[Elle:] In the #antiMLMmovement, we think its important to hear both sides of the coin. That’s why when North American MLMer and blogger “Frenzied” took part in a friendly discussion with me on social media, I just knew that we had to have her as a guest writer.
You read that right; Frenzied is signed up to a multi-level marketing scheme. However (unlike many MLMers), she was courteous, levelled and extremely diplomatic when it came to putting across her point of view. What’s more important is, she took the time to listen to me and understand why I hold an anti-MLM opinion.
That’s why I think its only fair that Frenzied is given this platform, and I hope you will give this guest post a look. Although she did not specifically tell us her MLM, it is possible that it is of the essential oils variety. It could be doTerra, or it could be Young Living, but of course, we do not know for sure. – this is simply the way that Frenzied wishes to share her story with us.
Phase 1: How MLM Drew Me In
My life is hectic, to say the least, and I have no personal identity. I’m a pastor‘s wife and a mother of two special needs children. I’m currently expecting my third child. Somewhere along the way, God decided that this crazy life would suit my family, so we just roll with it. When I got married to my husband, he was already a pastor (an ordained leader of a Christian congregation), so I immediately went from being a star in college who was presented with the opportunity to become a performer at Disney, to just “Josiah’s wife“.
I’m not a spotlight kind of person, really. Being a diva is just not for me, although I absolutely love the performing arts and find a lot of joy being amidst fellow artists. I found that after marriage I started dealing with loneliness nearly immediately. I left my family and friends three hundred miles away while I was swept into a world I was vastly unprepared for.
After two traumatic miscarriages, the birth of my daughter, another miscarriage, and the birth of my son, I was looking for something to bring my identity back. Anything. Something I could feel successful at. I felt like a failure at life; constantly under scrutiny with my husband’s job, isolated from other moms my age because of my children’s special needs, and feeling like I had successfully disappointed everyone in mine and my husband’s families in one fell swoop by losing so many babies, only to produce children with special needs.
I found myself in a swirling, never-ending cycle of loneliness and dejection with no name of my own, and nothing to feel proud about.
Enter the MLM world. I have bought items from those companies before, like Tupperware. I mean, what decent American household doesn’t have the iconic salt and pepper shakers?
Tupperware marks the middle class and is present for both bridal and baby showers. Pampered Chef appeals to the young wife trying to learn how to cook decent meals for her new husband without the headache of a massive cleanup, so I had been introduced to that early in my marriage as well. As far as the literal HUNDREDS of other MLM companies, I knew very little.
I have been in sales before in clothing stores, fast food restaurants, and even for a large corporation, so I know concepts like “suggestive selling” and playing to my strengths as a seller. The MLM world just kind of found me and enveloped me before I even knew what I was getting into.
When my son was 9 months old, I went on a visit to my parent’s house with him, as I try to do every six months or so. My son was a particularly difficult delivery, and an emergency c-section meant a hasty epidural that went in wrong and damaged the nerves on the left side of my spinal cord.
That’s about as fun as it sounds. It meant chronic pain and very limited mobility in my back, so when I went to visit my parents and my mom showed me some “new oil products” she had ordered, I was desperate to try them. She used one of the products on my spine, and the pain was instantly gone. I could straighten my back with no pain! It was a miracle!
I sat down and ordered over $300 worth of the products immediately, with my mom acting as my “consultant”. Neither she nor I had any intention to sell the products right away, but since she had already met the criteria needed for making commission, why not make some money back off of my purchase?
I wrote the girl who sold these oils to my mom, and her reactions were those of the typical MLM rep:
- excited about my purchase.
- excited that the products worked for me.
- enthusiastic about “her business”.
- promising that ALL the products were “just as amaaaazing” as what I had used.
I responded that I might just be interested in selling the products as well, should the ones I ordered also do what they purported to do. Again, she came at me with very excited responses (after all, in an MLM a seller is only as good as the sellers under her). However, with those enthusiastic responses from someone who had known me in middle school, I began to feel a warmth welling up inside me. A feeling of hope for having my own name again.
She made me feel wanted, needed, and an important asset to her. Having still made no close friends with anyone five years after leaving college, feeling a kindling of friendship was like breathing life into my deflated body.
It was as if my MLM was not a business at all, but rather life support. I needed it, and it needed me. A perfect union of hopes and dreams.
After doing ample research on the company, its founders, its story, and looking in depth at its competitors, I felt that everything was on the up and up and decided to officially become an ‘independent consultant’ for the company.
I was already buying a couple of similar products from a friend from their competitor, whose business principles I honestly could not stand. I found plenty of evidence piled up against the competitor of theft, dishonesty, and everything we all hate about MLM companies, so I was pleased to join the company that they had a personal vendetta against. It made me feel as if I had made an ethical and well-considered choice.
This whole MLM thing was feeling pretty good, but the honeymoon period always ends, doesn’t it? There always comes a time when you look at something square and the face and say, ‘What am I doing?’
Phase 2: The Shunning
Oh, how I wish I didn’t have to write about this, but it’s common throughout MLM cults groups across the board:
I was quickly rising in rank as I desperately wanted to succeed and have some friends in my life. The virtual friends were better than real ones because they didn’t know all the difficult parts of my life. I could keep quiet from them the struggle with my daughter’s seizures, and the shame of my son’s developmental delays. Unlike the people who saw me in real life, I could hide things from the virtual world and just be perky and successful.
My MLM wasn’t new. It is, in fact, nearly 25 years old, but the popularity of it had grown astronomically, and I had no problem selling starter kits to my acquaintances via Facebook.
My name was appearing in my business group on a regular basis, as I rose in rank and sold kits with enviable speed. I hit a rank in three months that takes most people over a year to accomplish! I was feeling good about myself. Parties were being booked twice a month, and a lot of people were showing up for them. Things were looking great!
My mom’s upline was regularly messaging me and coaching me, as I pushed her up through the ranks as well. Success stories about the products I had sold to my acquaintances were coming to me nearly every week. Things were going very well. I had set my goal and in a manner of three months had reached it.
I only wanted to make enough commission to pay for what my family used each month. The products I was using were helping my husband’s ADHD, helping me sleep better, bringing my daughter’s seizures under control, and had completely eliminated my spinal pain. I was ordering products every month, so my goal was simply to pay for them. My husband doesn’t make a lot of money on his pastor’s salary, and I am a stay-at-home-mom, so I felt important contributing to our family in this way.
Let me take a moment to say this: don’t be angry at MLM reps who come across as ‘pushy’. They are being trained to be that way.
Lonely women who usually have something else in their lives like an absent husband, a not-so-perfect family dynamic, or (the most common thing I’ve seen) new moms suffering from post-partum depression are the perfect targets for money-hungry uplines who couldn’t care less about the person herself.
If certain posts and behaviors aren’t common for your friend or family member, be patient with her. She’s probably looking for acceptance, success, and community and just chose the wrong venue in which to do so. She WILL see the light. We all do. Just give her some time and a little understanding.
Most of the women joining these groups only become more stubborn about them the more their real-life world crumbles around them. It’s like the little bit of encouragement we get is life-breathing food for the soul. Pity her. Be patient with her. Know that she is probably struggling with something she may not even be aware of at the time. (End thought.)
The awakening for me happened with a massive shunning.
“The Queen”, which was – I’m NOT kidding – the name of the top-ranking upline who lorded over our business group, decided she was not happy with someone in her ranks. A middle-aged lady – we’ll call her ‘Mindy’ – had a side-business of selling literature related to the items we sold. She was given permission to sell her items within the group, and she did very good business in it.
I watched with horror (thanks to my Facebook notifications) as the drama went down. Suddenly, The Queen decided she no longer wanted Mindy to sell her literature!
Mindy was called out and tagged in a very derogatory post for her “exploitation of the other sellers in the group“. When she dared to question the allegations, she was accused by The Queen of basically “stealing money from other consultants“, and was ousted from the group.
Many other sellers chimed in on the thread to try to defend Mindy, and they were subsequently ousted. I quietly watched the entire thing taking place and decided to stick around to see what happened next.
One week later, The Queen announced that she was opening her own store, selling almost the EXACT SAME LITERATURE as Mindy did. It was made clear that anyone found defending Mindy or contacting her would “lose privileges to the group” and all the wonderful things it offered.
Thus, a massive shunning took place. I’ll include screenshots of my conversation with Mindy following the shunning:
The transcript reads:
Frenzied: “I will definitely order that from you, then. I’m about to head to bed, so would it be okay if I get back with you tomorrow about it? By the way, I recommended you to another [name redacted] and got royallty chewed out by my upline for it. I am so sorry you have been treated this poorly. It makes me so sad that Christians can treat each other this way. I’ve been really torn up about it for you. My downline will all definitely use only you if I can help it!”
Mindy: “Thank you – The only thing that upsets me about it all now (in the beginning everything upset me) but you know, I am building my business every day and it’s building her team. That honestly makes me not even want to build the [redacted] business. But I am smart enough not to ‘cut my nose off to spite my face’ – but it sure pours salt on the wound…”
The transcript reads:
Mindy: “Thank you so much. I have actually made quite a few good and Godly friends out of this deal. You would be shocked at the number of people that have PMed me and all feel the same way. Many wanted to get into the middle of this when it all erupted and I asked them to please let it drop. No one is helped by a flamed [sic] being fanned and I certainly didn’t want to feel responsible for them being booted and I knew it would happen. In another group a blatant lie was told about me from [The Queen]. My niece told her that she was my nice and that it was a blatant lie and should be removed. They didn’t even respond to her, just booted her out of the group. When she confronted [redacted] about it, she was told she could come back in the group as long as she promised not to ever say anything about me or create any drama. For some reason it felt from the very beginning that I rubbed them the wrong way and I don’t know why. The only reason I even started selling the EOPRS* was someone came in [redacted] one day and was asking how to find some lady named [redacted]? Said she had bought EOPRs and never received them. It had been 3 months. MANY people posted on the thread and said they hadn’t received theirs either. I felt so bad for them I actually tried to figure out a way I could send them books at no charge and not lose my shirt. But I decided the best I could do was sell the books at a good price and make sure that I always delivered in a timely manner.”
Frenzied: “I’m so glad the whole affair led to God blessing your business. I feel like God blesses those who are in the right. I really hope your business just keeps growing…”
*EOPRS appears to be the abbreviated name for the product literature Mindy was selling. We’re not 100% sure of the full title, but we can only assume that the ‘EO’ stands for ‘essential oils’ – Elle
Several of us were secretly writing each other in shock over what happened. One lady was a mole and turned me into my upline, who sent me a nasty message in response to my rebellion.
The transcript reads:
Angry Upline: “Hi [Frenzied], [the Mole] told me you suggested she use [Mindy] for resources instead of [The Queen]. I am a little disappointed that you feel it is ok to speak poorly of a non-profit service (that has some pretty amazing marketing materials) to other members of my team. I would caution you against doing business with someone that has been removed [redacted] for poor business practices and actively strives to make money off of our team.
Obviously what you do with your business is your decision, but I just wanted to let you know that pointing your team towards an outside source that has placed itself in direct competition with [The Queen]‘s efforts to provide our team with the best is grounds to be removed from the [MLM] groups and sites. I understand we all have bad experiences sometimes, but I think it is wise to remember that our team, training and resources is a large reason why we are so successful. Your team is really growing this month and I am glad you have found your groove. I am sure you meant no harm, I just wanted to bring the issue to your attention.”
One thing about me is that I have a strong sense of integrity and right and wrong. I’ll always side with who I feel is right given all the facts, regardless of how unpopular that makes me. That message from my upline didn’t tame me. It made me MAD. Mad enough to defect, warn my own downline through a secret Facebook group I formed just for them, and turn my nose up at my own rank.
I ended up dropping out of every group led by The Queen shortly after the shunning of Mindy, and ended up being shunned myself. No longer an asset to the ‘building of dreams’, I was cast aside as a has-been, less than a year after getting started!
But…it was the start of opening my eyes to the darker side of the MLM world…
Continue reading in Part Two of “Why I Got Into an MLM, & What I Found When I Got There.”
[Elle:] The coalition would like to thank Frenzied for sharing her opinion piece. Do you agree or disagree with Frenzied, or have you had a similar experience? Let us know in the comments below, or check out our guidelines for guest submissions.
Further Reading & Support
- If you find yourself in Frenzied’s position, or have a friend in this situation, take a look at this selection from our General Advice category: