Essential oils. Makeup. Leggings. Jewelry. Skincare. In the last year, I’ve had friends I haven’t spoken to in years sliding into my DM’s offering to hook me up with the latest and greatest products from their MLM (or multilevel marketing company.) These companies (sometimes referred to as “pyramid schemes,” which some are, and some are not) typically have a direct-to-consumer business model, meaning you purchase products straight from a consultant — the goods aren’t usually available in stores.
MLMs have grown increasingly popular as a side hustle for millions of people — 16,737,059 million, to be exact, according to the latest numbers from the Federal Trade Commission. So there’s a good chance you’ll have a least one or two MLM representatives in your group of friends who may have invited you to parties or gatherings, asked you to join a webinar, or simply sent you a link to buy their products. But what do you say when you don’t have money in your budget to make a purchase, or when it’s not something you want? If keeping the friendship intact (and keeping the peace on Facebook) is important to you, take our lead:
TELL THEM YOU HAVE A NO-FRIENDS RULE
If you don’t want to buy from your friends, you don’t have to. One way to set a firm boundary is to live by the rule that you don’t do business with friends — and let your friends know that up-front, as soon as they reach out. Everyone understands that money and friends don’t always mix well, and faulty products or overdue bills between comrades can quickly breed tension. When you set this precedent, it’s kind of like saying you’re allergic to carrots — it doesn’t matter how delicious the carrot cake looks, it’s just not something you’re going to partake in.
YOU CAN STILL CHEER THEM ON
Spending money isn’t the only way to show your support for your friends. MLMs are all about making connections with prospective customers, so look to build up your friend via your network. For example, you can share their posts on social media, or leave a flyer about their next party on the bulletin board at your office.
Also, remember that emotional support can be just as welcome as monetary support. MLM representatives are entrepreneurs, and there are times when they will feel the growing pains of any business. Let your buddy know how proud you are of them, and ask if there are other ways you can help. Perhaps you could co-host a party, or let her borrow a dress for her next big pitch.
SAY NO UP FRONT
If you aren’t interested in making a purchase, just rip that band-aid off. Ignoring your friend won’t make them go away, and the longer you wait to say no, the harder and more awkward it’s going to be to refuse. By being transparent you allow your friend to move forward with their work and place their energy into someone who is interested.
MLM employees are encouraged to only follow up with those who express interest, says Anganel Davis, director of North America Marketing for MLM skincare company Nu Skin. So if they’re pestering you after you’ve said no, they’re not doing their job.
Also, keep in mind that your refusal will hardly be the first one your friend hears. Representatives at MLMs are taught to create a safe space where there isn’t pressure to buy, explains Joe Mariano, President and CEO of the Direct Selling Association. If your friend is doing their job correctly, you won’t feel like you have to purchase their product.
BE READY FOR A LITTLE RUMBLE
If your friend continually tries to sell you on their products even after you’ve given them a clear “no,” it might be time to reconsider a few things — including your friendship. No one wants to hang out with someone who pushes any one topic incessantly, including their business. It’s perfectly okay to say that you need to take some time apart and see where things go. At the end of the day, MLM representatives should be trying to ensure their customers have a great experience, rather than giving friends the hard sell. “It’s not about recruiting other sellers, it’s really about recruiting happy customers and using word of mouth,” Mariano says.
Remember that you don’t owe your friends your business any more than you owe any other company, even though you love them more. If your friendship is real, your pals will completely understand and respect your honesty.
When my old high school friend recommended I try her new skin cream, I told her I wasn’t interested, since I have my own regimen with products I like and trust. She wasn’t especially hurt, and let me off the hook after gently noting that I would be missing out on “glowing skin.” I certainly wasn’t the only person to tell her no, and I won’t be the last, but I let her know she always has my emotional support whenever she needs it.
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