Many times the MLM business will require their distributors to purchase a certain amount of product themselves.  It can be used as designed or used as freebies to give away to potential recruits — but you’re still spending your hard earned money in order to promote the business.  (And in the meantime, not generating any profit from the business while you “ramp up”.)


Great job on the top 25 MLMs. Really like what you’re doing for the industry as a whole. Your analysis is spot on. However, a closer look at retention rates for each company might give you another perspective on the value proposition of any given company. As a Doterra Wellness Advocate we are told by our corporate execs that we have a 65% retention rate with customers repurchasing the product within 3 months. And that if we based it on the industry standard of 12 months our retention would go up to 85%. I’m told that this is unprecedented in network marketing. So I’m believing that Doterra is succeeding because its selling a product that works and that users and word-of-mouth drive the business in the long run.

In just 30 years, Melaleuca has grown from a little startup in rural Idaho to a billion-dollar enterprise doing business in 19 countries around the globe. It has become one of the largest catalog and online wellness retailers in North America. And it is the largest manufacturer of consumer packaged goods in the Northwest. Today, more than a million customers shop with Melaleuca every month.
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I’d like to point out a few things: statistically something like 96% of businesses fail within the first 5-10 years, which is a much more impactful loss, both financially and time wise, than the few hundred dollars one puts into whatever product they’re using in MLM. So realistically the success rate as a “self employed business owner” with MLM is probably a bit better than it is with launching a traditional business, or at least consistent with it. It takes discipline and tenacity that many people don’t have- that’s why they chose to remain employees in the first place.
(May 2017 update: did this go under?) The sign up cost will make you do a triple take (almost four figures), but you get to set your own retail price on every product you sell. If you’ve got the skills to make people cough up the cash for their products (which, btw, are pretty legit), you could definitely make that money back. They’ve also been winning plenty of awards (even a growth award from the Direct Selling Association themselves).
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Multi-level marketing (MLM), also called pyramid selling,[1][2] network marketing,[2][3] and referral marketing,[4] is a marketing strategy for the sale of products or services where the revenue of the MLM company is derived from a non-salaried workforce selling the company's products/services, while the earnings of the participants are derived from a pyramid-shaped or binary compensation commission system.
The major defining difference between other companies and MLM, is that they don’t mass market themselves, spending millions of dollars on television, radio and internet ads, but instead allocate that portion of their budget to pay hard working distributors who pound the pavement, form personal al relationships with clients, advocate their product, and hence donthe “marketing” for them.
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Let’s face it, whether you call it multi-level marketing, direct sales, or network marketing, the entire industry gets a bad rap.  It’s often labeled as a pyramid scheme or get rich quick scam, and frankly, there is ample evidence to approach it with caution.  However, as I have studied trends in this business model, I have come to a very different conclusion. One that actually suggests that network marketing can play a crucial role in how well baby boomers and others transition into retirement.
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A program with no or a low-quality product, or with a focus on getting paid per recruit, could be an illegal pyramid scheme. However, don't let the term pyramid throw you off. It's not the shape of the organization that makes it illegal. In fact, most companies have a pyramid structure with a CEO at the top, VPs next, mid-level managers etc. What makes an illegal pyramid scheme is the lack of a quality product, or that income is earned on recruiting, not commissions from sales. 


Thanks for this post. Very helpful. I do like direct sales; one reason for this is that it helps keep alive that age-old tradition of people interacting face-to-face (rather than mainly through texting and social media). For that reason, I think MLMs should target the lonely Millennials. Anyway, I was a member/distributor of Advocare for over 10 years and still miss the products and the activities in the company, now that I am temporarily out. I still plan to sign up again when I can afford it (long story–I’ll spare you). I am now involved in Melaleuca, and I must say in their defense that Melaleuca’s products are actually not overpriced. Because Preferred Customers are not only not expected, but also NOT ALLOWED to turn around and sell the products at the retail price, everyone pays the same low prices. (Granted, one can indeed go to the website and buy directly from the company if they do not want to become a Preferred Customer. Why would someone do that when the annual membership is only $19? Only if they do not want to commit to the minimum monthly requirement for Preferred Customers.) Public, keep this in mind! Don’t be fooled by the rebels who are selling old Melaleuca products on Amazon for way above the retail price!! You’re much better off buying fresh products directly from the factory, even if you pay retail price. Just sayin. My big question: What about Tupperware? I have been a Tupperware consultant for about 6 months, and I have found it to be extremely difficult to keep business going. The directors training me have said that Tupperware is the second most widely recognized brand name in the world, second only to Coca-Cola. If that is the case, why is it so hard to find people willing to host Tupperware parties? Why does it seem so hard to sell? Also, is it just me…Or, does Tupperware’s compensation plan stink?
I’m torn. I use Rodan+Fields but never considered being a distributor. Then a friend of mine introduced me to Jeunesse and got me fired up to be part of his team. I said “yes”. But now I’m wondering if the company is right for me because a) I read some negative stuff online about the company, the products, lawsuits, however the team is amazing! b) I actually really like what R+F has done for my skin therefore I feel I connect with the company more.
MLM restructures the traditional business model — manufacturer to retail shop to customer — such that sales agents working for the manufacturer sell directly to customers, bypassing the retail shop altogether. MLM companies can then convert customers into advocates for their products and possibly even sales agents. Because there is no retail store for the products they sell, MLM agents typically work from their homes, interacting with customers in the community or, more often, over the internet.
The real selling point for MLMs is that distributors can make money in two different ways. The first is money made from commissions from direct selling to consumers. And the second way to make money with an MLM is from the commissions made from sales of distributors below you in the pyramid (these are sometimes referred to as recruits or downline distributors).
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The legal distinction between MLMs and traditional pyramid schemes has been characterized by many authorities as a legal fiction. Jurisdictions that retain a legal distinction between MLM pyramid businesses versus illegal pyramid schemes retain said distinction on two key distinguishing features: 1) that MLMs always encompass the sale of actual products/services, while traditional illegal pyramid schemes ordinarily do not (though sometimes they do), and 2) that climbing an MLM pyramid is overwhelmingly statistically improbable (especially to its highest participant levels) but not theoretically impossible, whereas climbing a traditional illegal pyramid scheme is both statistically and theoretically impossible.[citation needed]
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