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Career Opportunities With Multi-Level Marketing

What is multi-level marketing? You might recognize some of the bigger multi-level marketing companies out there. Tupperware, Avon and Mary Kay are some of the best-known direct sales and multi-level marketing (MLM) organizations in the world. But hundreds of companies rely on hundreds of thousands of independent sales representatives to sell their products directly to consumers.

Direct sales means that the salespeople go directly to the customer to sell something. They don't have a bricks and mortar store.

Multi-level sales can have different definitions, but often it means that there are levels of profits that salespeople can make from a sale. For example, salespeople might get a share of the profits from goods that are sold by other salespeople they recruited.

People who view direct sales as "get rich quick" schemes are often disappointed when they realize it takes a great deal of focus and initiative to succeed at direct sales. That's true whether the products are cosmetics, cleaning supplies, scrapbooking tools, edibles, containers, nutritional supplements, clothing or even wine.

Some people get into direct sales to get a discount on products they love or to make some extra money. For others, it's a career.

"If you're working for a direct sales company, there are two streams of revenue," says Synara Brown. She's the senior executive director for Wildtree in Wisconsin. Wildtree markets grapeseed oils and preservative-free culinary mixes.

"There's the revenue you get when you sell product, and there's a secondary stream of revenue you can earn on the sales of your organization," Brown says. "If you want to get into the higher revenues, you need to build a team. There's no expectation that you should do that, but for people who are income-oriented, you have to do that because you can't sell enough product on your own to make the income you're hoping for."

What she's describing is classic multi-level marketing. While it can vary from company to company, MLM plans are usually structured so representatives earn a small percentage of the sales brought in by any sales representatives they recruit to the company, and possibly from their recruits' recruits.

"Whether I'm at home at night with my kids or sitting at a baseball diamond, I'm getting paid because there are probably 500 people in my organization working that night," Brown says. Even so, Brown says she still typically puts in 40 hours per week.

Top-performing Mary Kay salespeople earn pink Cadillacs (or other automobile models). Pamela Kanderka, a senior sales director, has been earning pink cars since 1991. And she's done that working less than full time.

"In the beginning, it ranged from five to 15 hours per week," Kanderka says. "Today it ranges five to 25. Each year is different, depending on my goals and where my family is at. I have a baby, 22 months old, and was able to basically work only a few hours per week while on maternity leave. My income did not skip a beat because of the large downline [sales] and customer base that I've built over the years."

Alicia Deibert currently does direct sales for two companies: Norwex, which makes cleaning products with reduced chemicals, and World Ventures, a vacation and entertainment club. However, she began in direct sales selling Partylite products with her mother.

"I was in university, and it was the best, most flexible way to make some extra money and spend time with my mother," she says. "I enjoyed learning the direct sales business from my mother, my mentor."

Today, Deibert says she only dedicates about 10 hours per week to direct sales, but those are 10 solid hours -- more intensive than 10 hours in a typical office.

"I like knowing that if I require extra money, I'm able to put more time into the business and therefore make more income," Deibert says. "The wonderful thing about direct sales is that you also earn residual income from others who join your team, or from repeat customers who order from your website."

MLMs are set up that way to encourage representatives to help build the sales force. Brown does that by setting out information about business opportunities at every home party she holds.

"I never know who's looking for additional income, who might be looking for a career change, who's miserable in their job. You just never know," Brown says. She was an occupational therapist before getting into direct sales almost nine years ago. She says few people would have expected her to be interested in direct sales, but she wanted a work schedule that allowed flexibility to work around her growing family's schedule.

Crystal Williams is someone who first started in direct sales -- at Avon -- because she needed a job after moving to a new town. More recently, she decided to expand her direct sales experience by adding Tupperware. She knew she needed to put in the work now to reap the rewards later.

"Right now, every week I probably put in 45 to 50 hours. I'm calling, setting up parties. I go to vendor fairs. I'm sending out postcards -- I'm all over the place," Williams says. Her success with Avon, which she still represents, gave her a roadmap to succeed at Tupperware.

"At Avon, I became a manager, and I'm looking to become a manager with Tupperware, as well," Williams says. "Tupperware's my main focus now because Avon comes so easily after all this time -- but I'm doing well at Tupperware, too."

As with Williams and Deibert, this isn't Brown's first stab at direct sales. Brown worked almost three years at a different company, but realized she could earn more under Wildtree's compensation plan. She also liked that Wildtree's products were edible.

"For most people, that's a line-item budgeted expense. Very few people say, 'Money's tight, so we're not going to eat this month,' but they might forego other things."

No matter how great the product, most people who fail at direct sales aren't disciplined enough to work unsupervised. "If you're doing it on the side as a part-time thing, it can be hard to stay focused and motivated," Deibert says.

"The biggest challenge for most people is being independent and not having people tell them what to do and when to do it," Brown adds. "It's about being a self-starter, getting your work done and not getting distracted by a sunny day."

Deibert says goal-oriented self-starters can do well in direct sales. "[It takes] someone with drive and a persistent and personable personality, as well -- someone who likes to have fun and is not afraid to put themselves out there and get rejected once in a while."

Williams says MLM salespeople need to feel comfortable with themselves and their products. At the same time, they need to present their products without coming off too strong. Training is important in direct sales. It can range from online training to national conferences. Usually it's optional, but most salespeople agree it's worth investing some time in training.

"I'm not required to attend any trainings, meetings, conventions or conferences," Deibert says, noting that people who choose not to take advantage of the training and meetings are only hurting themselves.

"The more training, the more successful you are," Kanderka says. "We have large conferences two to three times a year, and regular small meetings weekly and monthly."

Brown takes full advantage of the national and leadership conferences available to her, but says most people learn best by doing the job. "It's a bit like riding a bicycle," she says. "You could watch a YouTube video and I could tell you how to do it, and explain it really well, but at the end of the day you've got to get on the bike and ride."

Before any type of training, you first need to commit to a company. Most require a buy-in, which often goes toward sample products. Some start-up costs are higher than others.

"The starter kit [at Mary Kay] was $180, plus inventory," Kanderka says. "But each consultant can choose how much, if any, inventory they carry on hand."

Williams netted over $900 in sales within her first 60 days, so Tupperware covered all but $30 of her $99 starter kit.

Brown liked the fact that her $99 buy-in at Wildtree was for $230 worth of edible products. "If I'd decided to buy the kit and give the company a try, but it didn't work out, I could still eat the contents of my kit."

Not all companies require buy-ins. "Partylite and Norwex were no-money start-ups. It was a great way to start my own small business without putting a lot of money upfront. The only requirement was to fulfill sales quotas," Deibert says. "In direct sales, your effort reflects your outcome, but I would caution people from spending a lot of money to get involved in direct sales."

Brown says almost everybody knows someone who has failed in direct sales, but this shouldn't stop them from trying.

"There's a misperception that you can't be successful in direct sales," Brown says. "But if you can exercise a small amount of self-discipline, be incredibly coachable -- actually follow the training as prescribed -- and really try for at least three months, I think a lot of people will see success."

Kanderka says focus is crucial to success. "You can only chase one rabbit at a time, so stay focused. Don't jump from career to career or MLM to MLM. Help enough other people get what they want, and you will get what you want."


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