chat bubbles

“Hey girl! You are SO gorgeous and talented, I love your feed! I think you would be the perfect addition to my team and could benefit so much from this company! DM me back and let’s chat…” So begins the latest Instagram direct message (DM) from a girl I’ve never met before.

"Another day, another pyramid scheme," I think to myself and ignore the message. Does she really think I’m so gullible?

Actually, that girl would probably tell me that her business is not a pyramid scheme, it is a multi-level marketing company, and that the products she sells are real and actually work. And she would most likely be right.

Avon, Arbonne, Mary Kay, Monat — all of these companies fall under the umbrella of “multi-level marketing companies,” which are not, legally, pyramid schemes. They actually are selling real products that probably work to some extent.

However, that does not mean there is not anything suspicious about these businesses. Besides the obvious flimsiness of a promise that all I need to do is invest $150 into this business to “totally change my life,” the fact remains that multi-level marketing companies (MLMs) make the majority of their money not by selling products, but by recruiting more women into their ranks.

According to this 2018 US News article, 80% of MLM distributors made less than $1,200 per year, and most people actually end up losing money in these business models.

It should be obvious, if someone is approaching you of their own volition and attempting to persuade you to spend a large amount of money in order to join their company — their company is probably an MLM, and it is not going to benefit you any more than a pyramid scheme.

But these companies and businesses are posed as opportunities for self-improvement and couched in phrases like “girl boss;” “take the opportunity you were always afraid of;” “join our TEAM of empowered women.” They make it seem like not joining makes YOU the bad guy, or just stupid.

And some representatives are incredibly passionate about their business. I, for one, was almost tempted to invest in Arbonne. I follow a few girls on Instagram — Iowa State students — who sell Arbonne products. They really sell the health supplements as life-changing and provide proof that they regularly get paid. It wasn’t until I did some of my own investigating into the science behind the “health benefits” of Arbonne that I snapped out of it. I do not need to pay $18 for detox tea, I think my body can probably detox itself just fine.

But that’s besides the point. The girls who work for MLMs and sell products online can be incredibly persuasive and motivated, and I could see how it’s easy to get sucked into their business. My advice is: don’t. Maybe a few lucky winners make it high enough into the ranks of an MLM to make thousands, but the majority just end up losing both time and money.

I used to laugh each time I got a new message from a stranger persuading me to buy into her business, but now I mostly feel bad for them. Everyone has the right to make money how they want, and I respect the hustle, but statistically, that girl sliding into my DMs is either losing money or making less than minimum wage.  At this point, the novelty of being insincerely complimented by strangers has worn off, and I am left wondering if these girls truly believe in their business or if they see the more sinister mechanism behind the machine and just choose to ignore it.

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