Multi-level marketing, abbreviated as MLM, also called pyramid selling, network marketing and referral marketing, is a controversial marketing strategy for the sale of products and/or services where the revenue of the MLM company is derived from a non-salaried workforce (also called participants, and variously known as “salespeople”, “distributors”, “consultants”, “promoters”, “independent business owners”, etc) selling the company’s products/services, while the earnings of the participants is derived from a pyramid-shaped commission system.


I recently spoke with San Diego based, Vicki Martin, about her experience with Rodan + Fields. Here's her take on her home business and why the opportunity was so appealing for her and her family, "The decision to join Rodan + Fields Dermatologists came easily. Since 2008 the construction industry [which I was previously in] has been hit hard by our economic downturn and my income has been greatly affected. We were working harder for less like many of our friends. Being part of Rodan + Fields Dermatologists is allowing me to work with highly educated people who share a passion for business and for teamwork. Building a recurring, residual income that grows month over month is going to give my husband and I the peace of mind and financial freedom that is so vitally important to our future. My skin looks better than ever. And, I get to work my job around the rest of my life instead of the other way around."
The most common high-pressure tactic is the lure of getting in on the ground floor. But in direct sales, a good opportunity is a good opportunity no matter when you get in. In fact, you're safer to go with a company that has been around for more than five years (the longer the better) than a start up. Any effort a representative makes to prevent you from studying the company, talking to others, and "sleeping on it" isn't someone you want to work with. 
Hi JP, Your assessment of Melaleuca stating… “When you hit over a billy in annual sales, that’s reason enough to be on the shortlist. On top of that, they’ve been in the MLM game for over two decades, and they’re now the “largest online wellness shopping club” (basically just sounds like a fancy way of saying they sell a lot of miracle diet pills).” is VERY misleading and inaccurate. They offer “far more” products and services than weight control supplements. I have been a “customer” only of Melaleuca for over 20 years and can attest to the superb quality of their products. Please get your facts correct before posting inaccurate information. 🙂
Well MLM companies have been a frequent subject of criticism as well as the target of lawsuits. Criticism has focused on their similarity to illegal pyramid schemes (hence the “scheme” reference), price-fixing of products, high initial start-up costs, emphasis on recruitment of lower-tiered salespeople over actual sales, encouraging if not requiring salespeople to purchase and use the company's products, potential exploitation of personal relationships which are used as new sales and recruiting targets, complex and sometimes exaggerated compensation schemes, and cult-like techniques which some groups use to enhance their members' enthusiasm and devotion. Eesh!
In an October 15, 2010 article, it was stated that documents of a MLM called Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing reveal that 30 percent of its representatives make no money and that 54 percent of the remaining 70 percent only make $93 a month, before costs. Fortune was under investigation by the Attorneys General of Texas, Kentucky, North Dakota, and North Carolina with Missouri, South Carolina, Illinois, and Florida following up complaints against the company.[39] The FTC eventually stated that Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing was a pyramid scheme and that checks totaling more than $3.7 million were being mailed to the victims.[40]
It was not until August 23, 2005 that the State Council promulgated rules that dealt specifically with direct sale operation- Administration of Direct Sales (entered into effect on 1 December 2005) and the Regulations for the Prohibition of chuanxiao (entered into effect on 1 November 2005). When direct selling is allowed, it will only be permitted under the most stringent requirements, in order to ensure the operations are not pyramid schemes, MLM, or fly-by-night operations.

An issue in determining the legitimacy of a multi-level marketing company is whether it sells its products primarily to consumers or to its members who must recruit new members to buy their products. If it is the former, the company is a legitimate multi-level marketer. If it is the latter, it could be an illegal pyramid scheme. The Federal Trade Commission has been investigating multi-level marketing companies for several decades and has found many that blur the lines between the two. According to industry data, there are 90 million members worldwide, but relatively few earn meaningful income from their efforts. To some observers, that reflects the characteristics of a pyramid scheme.

As one of the top 10 fastest growing MLM’s, ranked on fortune 500, raved about by MLM review sites , all natural weight loss and wellness products, no GMO’s, No gluten etc and 10’s of thousands of glowing testimonials they are hard to overlook. The retention rate is excellent, the company has a 1% return rate on products which is unheard of as well as the best compensation plan available to any MLM rep. I think it’s safe to say if you do another article like this you would do your readers a great service by checking Plexus out. I really did enjoy the article as I am a multi MLM participant.
Although each MLM company dictates its own specific financial compensation plan for the payout of any earnings to their respective participants, the common feature that is found across all MLMs is that the compensation plans theoretically pay out to participants only from two potential revenue streams. The first is paid out from commissions of sales made by the participants directly to their own retail customers. The second is paid out from commissions based upon the sales made by other distributors below the participant who have recruited those other participants into the MLM; in the organizational hierarchy of MLMs, these participants are referred to as one's down line distributors.[5]
I believe the ones that don’t make it in the industry (if they chose a good one) don’t give it enough time (like you said they quit before a year is up) and commitment to doing what it takes to grow. I don’t spam FB and only 2 family members order product but I have at least 100+ home school moms making >$2000/mth. Some team members make more, some less. It’s what they put into it (business wise not monetary)
Carl Rehnborg is credited as having started the multi-level marketing industry back in the 1930s. After learning about the benefits of dietary supplements in China, Rehnborg came back to the United States and started a company called The California Vitamin Company, which was later rebranded to Nutrilite. Six years after that rebranding, Rehnborg reorganized the company’s structure and the way it sold products into what we know as MLM today.
I have been looking over your sites and viewing the many videos. It sounds appealing however there are many many . . . many lead generators out there, some that are well established (and very good at what they do) and so my question is why would I pay you to train me for 5 weeks and think I could compete (let alone generate income) in the short period you mention?
Writing MLM-specific articles is another great way of establishing authority inside of MLM. When people type in a search term or phrase on a specific MLM topic, and an article appears with the networkers name as the author, if the article answers a specific question, and is not just a spam piece, then the reader will visit the site to learn more about the author.
I’d like to point out a few things: statistically something like 96% of businesses fail within the first 5-10 years, which is a much more impactful loss, both financially and time wise, than the few hundred dollars one puts into whatever product they’re using in MLM. So realistically the success rate as a “self employed business owner” with MLM is probably a bit better than it is with launching a traditional business, or at least consistent with it. It takes discipline and tenacity that many people don’t have- that’s why they chose to remain employees in the first place.
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It is essential to go with an option that is going to deliver these kind of results. This is why the best network marketing leads are often found by just handing out flyers because most people will already have heard of the product/service and are willing to make the purchase right away. Just get the word out and start spreading those flyers and business cards in town. You will be surprised as to how many people are interested in these products/services and are willing to spend money on them.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a decision, In re Amway Corp., in 1979 in which it indicated that multi-level marketing was not illegal per se in the United States. However, Amway was found guilty of price fixing (by effectively requiring "independent" distributors to sell at the same fixed price) and making exaggerated income claims.[47][48] The FTC advises that multi-level marketing organizations with greater incentives for recruitment than product sales are to be viewed skeptically. The FTC also warns that the practice of getting commissions from recruiting new members is outlawed in most states as "pyramiding".[49]
Fast forward to 2017. LuLaRoe is the biggest MLM for women. “More than 80,000 women have paid around $5,000 for several boxes of low-cost clothing and worked as much as 80-hour weeks to outfit hundreds of thousands of suburban women in multicolored polyester. But according to a report that studied the business models of 350 MLMs, published on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, 99% of people who join multilevel-marketing companies lose money. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a brilliant business model or a predatory practice — or a little bit of both.” (FTC)
Many MLM companies recommend starting with a list of 100 people you know, called your warm market. Although it's not a bad place to start when looking for customers and business builders, the technique could also backfire and get to the point where you're annoying friends and family. You're better off spending your time finding people who are interested in what you've got rather than trying to convince your commuting buddy to sign up when he doesn't want to.
Kathleen, you are right about the “direct sales” thing. They use it because MLM has the well-deserved bad connotation with pyramid schemes. I try to explain to people that true direct selling would be something like Ebay… there’s no inherent multi-level commissions implied by the term “direct sales.” It almost reminds of calling an illegal dog fight a “recreational gaming event.” It may be true, but is far from an accurate description.
Recruitment is an integral part of any MLM, but it doesn’t need to be the focus. Whenever MLMs charge high startup fees, require high recruitment for a commission, do not provide sales training, or otherwise value recruitment over product, that’s a clue that it is not a good MLM to join. Network marketing companies should rely on networks to sell products, instead of only recruiting your network.
I want to start off with saying great video above and the information is very thorough. I will be following your advice and guidance to get my new business going. I am very new to the Network Marketing industry but have been introduced to a new Tech Company (called VIV) that has a phenomenal, once in a lifetime opportunity to get into their Founders Circle. I would really like your input on what you think, the link to the video that explains the founders circle is shareviv.com.
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