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Noticing an Uptick in MLM Promotions? How To Support Friends Without Breaking The Bank

Christine Burke  |  May 18, 2020

If your friends in the MLM world have ramped up sales on social media, you're not alone. Here's how to handle their offers while keeping bonds strong.

I attended my first event centered around a multi-level marketing (MLM) product about fifteen years ago. A friend who was a stay-at-home mom had recently joined an MLM company centered around children’s board books. She was eager to make a good impression at her new gig, and she begged me to join her and a few friends as she practiced her sales pitch.

Dutifully, I hired a sitter and grudgingly put on pants that zipped to head over to her party. And, though I had a nice time visiting with other moms, and I gladly accepted the free flowing glasses of wine, I also left with about $100 in board books that left me feeling guilty about the dent to our tight budget. But, hey, I was helping a friend, right? And my toddlers needed to learn to read, so I chalked it up to a nice evening where I shopped from home while drinking wine (we do that with Amazon anyway, so what’s the big deal, right?).

But, over time, I noticed my friend kept coming back to ask if I wanted to purchase more books (I didn’t) or if I wanted to host a party so that my friends could buy her educational products (no thanks). Every time I politely said no, she was pouty and standoffish. At one point she even told me that as a parent of small children, I owed it to her to help get the word out about her burgeoning business. Our friendship was never really the same after her MLM endeavor, and I’ve always felt I could have handled that situation better (even though my wallet could never have sustained buying additional expensive board books that my kids slobbered all over).

According to the Direct Selling Association, which describes itself as “the national trade association for companies that market products and services directly to consumers through an independent, entrepreneurial sales force,” 18.6 million Americans are involved in direct sales, and a staggering 74 percent are women. So, it stands to reason that you probably know a friend or an acquaintance who is selling an MLM product, either full-time or as a side hustle.

And, we’ve all heard the opinions of the haters when it comes to MLMs: the questionable sales practices, the constant barrage of friends and family on social media, the market saturation, and the viability stats of an MLM company staying a float beyond five years… But regardless of where you stand on the companies themselves, the fact is that finances are tight these days, and we’re all feeling the squeeze. Those in the MLM industry may have ramped up their efforts sell, and your social media news feeds may be filled with catchy sales pitches for everything from bread mixes to adult toys.

Yes, we love our friends and  we want them to succeed, but most of us just don’t have the expendable income to drop on a friend’s MLM business right now. This week I turned to the HerMoney Facebook group to ask for their favorite strategies for supporting our friends in direct sales, while also making it clear that our budgets aren’t as loose as they used to be. Here’s what the members said:

It’s okay to say no, but it’s not okay to be mean.

Be kind, but firm, when saying no. A simple, “No, thanks, I’m not interested in that product” or “No, my budget doesn’t allow for extras right now” should suffice. There’s no need to lecture your friend on her sales pitch or to give her an earful about your thoughts on MLM companies. Our group members overwhelmingly said to lead with respect, always.

Money might be tight, but there are plenty of other ways to support a friend’s business

Carrera H says, “At the beginning of the shutdown, a realtor friend actually tried to recruit people MLM style, ‘f you’ve been laid off, you should join my team, work for yourself, it’s great!’ It was in such poor taste that I actually contacted him and helped him rewrite the post. His intentions were pure, his delivery poor, but I only knew that because I know him personally.”

Jen H, an MLM retailer, states, “If you’d like to support your friends but cannot or don’t want to buy (now or ever), consider sharing their business page, a post, or whatever the case may be. Or refer their info when you see that someone is looking for what they sell/offer. Please don’t assume that no one is interested, because it simply isn’t the case. You may not realize that someone in your friend network has been looking for xyz product/service/solution… that referral could be a game-changer in attitude/life-line/hope during this very uncertain time. It’s free, takes only a minute, but will be so meaningful to your friend.”

If you love a product, why not buy it from a friend? 

Several group members pointed out that they love that their hard earned money goes towards a friend’s business rather than a big corporation. Chrystal S says, “I have a big running list of products I use. If I can buy and a friend can get a kickback compared to a mega corporation, please go ahead and take my money!” and Amy C wholeheartedly agrees. “This hate on MLMs is awful. Some do it to make a few extra bucks. Some do it because they love a product. Who cares! Why would you rather give your money to Target instead of a friend?”

Recognize that your opinion is sometimes best kept to yourself. 

Jacquelyn Gibbons says, You can flip it to the positive — they like the products, and they are sharing them with you. I don’t worry about their business model and their money situations; it’s none of my business. But if I would like to try the product I’ll buy it. If people are pushing the biz and it’s uncomfortable, they aren’t marketing it properly.” How your friend chooses to earn a living has no bearing on your lifestyle , and even if you just say a sincere thank you that she’s thought of you with her product, that’s a show of support that goes a long way.

Support a friend’s business page. 

“Social media and work-related posts should mostly be where work and personal life intersects, not 24/7 selling/recruiting posts. It’s where so many people fall down, and likely why people are feeling irritated with what’s in their newsfeed,” advises Jen H. Other group members pointed out that it’s important to recognize that your friend may just be getting started with their business and might not have a strong marketing background. And whenever you feel bombarded with offers, remember that your friend is just being enthusiastic about her business. 

The bottom line: MLM companies aren’t going anywhere, and many of them sell products that keep customers coming back. In these tight financial times, it can be easy to snap at a friend if you’re stressed about money, but leading with kindness is worth its weight in gold. If all else fails, just keep scrolling past the sales pitches and keep your comments to yourself. Your friendships will be the better for it 🙂 

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