Note: This post contains affiliate links because a girl’s gotta eat.
If you’re a person on the internet, chances are you’ve been contacted by someone claiming to have a “Really! Great! Business! Opportunity!” that’ll allow you to make money online while working from home with minimal effort. Maybe you are one of these people. One glance at this person’s profile and you’ll see they’re a “CEO” or “Boss Babe” or “Momtrepreneur” of one of many multi-level marketing companies:
I get it. I share many goals with the people who sell for these companies – avoid the 9-5 grind, make extra money, and have the flexibility to work whenever, wherever, and however I want while doing something I actually enjoy. I’m sure these sellers featured on Buzzfeed had the same goals when they signed up for LuLaRoe, but they’ve all filed for bankruptcy since then so it’s probably best to not focus so much on the former. That’s because working for a direct sales company is a recipe for disaster.
The problem here isn’t necessarily the business model of these brands, although when you’re hovering that close to the line of what constitutes a “pyramid scheme” you might want to take a step back and reconsider a few details. Nevermind the fact that 99% of sellers will never turn a profit and… you know what? Yes, actually, it is the business model of these brands. It’s terrible and you should avoid it at all costs.
The OTHER problem, the one that has become so systemic, is that these companies are convincing women to become salespeople through misleading platitudes about financial freedom and entrepreneurship despite the fact that 99% of sellers are unsuccessful. Once in, sellers are coached on exactly how to promote not just the product, but the lifestyle that comes with being a seller of such a prestigious brand. This lifestyle is the force behind the social circle jerk of smug memes against people with full-time jobs and awkward Facebook messages from friends you haven’t seen since college, and it’s what’s convinced so many women to justify spending the $4-9,000 startup cost for a LuLaRoe business. Once they’ve beaten a few money-hungry friends into submission, the downline profits have begun. Then THOSE seller’s friends sign up and their downline continues to grow, and so on and so forth until the bubble bursts and all that’s left is a pile of leggings suffocating a group of stressed-out women who have no idea how they’re going to pay off this credit card debt. Just ask these women involved in a $1 billion class-action lawsuit against LuLaRoe.
This is not how entrepreneurship works, this is not how CEOs are born, and this is not how financial freedom is sustainably achieved. All any MLM distributor has to do to see this is look upline at all the people profiting off of every sale. The only CEO of LuLaRoe is Mark Stidham, the dude who motivates sellers by saying things like “No, you’re stale. Your customers are stale. Get out and find new customers. If you bring a new customer in, then your inventory isn’t stale. The problem is, you try to sell to the same group of people day after day after day.” He sounds nice and like a man who’s well-versed in emotional manipulation.
If you’re reading this wondering if I actually have a solution to this problem rather than just complaining about companies I find to be unethical, I do!
If you’ve ever signed up for a direct sales company, it’s probably because you want to A) make more money, B) make it from home or on your own terms, and C) eventually turn it into a full-time income. Fortunately for you, the internet has made it easier than ever to make money doing almost anything you want to do without begging people to buy lip gloss.
Here are my best alternatives to selling for a multi-level marketing company.
Start your own business for real.
Don’t build on rented land. Right here is the difference between working for yourself and working for an MLM – selling somebody else’s product or service versus selling a product or service you made yourself. Oh and the part where you actually control everything including the profit you make and when you work.
“But what the fuck am I going to make or do?” you ask. Great question. If you don’t even know where you’d start and already want to skip to #2 on this list, go listen to an episode or two of Side Hustle School to hear the creative ways people have turned ideas into money, like the office employee who started a coffee subscription box or former liquor store employee who makes $70,000 a year teaching wine classes.
The internet has made it easier than ever to start a side gig or small business, and many ideas can come to fruition just by opening an Etsy shop or by starting a website. Whatever it is, you’ll feel better about sharing this with your friends and family than a product you’ve been coached on exactly how to sell. All you need to start a business is to be better at something than someone else. The internet is full of tools that make it easier than ever to sell anything you can create. Which brings me to…
Take an online course.
Becoming a seller for an MLM usually requires an initial inventory investment. This can be as low as $100 for a company like Mary Kay, or in the thousands such is the case for LuLaRoe. Rather than spend all this money on a bunch of stuff that will end up on the top shelf of your linen closet, invest in yourself by learning a skill or trade you’ve always wanted to learn. Skillshare costs $15 a month and offers classes in design, business, photography, writing, culinary, and more. Craftsy is free to use and filled with craft-related courses in skills like knitting, crocheting, cake decorating, sewing, and quilting. It’s never a waste of money to learn a marketable skill.
Have technical skills? Join Upwork.com.
I can already hear the pitchforks sharpening as fellow writers come after me for merely mentioning Upwork in a positive light. It’s become synonymous with writing jobs offering $2 for 1,000 words about bathtubs, which someone out there is unfortunately willing to write. But once you get a feel for the site and how to search for jobs, you’ll see there are plenty of credible small businesses looking to pay fair rates for honest work by writers, designers, web developers, virtual assistants, and more. Danny at Freelance to Win has some great resources to help you get started and succeed on Upwork.
Sell your old clothing on Poshmark.
If you’re a recovering MLM salesperson with a heap of leftover inventory, use it to start a Poshmark shop (as long as the items are compliant for the site). If you haven’t heard of it, Poshmark is a shopping app for women’s, men’s, and kid’s gently used clothing. Think of it like a thrift shop, but organized and on your phone. It’s super easy to use the app and list an item of clothing for sale right from your phone. I use it to clean out my closet a couple times a year and to sell off cool clothes I buy at the thrift store even though I know I’ll never wear them. Use the code GINGERFOXSHOP and we’ll both get $5 when you sign up. For helpful resources on becoming a Poshmark seller, check out The Gray Asparagus blog.
Start a blog.
Just kidding, that’s insane.
Do not start a blog thinking you’re going to make a bunch of money, no matter what today’s bloggers and their mythical income reports tell you. If you already have a product or service you’re selling, go ahead and start a blog as part of your business strategy. But whatever you do, don’t start a blog thinking you can cover it in affiliate links and rake in the cash by telling people how to make money with a blog. Blogs are a great way to build trust with potential customers and build your personal brand, but when it comes to making money it’s more like a nutritional supplement rather than the main course.
When SHOULD you join a direct sales company?
There is only one instance where I’d say it’s probably worth joining a direct sales business to make money. It’s if you already have a hugely influential personal brand, like Kim Kardashian. The thing is, Kim doesn’t have to sell leggings for LuLaRoe because she’s already a hugely successful businesswoman who got started by organizing people’s closets (ok yeah some other stuff too, but I like that she made a business off her talent for closet organizing and other people’s dread for it). Sometimes all it takes is some entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to do something people would rather throw money at than do themselves.
If you want to take some course of action but still don’t have a clue where to start, send me an email and let’s chat about your skills and goals. (I’m not selling anything, I just enjoy talking about these things and I’m not charging for it yet).