How MLMs Have Impacted My Friendships

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 
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There was a time when I could think of nothing worse than an unexpected message from an old friend. As an introvert, the thought of catching up with someone I haven’t talked to in awhile makes me feel anxious. My brain starts racing, and I go through all of the scenarios of why they would possibly be reaching out to me. What if they ask to borrow money? I wonder if they have some bad news to tell me? WHAT IS IT THEY WANT FROM ME?

Time after time, my fears were substantiated, as I responded and then instantly regretted it.

I discovered that 99% of the time old friends wanted to reconnect was because they had signed up for some new multi-level marketing (MLM) company, and I was on their list of people to try to sell. Sometimes it was high-end organic makeup, other times it was kitchenware, occasionally it was essential oil kits or sex toys. All I knew is that somehow I made it on their list of potential customers.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t bother me anymore. I think that has to do with the fact that I know all the tricks of the trade. Also, I have no problem telling anyone no.

I used to be in an MLM.

Many, many years ago, I was recruited into an MLM. I wasn’t even twenty years old yet, and my boss’s daughter was a part of a “revolutionary” new telecommunications company. She gave me the opportunity to get in the ground floor. She told me that I could probably retire before I was thirty and showed me how hundreds of people had changed their lives by joining this company. I went to trainings at her house where I was taught sales tricks like making a list of 100 people I knew and then reaching out to every single one of them with the same opportunity that I’ve been given.

I did all of the training, got my mom and aunt to switch long distance companies, and then I quit. My $97 investment to “start a telecommunications company” was gone, but at least I didn’t have to deal with awkward interactions trying to bring up long distance carriers in conversations.

My experience as a MLM dropout is why I don’t have any trouble when my friends join companies and try to sell me. Since I have the perspective of going through the process, I understand what attracts people, especially women, to MLMs in the first place. No one joins because they want to swindle people out of money or make their friends and family feel uncomfortable by being sold to all the time. They join because they believe that being part of an established company will give them the freedom to live a life that they dreamed of, while being able to provide for their families.

I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Sure, some of the sales tactics are hella annoying. When I was selling long-distance phone packages (side bar: can you believe selling “long-distance” used to be a thing?), we were told to invite people to meetings, but not to give away what we were asking them to attend for. We were encouraged to lead with success stories, not necessarily our own, but those from folks who were at the top of the company. The biggest directive we received was not to take no for an answer.

As I can tell from the inbox messages and emails I get from folks I haven’t talked to in years, while technology may have changed, MLM sales have remained the same.

Just say no.

You know what, though? I just tell them no.

Just like those people have a goal to sell, I typically have a goal not to buy. As a consumer, I’m sold to all the time. I bought my daughter a bookbag last year before school started. Now I receive up to three emails a day from the company I bought it from. Not only that, but the store’s ads follow me all over the internet. If I can deal with that, certainly I can extend some grace to a friend, even if it’s an old one, who’s trying to recruit me to buy or sell something from their latest endeavor.

My thing is, why do we feel like we can’t just say no to these people? I know, I know. Because then they come back with another reason that you should follow their lead into the company, right? My favorite is when I say I’m not interested, and they come back with, “You’re not interested in making money while you sleep?” No, I am not. At least not if I have to get versed on legal services or online insurance and talk about it to 100 of my closest friends. I’d rather not make money in my sleep if I have to do that, thank you very much.

I even had one friend say that she wanted me to listen to an empowering call that would help me in my actual small business. I’d told this friend that I wasn’t interested in selling the wellness product that was making her tons of money because it just wasn’t my thing. She insisted a couple of times and then switched it up on me by suggesting I listen to the call. After about 5 minutes, I realized that the call was all about the product and not at all the general business tips she’d suggested. I emailed her immediately and was very clear that I was not interested and I didn’t like feeling like she was trying to dupe me after I already told her no. She apologized and hasn’t brought it up since.

One of my best friends sells Lularoe. She has never once asked me to purchase anything or tried to recruit me onto her team. I do buy from her because I’ve seen some things I like, and also, yes, I want to support her.

I say all this to reiterate that I don’t know who all of y’all are that are losing friendships over MLMs, because it really just ain’t that deep.

Look, if someone is really your friend, an MLM invitation (even if it is a bait and switch) shouldn’t be something that would break up your friendship. Stop being passive aggressive and be crystal clear and direct about not being interested.

“I’m glad that’s working out for you! I am not interested. Everything ain’t for everybody, and this ain’t for me. Please don’t ask me again.”

“When you invited me out to eat, I thought it was to catch up. I’m disappointed it was for a sales meeting. Next time, please be upfront about what your intentions are. I’m not interested in joining your company, but would love to catch up again without the sales part.”

I’m actually a lot smarter now when it comes to getting out of the house for get togethers, too. I have no problem asking who’s going to be there and “what do you want to do, grab a drink and gossip? Or what?” I refuse to be caught out here slipping. But if I do, oh well. I’ll express my disappointment and keep it moving. I’m not ending a friendship over it.

Like I said before, I’m an introvert, so I worked hard to find the friends I do have. I’ll be damned if I’ll let some eyelash gel or fingernail stickers make me lose my people.

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