How to Cope (When Your Friend Joins an MLM) 1/2

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What we used to call pyramid schemes have been rebranded as “multilevel marketing” or MLMs. The levels are still pyramid shaped, and the profits go to the earliest adopters, not the hardest workers. Each seller makes a pittance for the items they sell, but has the potential to make more by recruiting friends to work under them. MLMs rely on the existing relationships of their sellers, to both buy and sell their products. At the end of the day, they are scams.

MLMs target people who for whatever reason aren’t succeeding in the traditional workforce. That means caretakers, stay-at-home parents, and disabled people are more likely to get sucked in than people who are able, childfree, and gainfully employed. People join these scams because they need to make money part time, because they really believe in the product or company, or most often because a friend asked them to.

MLM products vary a lot. There are nail wraps and kitchen appliances, cosmetics and household cleaners, nutritional supplements and weight loss miracles. For virtually all of them, equivalent products already exist and are easier and cheaper to purchase in stores. Despite company promises, these products don’t “sell themselves” and success at an MLM takes hustle and dedication.

As part of that hustle, your friend will ask you to buy their products. Knowing this in advance helps you make a plan. Are you unwilling or unable to buy anything? Are you interested in free samples to see what you think? Are you okay with making a small purchase when they’re starting out but not interested in a standing order? There is no ethical consumption under capitalism but we all have our personal lines we don’t want to cross. Some people are opposed to purchasing MLM products even from loved ones, because they don’t want to support the company.

Once you know your boundaries, you can work on kind ways to express them. Remember that these are your friends, people you care about, and they’ve turned to this solution most likely because they’re financially struggling. If you won’t buy a product, find another (perhaps monetary) way to let them know you care. Babysit their kids for free while they work. Bring extra takeout when you visit and leave the leftovers. Buy something nice for their home. Find them a non-scam job. Ease their burden in a way that fits with your morals.

(Continue to part 2)

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