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Well MLM companies have been a frequent subject of criticism as well as the target of lawsuits. Criticism has focused on their similarity to illegal pyramid schemes (hence the “scheme” reference), price-fixing of products, high initial start-up costs, emphasis on recruitment of lower-tiered salespeople over actual sales, encouraging if not requiring salespeople to purchase and use the company's products, potential exploitation of personal relationships which are used as new sales and recruiting targets, complex and sometimes exaggerated compensation schemes, and cult-like techniques which some groups use to enhance their members' enthusiasm and devotion. Eesh!


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Great article and you nailed it regarding purchasing leads. I tried a few times talking with various people over the phone but none committed. I often wonder how the greats like Dexter Yager and Bill Britt (both amway reps) built their businesses to such a large magnitude without the use of social media. I certainly believe social media has made building network marketing businesses much easier than back in the day.
The legal distinction between MLMs and traditional pyramid schemes has been characterized by many authorities as a legal fiction. Jurisdictions that retain a legal distinction between MLM pyramid businesses versus illegal pyramid schemes retain said distinction on two key distinguishing features: 1) that MLMs always encompass the sale of actual products/services, while traditional illegal pyramid schemes ordinarily do not (though sometimes they do), and 2) that climbing an MLM pyramid is overwhelmingly statistically improbable (especially to its highest participant levels) but not theoretically impossible, whereas climbing a traditional illegal pyramid scheme is both statistically and theoretically impossible.[citation needed]
comes down to leadership and the individual. I even changed teams to find the right mentor and coaching when I knew I was struggling. I found a team that trains people to be some network marketing professionals, and really the math is simple and anyone can make residual income if they do it correctly. The problem is people sign everyone up they can and then most drop out. You only want to work with those that are committed to do the work and be able to work closely with them until they are a developed leader. In all actuality ssigning everyone up as an associate is against the rules and a big no no. Having customers benefits everyone and in most business models like the one I’m with I make more commission off customers than associates that aren’t working.
By theory, the MLM mode of operation is simply more cost efficient and easier to run. However the recruitment of sales agents revolve largely around the idea of hitting the jackpot of financial freedom. Simple math will tell you that most people will obviously not make it big through MLM. A certain individual even goes as far to say that 99% of people don’t ever make a profit during his interview with CNBC.
A few noteworthy points on this list… The only companies considered for this list are U.S.A. based; and if you click on each and every company linked above, what you will not find should be as interesting to you (and as revealing) as what you will find. There are no travel companies, only two technology companies (ACN and 5LINX), just one service company (Legal Shield), and 22 health and wellness companies. Even Amway, whose core product line still includes soap, really got started by way of the wellness revolution! Read this book by Paul Zane Pilzer and you’ll understand why nutrition, weight management, and skincare products continue to drive the trends in the network marketing industry to this day.
For full disclosure, I want to point out that I am not affiliated with any multi-level marketing or direct sales companies, and that I don’t receive any compensation from the industry for my opinion on it.  I’m sharing this with you because after I wrote what is considered the most widely read, copied, and quoted MLM article in the history of the industry, I was accused of writing it to promote my own MLM business or the industry in general, which is not the case.
How MLM companies are NOT considered Pyramid organizations is beyond me! They are all scams by the very nature of their organization structure. Those who start or get in early benefit directly from the efforts of those beneath them, forever. Not to mention the fact that most product sold through any of these MLM organization’s is to the dealer network itself. The top dogs are making money regardless as long as there is new blood coming in. And the best way to keep new blood coming in is to incentivize those at the lower middle and below to continue recruiting to build “a network of their own”. And those on the verge of “breaking through” who have already invested a small fortune in products along the way that are sitting on their pantry shelves NEED to keep recruiting. The very thing that differentiates a Pyramid scheme from an MLM is that an MLM sells an actual product. That is it. It doesn’t determine who that product is sold to as it should since we know that most product is sold to the worker bees and not to the general public for long.
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I found your article interesting. My wife and I have been involved with AdvoCare since November 2011. Even if I never make another dime in AdvoCare, I will continue to use the products because they have worked and continue to work for us. What I find interesting is the statistic that the majority – 99.7% in MLM actually “lose” money. What is the context of that statistic? That would mean A: the majority of MLM companies don’t have a buyback or return policy B: people that get started with MLM’s have to take on much more inventory that they are able to sell or C: this statistic is not accurate. I believe that C is the right answer. I do agree there are flaws in the MLM industry just as there are flaws in every industry. However, I believe that the MLM industry has made huge improvements in recent years and we do have a better way. People are the variable. When you have a great product, a passion and purpose that drives you everyday, are teachable and coachable, and love others as much as you love yourself, you can be successful in this business. Through the process of investing in your own personal development and learning to serve others, you are able to lead others to do the same. Thanks again. I look forward to reading more from you in the near future.
MLM has stretched its sticky fingers out into just about every product market out there, so it’s kinda hard to do something new nowadays. But Jamberry Nails did it. Their adhesive, custom nail designs BLEW UP when they hit the direct sales floor. They built up an army of over 100,000 consultants in the time it takes most people to get a mediocre pay raise at their 9-5.
Multi-level marketing (MLM), also called pyramid selling,[1][2] network marketing,[2][3] and referral marketing,[4] is a marketing strategy for the sale of products or services where the revenue of the MLM company is derived from a non-salaried workforce selling the company's products/services, while the earnings of the participants are derived from a pyramid-shaped or binary compensation commission system. 

It seems to me that in your assessment of the top 25 MLM that you had a preference for one essential oil company (Young Living) over the other (doTERRA) which outranked YL. You give a glowing review of YL and state that they “set the standard” & are a “solid pick”. While you seem to question why people could possibly like doTERRA with comments like “Users swear by the oils, and for whatever reason, people (and not just people in Utah) are strangely passionate about telling their friends about them.” For “whatever reason”??? “Strangely passionate”??? You come across as bias. You also incorrectly state that YL set the standard for quality, while they may have been the first legit EO Co. they didn’t set the standard. Infact their lack of wanting to find the purest most potent EO available (which comes from the country the plants are indigenous to) and having strict testing to ensure the purity and potency is why doTERRA was founded, doTERRA set the standard because YL didn’t want to. And that is why doTERRA is the #1 EO company and why Young Living is not. Not to mention how well doTERRA takes care of the suppliers through Co-Impacting and how they’re improving their lives through The Healing Hands Foundation. The foundation builds wells, schools, provides personal care products as well as many other things. doTERRA is changing lives for the better all around the world so that is one of the “reasons” we’re “strangely passionate” about spreading the good news of doTERRA essential oils. Not only are doTERRA EO more potent and purer making the the “solid pick” they are literally saving peoples lives.
I’ve heard all the arguments. “How can it be a pyramid scheme if it’s legal?” Through some crafty loopholes. The fact that there is an actual product to sell allows them to operate and give the appearance of legitimacy. “You just haven’t found a good MLM yet.” Wrong. A good MLM is an oxymoron. “But how is this any different from any other major corporation where the CEO makes the most money?” Because the people below the CEO at legit companies get paid salaries and have actual benefits. They don’t depend on endless chains of recruiting new members.
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An issue in determining the legitimacy of a multi-level marketing company is whether it sells its products primarily to consumers or to its members who must recruit new members to buy their products. If it is the former, the company is a legitimate multi-level marketer. If it is the latter, it could be an illegal pyramid scheme. The Federal Trade Commission has been investigating multi-level marketing companies for several decades and has found many that blur the lines between the two. According to industry data, there are 90 million members worldwide, but relatively few earn meaningful income from their efforts. To some observers, that reflects the characteristics of a pyramid scheme.
4) Treat your MLM business like a business. Despite what you might hear, MLM isn't a get rich scheme. Like any business it requires you to define your target market, reach out to your market, and make sales.You have a sponsor to help you, but she isn't going to do the work for you.Your success in MLM or any business is based on the quality of work you do.
Pay Per Click or PPC can be very effective in the right hands. If you do it the wrong way it can be a fast track to financial ruin. Unlike Facebook Ads where you can see how effective your ads are within minutes, Google AdWords are much less responsive and you can use up a lot of cash before you hit the winning combination. Concentrate on being very focused and specific. If you are not, you will get lots of clicks on an ad which sounds right, but results in low conversion rates when people find that it’s not exactly what they are looking for.
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Hi JP, Your assessment of Melaleuca stating… “When you hit over a billy in annual sales, that’s reason enough to be on the shortlist. On top of that, they’ve been in the MLM game for over two decades, and they’re now the “largest online wellness shopping club” (basically just sounds like a fancy way of saying they sell a lot of miracle diet pills).” is VERY misleading and inaccurate. They offer “far more” products and services than weight control supplements. I have been a “customer” only of Melaleuca for over 20 years and can attest to the superb quality of their products. Please get your facts correct before posting inaccurate information. 🙂
I learned seo and blogging, failed at that. I learned Facebook ads and email marketing, learned how to target the right demographics for Doterra, now people contact me wanting to know about the oils, then I got present and sign up, this my friend’s is the best of both worlds and what everyone should learn, find your form of marketing, go teach and sign up and leave for friends and family alone, unless you know they’ll want it.

If you recruit a distributor who advances to the final step and breaks away from your group, what happens to your commissions? Yes, your total group volume will take a hit, because you’ve lost one of your best recruits. However, most companies will provide you with a bonus commission, referred to as an override commission, for creating breakaway legs (or recruits that end up breaking away, forming their own group).
When you hit over a billy in annual sales, that’s reason enough to be on the shortlist. On top of that, they’ve been in the MLM game for over two decades, and they’re now the “largest online wellness shopping club” (basically just sounds like a fancy way of saying they sell a lot of miracle diet pills…for our rankings of the best women diet pills are here).

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Unlike other distribution methods MLM/NM companies don't advertise their products on TV or other mass media but rather depend on their customers to share the experience and recommend the products to their friends and relatives through word of mouth. They in return get 10-12 % profit of the sale value. Word of mouth/ recommending someone is a very powerful marketing tool which is cheaper and could reach more people because the selling of product is based on trust. Would you not buy a product your close friend uses and finds beneficial and asks you to try ?
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Right now, MLMs are preying on lower-income, often undocumented immigrant communities and taking advantage of their lack of knowledge and finances. Their reps lure them in by telling that they are giving them the tools to start their own businesses and that they can create jobs for their friends and family members. In the 2016 documentary, Betting On Zero, director Ted Braun talks to several Latino families who have lost their entire life savings to Herbalife. They were told by MLM reps that it’s easy work and that it’s not dangerous, and so they sold their construction businesses to invest in Herbalife.

Thanks for this post. Very helpful. I do like direct sales; one reason for this is that it helps keep alive that age-old tradition of people interacting face-to-face (rather than mainly through texting and social media). For that reason, I think MLMs should target the lonely Millennials. Anyway, I was a member/distributor of Advocare for over 10 years and still miss the products and the activities in the company, now that I am temporarily out. I still plan to sign up again when I can afford it (long story–I’ll spare you). I am now involved in Melaleuca, and I must say in their defense that Melaleuca’s products are actually not overpriced. Because Preferred Customers are not only not expected, but also NOT ALLOWED to turn around and sell the products at the retail price, everyone pays the same low prices. (Granted, one can indeed go to the website and buy directly from the company if they do not want to become a Preferred Customer. Why would someone do that when the annual membership is only $19? Only if they do not want to commit to the minimum monthly requirement for Preferred Customers.) Public, keep this in mind! Don’t be fooled by the rebels who are selling old Melaleuca products on Amazon for way above the retail price!! You’re much better off buying fresh products directly from the factory, even if you pay retail price. Just sayin. My big question: What about Tupperware? I have been a Tupperware consultant for about 6 months, and I have found it to be extremely difficult to keep business going. The directors training me have said that Tupperware is the second most widely recognized brand name in the world, second only to Coca-Cola. If that is the case, why is it so hard to find people willing to host Tupperware parties? Why does it seem so hard to sell? Also, is it just me…Or, does Tupperware’s compensation plan stink?

I absolutely agree you have to be careful when evaluating an MLM. Unfortunately, there are probably more bad apples than good ones. It’s tricky to know whether or not it’s a legal MLM or a pyramid scheme because they can be very similar. I understand pyramid schemes to simply be an exchange of money. There is no real product that’s being sold, or at least not one that’s reasonably priced. I’ve also learned it’s proven that pyramid’s schemes can’t survive long-term because the model doesn’t sustain itself. I’ve had a few experiences with MLM’s and will wrap up by saying it’s not a model for everyone.


Thank you for your article. I am also with doterra and I never in my life thought I would do something like this. The reason I started was because of health issues that led me to the oils. I have been an RN for 23 years and I feel more free and excited to share about health than ever. If you are going into something to get rich quick, I think that is the wrong attitude. I think most of my fellow doterra wellness advocates, have come to the same realization as me. I believe most of us started out trying to help ourselves and our families. I left my nursing job of 17 years in Feb, not because I am making enough money to replace my past income, but because I truly love helping others and I love the company and what it stands for. I can’t argue about MLM’s because I truly don’t care about that side of it. Maybe I am wrong to think that way. I hope that this ride doesn’t end anytime soon because the difference that doterra is making in my life, and the lives of those around me, is amazing. Thank you again for your information and your viewpoint.
Let’s face it, whether you call it multi-level marketing, direct sales, or network marketing, the entire industry gets a bad rap.  It’s often labeled as a pyramid scheme or get rich quick scam, and frankly, there is ample evidence to approach it with caution.  However, as I have studied trends in this business model, I have come to a very different conclusion. One that actually suggests that network marketing can play a crucial role in how well baby boomers and others transition into retirement.
Let’s face it, whether you call it multi-level marketing, direct sales, or network marketing, the entire industry gets a bad rap.  It’s often labeled as a pyramid scheme or get rich quick scam, and frankly, there is ample evidence to approach it with caution.  However, as I have studied trends in this business model, I have come to a very different conclusion. One that actually suggests that network marketing can play a crucial role in how well baby boomers and others transition into retirement.
A downline distributor is a recruited distributor from whom the sponsor (the one who recruited them) gains commissions. Every compensation plan involves recruiting other distributors to help sell the company’s product. Some compensation plans provide higher commissions for recruiting successful distributors (quality over quantity). Other plans only focus on simply hiring more distributors (quantity over quality). Overall, downline distributors help sponsors gain extra commissions.
For full disclosure, I want to point out that I am not affiliated with any multi-level marketing or direct sales companies, and that I don’t receive any compensation from the industry for my opinion on it.  I’m sharing this with you because after I wrote what is considered the most widely read, copied, and quoted MLM article in the history of the industry, I was accused of writing it to promote my own MLM business or the industry in general, which is not the case.
Melaleuca, Inc. is listed as a Direct Marketing Company. The company contracts with independent marketing executives who refer customers to Melaleuca that purchase its various lines of nutritional, pharmaceutical, personal care, household cleaning, and pet care products. They also offer travel, phone and credit card services. Customers receive discounts if they order a minimum monthly product supply, but are not required to maintain an inventory of products. The company states that it offers a “Satisfaction or Money Back Guarantee”.
Unlike many MLMs that sell products directly to consumers, Digital Altitude sells a business system to entrepreneurs in the form of courses and methods that teach them to effectively market their own companies. While many of the packages can cost thousands of dollars, Digital Altitude offers a $1 trial, making the risk to try its product very low for the consumer.

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