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Multi-level marketing is a strategy some direct-sales companies use to encourage their existing distributors to recruit new distributors by paying the existing distributors a percentage of their recruits' sales. The recruits are the distributor's "downline." All distributors also make money through direct sales of products to customers. Amway is an example of a well-known direct-sales company that uses multi-level marketing.

Technically speaking, pyramiding is an illegal practice of a company that solicits their members to recruit more members, more than selling the product. In turn, the primary source of income for its members is the number of members they have recruited instead of the products they have sold over time. Clearly, not all MLMs are pyramid schemes, but it all seems like a matter of degree.


As the owner, you are the face and voice of the product whether you like it or not. Expect to spend an inordinate of your time managing people, their emotions and expectations. The heavy reliance on residual income means that your income stream may dry up suddenly if a salesperson fails to meet his quota. This could easily happen, because in many cases that salesperson must not only be accountable for his sales, but of the sale people he recruits under him. These are people he may not know. Therefore, your earnings potential is limited by the selling ability of others not directly under your control. A MLM business may strain your personal relationships. Lower-tiered salespeople, particularly those within your circle of family and friends, may harbor ill feelings if they fail to advance within the organization.
In April 2006, the FTC proposed a Business Opportunity Rule intended to require all sellers of business opportunities—including MLMs—to provide enough information to enable prospective buyers/participants to make an informed decision about acquiring/joining a business venture with information disclosed about the average likelihood of monetary profitability (and the extent of monetary profitability, if any) of acquiring/joining the business venture. In March 2008, however, the FTC removed "Network Marketing" (i.e. MLM) companies from the proposed Business Opportunity Rule, thus leaving MLM participants without the ability to make an informed choice of entering or not entering MLMs based on the disclosed likelihood of success and profitability:

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] 

If 18,000,000 Americans consider MLM their careers, yet only 0.3% actually succeed beyond average corporate America wages, do people realize that means there are barely more than 50,000 Americans “living the MLM dream” and almost 17,950,000 who just help the 50,000? Sad. I was part of team Tupperware decades ago because I wanted to buy Tupperware for my home for less. It took me about 14 months as a stay at home mother (never recruited, never pressured, my distributor didn’t like my attitude) to accomplish that task and then walked away. I live in rural America where so many fall to MLMs attempting to climb out of paycheck to paycheck living (very few good jobs) like the saved into a baptismal pool. “Disciples” is the perfect word. MLMs are just not thriving here. How many Americans can one recruit/sell to for building a business in a rural county with less than 20,000 other Americans of which 75% live below the poverty line? I see MLM victims everywhere.


“Inventory loading” is a term that may be used to describe a participant’s wholesale product purchases that are made in an attempt to advance in the marketing program, rather than made to satisfy actual consumer demand in the marketplace for those products. Just as MLMs involve a variety of structures and products, payments that participants make to advance in the marketing program rather than to purchase product to satisfy actual consumer demand can take many forms, such as expenditures to purchase inventory.

I totally agree, Mary. You can lose soooo much more just by opening up a small storefront business. I was in the Spa Industry and then the economy tanked in late 2008. I did not renew my lease in 2009. Lost my several hundred thousand dollar build-out. Lost so much more than taking an MLM business seriously. Even if I would have front loaded on a ton of product, I still would have been better off. People spend $750 and get some business cards then do nothing and blame MLM.
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In a similar fashion, when you eliminate money from the network marketing industry, a new perspective emerges.  Personally speaking, I love talking with people who are in this industry because they are always reading, posting, and sharing something inspirational.  They have goals, a dream board, and are generally using the products that they are selling to improve the way they look and feel.
I just started selling for one of the top 15 and I went in knowing that this was just supplemental cash and nothing that would support my family. I spend 15 minutes (mostly from my phone) a day on my business and am happy with what I’ve done thus far. If it covers groceries and some extras like clothes or shoes, I’m good. If I start to become even more successful, great. It’s my competitive nature to want to out rank others, so I find it to be more of a personal challenge than thinking I’m going to get rich and stay rich. I appreciate the article and the no BS attitude.

I believe the ones that don’t make it in the industry (if they chose a good one) don’t give it enough time (like you said they quit before a year is up) and commitment to doing what it takes to grow. I don’t spam FB and only 2 family members order product but I have at least 100+ home school moms making >$2000/mth. Some team members make more, some less. It’s what they put into it (business wise not monetary)
Lead generation is important for your business to grow; as a business owner, you however need to know how effective these leads will be for your business. This can be measured in terms of returns on investment and how fast it will be.  The MLM Company should be able to give you an estimate on when they can generate these leads and instigate them for action, and when you should be able to see results.
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).

Product that is purchased and consumed by participants to satisfy their own genuine product demand – as distinct from all product purchased by participants that is not resold – is not in itself indicative of a problematic MLM compensation structure. For example, the final order entered in FTC v. Herbalife permits the payment of compensation based on personal consumption, subject to specific limitations and verification requirements. However, the FTC’s law enforcement experience has shown that MLM participants may buy product – and recruit or pressure other participants to buy product – for reasons other than their own or other consumers’ actual demand, such as to advance in the marketing program.
As many have mentioned, MLM is an acronym for the word “Multi-Level Marketing.” It is basically a marketing system where a certain product or an opportunity is passed on from person to person to get it viral resulting to lesser expenses on advertising on the part of the company or the owner. The beauty of MLM is that it creates a tremendous opportunity for everyone to make money.
QUALITY LEADS THAT ARE NEVER OVERSOLD: Responsive MLM Leads are essential for the growth of any network marketing/home based business. Many of our competitors resell leads innumerable times and render the leads unresponsive and worthless. Unlike our competitors, we pledge to sell our leads a maximum of 2 times to two different and absolutely unrelated businesses. In fact, our exclusive leads are sold just once!
Create a website. Be sure to check the policies of the company you're working with to see what they allow regarding websites. Many MLM companies offer you your own website or a page on their website, and others allow you to make your own. If you can, you should create your own website, because you should try to differentiate yourself from your competitors. If you're not allowed to make a website directly about your business, then make one covering a topic related to your business. For example, if you sell health and wellness products, then start a health and wellness website or blog. You can hire someone to design and build a site for you, or you can use a platform like Squarespace, Wix, Wordpress, or HubSpot to build your own.
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.

Before you can talk to a prospect and start generating interest, you need to know and understand your company, product line and compensation plan. Being educated will give you more confidence when you are talking to your leads because you will be able to answer questions, overcome objections and determine the potential fit with your prospect. Now, this does NOT mean you have to explain everything about your business. you simply need to know where to point them. Having a link to a video about your compensation plan will save you time and frustration of trying to explain it over the phone. You also want to use whatever resources and tools your company has to lessen the amount of talking you have to do on the phone.
Our goal is to provide you with the best possible tools to build your network marketing business. There are some critical areas in building your business that are very important and can never be overlooked. Having new prospects look at your business is by far the most important task you can ever accomplish in network marketing. The next key, is having the skill set and knowing what to say to prospects. We provide ongoing real-time prospects that are looking for ways to make an additional income by working from home and we also provide you with scripts and training calls where you can listen to us do live calls and speak to prospects.

Great article and thanks for taking the time to write this.. however I can see why your business didn’t fly as you had hoped. Mlm is a people’s business and that means that it IS the interaction with each other that strengthens working together. Yes you need to be self motivated but you also need to be a supporter too. Networking also eliminates the need to do constant appraisals. You don’t work you don’t get paid. That’s music to a corporate managers ears. Networking is not for everyone… but where else can you invest for such a small amount and have all the other aspects of business done for you and all you have to do is go get customers and recruit more customer finders and have no ceiling on being paid for that. As for the product you promote.. you choose something you like. My original passion as a woman was make up so I joined that type of business. Got so passionate I qualified as a beautician and onto other certificates then I discovered essential oils.. I needed supplies but minimum trade orders were over £3000 each time. Mlm on the other hand was order as my demands and finances could afford. So my interest in mlm grew. Now I would not go back to traditional office work. When I know when I apply myself I can exceed what ANY employer thinks I’m worth
You must believe in the benefits of the product or service you intend to sell if you want to have a successful MLM operation. This may require that you constantly purchase the product for your own use. Build your sales team with people who share your passion and enthusiasm. Hold regular sales meetings to monitor the productivity of salespeople to ensure that they meet the company's sales objectives. You may also have to participate in motivational seminars and travel frequently. So factor these into your schedule and budget. If you are not the best at public speaking, find a person within the organization who is a good motivator and public speaker to address the sales team. Create incentives such as performance bonuses and a higher payout for top sales people to keep your sale team motivated.
It’s also important to note that while I expect there to be significant growth in the ranks of many MLM companies, there will also be substantial growth in businesses that adopt this model and its many benefits.  In fact, it’s one reason I developed the Certified Professional Retirement Coach certification in conjunction with the Retirement Coaches Association.
Thanks for this list. Loved seeing Monat as #1! I am a Market Partner for this company and the money is crazy good because the products are awesome. I was disappointed to see Plexus at #28 and I wasn’t impressed by what you had to say about them. Plexus is NOT a weight loss company. Their products promote a healthy gut and they are clinically proven to decrease inflammation and balance blood sugar. Weight loss is a natural side effect of body balance. The products work and there are a lot of people I know personally making good money with Plexus.
Multi Level Marketing (MLM) is a business model or marketing strategy in which the distributors' income includes their own sales, and a percentage of the sales group they recruit, which is commonly known as their ‘downline’. Customers can also sign up as a distributor to sell the company’s product. Usually, the sign up fee will be the price paid to purchase the product.
You must believe in the benefits of the product or service you intend to sell if you want to have a successful MLM operation. This may require that you constantly purchase the product for your own use. Build your sales team with people who share your passion and enthusiasm. Hold regular sales meetings to monitor the productivity of salespeople to ensure that they meet the company's sales objectives. You may also have to participate in motivational seminars and travel frequently. So factor these into your schedule and budget. If you are not the best at public speaking, find a person within the organization who is a good motivator and public speaker to address the sales team. Create incentives such as performance bonuses and a higher payout for top sales people to keep your sale team motivated.
Hi Jeremy great article. Here’s my take for what it is worth,after working 50 years for the bank making not so much money,having to accommodate there time schedule ,negotiated vacations and seeing very few people advance to 6 figure incomes,I’m somewhat intrigued by the idea of using my retirement years looking at mlm as a part time endeavour . Obviously I put a lot of blood sweat and tears into my previous job,so I’m not expecting to make my millions in a couple years in mlm, but I like the (do it in your own time) idea. If I find a product I like and would use anyway why not? I also like the idea that the potential is there biased on your own efforts. Am I wrong What do you think?
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.

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So to make it possible, you structured a kind of “payplan” or ways how you are going to pay your neigbors and relatives based on the number of people they’ve brought in or the group sales they’ve made. And by applying some MLM principle, you were able to plot a system that traces all sales from person to person down the line. Therefore, giving credit and commission also to the first person who initiated the effort.
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Be careful when choosing a place to get your leads. Not all MLM Lead companies are created equal. It is going to be the single most important decision you make when trying to grow your MLM Business. Make the wrong choice and you will waste your time and money as well as the time and money of your downline. Make the right choice and you can be building your business successfully for years to come. http://www.abettermlmlead.com
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!
The prospect of working from home is becoming increasingly popular. According to The New York Times, a recent Gallup poll reports 43 percent of employees work remotely some of the time. Of those, the number working from home four to five days per week has jumped to 31 percent. Modern workers seem to be embracing the flexibility of working remotely, so it’s not surprising that multi-level marketing companies (MLMs) are “poised for explosive growth,” Forbes predicts.
In other words, they built their nest egg in a dead or dying tree.  They may not get along with their spouse any longer, don’t have a life or friends outside of work, have broken relationships with their children, or have let their health go in hopes of getting it back later.  They essentially sacrificed some of the things that are most important to them for the benefit of trying to buy them back in retirement.  As a result, when they get there, they can feel lost, out-of-sorts, and struggle with their transition.
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