day“. Photos of flashy cars on it and dream beaches. I looked at the 3 Clean 9 diet plan boxes sitting on my kitchen bench, which I’d bought myself to secure my promotion. So £17 wasn’t even £17 was it? What had I done? Who had I become? I’d sent the “before and after photos” from the image group to my customers, as if they were actual people I knew – I lied about results constantly! I did as I was told – do whatever it takes!
I was horrified. Shocked and horrified. For four months I’d been so focused on getting that bloody white Range Rover, I’d turned into a monster. Not to mention how I’d ignored my kids and husband for four months too. Choosing to lock myself in my room on ridiculous Skype meetings, spending every weekend at some fete or table-top event, attending the business meeting religiously every week to keep my momentum going.
Mel had stepped away from Forever about a month ago to focus on becoming a “life coach” so I didn’t need to contact her anymore. Her upline Tina had taken over, so I contacted her instead. I was leaving.
“Why don’t you just stay active? Then you still receive money from your downline’s sales?” Tina suggested.
“How do I stay active?”
“You just need to do 4CC of products a month, easy!”
I can’t remember what this ‘4CC’ actually equates to, but I’m sure it would mean spending at least £100 of my own money per month. No thanks.
N.B. I have found this explanation from a Forever Living presenter: “…A CC is the virtual currency that is used for Forever Living so that we can all compare what we are doing across all 155 countries where we trade. If I said to someone in France that I had done £200 of retail business they would not be able to equate that to the business that they do. However, if I say I have done 1CC they will know what that means. When Forever starts in each country the company sets the value of a CC in the currency of that country…”
Anyway, I left. I told my ‘teamies’ who were shocked, but some of them still tried to make a go of things for a little while. I was removed from all of the groups, unfriended by some…and I did everything I could to remove Forever Living from my life – forever! I was embarrassed when people told me what I’d been like and who I’d become.
My boss reminded me of the time he came into work and he told me I’d “bought into a pyramid scheme“. I actually turned round to my boss and said, “this place is a pyramid scheme! Everywhere is! You at the top earn all the money and we further down earn less!” Yes, I actually said that to my boss! I was so ashamed and apologised to him, luckily he saw the funny side.
I’ve never apologised to my team and one day I will, but I still feel a burning shame. I cringe at my Facebook Memories and scroll past the Forever Living ones as quick as I can. I’m embarrassed that I bought into the nonsense, but I can see how it happens and I feel sorry for people who think they’re genuinely going to change their lives.
That’s my story.
[Elle:] Thank you, Zoe, for kindly sharing your MLM experience. If you have any questions for Zoe, please add them below and we will ensure they reach her.