While there may be several paths in leaving multilevel marketing, I want to share some of the main reasons I left MLM and what helped lead me into antiMLM activism.
Jumping into AntiMLM advocacy was challenging for me after spending a couple years “working my business”, (i.e. wasting time & energy), but ethically, it needed to be done.
As a preface, I had never heard of the MLM model before my experience in one. I heard of some MLM companies, but I had no idea what the MLM model was or why it was so controversial and problematic.
Let’s go back to 2015. I had just passed the RD board exam in August and I was starting my career working as a clinical dietitian. We had recently moved to the middle of Kansas, and there weren’t many dietitian opportunities, but I was able to land a job at a pretty big hospital about 1 hr away. With the commute, work, and the gym right after, I wasn’t getting home until pretty late. I was also a new military spouse and craving a community.
At this time, I had internalized the thought process, encouraged by my director at Uni, of “saying yes”, and figuring out the rest later when it came to opportunities related to nutrition and career opportunities.
By November, I received an email from a woman I connected with via LinkedIn.
The email reads: “Hey Kathleen, Thank you for our connection via Linked in and Happy Friday! I’m trying something new….I have been with a wellness company for 13 years now that is all about whole foods nutrition education… I am outreaching to wellness-oriented professionals who might be open to learning about novel ways to help their patients/clients/family/friends and desire to earn another source of income FLEXTIME without interfering with their current employment. With 30+ clinical studies on humans, I think you will be impressed for your own health too! So far I am having great reception, so I am still at it and I thought I would open this up to you! Anyway, it’s very simple. If you are open to a quick presentation by phone, email me back to set up a 15 minute time slot. You will need internet access. Might be for you, might not be for you…either way you gain some knowledge and a new connection and on the flipside, you only lose 15, 20 max minutes of your time. Fair enough? Hope to hear back!“
At the same time, one of my undergrad classmates/friend reached out to me about this “opportunity”, and when both of them realized they were reaching out to me, the woman (who ended up being her upline), let my classmate/friend reach out to me instead.
I took about two months for me to join, and in those two months, I was getting invited to several presentations, some of which included the wider team. My gut was telling me not to do it, but at the same time I was meeting people who had years more of medical/health education than myself. While my gut said no to joining, I was also thinking, “who am I to question these health professionals?”. Remember, I had just become an RD a couple months prior. The larger team and the company overall included many medical doctors, dietitians, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, etc.
I went into my clinical job knowing 100% that I was there to gain more experience and save money for my private practice; I told this to my top upline and was encouraged to start in the MLM company so that I would be able to “build my business” on the side and use that to help support my private practice dreams.
I started off really strong in the company, and within the first 6 months, got halfway up the structure. I only had a small handful of team members, and most were other nutrition friends.
The majority of my income came from customers, but I did have a small team of 2-3 friends “working” pretty consistently.
After those 6 months, I started seeing less momentum, but I was told to just continue to show up and “do the work” (i.e. invite people).
My concerns started becoming more present when having meetings with my top upline, who would encourage giving presentations leading with the business, not the product.
This was the first big thing on my path that led me to stop being active.
I didn’t start my career to help people in business, it was to help people with nutrition. I really just wanted to focus on the product side of things, but I kept being fed that the larger my team was, the more people I was “helping”. I realized that the only way I was going to make it to the top was by growing a team. There was no way to reach that goal by just selling product.
In school, when you’re thinking about a specific career, most professors and advisors recommend that you shadow and see what people do in that position on a day-to-day basis to be sure that’s what you want.
This was the second big thing on my path that led me to stop being active.
I saw my top upline having to do “coaching calls” to refocus and inspire people to work their business. I saw her meeting with people and giving 15 minutes presentations over and over again. I saw her still going through all the “no’s”, while being at the top position.
Nothing of that was anything I wanted to do. I couldn’t imagine doing that, for someone else’s company, for years on end.
As I was thinking about my story, I was curious why it took me so long to leave, and why I felt bad about it.
There were a couple tactics that kept me in.
One was this photo holder:
I wish I kept the note that went along with it. It was a gift from my top upline, and the note said something along the lines of that when she was working her way up the top, she kept a picture frame on her desk. The whole idea behind it was that if she ever quit the business, she would place a picture of the person who made her quit, and she’d have to look at their picture everyday as “the person who made her quit her dreams.”
At the time, I thought it was an interesting idea, but it put the idea in my head that if I “quit”, it would be because I wasn’t following my own goals and let someone control me. It didn’t occur to me that it could also mean that my goals just changed after learning more information.
Another thing that kept me in was that there is a narrative that “the more people you help and get on your team, the more people you get healthy.” They’d say that your paycheck was a direct representation of how many people you helped. This made me feel bad for “not helping more people”, when I originally got into nutrition professionally to help people.
My feelings really started to solidify when my top upline had us do an exercise where we had to write down/fill in the blanks of: I deserve to feel ____, to be ____, and to do ____ in late 2018.
Some of these are a little cringe (I know), but in effort to stay transparent, I wrote:
I deserve to feel: Safe, comfortable, happy, content, loved, enjoyed, confident, excited, joyful
To Be: Successful, debt free, in love with my husband, in love with my job/career, strong, in love with my life.
To: Travel when and where I want, train in CrossFit the the level I want, have fun, have free time to fill my own cup, have free time to serve others, have an amazing support network/community, and not feel guilty for following my goals, dreams, and passions and have an awesome life.
When I looked at what actions would best help me to live that life, I realized that MLM was not going to help. In fact, it was antithetical to my goals.
It wasn’t making me feel like I had more free time, be in love with my career, have fun, or any of the other things on my list. It was killing my creative juices as well.
I also realized that when I was putting time and effort into “the business”, I was helping several other people’s business – like 5 levels up.
Soon after, I wrote the following list around that time as a type of pros/cons list when I was deciding what to do.
My old Pros:
I enjoyed some of the products.
I liked seeing friends at events.
Cons (note, there are so many more cons to add, but this is a real look at where my thoughts were as I was shifting to antiMLM):
Network Marketing is not your own business. You didn’t start it.
It’s working for a huge company, no matter how “great” you think they are.
You’re not a CEO – you’re a contractor with no say or control in products, price, marketing, business plan, qualification standards – you don’t create anything.
If you were the CEO, you wouldn’t have to move up levels.
You don’t sell your own product – you sell theirs.
You work FOR them.
You distribute for them and help make money for the people at the top.
If you really want to move up to significant income, you have to put lots of time and energy in – not just work in the stolen moments.
I don’t want to prospect everyone I see.
In my experience, it’s draining to prospect in the stolen moment and adds time away from family and from my other businesses. That time is important for me to clear my head and relax, not to be filled with sharing the opportunity.
I don’t want to still be recruiting for business when I reach the top. That sounds draining and not fun.
I don’t want to keep encouraging my team to meet their monthly sales goals (qualification). That’s too much management for my liking.
I don’t want to deal with the chance of losing down line. My own business is less risky than that.
I don’t want to sell someone else’s product, abide by someone else’s business rules, and put money into the pockets of millionaires and corporate.
I don’t want a giant corporate entity AND millionaires making a percentage off my hard work, on every sale.
The third big thing on my path that led me to stop being active was one day when my top upline was all excited and talking about how she made it into the “million dollar club”. She had earned 1 million dollars in her time in the company. I was kind of impressed until I realized it was cumulative throughout her entire time in the company. Not very impressive when you divide that by 15 years. I thought it was manipulative to be sharing that information as a selling point to sell the dream to people.
The forth thing that led me to stop being active came from watching people like Monica Hayworth on YouTube talk about the MLM structure and income disclosure statements. I had never heard of income disclosure statements and my mind was blow when I heard about them.
I was in the green and I figured everyone else’s experience was like this, but I was wrong.
As I started to learn more about the MLM structure and income disclosure statements, I realized that I was very lucky and I saw my privileged experience and how that played a role in my “success”.
I knew I felt sketchy about MLM at this time, but when I took a step back, and saw other people’s experience, that was the last straw.
It wasn’t enough for me to feel negative about my overall experience. It was seeing other people get hurt that ultimately made me antiMLM.
99.6% of people in MLMs either make little/no money or lose money. Money is mostly made, not from outside sales, but from within the company from bottom rank distributors. The model is based off recruiting people in vulnerable situations. ALL MLMs do this, regardless of product.
MLMs sell a dream. Cult deprogrammers have compared the psychological effects of leaving a cult to that of leaving an MLM company.
My negative experience was mostly around my own loss in personal and professional confidence and feeling like I wasted so much time and energy. The loss of self-trust after falling into something like that was rough and has impacted my private practice, and is something I’m still working through, but I realize it could have been much worse. Other people have gone into debt and lost friends, Thankfully I didn’t get into debt with MLM and I’m still on good terms with my former direct upline.
After becoming educated on MLMs, I realized how important it is to speak out against this model and how important it is to hold the companies accountable for the damages they cause – including disordered eating habits I’ve seen in many former MLM-involved clients.
My ultimate goal is to reduce the number of people who accidentally fall into MLM – particularly the nutrition-related ones – as well as help those who got sucked in and suffer from harmful nutrition programs and products.
I plan on using this blog article to kick off reviews of MLM products (similar to what I do on YouTube) and help keep people away from MLM and harmful/scammy dieting practices and products.
Note: this article is the very tip of the iceberg and raises surface-level issues with MLM. For more on why MLM is harmful, check out the following resources:
Ponzinomics, the Untold Story of Multi-Level Marketing by Robert Fitzpatrick
The Persuasion Pitch: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-persuasion-pitch/id1546523817
John Oliver MLM episode: https://youtu.be/s6MwGeOm8iI
YouTube channels: (In alphabetical order)
Deanna Mims: youtube.com/c/DeannaMims6
Fox and Compass: https://www.youtube.com/c/FoxandCompass
Margaret Angel: https://www.youtube.com/c/MargaretAngel
Monica Hayworth: https://www.youtube.com/c/Jerseygirltexanheart
Not The Good Girl: https://www.youtube.com/c/JosieNaikoi
Savannah Marie: https://www.youtube.com/tasav
Savy Writes Books: https://www.youtube.com/c/JosieNaikoi
The Recovering HunBot: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheRecoveringHunbot