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When Your Friends Become Social Sellers and Multi-Level Marketers

I can’t completely fault companies like Amway, Mary Kay, and Lia Sophia. They know that friendship results in two important qualities: trust and guilt. These two qualities are important to companies because they make the process of selling products much easier. I find it relatively easy to politely decline — and hang up on if necessary — a salesperson who calls me uninvited in order to get me to upgrade my phone service or subscribe to a theater. Although I usually don’t have a problem, it can be more difficult to say no to a friend.

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In most cases, people join these multi-level marketing (MLM) programs not because they believe in the product but because there is a system designed to allow them to earn significant amounts of money if they play the game right. If you are an influencer in your social circle, you will be able to convince your friends to sell products and host their own parties increasing your income. “Party” is just a code word for “sales pitch.” You can’t achieve success as a multi-level marketer without burning some relationships.

MLM isn’t the only issue. Everyone knows someone who is a social seller. From my observations, the products involved are almost always low quality, too expensive, or both. For example, someone in my office was trying to sell Girl Scout cookies to co-workers the other day for $4 a box. When asked, she had to explain that $4 was the real price and she was not artificially marking the price up. That’s a difficult sell when another co-worker was offering boxes of Girl Scout cookies for $3.50 a piece a few months ago.

I like these cookies, so I usually buy a box each year. Although I’m driven partly by my enjoyment, I’m also driven by guilt. One box of Girl Scout cookies is as far as I’ll go, however.

Dealing with co-workers trying to sell you products you don’t want is easier that dealing with friends who try the same tactics. When a friend is the seller, pressuring you to come to a party (a code word for sales pitch), you have to be strong.

  • First, you can consider going to the party. Don’t bring any money and don’t bring your credit cards. If you see something you truly like and is a good deal, it will be available from your friend later.
  • Politely decline. If you buy from your friend and there is a problem with the product, your friendship could be ruined. If the seller is a co-worker, you could be making your work environment uncomfortable. There are many stories about friends disappearing or not answering calls once they take their money, and the sale could go bad no matter how close you are with your friend.
  • If sales pressure continues, make it clear you are not interested. Sometimes you have to say more than, “No.” Just explain that you’re not interested in the products and you’d prefer to keep the relationship away from business.

Unfortunately, just by denying a friend, you might lose your connection. That may be the fear that prevents people from saying no more often. Saying no is fine, because a good friend won’t use you for their own financial benefit, and a good friend won’t pressure you into something in which you’re not interested.

How do you deal with friends who want to sell you products?

Photo: Pictures from Heather

Updated October 15, 2015 and originally published March 26, 2012.

About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of shizennougyou. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

The peskiest one for me was/is a coworker who’s doing one of the jewelry things. It’s pretty, but I hate hearing pitches. Lucky for me, the only jewelry I ever wear is my wedding band (or my engagement ring in the summer because it fits better) so I just told her that I don’t wear jewelry and eventually she started believing me because it’s true.

For parties and things that are easier to avoid, I just turn down invitations, talk about being grad students & keeping finances tight, etc. Works for now.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

First I have to say I am all about the thin mints!

As far as the parties I feel like my wife is pressured into it a lot more than me, actually I can’t think of one I have ever been invited to? I don’t know if it is a guy or because I will eat all their thin mints. Most of the MLM stuff is makeup, tupperware, jewelry, stuff that is not really for me…I do remember one juice thing once, but it was such a half assed attempted I Just said I am not buying a bottle of $40 juice

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avatar 3 Luke Landes

Programs like these are not as popular among men. Many of them probably grew out of a need for wives to contribute to household income despite wanting to stay home and not have a traditional career. I’ve never gone to a product parties but there is a fair amount of that going on among my co-workers.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

It seems to be work-related.

Solution: Quit your job and become a blogger. They’ll stop asking you because they don’t see you at the office. :D


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avatar 5 Luke Landes

Hah! It’s less of an issue of people asking *me,* it’s an issue of the existence of MLMs.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

They’ll quit asking because they see that he doesn’t have any money.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Just yesterday an ex-coworker stopped by to visit. She was chatting up her “home based business” like she was in the weeks before she quit and as usual, I refused to “take the bait” so pretty soon she moved on to the next office. It’s obvious to me, the phrases she is using are meant for a person to say, “Oh really, I didn’t know. What’s that about?” Glad you got your comments fixed!

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avatar 8 Anonymous

Same with my coworker. I’ve stopped following up on her leading statements and talked about other things instead. I’m more than happy to discuss the ins and outs of things like doing our taxes because we’re both earning income from outside the job–but I don’t tell her the specifics of my business (though she knows the general nature) & I don’t ask hers. It’s mostly settled down.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

My favorite was an old co-worker of mine. She was a notorious b**** to everybody at the company, not hesitating to throw any of us under the bus when the opportunity came along.

The best part was that she actually had the nerve to bring her kid’s fundraiser stuff to work. I suppose I could/should have been the bigger person, but I had no problems whatsoever declining any purchases.

Karma, I tell ya.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

MLM parties are but the tip of the iceberg. The start of the REAL money comes in convincing others to go to the next level of the pyramid – party (product) presenter, then of course recruiting others and receiving part of the others’ commissions on THEIR parties and new recruits! Thus the pyramid (and only few are on top – with good reason). A friend of mine begged me to join her in her endeavor for a nameless cosmetic company. Although I continually refused to take part in this, I went with her (out of an anthropological interest:-) ) to a ‘sales meeting’ – think of revival meeting/EST session. It was strangely fascinating and repellent at the same time. The ‘product’ is the least important piece of this – the product, and profit, of MLM is people.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

Same thing happened to me, some 25+ years ago. I was a young mother and was lured byt he extra income thing. I almost bought in, until that meeting. It creeped me out so much I bailed and never looked back. I still shudder thinking about it.

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avatar 12 Anonymous

When I was in college, I got tricked into going to a Cutco sales recruiting meeting. I was stuck in there for over an hour and a half & when we finally took a break, I asked to leave. They tried to convince me to stay but I was adamant that it was not for me and they finally let me out the door. I just moved to a rural area from NYC and within a week I was invited to two parties by co-workers. It’s a never-ending cycle b/c other co-workers booked parties off of the parties I attended & now I’ll have to go to those. Break the cycle!

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avatar 13 Anonymous

You were supposed to sell mediocre knives to all your relatives and your parents friends.

You run out of customers very quickly!

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avatar 14 Anonymous

I’ve always joked around about starting up a male-only demonstration (someone suggested calling it a “men-stration” LOL) if, for nothing else, to allow us to get out of the house and drink. We could sell beer, sports collectibles, power tools, porn and perhaps other things. Maybe even hire a local model to dress scantily for the presentation. Problem is that men are far harder to guilt into buying their friend’s products than are women…we’d probably just end the night by getting drunk and watching sports on TV instead.

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avatar 15 tbork84

Even if that is how the night ended up. It is still a great idea.

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avatar 16 Anonymous

*Yes, guys are harder to sell too but the model bait
works very, very well!!

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avatar 17 Anonymous

Your coworker wasn’t lying – cookies are commonly sold for either $3.50 or $4 a box. Each council sets the price, and since they get half of it themselves there’s definitely some wiggle room. At both prices it’s too much.

Personally, I would much rather give someone a donation than buy something overpriced. If I buy something overpriced by say, $2, the friend/coworker/etc’s child/organization/etc gets maybe $0.50 to $1 of that and the fundraising products company gets the rest. Not worth it.

Any friend that gets offended if you don’t go to their sales pitch is not much of a friend. But I’m a guy and as stated by other responses, we seem to be less susceptible.

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avatar 18 Anonymous

I stopped buying Girl Scout cookies and Cub Scout popcorn several years ago. When confronted with the “sales reps,” I ask them how much of the sale price their troop, pack, etc. gets to keep. Most know the amount. I then offer them $5.00 if they can recite the particular scout oath or law for their organization. Often a “deer in the headlights” look results (and the scout’s monitoring parents get quite a chuckle). But all of the kids are game and will recite the oath or law. I hand over the money and remind them that the entire amount should be kept by their organization and suggest they tell their adult scouters how they earned the money. The scouts usually turn to their parents with the money and are quite pleased with themselves.

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avatar 19 Anonymous

Roger, you sound like a really fun guy.

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avatar 20 Anonymous

I’m a cub scout leader and guy quizzed my cub scouts like this when they were trying to rasie money. He was kind of jerk about it. I think it’s a little ridiculous really. If you want to donate from the goodness of your heart, than do so, but don’t put little kids on the spot or try to make them feel bad in return for a small donation.

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avatar 21 Anonymous

Another issue is when one half of a couple dives into MLM and the other half thinks it’s just a money pit. The MLMer wants to go on trips to sales conventions, while at the same time not selling anything or making any money. MLMer is convinced they need to purchase the expensive merchandise so they can “be a product of the Product”, all the while not making any money. How much can the non-MLM spouse lean on the MLMer to see the error of their ways without doing serious harm to the relationship>

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avatar 22 Anonymous

I wish I knew a good answer to this one, but I don’t. Years ago, I had a serious boyfriend who got sucked into Amway. I refused to go to the “Go Diamond” pep rallies and other stupid motivational events where the only people making money were the people selling the tapes. We argued a LOT about Amway, and through his brainwashing, er, training, he managed to have an answer for every single one of my objections. I gave it six months, but in the end I broke up with him.

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avatar 23 Anonymous

Right out of college I got sucked into Amway because I was looking to start my own business and make enough money to pay for medical school in cash. 2 years, thousands of sunk dollars, irreparable damage to countless friendships, and after nearly losing my wife – I thankfully got out. The only solace I have is that I was terrible at recruiting (I wasn’t willing to lie) so I only ever signed up 1 of my friends, a groomsman in my wedding. He’s still in to this day, and I can’t help but wonder how much good money he’s thrown after bad.

There are a million and 1 reasons why Amway is referred to as a cult – not the least of which is their dogmatic tie-in between evangelical christianity and “the business” – but their insistence not to hang out with “dream-killers” (i.e. skeptics of the business) is a definite warning sign. My wife (then girlfriend/fiancee) loved to dream with me, but she hated almost every other aspect of Amway, including the thousands of late-night hours I put in driving to conferences after my full-time job, and the thousands of dollars I spent on overpriced, caffeinated beverages and “tools” (i.e. books one can buy on Amazon for less than half of what I paid, and CDs of amateur talks that cost $10/each!)

I could wax poetic for hours on the dangers of allowing oneself to turn off critical thinking and being led blindly, but I’ll just end with thanking my wife for putting up with me during that time, never giving up on me, and believing that there was more to me than “the business” she loathed.

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avatar 24 Anonymous

I had a tacky coworker who sold Amway. Once she threw a “stock my liquor cabinet party”. The invitations said to bring booze to drink and extra to leave with the hostess! Darn, I had a previous commitment.

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avatar 25 Anonymous

I love these posts because so many people don’t even know an MLM when they see one or they actually believe in them. The fact is, aside from the friends and family that get duped into buying overpriced, often fake stuff (notice many MLMs focus on “natural” segment which doesn’t have to prove safety or effectiveness?), most MLM members never make any money. The select few that do (often part of the startup to begin with) go city to city and host telecons talking about their $20,000 per month “passive income” and how this is the path to financial freedom. It’s like pro athletes and drug dealers (for you Freakonomics fans), for every million that try, most will make peanuts and a select few make the big time. We then idolize and try to emulate the ones that make it.

As it turns out, many of my wife’s friends are selling everything from that overpriced jewelry to cooking stuff. She goes to these parties primarily out of guilt I guess. I mean, they are good friends and by saying no or saying “just stop inviting me to this stuff”, it would cause a rift in the relationship. But she enjoys the social aspect, it’s an excuse to get out of the house and get a break from the kids once in a while and she has a good time. So, she drops 30 bucks on a dumb bracelet. On one hand, one could consider it entertainment money for a night out, on the other, a total waste. I don’t fault my wife so much, she’s a reasonable spender overall, it’s the principle of the situation that bothers me. It is annoying that these friends continue to host these “parties” and continue to invite their same friends and family over and over to basically make money off them though. In all other aspects, they are good friends and help us out in many ways with sitting, handing off clothes for our kids, etc., but I find this aspect to be rather annoying.

But all this makes for a great business model for the companies. I’ve had my share of cease and desist letters and legal threats when I post criticism of specific MLMs, but for the most part, they’re scammy companies started by snake oil salesmen that prey on this human guilt factor while exploiting the people that can least afford it. Many entrants at the bottom of the pyramid can ill afford the signup fees, ongoing monthly fees and everything else they get you for. The data shows the vast majority of these participants never make any money, but that doesn’t bother the people at the top.

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avatar 26 Anonymous

Many MLM products are crap, I will give you that. But, when you say that the folks at the top don’t care if the people at the bottom don’t make money, it is not an accurate reflection of reputable business people. A real MLM’er at the top cares about their downline because an active, happy, productive downline creates additional income via commissions, bonuses, etc. It’s the same thing as CEO’s throughout the world. CEO’s make up to 15000% more than the majority of workers in corporate America. That’s a much bigger ‘scam’ than anything I’ve witnessed in my MLM.

My upline wants me to be successful. Our business model rewards for a successful downline. That’s why I don’t actively seek to recruit passive individuals. I don’t want a ‘No-Getter’ on my team, someone with a negative outlook on life. I want a ‘Go-Getter’ on my team. I’ve been with my MLM for 2 months and the one person I recruited built a team of 50 for me. Have I spoke to my friends about the biz? Very sporadically. I’ve been duped by friends pitching me MLM’s who had no clue how to market their business. They got mad at me for not buying into their products. I took that experience and know how to NOT grow my business.

But I’ll say this…a friend knows you inside and out. Friends will fight for a variety of reasons. An MLM is just one thing that can cause tension. Acting like MLM’s are cancer is humorous and the only person laughing is me and the rest of my team who are building a long-term side business. There’s nothing wrong with growing a side business in your down time. I’d rather be doing something productive than wasting time playing video games, sitting at a bar drinking my life away, or doing any of the other things people do to waste their time. I’d rather spend an hour here, an hour there, slowly building a team that will pay me residual income later down the road. Heck, I have a great full time job, any additional income that I earn from this leveraged business model can’t hurt.

So let’s all stop being pessimists and enjoy life and see opportunity where you haven’t before.

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avatar 27 Anonymous

I’m not sure I get it you lead with an acknowledgement that most of the products are crap, but extoll the money making possibilities of the system. So I suppose, as long as you make money it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re actually selling good products to people at fair prices?

I’m not denying that other business models can take advantage of people and sell them ‘crap’ just to make large profits. But you seem to explicitly be promoting that fact as a ‘feature’ of the business (get rich selling ‘crap’ to people). I guess at the end of the day though, I like businesses that at least pretend to have some amount of social responsibility.

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avatar 28 Anonymous

So my wife used to get invited to a lot of these and always ended up buying something out of guilt. When you bought a $40 tiny lawn & berger (sp?) basket I said thats it, this has to stop. She said she doesn’t really want to buy these things but she can’t say no to the party and she feels like she has to buy something when she is there. It’s a total guilt thing. So I said, great, I have your problem solved for you. As of this moment you are banned. I hereby ban you. Of course I can’t really ban here, but what I told her was I don’t care how big of an ogre your friends think I am. You just tell them that I have told you I don’t want you going to any more parties and spending any more money. Use the word banned if you want to. Put it all on me and just tell them that I have said its not in the budget and its not an option period.

She aint been to one since (except for one product she likes which isn’t priced to bad so I lifted the ban for that one. :) )

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avatar 29 Anonymous

Excellent! The ex and I gave each other full permission to use each other as an excuse — as in “My husband said…” — any time we didn’t want to participate in something. My pals used to frown at my spouse telling me what to do but it worked.

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avatar 30 Anonymous

Everyone should refuse this sort of sales pitch; if no one goes along with it, the sellers will have to use promotional methods like classifieds and bulletin boards. The people reading them won’t respond because the products are overpriced, and the companies will either have to shut down or lower their prices. It’s just like “spam” email and telemarketing – if people don’t respond to it, it will cease to exist.

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avatar 31 Anonymous

Living in Utah gives me quite the exposure to these MLM scams. The two I have the most exposure to are Efusjon, a crappy overpriced energy drink and Primerica, a crappy overpriced financial services company. Both seem to be more male oriented (as everyone I know who participates happens to be male).

I have no problem turning these down, most of the time I go out of my way to tell other people who I know will be a target of the sales pitch all about how it’s a bad idea. Luckily, due to these actions, I rarely have to hear about these type of scam nowadays. Unfortunately I still have to see the requisite social media message about how I can make a huge fortune with just a few easy steps….

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avatar 32 Anonymous

I’m wondering about your comment about Primerica. From what source are you getting your information from, a friend of a friend? You are the type of person that does their own research before making a decision aren’t you? If not your the prime target for the products banks and insurance companies love to sell to, the financially uneducated and a sponge for their commercials. Do yourself a great service, have a licenced Primerica representative sit down with you and have a free financial analysis done. I did and it was the best financial decision my wife and I made.

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avatar 33 Anonymous

I agree, banks and insurance companies are definitely not the place to get financial advice. But comparing Primerica “representatives” who are in fact not licensed for anything but selling a product, to a truly certified agent who is personally liable for the advice they give you is false.

Yes, Primerica agents are better than bank and insurance company marketing schemes. But everyone knows that banks and insurance companies aren’t there to help you while Primerica claims to be an agent in your best interests. But they sell a narrow set of products, unlike an independent agent who sells what he wants and what is the best for his client.

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avatar 34 Anonymous

Interesting that you brought up research Greg
You still a fan of Primerica or employee?

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avatar 35 Anonymous
avatar 36 Anonymous

My co-workers used to just lay out the ordering form/materials/whatever else they had, and we had the choice of whether to order or not. I never felt pressured, and I didn’t feel bad if I didn’t order. I did order sometimes, but it’s because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to.

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avatar 37 Anonymous

I’ve bought some Mary Kay from a friend who constantly promotes it. I like some of the make-up and so I didn’t mind buying some of it. One perk was that I could try samples first which I prefer over guessing in the store.

She did try and get me to sell though, repeatedly. I was a little interested at first, but when I asked for info all I got was a dvd with a bunch of fluff about working for myself and selling great products and empowering women garbage. I wanted hard numbers!!! When I asked her and her upline about those numbers I still didn’t get anywhere. I felt like they didn’t like my questioning them about the details and should just trust them and get involved and go with the flow.

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avatar 38 Anonymous

The worst form of this that I’ve seen is attaching a sales “party” to another event that people are obligated to go to. My wife was invited to a bachelorette party that included a sales party as part of the festivities. Its extra awkward to decline such a party since you’re socially obligated to go to the conventional celebration/party.

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avatar 39 Anonymous

My wife has friends who sell jewelry, candles, makeup, you name it. We decided that time at home with the family is much better spent than time at a friend’s house listening to a sales pitch. So we’ve just made it a policy not to go to any of these things and not to host them.

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avatar 40 Anonymous

About 5 months ago a very good friend (a male) of mine and my husband invited us over for dinner and asked if we’d watch and give him feedback on “a presentation I need to give for work.” We were happy to help him out and didn’t even question it. What occurred was actually a 1-hour+ presentation about a product called Isagenix, which is some weird heath drink that allegedly “cleanses” the human body of toxins. Needless to say, this has absolutely nothing to do with his current job. After about 15 minutes into the presentation, we felt very uncomfortable and spent the rest of the time just nodding and smiling, wishing for it to be over. He then mixed up some samples for us to taste (thick, flavorless, chalky shakes) and passed out the order forms for the product line. The products are insanely expensive ($350 for a 30-day supply per person and it required that you “join” the MLM network in order to get that price) and there was little to no information presented to us that this stuff is safe or effective. What was worse, though, was feeling duped and used by someone whose friendship we really enjoyed. A week or so later he “followed-up” with us for “feedback,” which was yet another poorly veiled attempt to get us to buy the products. I declined as nicely as I could, and he took my rejection well. However, things are definitely different between him and us. We haven’t actually seen him in person in months. Being part of that MLM really drains his time and resources (he’s set up a special Facebook page for it and everything) and those of us who refused to jump on his bandwagon have been all but forgotten. Sad.

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avatar 41 Anonymous

My husband’s best buddy began shilling for a financial services MLM about seven or so years ago. He’s the restless sort, constantly bouncing from one industry to the next, so we took comfort in the fact that by the time he started seriously hounding us to buy in, sign up, whatever, he’d be on his way out. Regrettably, this was the one time he decided to dig in and tough ‘er out.

After politely but firmly turning down his multiple offers to “vet” our finances (using what business/accounting/financial skills, I don’t know, as he had yet to even take the broker’s entrance exam), my husband and some other friends grudgingly agreed to attend an information session on this “amazing business opportunity!” he wanted to share with the world. My husband had zero interest in this entity and only attended the meeting after I pointed out that if he did his buddy this one solid right now, he’d never have to do it again. I suppose that was motivation enough to get him to spend three hours of his spare time sitting in a windowless, fluorescent-lit meeting room at the back of the local library at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night.

My husband was there out of pity-support for his buddy, but what of the other guys who attended that evening? One, a husband and father of two, had lost his job a couple of months previous and had been told that he was attending a job fair. Ten minutes into the presentation he turned to my husband and said, “Did you know this was going to be some scammy recruiting thing?” to which my husband replied, “Um, well…yes. Sorry.” Then they both went outside to grouse and smoke until the presentation concluded.

Buddy left the information session fired up and beaming, ready to conquer the financial services world and build his winning team (still no broker’s license or training in securities/financial instruments of any sort, but these are trivial details, right?) He immediately targeted the out-of-work dad, extoling all the virtues of the system, while conveniently forgetting that this man didn’t have the money to pay his bills, let alone fund the start-up costs associated with such a program. Out-of-work dad, furious by this point that he was not only lied to, but was now being given the hard sell by someone with zero experience in the industry, left immediately, and so far as I know, he and buddy are no longer so buddy-buddy.

My husband’s a real go with the flow kind of dude, so he didn’t make a huge deal out of the sheer stupidity of the evening, but he could see how invested his friend was in this enterprise and how very, very damaging it could be to his finances/reputation/family. Nothing doing, buddy was going ahead.

We had been firm enough in our repeated rejections that buddy simply stopped pitching us, but I knew he was still desperately “working the business.” We’re not cruel people and we like to support our friends, even those working away at endeavours that don’t necessarily set our spirits alight, but the blatant pyramid/MLM structure of the organization, coupled with a dubious product, all of it presided over by someone who knew nothing of the industry, was a giant red flag. Getting involved in this scheme could mean serious financial troubles, and not just the sort that result from closets and basements brimming with candles/makeup/supplements/handbags, etc. I really didn’t want to stymie his efforts, but I also couldn’t have him pitching our friends, family members and co-workers. It was an awkward situation filled with embarrassment, suspicion and pity (the three cornerstones of any great business, I think we can all sarcastically agree!)

So of course he came to my father’s hugely well attended 60th birthday party armed to the teeth with business cards and sample financial scenarios. I was mortified FOR him, because I could see the looks of annoyance that crossed the face of every single person he approached, to say nothing of his wife. Like, this was party time, not pitching time. The hard sell portion of the party was thankfully short-lived, though, as he got blisteringly loaded and spent the remainder of the evening locked away in a room with my husband drunkenly extoling the virtues of expanding your downline. A couple of months after the party he and his wife divorced. Their problems were numerous and far-reaching, but her main complaint to me was that this “wonderful business opportunity!” had fundamentally changed the man she had married, and not for the better. After she told me that he had netted just a little over $1,200 in the three years that they were together, I understood where at least part of the divorce was coming from – it’s very hard to respect someone, even someone you love, when they are so willfully and stubbornly blind to the realities of a detrimental situation. They were drowning, in every sense of the word, and he wouldn’t pull his head out of his ass long enough to look around and see the water pouring in.

Since then, we, either as individuals or a couple, have seen very, very little of this man. In the two or three years since my dad’s party, he has completely dropped out of our lives, and we have let him. I’ve since done quite a bit of research on this organization and others like it, however, and I now know that there’s a very good reason for his distance – we are so-called negative influences; weighty, suppressive types tethering his business balloon or some such nonsense. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know your friendship ultimately came down to the contents of your wallet.

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avatar 42 Anonymous

I was the unapproving spouse when my wife got involved with […], trying to find every reason why this was a scam where we would lose money and annoy friends. I no longer feel like that because it’s actually a great, practical product that doesn’t require any inventory or products to buy, nor do you have to “recruit” anybody to earn money. My skepticism easily dissipated when others showed a genuine interest in the service and could envision how they would use it personally or for business relationships. […] is now her primary income source — and we’ve not lost any friendships over it!

Any potential business venture requires exceptional due diligence — whether it is entrepreneurial, franchise, corporate or MLM. Every opportunity is not the right fit for everyone, and the buyer always needs to beware.

Editor’s note: comment edited to remove promotions.

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avatar 43 Anonymous

Sounds like Robyn drank too much of the Kool-Aid and clearly is one of the people from those MLM companies trying to make it a positive experience. Anyone I have talked to and anything I have read about MLM companies has not been positive…

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avatar 44 Anonymous

I find most of these comments on point for the most part. Only thing here is that nobody has really touched upon the positives of MLM’s. You all throw ‘parties’ under the bus and talk about the top of the pyramid milking off the bottom, which is kind of funny. Does an ‘upline’ make more money with more recruits. Yes, that is the structure of MLM, to leverage your income off the expanding team beneath you. But one thing you’re all missing is that when parties are run properly, it’s not only the ‘top’ that grows, it’s the entire team. It’s called team building for a reason.

Look, there are some tactics out there that are appalling. Are ‘parties’ sales pitches? Yes, of course. Same thing goes for political campaigns, media outlets, office politics…when you go on a job interview you’re selling yourself. Some people in this industry are so desperate to grow their team that they get out of control with their friends and family and lose sight of how to effectively market without harassing. That’s human desperation at play, that isn’t MLM’s fault.

Am I involved in an MLM, yes, for the past two months now. How many people did I actively sign up? One person. How many people do I have on my team? As of two minutes ago, 50 people. I have 50 people on my team without doing any work. All of these people on my team is from the work of other people. People I have never met. But they are linked to me. My MLM is on a binary system, for those of you familiar with that setup. Right now, I have 50 people on my left side. That’s HALF the work put in for me. All I have to do to earn a modest residual income of $500 per week is to grow 30 team members on my right binary side. That’s not 30 people that I have to actively pursue. That’s a few key people I need to recruit, and they recruit a few other key people. That’s what MLM is all about. Once you’ve found a decent product that fits in with your lifestyle, that’s what MLM is about!

So yes, I understand where all of you are coming from because I have to deal with other MLM’ers trying to pitch me all the time on Facebook. I know why they are desperate…they don’t know what they are doing. They’re trying to get rich quick. They are dead broke and have no skills to expand their business.

One other thing to keep in mind. For a small start up fee I have diversified the income of my day job. Since I have a steady paycheck, my side business is a long-term quest for discretionary income. I don’t need to drive a BMW, I’m fine with my 2012 Kia Optima. The two people that got me into my MLM have been doing this business for a year, doing ‘parties’ daily. They have busted their butts and recently earned complimentary BMW’s due to the sales volume in their downline. They are making $2k per week, earn an additional $2k bonus on average per month, receive travel discounts, etc. Doing it bit in MLM is very possible with lots of determination and honest selling. Let’s not give the entire industry a bad name just because some people don’t know how to act.

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avatar 45 Anonymous

I too, am part of a binomial network marketing business where there are a few people below me on my left, although I did not personally sponsor them. And while I agree that you do need to put in time and effort to see the fruits of your labor (rome wasn’t built in a day), I don’t agree that these ventures are for everybody. My friends know that I’m very affable and outgoing, and I assumed I could leverage those qualities to build my business. In plain, I cannot and should not. It’s one thing to refer certain products and services to my friends, even if I make a profit, it’s another to capitalize on it as if my life depended on it, and that’s how I feel I was coached. How is this a way to gain trust? If I ran a McDonalds, this would not be the way I would try to promote myself. I know this first hand as I was a manager for a small franchise while in college. The one key thing I notice in all MLM/Network/Binomial market structures are, if the products and services are good enough, they should be selling themselves after a certain point. Take Avon, Mary Kay or Tupperware for example. Is the structure on paper that of an MLM? Of course it is. However, when one joins, they do not need to “share the business” and get people to attend events/trainings in hopes of having others “share in success”. They simply have to drop a catalog and the retailing will do itself. And while that isn’t the way one soars to the top, it is a way that companies like those are still standing after 50-60 years, while simultaneously providing decent supplemental income. I’m glad I was finally able to see on the inside how these businesses work. It made me realize that my full potential can be realized, but elsewhere.

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avatar 46 Ceecee

I stopped going to these parties. I tell the host that I am not in the market for this type of item and I would be wasting the salesperson’s time. I’ve actually looked at selling food items myself, but they are just too daggone expensive. I could put together my own package of items to resell from the locals stores and do better for customers. $8.00 for a packet of soup? Don’t think so.

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avatar 47 Anonymous

For all the decades I worked, there were endless solicitations from coworkers (charity runs, jewelry, cosmetics, far too many things to list). In addition, I worked at a school so the students constantly sold things to me. I felt tremendous pressure and bought just about everything, and personally never sold things to them for my own kids’ fundraisers because I knew full well what it is like to be on the receiving end of solicitations. I wish I had said “no” earlier. I should have made donations to my own retirement, looking back. It was quite a problem; once they knew you bought things they kept selling and selling to you.

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avatar 48 Anonymous

When it is about buying from a friend(in MLM) I really try to be as honest as I can.
If I see it really means something to that person that buy from her than and its affordable I make the purchase. Otherwise I politely say no.
Anyway, true friend will recognize your sincere intention and act the same way when he decides to offer you his product…

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avatar 49 The Latter-day Saver

We had a friend who started selling Avon to earn some money. She is a single mom of four without any other income. We opted to just give her some cash instead of buying her products since she would get to keep all of it and we wouldn’t have to buy a bunch of junk we didn’t want. Win-win!

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avatar 50 Anonymous

The timing of this post is quite appropriate. This weekend, I got sucked into a Mary Kay makeup “party” held at a good friend’s home. I walked away with $80 in products. I made the purchase partly out of obligation and partly because I did like the products, which I will use every day. The good news is that I’ve only bought from product parties a handful of times in my life, and usually it’s a small, inexpensive item. Normally, I do my best to avoid attending these parties.

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avatar 51 tigernicole86

I’ll admit it. I had been sucked in. I’ve also sold Cutco(good product, just horribly overpriced) and I have tons of friends who sell Mary Kay(only reason I don’t buy anything is because I’m terribly allergic and get hives), so I get invited but never buy anthing. I also worked for the uniform company that sold the directors and red jackets their “uniforms” for special events. After that, I really can’t even stand to go to the parties unless it’s a good friend and usually it’s just she leaves out the makeup and says, “Let’s play!”

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avatar 52 Anonymous

I came really close many times but I never actually started selling the products. I usually get all excited about the products at the meetings but when I got home and actually thought about it, I would usually stay away.

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avatar 53 Donna Freedman

At my previous workplace, a newspaper, people could leave notes (“I’ve got an Avon/Tupperware/whatever catalog if anyone’s interested”) or the Girl Scout cookie order form by the coffeepot. Hard sells were rare, thank goodness.
I do remember someone’s daughter trotting from desk to desk with some kind of order form. I think it was wrapping paper, but I don’t really remember. When she got to me and chirped, “Would you like to buy XYZ product?” I politely replied, “No, thank you, that’s not a product I need.”
She burst out crying! I mean loud, loud wails. Everyone looked over at me: What did you do to make that cute little child cry???
Her mother came and got her and gave me a dirty look. I was embarrassed as hell, but resolved not to knuckle under. I had a daughter of my own and I would never have let her run around drumming up business in the workplace. If she’d had something to sell, I’d have posted it by the coffeepot the way just about everyone else did.
For the record: I did buy Girl Scout cookies from time to time, and sponsored a few walkathons, and bought specific Tupperware items that I wanted and a few Avon items to give as gifts. It’s not that I mind supporting a co-worker’s second income stream. I just don’t want to be harangued into doing it.

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avatar 54 shellye

Remember Amway? I had relatives who were so into selling that overpriced junk; they were always talking about it, telling about how great this product and that product was, and about all the people they were signing up to sell, just like they were. It got to the point that I would think up my “excuse not to buy” before I even saw them. Ugh. I sold Avon myself for a couple of years, but (hopefully) never harrassed anyone into buying (although plenty of ‘friends’ would always ask if I had a catalog they could look at, not realizing that I had to pay for them). Now it’s Scentsy products that show up everywhere in the workplace. At my former job, two co-workers both sold those products and it caused some discomfort among the rest of us, especially if there was a perceived breach in loyalty to your sales rep. LOL.

At least with Girl Scouts, you can keep walking past their table if you don’t want to buy anything. But I seldom do that; I love those Tagalongs too much!

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avatar 55 Anonymous

It’s rough for my wife and I because some of our close friends have gotten into selling Mary Kay, and it seems like many conversations end up talking about Mary Kay (which is not exactly something that my wife and I want to spend a lot of time discussing). Still, it is helping one of my friends out quite a bit financially, and she’s even on track to make “director” status and get her pink car.

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avatar 56 Anonymous

Well! Firstly a FRIEND always knows what are your likes & dislikes so he/she will never force you to buy something from them at any cost. Secondly if someone disappears after selling something & taking money as you mentioned above then I am sorry to say he/she doesn’t deserve to be remembered as a friend.

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avatar 57 Anonymous

Simple: MLM “friends” are not friends at all. Friends don’t sell you stuff, sales people do. I stopped talking to a “friend” who kept calling me asking if I would come to a party cruise for his company. Years later we reconciled and he admitted he was wrong and an idiot. He said the turning point was when he showed up at family events and people left when they saw him.

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avatar 58 Anonymous

Well i dont understand why there is so much repulsion for network marketing.Man has always networked to market and sell items. thats how the Silk route was formed from Europe to Asia.Till date we all network market only we do it for Free . if the MLM is offering you a price to promote why not accept it. If you like something you are anyways going to talk of it, its just here you get paid to do so. also there is no harm in dreaming big as thats what all cults etc teach you the hope to do the next thing. So whats surprising?…. about making money – if some one wants to make money he will make it through MLM or a regular job or just any other retail business ..whats this bragging about MLM on?? i cant understand . franchising has been in forever ….Wake up people

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avatar 59 Donna Freedman

Spoken like a true MLMer. As I and others have said: It’s not that we hate free enterprise, we just don’t like the hard sells — especially when it turns a friendship into an uncomfortable experience.

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avatar 60 Anonymous

Having been in the web-development and marketing business for as long as I have, it’s often common for my friends and colleagues to approach me with offers. I personally take no offense to it, no more so than I would if my neighbor mentioned a great deal on steaks at a local grocery.

When they tend to only try to sell me things they work their way into my email-lists as a bit of payback.

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avatar 61 andrea1983

Too many MLM products are crap,too many scam online!I can’t believe those ads.

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avatar 62 Anonymous

All MLM pushers are simply “FRIEND-PIMPERS”! They just want to be your friend to sell you crap! There is this MLM for pre-paid cell service that all the “holy-rollers” are trying to sell in the churches…it’s pure stupidity…I only think church folks (which I am a church-goer) are the ones that buy into these schemes and they make the rest of us look bad!! Get a job, start a real career, a business…not an MLM scam!

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avatar 63 Anonymous

First of all, let me say that I feel better about saying no to my friend who is always bothering me to come to some new launch product. I am at the point, where I am ready to ditch the friendship because she seems to be oblivious to the fact that I have zero spare money to spend on crap and that I have been paying high tuition fees for my son with special needs to the tune of 200K in total after 7 years and now I am on the verge of paying his tuition to college. She can see I am not in any way well off or even comfortable; that I wear old clothes and that I never take vacations and do not own a home, and yet she still continues and one day I am going to lose it and tell her to get some sensitivity training. I despise MLM and what it stands for. It is always a SCAM and it preys on women who in turn prey on other women. People have tried to sell me everything from crappy overpriced jewellery to chia seeds. With this so called friend, it’s Arbonne cosmetics. Anyway, thank you for your suggestions. I will use them.

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avatar 64 Anonymous

I’m one of those MLM people, never once invited a friend or family member. Have had people approach me however. The thing about MLM is that there are very many that are fly by night or sell crappy products with a crappy compensation plan. You should investigate compensation systems ( binary, break away etc..) before you sign up. And make sure they offer a money back guarantee to protect any investment ( especially if you find out the product is crap) and offer ACTUAL training that goes beyond pummeling your warm market for leads.

That being said you are confusing an MLM with a party plan. A party plan is about the worst time investment you can make, though there are some party plans with great products…Pampered Chef being one of my favorites and Scentsy. A party plan doesn’t reward you for recruitment of members as much as for sales from the people you recruited. You have to invest quite a bit of time to develop and train a team and also do parties. Eventually if you recruit a team of sellers you have a profitable team and less work is required of you = the passive income.

Still don’t understand the making money aspect of MLM?

Let’s say I own McDonalds and franchise it. I sell the franchise rights to 100 people and take .01 on every box of french fries they sell. If they run if my franchisees and sell 10 million boxes of french fries per year I will get roughly $100,000. Now let’s say my franchisees are allowed to sell pop up french fry kiosks rights to other wanna be business owners and they each recruit 10 people, so now 1000 french fry kiosks have popped up. Those kiosks sell 100 million french fries and I, owner of McDonalds, make a Million. If I allow the original franchisees to keep 500,000 of that money for finding recruits, training them on running a kiosk and making the fries I still earned MORE money than by just selling rights to the original franchisees and now so did 1100 other people.
MLM and home party businesses are about reach. You can make money. If you sit in your “kiosk” and take a nap instead of selling fries …whose fault is it if you don’t make money? People are quick to blame ALL MLMs when in fact a few bad distributors and bad MLMs spoil the pot. Use your head and investigate before signing up for anything!

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avatar 65 Anonymous

I think a lot of people forget how businesses typically start. From word of mouth through family and friends. That being said a successful business will get out of their circle if friends and family pretty quickly. If your friend is just starting and you might be interested what harm does it do to attend a party or host one? It will support your friend. But be honest tell them this is a one time only thing and if you need what they have you’ll let them know, and not to bother you with any pitches after that. If your not interested honest politely decline, but be clear and say this isn’t a no right now it’s a no ever, and if you do change your mind you will let them know. If its a real friend they will understand and move on. Yes I do sell for one of these companies but I also decided long ago that i would not jeopardize friendship. If a friend is interested great if not there are others outside my circle of friends and family who are and those are the people who I do business with also known as my customers.

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avatar 66 Anonymous

When I retired I thought I would be free from most of the scout/school fundraising stuff. Now my retired friends have ample time for fundraising for “non profits” and throwing MLM parties. Usually I go and buy something overpriced out of feeling obligated and end up annoyed with myself and the hostess. I also give to charities that I believe in, but would never solicit a donation from another.

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avatar 67 Anonymous

I fear I have lost my best friend to Arbonne. I can’t believe she has gotten so sucked in to this cult. I really thought she was smarter than that. I think part of the draw of this particular MLM is that they pump people up and saturate their lives with the illusion that they have all these new vibrant friends. When I declined to first sell with her, and then throw a party, she has pretty much cut me off as a friend. Her core personality has changed. The phrases she uses sound like something straight out of a recruiter’s mouth. They have really done a number on her. It is like she is high on the prospect of owning her own business, but that is not what is really going on. I wonder how long her husband will put up with all of this. I guess as long as there are trips to Vegas, new Yuppie “friends” rolling in, etc. it will continue. She went into it using the excuse that she could work her own hours and not have it take away from time with her family. But the reality is that she spends endless hours on this and has parties every weekend, and her first paycheck was only $350 BEFORE expenses. When I asked if she figured out how much she made PER HOUR, she reasoned that “In the beginning, it takes time to build the business.” This was the last time I talked to her–I guess she didn’t like that I was being skeptical. I think that these MLM’s have this down to a science–They figure out what motivates people or what is lacking in their lives, and focus on these issues. They figure out how to manipulate people and they have no regard to the damage that these sort of practices cause. To me that is the very definition of a cult. I feel like I lost my little sister to a cult.

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avatar 68 Tabby

When your friends start seeing you as a “prospect” and when friends an d family become your “warm market” it really taints the relationship. Nothing more repulsive than listening to scripted monologues coming from the mouth of a once-trusted friend. I can always recognize when someone is spouting corporate-speak they heard at a meeting or read in a pamphlet.

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avatar 69 Shawna

What if every freaking friend you have is selling this crap!? Seriously, I have 7 friends selling Lula Roe, 9 friends selling Lip Sense, 6 friends selling Plexus, 5 friends with at home photo studios, 2 friends selling Sentsy, 3 friends selling those books that are now becoming popular, and 3 friends selling crafts that they started making themselves. Do I want them to succeed? Sure. But EVERY SINGLE ONE has invited me to parties. “It’s just online! you don’t even have to go anywhere! You can shop in your underwear!” I have so many parties that I’ve been invited to that they CONFLICT with each other. I want to shut down my freaking FB I’m so tired of it. But how do I say to that many people, I would love to support you but I am not freaking Bill Gates and I can’t afford to support every single one?! Seriously – I can’t take anymore.

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avatar 70 Heather

I don’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t want to be auto shipped stuff but have bought pampered chef, princess house, lularoe, the list goes on. I’m not offended by it at all. What us the difference if I spend the money at my friend or coworker’s party or the mall? If I don’t have money, I don’t go to parties where stuff is being sold. It’s nice to be able to help a friend out and Tastefully Simple is delicious anyway too.

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