There we were, three moms perched on the edge of the pool, watching our children cannonball off the side.
“Hey, Di, how would you like to make $200?” my friend asked. “Maybe even today.”
As soon as I said, “That would be amazing,” she and her friend, her “up-line,” rushed to tell me how.
Later that day, I discussed the “business opportunity” with Tony Bear. “If you want to give it a try, Sunshine, go for it.”
That’s how, back in the 90s when our kids were wee, I signed up with Excel—a multi-level marketing (MLM) company that provided phone service, and later, Internet. In those days, you could “buy your own business” for $199.
“Everyone has a phone,” my friend said. “Everyone needs a service provider. Why shouldn’t it be you?” Why not, indeed?
“And not only that,” my friend said:
MLM allure #1: “Paul so-and-so used to be dead broke and now he makes a million dollars. A month.”
Really? The shine in my eyes was not stars. It was dollar signs. I could be that guy. Maybe.
Honestly, I didn’t need thousands. I’d be happy with some “pin money.”
That’s what my mom called the cash stash in her dresser drawer. Usually, when you marry, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” becomes the rule. But secretly, I wanted some “my money” in addition to “our money.”
With my own “pin money,” if I went a little nuts with retail therapy at Chez Target or Gabriel Brothers, I didn’t have to feel guilty.
MLM allure #2: The weekly sales meeting
The weekly sales meetings got me out of the house. Praise God! On Tuesday evenings, I slipped out of my stay-at-home-mom uniform, sweats jeans and a t-shirt, and into a business casual outfit. Add perfume and lipstick and Voila! I felt like a real person.
Because I’m comfortable speaking in front of people, I sometimes got to present the “business opportunity” in the hotel conference room where we met. Later, when I worked my way up to “Area Coordinator,” I also conducted trainings. Both activities made me feel competent and important.
There were times when our group was so motivated after a meeting, we relocated to a nearby bar to sip wine and discuss the finer points of “prospecting.” Where was the best place to leave your business cards—on sinks in public restrooms or taped to the console of the drive-thru bank?
We were encouraged to carry two kinds of business cards. One set with our contact information and one set that read: Ask me how to earn $199 today! Both could be purchased through Excel.
MLM allure #3: Work as little or as much as you want!
This claim is hugely attractive to young mothers. The possibility of earning a lucrative income working part-time from home sounds too good to be true. And in many instances it is.
The truth is, if you want to be Paul from Kentucky, working a few hours a week while your kids nap is not going to cut it.
MLM allure #4: Write off your vacations.
When I was selling Excel, weekend trainings often doubled as family getaways. Our family of five would drive to the nearest city that was hosting an Excel event, and while I attended meetings, Tony Bear and the kids would visit the zoo or play in the indoor pool at the hotel.
Since these trips were for my “business,” we could write off the hotel bills and restaurant meals. Thankfully, I did make a little money with Excel—maybe $10,000 a year, two years in a row. But after I deducted my expenses, there wasn’t much left.
MLM allure #5:
Fix Help your friends.
My favorite people to sign up as sales representatives were people who needed money, often broke single moms. I made sure to tell them about Paul from Kentucky. “Maybe if we attend the annual convention in Dallas, we can meet him. Squee!”
Since these individuals typically had no money to spare, sometimes I’d loan them the $199 to get started. I also babysat their kids when they went out to share the “business opportunity” with their contacts.
“What is it with you stay-at-home moms joining MLMs? You have everything I want—a husband, a family, a beautiful home—but it’s not enough!”
A single friend asked me that one day on the phone. It was one of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked.
Was it bad to want to be a stay-at-home-mom and have my own successful business? If I had both then guess what? I’d have it all.
I really wanted to have it all.
And my impoverished friends who signed up even though they were drowning in their circumstance? Why did they sign up? Hope. To them, the Excel “business opportunity” looked a whole lot like a life preserver.
A wise man once said, “People don’t buy products and services. People buy transformation.”
I think that’s the crux of the matter. People sign up for MLMs for what they could be. Maybe they think, “I’m not enough” or, “I don’t have enough.” And they believe, or they are led to believe, with this opportunity, that could all change. Maybe even today!
I walked away from the MLM life after I hornswaggled my best friend from childhood into attending a meeting.
As I’d been trained, I was vague about what would happen at the meeting. “We can go out for drinks afterwards. Won’t it be great to see each other after 15 years?” That’s what I gushed when she questioned the event.
In the ballroom of the hotel, as she sat beside me, I could feel the what-the-heck-is-this-about vibes coming off of her. She was prosperous, happy. Married with no kids, on purpose. She didn’t need hope or “pin money.” She wasn’t drowning.
We didn’t go out for drinks afterwards. In fact, after that night, we never spoke again.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I told Tony Bear when I got home. “I get indigestion every time I ask someone to listen to the ‘business opportunity.’ I’ve pretty much run out of people to invite to the meetings. And I really don’t want to comb through my old yearbooks like my sponsor’s sponsor suggested.”
Tony hugged me. “It’s okay, Sunshine. You gave it a good run.”
All to say, dear, sweet, young mothers, I understand why so many of you sign up for MLM companies. I’m not saying do it or don’t do it. I’m simply saying,