Help!? My friend got sucked into multi-level marketing: How do I support them without purchasing things I don’t want?

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Direct marketing pinback by Etsy seller NannyGoatsCloset
Direct marketing pinback by Etsy seller NannyGoatsCloset
A friend of mine recently became an independent consultant selling through a multi-level marketing company. This new business venture seems to have replaced her former career goals. She is putting a lot of effort into marketing, spamming Facebook, and hosting parties to sell items. She had to buy into the company, and I get the impression that she’s struggling making her money back.

I want to support her, but I don’t want to buy any expensive products that I don’t need. I also don’t feel comfortable introducing her to my other friends or family members, because she’s so focused on making sales. I also don’t really agree with the questionable sales tactics of the company.

I can tell she needs encouragement, but how can I help her without compromising my own values? -Lorraine

Comments on Help!? My friend got sucked into multi-level marketing: How do I support them without purchasing things I don’t want?

  1. This is such a tough one. Does it sound like your friend might be questioning herself on getting into the business? If you sense she is struggling to make the money back, that might be true. If you approach it gently, the next time she mentions something about her business, it might be a good time to be honest with her. If she can admit it was a mistake and harder than she wanted it to be, it might be a time to cut costs rather than waste more of her time on it. You could ask her about how she learned about it, and if she thought it was worth it (maybe act like another friend is interested) in order to see if she’s in the red or not. Then you can talk with her seriously about it. But, if she truly is dedicated, then just encourage her to seek out new facebook groups, clubs, activity groups, moms groups, etc without sacrificing your own group.

    I personally LOATHE being pestered with those types of sales, tupperware-style party, fake party invites, and spamming. However, I also know that there’s an “Unfollow” button on facebook, and that saves me from having to stare at all the annoying popups everyday. If I were you, I would not worry (too much!) about people you introduce her to. They can always hit that same button.

    In my opinion, she is only damaging her own reputation. While you feel responsible for introducing her, ultimately people will know that you are not responsible for your friend. I know that concerns me, as recently I have been sucked into hosting one of these events on facebook in guise of a fundraiser for a charity I was working for. I don’t feel comfortable with it, but since it is technically raising money for a cause, I agreed and just personally apologized to friends that were like, wtf. Or headed it off with an email ahead of time letting them know other ways they could donate.

    I also got sucked into selling knives at one point, and a few other adventures. This was a lesson I had to learn on my own. I am not a salesman, I hate spamming, I hate selling. Your friend will too, possibly, and when she comes to you just support her and encourage her when/if its time to cut losses and quit.

    • What a lot of people don’t think about is that if you are going to start any business, you need to put money down at the start. Would you say, if your friend started s McDonald’s, that she had to “buy in”? Because she would! And it would be over $1 million to start. Multi-level marketing has gotten a bad rap because there have been companies that are scams but those companies get found out and shut down by the government. Some companies offer such a wide variety of products and not all are price-prohibitive so personally, I think if you can find anything that you like that’s in your price range, be upfront about your budget but buy one thing! Even if it’s laundry detergent. Everyone has to wash their clothes. Why would you not support your friend’s business when it’s something you buy on a regular basis anyway? You get a product you can use and you get to support your friend. To me, that is a win-win! (Jewelry is much harder because not everyone is into big fashion jewelry or even wearing any jewelry regularly, but maybe you can buy something small to give to someone else as a gift?)

      • Those companies get shut down and they pop up again under new names, until they are shut down again. The people who make money selling this stuff are the exception, not the rule. I’ve read a lot of articles about these companies, and most of them are just pyramid schemes and they make it hard for their sellers to be successful. Most do not get the money back that they put in; meanwhile the company is making a ton of money off these people.

      • It’s hard because Jewelry is one of the difficult ones. Now my friends who sell kids books or Pampered Chef..mmm..

        It’s her choice, she’s made it, try to support her as best as you can while keeping boundaries. I mean what’s a more important value to you? Being a good, caring, supportive friend, or thumbing your nose at MLM companies and hurting your friends feelings? Is it the company or how your friend is going about it that’s your issue? Focus on that. Not “MARY KAY IS STUPID SHIT” but more “Hey Friend, I love you, but what the hell, you tried to sell my grandma with dementia lipstick”.

        Maybe take her out for coffee, explain your position, and that it makes you really uncomfortable because you feel like you’ve lost your friend who’s morphed into a jamberry (or whatever) rep. Be gentle and kind. Yeah, people get crazy about this shit, and it usually dies down after about 6 months, max. If she’s having a hard time making her money back, it’s likely she’ll be over it by then. So remember when talking to her that when this phase is over, you still want your friendship intact, you know?

      • If you could buy just one thing in your budget and be done, that would be great. I have a hard line NO policy now, because the reality is – the party isn’t about buying one thing, it’s about the business man or woman finding more party hosts and if possible new employees. The pressure at these events is HUGE…I’ve often played a game and upon winning the prize learn you only get to keep it if you sign up to host a party. Talk about peer pressure! You won! You should do it! We’ll all come! After the pressure of the party is over, it’s the emails, emails, emails….it’s not about buying the thing. They want you to join the club. First as a host, then as an associate. My policy is “just say no.” Even if there’s actually something I want or need, it’s not worth the constant guilt to participate more.

      • I think the key factor is that MLM businesses rely on the individual’s social network HEAVILY in order to monetize the business. If you start a McDonald’s franchise, you’re not depending on your friends and their friends to be the sole patrons, you can have a reasonable expectation that strangers from the community will be able to discover and patronize your business. With MLM, you have to aggressively market to your friends in order to monetize and Sarah makes an excellent point that you can’t stop at having a few people buy one product or the business will never sustain itself. The over-reliance on the friend network makes it feel predatory and uncomfortable — people (often) don’t like to feel pestered and solicited by their friends.

    • Re. “ask her about how she learned about it, and if she thought it was worth it (maybe act like another friend is interested):”

      If her eyes get bigger and she says it’s great, she wants to add someone to her down line. Sry but true!

      I’ve had friends in this and have bought something as a courtesy. When I haven’t been into the product it’s been really dumb and I’ve been like, “why did I do that?” When I like the product it’s nice but I find it’s still my responsibility to set limits while communicating that I care about her and want to be friends. Know that your friend is being trained to “get to ‘yes'” and to filter “real friends” from “fake friends who distract and dissuade you from meeting your goals.” :/ boo. But seriously. She’s hearing this from trained professionals. So if you say no to your friend about, say, having a “___ ‘party'” at your house (and you’ll probably have to say ‘no’ firmly 3x) and she establishes some distance for a while, let her do that. Maybe she needs to focus her new venture and put the friendship on ice if you’re not into it. And that’s fair.

      But check in with her again. She may be embarrassed and lonely with…well, fake friends who only care about growing their down lines. Even if she’s successful she’ll miss you if you’re true friends. As she learns to balance her work “friends” against the kind of friendship you have with her, she’ll make room to keep you in her life.

  2. I really think with this stuff if you don’t intend on being a regular customer of theirs you shouldn’t buy what they are selling, – it gives false hope and keeps you on the radar as a ‘customer’ even if it was just a one off purchase.

    If you want to be a good friend and you don’t agree with their network marketing business for whatever reason, take a step back for awhile. There are already people telling them what they are doing is a lousy idea, they don’t need your two cents. Who knows, maybe they will come out on top and you won’t need to worry on their behalf.

  3. Can you support her business in other ways? Does she need a gift card to Target to buy supplies? Tubs to carry stuff to parties? Snacks for the parties? Maybe there’s a way you can give a thoughtful card and support HER and her business without being a customer.

  4. Firstly I would like to dispel some myths about multi-level marketing. There are obviously some companies that make it difficult to earn your start up costs back. There are also some great companies out there. Don’t lump them all in one bunch. I have several friends that are in direct sales and while they may not be replacing a full-time income the vast majority of them have at least made back the amount the initially invested.

    If you love the product then buy it. If you don’t want the product then don’t buy it for yourself but don’t write it off completely. Maybe there is someone you know that might be interested. Or perhaps a relative that would enjoy the product for their birthday etc. Even taking a few catalogues to work and leaving them in the lunch room is really helpful and not as large of a commitment from you.

    Most importantly, think about what you would like from friends if the shoe were on the other foot.

    • I have a big problem with “the vast majority of them have at least made back the amount the initially invested” being any sort of measure of success.

      They have spent considerable time and money to be at the same place financially that they started. Even worse, if they hadn’t counted the costs (gas, party supplies, snacks, etc) of selling these products. This is not success. It’s basically volunteering at a for-profit company. Unlike owning their own business, they don’t even have equity in the company to borrow against if they need/want to expand.

      • “I have a big problem with “the vast majority of them have at least made back the amount the initially invested” being any sort of measure of success. ” – I completely agree but I think you have to understand the mindset that most people enter MLM under. For most it’s not “I’m going to replace my full time income and skyrocket to millionaire!!”

        Most who sign up under a company love the products (it wouldn’t make sense to sell a product you didn’t already enjoy and use regularly) and would be spending money on it anyway. Why not sign on and be able to purchase your own stuff at a discount PLUS bring in a little extra on the side. So yes, for some breaking even on their startup costs is success… I have seen so many of my friends be able to bring in a bit of extra income (even after expenses) and they are happy selling for the company that they chose – it has completely changed the way I view direct sales!

        I hope I was able to articulate that all clearly… to summarize – it’s not always a rip off, some people aren’t looking to be millionaires through MLM.

        • Yeah, I briefly considered becoming a Pampered Chef consultant just because I wanted the discounted startup package. It’s like getting a part time job at Starbucks because your spouse was complaining about the price of your latte habit.

          • Which, hey, is a totally reasonable reason to get a particular job. My sister works at a craft store. It pays for her crafting habit, which means every baby shower/wedding/etc gift is paid for (and she’s good enough to make dress clothes for her kids so every fancy dress occasion isn’t a burden either), and they have enough to cover their kids’ holiday and birthday presents. Another friend works in a bookstore, and sure maybe her entire paycheck is spent by the time she gets it, but everyone is happy.

  5. Disclosure: I myself am a consultant for a prominent company using a MLM model, though mine includes no inventory, no quotas, and no parties.

    First: If your friend is pestering or pressuring people to buy from her, that’s just bad business. One of the things I love about my business is filling needs. If someone is looking for the solution to a problem and I can help, great! If they’re not interested, that’s just fine, too. It’s not about selling people things they don’t want, don’t need, or (worst!) can’t afford. You’re not interested in buying, so just tell her.

    Second: She’s a person with a life outside of her business… encourage her to socialize without constantly thinking about sales. Sales that come naturally are successful, since you’re filling a need (see #1!) and providing a positive experience for the customer. Meeting new people and forming three-dimensional, genuine relationships is the key to success with direct sales. It takes time and diligent effort to build a network.

    Lastly: Recruitment is typically the very best way to build this type of business. Again, refer to #1… who is looking for a business opportunity? Not to build your friend’s team, but to meet some need of their own – extra income to pay for Timmy’s braces, a retirement “job” to keep busy and provide added security, a flexible business to fit around SAHM demands. If someone is not genuinely motivated and inspired, the business won’t be successful. She doesn’t want just any recruit, she wants the RIGHT partner.

    As for how to help: keep an ear out for people who ARE interested in her products or business. Share her contact info with those who express interest. This is not an endorsement. It’s simply sharing facts, “Oh, you’re looking for a work at home job? I know someone who has an XYZ business, and bet she’d be happy to share why she chose that company. May I give you her e-mail address?” “My friend has a jewelry business. Here’s her website address. Feel free to contact her if this is the style you’re looking for.”

    Good luck to you both!

  6. this only worse cause it’s family. my favorite cousin just started this and has already got my mom to buy stuff out of guilt\family obligation. how do you get out of it when it’s family?

    • Depending what it is they’re selling… My approach has been “I really don’t have any particular need or use for X, but thanks for thinking of me. If that changes, I’ll let you know.” This may not work if there’s a huge range in the types of stuff they’re selling, though.

      If it’s invitations to parties where you know you’ll be pressured to buy stuff, don’t go! I just politely say I have other arrangements already (and then I make sure I do, so it’s not *really* a lie, right?).

    • This is one of my biggest objections with this marketing style. Guilt or pity based sales are not real sales, yet they are what prop up these businesses. Anyway, just say no, thank you. I usually say some variation of, “I’m really glad you’re excited about your business, but I’m just not interested/don’t go to these types of parties.” I don’t use pretend (or real) excuses, because they’re usually an angle around them. When they start talking about how amazing it is/different from all the rest or how fun the party is and “you don’t have to buy anything, it’s just an excuse to have fun together,” I just keep saying, “No, thank you.” Over an over again, I figure the more someone pushes you to buys something, the less of an explanation you owe them.

      You could add: “But I’d love to have coffee sometime and catch up about your life.” Just to reinforce that you DO care about them, even if you aren’t interested in this.

  7. I have this very same question. In the last year several of my friends and immediate family members have started selling various things (shakes, wraps, natural toiletry thingies, vitamins, etc). Every few weeks I get the “Hi, cute baby pics on FB. The kids are getting so big. Have you heard about this amazing company/ Seen how much weight I’ve lost let me tell you about this product I use?….” email from one of them. My current tactic is to just ignore the marketing and continue our friendship as usual. It may not be the best way to handle it but so far so good.

  8. It takes alot of courage to start a business on your own and sell products or services. I have a lot of respect for someone who does this, event if I am not interested in the product/service they are selling. In my experience, many people who get involved with a MLM marketing company do so because they find that the product has improved their life in some way, and they want to share it with others. Many are very grateful to their customers and appreciate the opportunity for the extra income. I dont know why there is so much suspicion about MLM companies, it is an unfortunate thing because the good opportunities get swept out with the bad.

    I have never been involved with one personally, but my mom was involved with several as we were growing up. She never got rich off any of them, but never got “screwed” either. It was always sad to me to see how people really looked down on her for selling something. As if somehow selling a long-distance phone service through an MLM system was less respectable than selling shoes for a commission at a department store.

    Dont work for a “brick and mortar” company who is going to treat you like you are expendable, and don’t join a MLM company that is going to take advantage of you…pretty simple.

    As for supporting your friend, just get good good at saying “no thank you” if you do not need/want the product she is selling. If you do want/need the product then buy it and dont worry so much about the business structure. If you are concerned about her getting in over her head, talk to her about it in the same way you would about a stock market investment, or a investment in a home she cant afford, or anything else like that.

    • There is a difference between working in a store and an MLM. In the store, you have to be paid a base rate, the store pays your payroll taxes and (depending on local laws and your hours) you get get benefits. With MLM, you are an independent contractor with none of that and from what I’ve heard (YMMV) the commissions in stores and MLMs can be pretty comparable, so it’s not as if you’re making up the money elsewhere.

        • When? Working for a corporation or in the midst of an MLM? Unless the “direct sales representatives” are incorporating themselves in some form, they’re not eligible for many federal tax breaks and many states’ breaks as well. Assuming you get free legal advice and free notary, that’s $135 just to register (in NY state, ymmv) which isn’t so much except that the vast majority of the sellers are barely breaking even.

          • That’s not quite how it works… in my jurisdiction any commission paid to the consultant from the MLM company is lumped in as income with their regular yearly earnings from other jobs etc. Any business expenses (including insurance, a portion of your gas and car maintenance, a portion of your household expenses… the list goes on) are “deducted” from your income leaving you with a total taxable income. There is an accountant in our area that will prepare our family taxes for $250 per year (which includes my two side businesses – one of them in direct sales AND my husband’s side business)… which of course we can claim as a business expense on next year taxes. I was shocked by what we received back on our tax returns last year, I thought we would owe considering the extra income I had been earning but that was not the case.

  9. Just say no. Don’t buy anything from her, don’t let her host a party at your house, and don’t go to any parties she hosts. Doing any of those things will create an expectation from her and make her think you’re into it. I have a friend who works for Mary Kay, a co-worker who does Avon on the side, a friend who does Jamberry, the list goes on. I simply decline the facebook invites and never buy anything. I’m not saying that these companies are bad or my friends shouldn’t work for them. I’m just not much a girly girl, I’m very frugal, and I hate clutter so those types of products just aren’t for me.
    Like previous posters have said, be there for your friend in other ways but don’t feel guilty about not buying things from her.

  10. You could suggest she join a local networking group. I don’t know much about networking groups and would myself never consider being in one, but I know they exist, and I recently had a conversation with someone who is self-employed and has found them very useful. I don’t know if networking groups have rules against salespeople who aren’t selling their own products, but even if they do, your friend could still join as a person interested in learning more about business opportunities in her area. If she considers herself a people-person, perhaps she’d like it and learn about other business ventures or find a way to make some more useful contacts for her current business. The person I was talking to indicated that some networking groups can themselves be a bit pyramid-scheme-y, but some of them aren’t, so your friend could look for a good one that might help her make supportive business contacts. Hearing about other people’s business experiences and goals might help her get a better grasp on her own (whether that’s to stay with this company or not).

    • I’m in a networking group for my business (don’t know if I can post a link here? Or a name?) and it has helped me a LOT. I am a small business, not an MLM, but some chapters do take people in MLMs. The group I am in teaches you how to sell efficiently – or at least tries with effective mentoring. That way you can be around a group of business people from different categories, not just people who you are directly competing with.

  11. I agree that MLM squicks me out, but maybe you are judging too harshly. Is it really overpriced junk you don’t need, or is that your assumption because you feel all MLM is a scam? Mary Kay, for example, does have some good products in their lotion/bath lines. And thirtyone stuff is pretty adorable and functional. Before you write it off, make sure you really aren’t interested.
    Another way to help is to offer to let her practice her sales pitch on you. You could make it clear that you’re not buying (f you’re not), but that if she wants, you’d be willing to listen to her pitch and give her feedback. This will open the window for you to suggest she tone down the hard-sell and try to reach people through less aggressive means.
    Once you get her to have a less aggressive sales pitch, perhaps you could help open the door for sales in other ways like funneling people to her when you hear they’re shopping for a gift, or for whatever thing that happens to be the same thing she sells. You might find you’re not as opposed to sending your friends to her, if she has cut down on the aggressive and shady sales pitch.

  12. I have mixed feelings on this. Generally speaking, I don’t feel right about buying products from MLM companies because it primarily benefits the owners/CEOs of this company and perpetuates what I think is a very predatory and unworkable business model (which is why most MLMs only last for a few years and then the owners/CEOs start new ones). I also don’t support leveraging personal relationships for financial gain, it feels gross to me. Most sales that happen at these “parties” (real parties are supposed to be fun, not expensive or guilt inducing) are out of social obligation or a desire to seem supportive. I know some people genuinely fall in love with some products, but the long-tail is comprised of guilt-sales and I don’t like that.

    On the other hand, I do go out of my way to patronize business owned by friends because I want their business to thrive, even if the products are not exactly what I want or are more expensive than walmart. I think the difference for me is that the money you spend on products being sold by a friend through MLM primarily benefit the company, it’s owners and the early adopters, not your friend whereas if you buy a product from a company owned by your friend, it directly benefits them.

    I used to be outspokenly condemning of MLMs and gave my friends lectures whenever they got involved in them. Eventually I decided this was not effective and disrespectful. Many intelligent and self-possessed people choose this path and I should be less condescending toward them. So now, whenever someone tries to share their “new business” with me, I tell them that, if they’re still selling the product in 2 years I’d be happy to buy something from them (unless it’s a weight loss/health product, those I never buy). This has worked pretty well to me, although it’s still casually dismissive and not exactly supportive, they way you want to be. If I was in your position, I would not go to any parties or buy any products, doing so creates a false sense of “success” that keeps someone in an unsuccessful business longer than than they should, but would be kind about it and not disparage her choice to be involved in it. If she expresses happiness, tell her that you’re happy she’s happy. Then change the subject.

  13. I used to be kind of into certain MLM products. I even tried selling them a few times (like 99% of other people who do, it was all a spectacular failure). But eventually so many of my friends were getting involved in so many of them, that it became annoying and awkward to interact with them half the time. I felt bad, but I can’t afford to patron all my friends. Especially when I had several friends all selling the same product. Most of them I just ignored. I watched companies hit market saturation real quick and friends would quit. But it’s all just replaced with more and more. Then I started learning more about the business model of these companies, and decided I didn’t want to support any of them anymore. I keep just ignoring it most of the time, but there have been a few times when I have just been honest with people and said “Due to personal ethical reasons, I don’t purchase products from MLM companies.” Everyone has just moved on after that, no big deal. I haven’t insulted their personal product, and it kind of makes it hard for people to argue, like if you say you’re morally against eating meat, or your religion forbids you from this or that. People just generally don’t want to get into long ethical discussions, especially when they’re looking to make a sale. Maybe there’s a part of them that knows what they would hear if they probe further, and they just don’t want to.
    I’ve also found “I wish you all the best, but I just can’t afford to patron all of my friends businesses right now. When finances are different, I’ll let you know.” Works pretty well too.

  14. My husband and I recently got approached about an MLM opportunity by one of his coworkers. Yeah the business is legitimate and thriving but like others have said I don’t feel good about funneling money all the way up to the CEO’s pockets because that’s just how it works. My husband and I are nice people but too many people assume we are naive. After our recruitment coffee date with the “team” we went home and picked apart the sales tactics used on us. We even had guilt thrown at us! All in all we were not interested.

    Like others have said don’t buy even one thing and give her false hope. It’s simply bad sales to assume everyone is interested or needs the product and for people not used to sales they often wind up pushing this very tactic and it’s gross. She needs to hone her targeting and marketing skills so she can identify and sell to the correct customers and still have a thriving social life with her friends that are not customers. Networking is often very difficult, as a business start-up I know this. If you really want to support her, help her research some business materials such as websites that teach networking and a good sales pitch. There are tonnes of websites directed at business owners and start-ups that detail the ins and outs of sales. If she’s really serious about her business she should always be learning and of course one lesson is to let go of unenthusiastic customers and network elsewhere. Of course be prepared to stand firm that you only helped because you were seeing a bad tactic and you want her to be the same person she always was but still succeed financially.

    If she’s a good friend she will understand that you are setting boundaries with her and the business. Some of my friends are interested in what I make and sell (I am a seamstress) and some of my friends are not interested. To friends that are not interested when they ask about life stuff I only briefly summarize that business is going well or not and move on to pets or my latest cooking success/blunder. Boundaries are key here, like any relationship make sure they stay clear.

    If after all your effort that she persists with sales to you and anyone you introduce then you may have to do the “unfollow” thing and ignore her entirely until the MLM things blows over and she needs a shoulder to cry on.

  15. You can be supportive of friends without actively facilitating or even approving of everything they do. This doesn’t make you a bad friend. Other posters here have good advice about how to handle that.

    Honestly, if she’s not thriving off of the work of marketing and sales then this MLM may be a bad choice for her as a career. MLMs (some more than others) sell themselves as being “found money”. (You use the products anyway, why not get a discount? You have parties anyway, why not turn them into money-making opportunities? You want to help your friends, why not help them discover this amazing opportunity?) But it really isn’t. You will always be marketing, you will always be hustling for sales, you will always be balancing stock on hand with sales, you will always be recruiting, etc. In other words, it is a business. If you don’t like this after a few weeks then consider it a good lesson learned about yourself and move on. Unfortunately as humans we are far too liable to sunk-cost: once we’ve invested something in a process we want to keep going with it until we’ve recouped whatever we’ve sunk into it, even if it’s costing us more by the day.

  16. I would agree that it’s best to never buy any of the products, never agree to host a party, and never agree to attend a party, if what you actually want to do is buy 1 thing out of a sense of obligation, & then ‘hope’ your friend/family member never asks you to do any of those things again…because doing it once, makes it easier for them to ask you again, & harder for you to say no, again. If they ask you directly why you can’t do it just once, blame your budget, blame your partner (“We’ve agreed to a no-purchases-from-home-parties-rule”), or wait a beat & repeat, “Oh, no… no thank you”. No is a complete sentence, and sometimes justifications/explanations, make things worse. I’ve told anyone that’s invited me to a buying party, or anyone who asks me to host one, “Thanks for asking, but I’m not available”. They usually get the message, and if not, my follow up of “I never attend home parties and/or host them…so, what else is new with you?” has always put a stop to the request. If you want to support a person trying to make a living independently in an unstable economy, then do so….but consider other ways. Shop at independently owned stores, when you can, or go to independent restaurants, coffee shops, etc, instead of chains. Use the services of independent mechanics, home cleaners, babysitters, hair stylists, furniture restorers, tax consultants, bakers, etc. It’s not up to you to provide your friend with a living, but perhaps shopping at or using the services of an independently owned business, would help your local economy – and there’s always a trickle down effect from that. 🙂

  17. Oh Multi-level Marketing, how I LOATHE you.

    From work out and body building supplies and videos, to jewelry, to make up, to home solar panels, I have seen a boatload of these companies come in, swallow people up and then spit them out.

    There have been some people I’ve been able to say “no thanks, but good luck! If I think someone would love your pieces/services/goods, I’ll let you know!” and it’s been a done deal. These are the folks who seem to get that what they do can be irksome to others.

    There have been other people I’ve literally needed to nuke the entire friendship, calling them out publicly* for repeated reprehensible social behavior, in order to get them to stop bothering me.

    I think for your situation, starting with the “Good luck! Have fun! Lemme know if you want drinks and I’ll keep an eye out if I think someone would love your stuff!” is a nice bet. You can remain supportive of her decision to do it, but never have to commit to providing her with a lead if you never find someone who you think would benefit from the product/service/good. I would impress that you should make a good faith effort to test the water with someone who may benefit and pass along, so if you are pressed in the future by your MLM friend that you have the experience to back it up.

    *The “friend” really wanted me to get solar panels. Not only is my house my conducive to solar panels, I did my research on the company they worked for and found all sorts of questionable business practice. I had ignored previous attempts for a “free consult!” on the panels. I unfollowed them for a time when the ad spam started kicking up. When they posted on my wall making an advertisement for themselves, I freaked. I needed to impress I did not have any interest, detailed previous contacts attempted and cited my own sales experience. The response from my other friends was a swift “wtf is wrong with this person?” with threats to report and to ban if they contacted them, as well as statements of never using said company.

    It, admittedly, ruined any relationship. But, I showed no interested in what she was selling and was spamming, then harassing me, for a lead she thought she had.

  18. I suggest a really direct approach. Just say–hey, I’m worried about you. I feel like the world of MLM is one that speaks only in positives and boundless optimism; some questions that really force your friend to examine the negatives and admit them out loud may be a helpful exercise. Stress that you don’t want to be a Billy Butthead, but instead that you’re coming from a very real place of concern.
    Ask if she’s keeping a ledger of her expenses–starting with her setup kit and through her parties and “networking” lunches. Ask her if she’s keeping a ledger, too, of her TIME. Suggest she tabulate what her time would be paying off if she were investing it into a minimum wage job. That exercise alone may be enough to convince her that she’s playing a losing game.

    For anyone who doesn’t mind viewing something generally offensive, Penn & Teller’s Bullshit has a great–read, extremely negative–episode on MLMs. I’m sure it’s too rough for anyone involved in a MLM to view, but there’s definitely some eye-opening (if a bit skewed) info in there.

  19. As an offbeat person whose entire income is based in Direct Sales, this post hurt my soul.
    Let me say, first, that I KNOW soooo many people do this kind of business the wrong way. It takes years to build a business (I’m going on 5) and as with any self employed person, you must build through your connections, and its not always profitable. Hard work and consistency and tenacity can make for a successful business.

    I think if you truly support her, tell her that! But no qualifiers. You cant support her but trash talk her new venture behind her back. Cheer her on, support her. Let her know you’re not interested in a party right now, that purchasing isn’t in your budget, but that you truly hope she is successful. I can write all day but that’s enough for now.

    • That needed to be said! I find that while the original poster is concerned about her friends finances that it needed to be pointed out that some people are capable of success in this field. My experiences with MLM opportunities have been dodgy and left a bad taste in MY mouth but that doesn’t mean ALL of the companies and their sales people are this way.

      If you make your entire living off of direct sales then you must be doing something right! Of course a good company that isn’t out for pop-up money goes a long way towards the individuals success rate. That said even in a good company there are definitely skills that mean the difference between a career and a money sink!

  20. I find it interesting that direct sales gets such a bad reputation because of the marketing toward friends and family/needing to network aspects. As if non-direct sales don’t have the same business requirements. When men do it in either arena, it’s Just Doing Business and people let them do their sales pitch and then get back to dinner. But when women do it, it’s scammy, pushy, inappropriate, and even predatory. Whether it’s PartyLite or real estate.

    I noticed it a lot as a direct sales (PartyLite, in case you hadn’t guessed) rep. The men who sold would use the exact same marketing tactics, key phrases, and “push the soft no” tactics that the rest of us women used, but men were FAR more respected for doing so in their social circles. Women are taught to be more respectful of the soft no (because we know damn well what it is and that women are taught to use it), so when we don’t respect that it’s a WAY bigger deal to people because “we should know better” and “men just don’t understand when people are saying no.” Men were also given hard no’s more often, probably due to that idea that they can’t hear a No unless it’s shouted at them, so people didn’t get as mad about them being “pushy” because, well, they were told No in no uncertain terms WAY sooner than women were so they backed off sooner.

    Women are expected to compartmentalize more. Keep our church friends and our school-mom friends and our families at different social gatherings, don’t bring work home with us, don’t let work interfere with Moming and vice versa. Certainly, while businessmen are still expected to bring the boss home for dinner, women are not (if we do it’s out to a restaurant) and if we did the woman would still be the one cooking.

    All of that gender role bullshit is wrapped up in a neat little bow that makes it easy to shit on direct sales because it’s an industry heavily populated by women. But it’s a HUGE factor in how women were able to break into the work force again after WWII, it’s still a huge factor in how women and especially moms make their income, and the fact that you’re not interested in the product a particular friend has chosen to sell should have absolutely no bearing on whether you treat them with respect for proactively seeking an income stream with some pretty rad advantages. Yeah, some of us are absolute SHITE at direct sales, but for so many of us who fail, it’s because that societal training to not inconvenience anyone and listen when they are saying No in gentle ways (not to mention the ill-will from our friends and family about upsetting the nature of our relationship by adding this potential business aspect to it without their consent) is just too much for us to overcome.

    TL;DR: An exploration in gender roles + why we like shit on direct sales is definitely in order, and people should do a lot of soul searching about why they’re so put off by it.

  21. Here’s my experience: Many years ago I had a friend who got introduced to Mary Kay and was all woo woo, gung ho so I had the facial and bought a starter business kit to get her off my back. I then never even picked up the starter kit! How is that for sending a message that I really couldn’t care less? It wasn’t too expensive at that time, but there was the possibility of a pink Cadillac in the future (ha, ha). Needless to say, the friendship fell apart too. Unless this friend is your childhood bestie, saved your puppy from a speeding train, has emotional problems that your rejection of financial commitment will put round the bend, or some such equally poor reason then and only then should you dip a toe into a MLM scheme. Remember, that one little purchase is like a gateway drug for her and she will be forever at your doorstep with the latest iteration of products and reminders to buy, Buy, BUY!

    The companies get a lot of juice out of the rags-to-riches stories and perhaps your friend was vulnerable to the hypnotic and well practiced story introductory line. If you want be the positive, no drama friend you were born to be, just quietly and firmly say no and don’t feel that you have to offer up any reason whatsoever. If your friendship is solid, it will survive. If you want to buy something from her at some time, do so, but don’t because of guilt, peer pressure, imaginary gains for her, or any reason other than your own. Remember that most MLM products are much more expensive than retail, except that you too can buy into the system to get them at the lower price yada, yada. And that may be how she got on board to begin with. It’s very nature is corrupting.

  22. I posted a while back but things have changed and I really wanted to add to it. Some MLM products and people who sell them are great, others are not quite right for me.

    A friend (well former friend now) has been selling shakes for a year. There is an answer for every excuse people give him – eg the shake is cheaper than eating food, you need to keep going to see progress, people are too lazy to try it… Etc. A few people have bought starter packs but that’s been it, and then it comes down to ‘your friends are suppose to be supportive’. My reason I have was that I have a nutritionist that I see, and he told me I shouldn’t trust her because once I was pregnant she gave me lots of literature and sent me on my merry way – it was a mutual decision as neither of us agreed on weight loss during pregnancy. Anyway.

    It’s been a very upsetting journey, and being supportive and encouraging has mostly led to questions around why won’t I buy it. There really only is so much you can do and I feel like I’ve lost a friend to a bunch of people aspiring to be the next millionaire (yes, they have a millionaire tally on their website).

  23. I’ve had a few friends who do MLM, and my mom sells as well. My happy place is to help them think of new ways to reach the RIGHT people, and to offer new ideas on how to use a product in unique ways. I.e. Origami Owl: promote the lockets to brides to carry a snip of their moms old veil as their “something new” or a photo of their grandmother on their bouquet. Longaberger: connect with professional organizers to suggest a bin to contain *things* in, if the baskets match their clients style. Makeup: don’t sell, but rather volunteer with senior citizens or people with cancer to make them feel beautiful (I believe that if your business is good, it begets people interested in your values and your stash). Jamberry: pregnant mamas who wish to avoid nail polish (I’ve bought that product twice for my own pregnancy) — you don’t have to buy a product to support someone’s business. You can also simply add a little fuel to the business. Some of the most helpful people along the way for my own photo business simply shared a marketing idea or made a referral.

  24. I think if you have a friend who is pushing products, the best way to deal with that friend is to just be upfront about them in how you do not like being sold to. It should be enough to say “Hey, thanks for thinking of me. I’m not quite sure if the product is right for me, but if you send me a link with more information or some pamphlets, I’ll gladly review them and get back to you if I’m interested.” Hopefully the friend understands and does not keep pushing.

    If they keep pushing, then maybe being a bit more blunt might be necessary.

    I hate when people try to sell to me too. Especially weight loss products because I have no problem being plus size. And honestly, most of those weight loss products aren’t even right for me anyway. So I do get offended when people try to tell me that their product will solve my ‘problem’.

    The goal I guess in situations like these are to try and save the friendship, while being protective of your values. If a friend can’t handle your need to not be sold to, and they keep crossing boundaries (even after you’ve been clear about not wanting to be sold to). Then maybe it’s time to distance yourself from that friend. If they ask why, tell them. I’m a big people pleaser, but sometimes you just have to be honest with your friends and tell them how they are making you feel. It’s not right for them to push you and try and force products on you. Often the products in these types of sales are not cheap or affordable for a lot of people.

    Sales is a tough business, but it’s more about building relationships than it is about selling products. Hopefully the friends selling realize that. There are plenty of ways to sell products without selling exclusively to friends and family.

  25. When my friend got sucked into MLM, I told her diplomatically that I hoped it would go well for her, but that I very firmly believe in keeping business and my personal life separate. I think she was slightly taken aback at my refusal at first, but making it a blanket rule that would apply to anyone I think made it seem less personal to her. I also use this same line when coworkers try to connect with me on social media.

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