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MLMs are successful because they provide tempting possibilities — the more you recruit, the more you sell, and the more you make. The possibility for income seems almost endless. However, only a few companies can make this dream a reality. So how do you spot the good ones from the bad ones? Look at the product. If the company has put time and money into creating a valuable product, they will put time and money into selling it.
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Multi-level market (MLM) or network marketing is an American institution. Companies like Amway, Tupperware, Herbalife, Avon, Mary Kay and The Pampered Chef support huge networks of distributors and recruits who sell every type of product from dietary supplements to kitchenware to beauty products. Salespeople are called independent business owners (IBO) and generally work from their homes.
This article was really informative and honest! I’m not presently involved in an MLM and I don’t ever plan to be especially after reading this article and the comments below. Why? Well because of EXACTLY the kind of “networking” and “recruiting” that these companies and many of the people commenting on here are advocating. I have been bombarded on my facebook, and other social media from people I haven’t spoken to or seen in years. Its becoming constant, and I am not on social media to make money. Roden and Fields, shakeology, some girl I went to high school with is now trying to get me to buy leggins from her. I have a cousin that I actively avoid now because he is constantly steering every single conversation to Herbellife and why I NEED it to be healthy. Jesus. Its just enough already. I’m all for empowering people, and I love the idea of earning an additional income to take care of your family or yourself. But I could not imagine alienating or even just annoying friends and family in order to make an extra dollar. What I dislike most is that many of those that are recruiting make it seem as if they recruiting you simply because they want to “help” you or provide you with an opportunity. They make it seem as if they are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, when really the actual motivation is line their own pockets with more money, because the more people you recruit for your team, the more money you make. That feels dishonest and slimy to me. Unless I’m asking for “help” or an “opportunity” I wish people would assume that I don’t need and am not interested in one!
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Many MLM companies do generate billions of dollars in annual revenue and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profit. However, the profits of the MLM company are accrued at the detriment to the majority of the company's constituent workforce (the MLM participants). Only some of said profit is then significantly shared with individual participants at the top of the MLM distributorship pyramid. The earnings of those top few participants is emphasized and championed at company seminars and conferences, thus creating an illusion of how one can potentially become financially successful if they become a participants in the MLM. This is then advertised by the MLM company to recruit more distributors to participate in the MLM with a false anticipation of earning margins which are in reality merely theoretical and statistically improbable.[14]

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It is essential to go with an option that is going to deliver these kind of results. This is why the best network marketing leads are often found by just handing out flyers because most people will already have heard of the product/service and are willing to make the purchase right away. Just get the word out and start spreading those flyers and business cards in town. You will be surprised as to how many people are interested in these products/services and are willing to spend money on them.
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I’m from the uk. I am a Matron in a GP practice and have been approached by Arbonne. Ur video confirms most of my thoughts although doing aesthetics as a side line I though I might be able to run along side that and so not have to approach family n friends as that is horrendous!!! – i am really interested in ur local league marketing though – how would I find out more about this
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Other than that, great info, but I’d have to respectfully disagree with the logic behind not being a part of an MLM. It’s one business model. And whether you want to make it your full time job or just dabble, so long as you find a product and company you love, it can be a great way to diversify your income streams. $5000 a year (or $5) is more than most people make on their 401K, savings or any other conventional ways of investing. It’s an investment, and for those that chose to continue through the plateau, it results in residual income. Don’t like sales? Some of the companies are moving away from the door to door type sales models and putting a lot more emphasis on team building and adding value. And many companies are also discouraging distributors from spamming on social media- again- it comes down to the individual and their own business acumen. We can spend our lives blaming they systems or we can just own ourselves and be grateful for whatever we’ve learned from, and created out of each opportunity presented to us. It’s the choice of the individual at the end of the day but one thing I can say with certainty is that someone who blames MLM for their lack of success is lacking responsibility for themselves in other areas of their life too.


This is awesome! I didn’t know there was an MLM company that sells wine. I may look into this. I’m still on the search for a solid company. I pretty much have PTSD with MLM companies because of past teams I signed up under. They were all about hype and money but never did explain HOW to build the business. It was so bad that I am now more cautious and aware of these type of people.

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.
look if you go and search top MLM businesses, no matter what link you click on, the number one company is amway. Why everyone goes with different companies i don’t get it, check it out compare to mary kay. Here’s the thing though, I contract with amway, but my organization is worldwide. Mentorship organization. I feel which ever MLM business you choose, join a mentorship organization that is in that business. The reason why amway is number one is because of worldwide. it’s only 10% of everyone that is in amway, yet 90% of the 6 and 7 figure earners are part of worldwide…why? because they broken down the company and know exactly how to succeed and retire quicker than someone who tries amway on their own or joins another mentorship company. what’s the success rate? to those who do what others have done 100%. So at the end of the day, consider all of this. With amway and worldwide, it doesn’t matter how old you are, where you come from, ANYONE can do it. Mary Kay is a female company, good luck getting a bunch of single dudes to make it with that.
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.
I don’t know much about World Ventures, Greg. I do have some very respected friends in the business who build that business and I do trust them. In ANY network marketing business, it more often comes down to what the independent business owner is putting IN to their business. Are they following the plan religiously? There is no company out there that can legitimately promise a get-rich-quick plan. You have to assume MLM is a 4+ year build – and only then when you’re going full-out. Most people don’t have the stamina for that – but if they do or can learn it, people can make a lot of money in many different companies.
Sales agents in MLM companies frequently work for commissions on sales. In addition, MLM agents typically get commissions on the sales of their “downstream.” Sales agents are able to recruit new sales agents into their “downstream,” and those sales agents can recruit new agents as well. An MLM sales agent usually makes money from each sale in their “downstream,” creating a form of passive income.
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You already know that MLM has the potential to be one of the most valuable business opportunities that you can possibly get involved with. However, if you are getting started with a new MLM venture, you are engaged in an uphill battle. There are plenty of other MLM pros and entrepreneurs out there who would like to use your prospects to build their list!
I’d like to point out a few things: statistically something like 96% of businesses fail within the first 5-10 years, which is a much more impactful loss, both financially and time wise, than the few hundred dollars one puts into whatever product they’re using in MLM. So realistically the success rate as a “self employed business owner” with MLM is probably a bit better than it is with launching a traditional business, or at least consistent with it. It takes discipline and tenacity that many people don’t have- that’s why they chose to remain employees in the first place.

I’d like to point out a few things: statistically something like 96% of businesses fail within the first 5-10 years, which is a much more impactful loss, both financially and time wise, than the few hundred dollars one puts into whatever product they’re using in MLM. So realistically the success rate as a “self employed business owner” with MLM is probably a bit better than it is with launching a traditional business, or at least consistent with it. It takes discipline and tenacity that many people don’t have- that’s why they chose to remain employees in the first place.
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Perfect reply That’s exactly what gives network marketing a bad name. Sheesh. If you find something you’re passionate about then go for it. But first ask, how many people can you personally find who have replaced their income at such n such a company? I’m grateful to say I have hundreds of dōTERRA advocates who have, and who go about it with integrity. Thanks for all the research, it was fun to read. I’d recommend looking at retention as well sometime.


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I don’t know much about World Ventures, Greg. I do have some very respected friends in the business who build that business and I do trust them. In ANY network marketing business, it more often comes down to what the independent business owner is putting IN to their business. Are they following the plan religiously? There is no company out there that can legitimately promise a get-rich-quick plan. You have to assume MLM is a 4+ year build – and only then when you’re going full-out. Most people don’t have the stamina for that – but if they do or can learn it, people can make a lot of money in many different companies.
Much has been made of the personal, or internal, consumption issue in recent years. In fact, the amount of internal consumption in any multi-level compensation business does not determine whether or not the FTC will consider the plan a pyramid scheme. The critical question for the FTC is whether the revenues that primarily support the commissions paid to all participants are generated from purchases of goods and services that are not simply incidental to the purchase of the right to participate in a money-making venture.[46]
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states: "Steer clear of multilevel marketing plans that pay commissions for recruiting new distributors. They're actually illegal pyramid schemes. Why is pyramiding dangerous? Because plans that pay commissions for recruiting new distributors inevitably collapse when no new distributors can be recruited. And when a plan collapses, most people—except perhaps those at the very top of the pyramid—end up empty-handed."[45]

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I joined in the mid-90’s under a Dr that paid my way. We were somewhere in Paul Orberson’s dowline, below an AR kid making $80K+/month. I didn’t actually sign anyone as a rep, and just enjoyed doing the pitch to the crowd in the hotels, restaurants, and eventually auditoriums. I got paid by the Dr to tell the “long distance” story, and he went all the way to there top tier in under a year.
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There are many red flags that should warn you away from a business or financial opportunity, but the biggest is a lack of a product. Programs that push recruiting over the sales of a product or service might be a pyramid scheme. If a company isn’t focused on acquiring more customers to buy its products, but rather it's interested in "building a team" or membership of sales reps, consider it a red flag. The foundation of any good MLM business is about getting products and service to end consumers.
Now we’re getting into the real heavyweights. Tecademics is one of the most extensive digital marketing training programs out there, within and outside of MLM. Founder Chris Record started Tecademics after completely crushing it at Empower Network. Their training comes at a steep price tag, although it’s nothing compared to the price of a university degree.
The term “MLM company” isn’t exactly accurate because the company is not necessarily defined by the fact that it uses a multi-level marketing structure. Instead, a good MLM will be a product-centric company, meaning that it will be, for example, a cosmetics company that uses an MLM structure. Test the product of the company you are interested in; the product must be something that you would willingly advertise even if you weren't working for the company.
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MLM salespeople are, therefore, expected to sell products directly to end-user retail consumers by means of relationship referrals and word of mouth marketing, but most importantly they are incentivized to recruit others to join the company's distribution chain as fellow salespeople so that these can become down line distributors.[3][6][7] According to a report that studied the business models of 350 MLMs, published on the Federal Trade Commission's website, at least 99% of people who join MLM companies lose money.[8][9] Nonetheless, MLMs function because downline participants are encouraged to hold onto the belief that they can achieve large returns, while the statistical improbability of this is de-emphasised. MLMs have been made illegal or otherwise strictly regulated in some jurisdictions as a mere variation of the traditional pyramid scheme, including in mainland China.[10][11]
Also called pyramid selling or network marketing, multi-level marketing companies grow revenue by hiring and recruiting non-salaried employees referred to as distributors, influencers, consultants, salespeople, or promoters (among other names). In other words, employees generally receive compensation from performance through a pyramid-shaped compensation system.
Amway stresses that the main difference between a legitimate MLM business model and a pyramid scheme is that a legitimate MLM is focused on selling products, not recruiting more salespeople. In a legitimate MLM, it should be possible to make money by simply selling products directly to customers. With that main criterion in mind, here are some other ways to identify product-based pyramid schemes:
A company that cares more about recruitment than it does about selling products will not invest much in training resources for its distributors. Pyramid schemes are designated as such by their focus on leveraging your network to buy their products through recruitment, under the guise of “startup costs” and “startup packages.” Extensive training programs that focus on teaching you how to sell products instead of how to recruit more will be an important clue in your research.

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Walter J. Carl stated in a 2004 Western Journal of Communication article that "MLM organizations have been described by some as cults (Butterfield, 1985),[51] pyramid schemes (Fitzpatrick & Reynolds, 1997),[52] or organizations rife with misleading, deceptive, and unethical behavior (Carter, 1999),[53] such as the questionable use of evangelical discourse to promote the business (Höpfl & Maddrell, 1996),[54] and the exploitation of personal relationships for financial gain (Fitzpatrick & Reynolds, 1997)".[52][55] In China, volunteers working to rescue people from the schemes have been physically attacked.[56]
At the other end of the spectrum is buying leads. This is also not the best option since it can be very expensive and may result in leads that may not actually be interested in your products or business. These are not great leads, either. The best leads will always be the ones you generate yourself—people who have shown some sort of interest in what you have to offer.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a decision, In re Amway Corp., in 1979 in which it indicated that multi-level marketing was not illegal per se in the United States. However, Amway was found guilty of price fixing (by effectively requiring "independent" distributors to sell at the same fixed price) and making exaggerated income claims.[47][48] The FTC advises that multi-level marketing organizations with greater incentives for recruitment than product sales are to be viewed skeptically. The FTC also warns that the practice of getting commissions from recruiting new members is outlawed in most states as "pyramiding".[49]
Here is how they mostly work: You sign up and pay the buy-in fee to receive your startup kit, and then you start clogging everyone’s social media feeds about your new venture and beg your friends and family to join you on your “journey to financial success”. You host a bunch of fake parties and wine tastings or worse, you meet up one-on-one to catch up and the whole thing turns out to be nothing more than a demo and sales pitch where you guilt your friends into buying stuff they don’t want or need. After you subject them to that, you then try to recruit them to join your team of consultants, or whatever term your particular MLM uses.
I’d like to point out a few things: statistically something like 96% of businesses fail within the first 5-10 years, which is a much more impactful loss, both financially and time wise, than the few hundred dollars one puts into whatever product they’re using in MLM. So realistically the success rate as a “self employed business owner” with MLM is probably a bit better than it is with launching a traditional business, or at least consistent with it. It takes discipline and tenacity that many people don’t have- that’s why they chose to remain employees in the first place.
Much has been made of the personal, or internal, consumption issue in recent years. In fact, the amount of internal consumption in any multi-level compensation business does not determine whether or not the FTC will consider the plan a pyramid scheme. The critical question for the FTC is whether the revenues that primarily support the commissions paid to all participants are generated from purchases of goods and services that are not simply incidental to the purchase of the right to participate in a money-making venture.[46]
First of all, Avon “has” been. Second, Avon really needs to work on their appeal to a younger generation. Third, Avon makes it difficult for representatives to make any money unless you are purchasing a ton of catalogs and knocking on doors. The company really needs to allow representatives to advertise online, and I don’t mean spamming friends on a Facebook or Twitter feed.

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Kathleen, you are right about the “direct sales” thing. They use it because MLM has the well-deserved bad connotation with pyramid schemes. I try to explain to people that true direct selling would be something like Ebay… there’s no inherent multi-level commissions implied by the term “direct sales.” It almost reminds of calling an illegal dog fight a “recreational gaming event.” It may be true, but is far from an accurate description.
The real selling point for MLMs is that distributors can make money in two different ways. The first is money made from commissions from direct selling to consumers. And the second way to make money with an MLM is from the commissions made from sales of distributors below you in the pyramid (these are sometimes referred to as recruits or downline distributors).
I’ve been invited by two people to join MLM businesses. I tried to explain to the first one that she was involved in a legal pyramid scheme, but once you’re sucked in, it’s like you’re brainwashed. When the second person came along, I didn’t even bother trying to talk him out of it. I wrote a post about MLMs back in June and came to the same conclusions that you did.
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.
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