Right off the bat I feel it’s important to disclose the following:

  1. I don’t like multi-level marketing
  2. I have tried multi-level marketing for a short period of time before getting the hell out of it
  3. I have colleagues and friends who use MLM to help clients and provide a secondary income, and who manage to do so without becoming preachy/annoying/pestering arseholes
  4. My issue is not with MLM per se (although I really don’t like it), but rather with it’s place in the health and fitness industry

So why don’t I think MLM in the fitness industry should be encouraged? Basically, there’s 4 reasons:

1. Limited skill, qualifications and therefore liability

MLM sales people are required to be qualified in sod all before dispensing advice, In fact the only skill they have to possess to get started in the industry is the ability to click a few buttons on the internet and hand over some cash for their inevitable starter pack.

With so many MLM supplement and nutrition companies popping up, customers are getting their health advice from sales people with potentially no qualifications, no skill, no experience and more importantly, no professional liability for the recommendations they make. Which means if something goes wrong, unlucky!

I’ve been coaching nutrition for over 14 years, hold numerous certifications in numerous countries and I’m still loathe to make any kind of diagnosis based on nutrition for at least the first 6 months of working with a client (other than, “your diets not good, let’s fix that first”).

Yet many of the MLM supplement companies out there have a series of questions that somehow allow salespeople to ‘diagnose’ nutrient deficiencies or illnesses, that I wouldn’t even speculate on without lab analysis.

Now obviously, there are some incredibly qualified and skilled people who use MLM as a primary or secondary source of income. For those people and their customers, this is likely to be less of an issue.

2. There’s no regulated quality control
Now in fairness, this applies to most of the supplement industry as a whole, but I think it’s a real problem with MLM companies.

We recommend two main manufacturers or distributors of nutritional supplements to our clients. Not because they’re the best (although they’re in the top 5), but because their standards of manufacture and production are practitioner grade.

That means their supplements have to be suitable for recommendation by someone that knows what they’re doing and is probably going to check what ingredients they’ve used and where they’ve come from.

MLM companies have no such issues. The one I was involved with for a short while (ironically one of the better regarded of the bunch) was promoting their fish oil and probiotic products. I contacted them to find out the source of the fish oil and the details of the toxicity screening it had undergone, as well as the strain of bacteria used in their probiotic. When I finally got an informed reply, I found out that no real screening for toxins had taken place and the strain of bacteria used, whilst being of the right genus and species, had absolutely no research to support its efficacy. So they were selling fish oil of unknown purity and probiotics of unknown worth, (incidentally, the two brands of fish oil we recommend, test for toxins to one part per billion or greater).

3. It’s not about the client
Any recommendations we make regarding supplements are for the client’s benefits and for the most part, they come down to fish oil, a good multivitamin and extra vitamin d3. On top of that, if for whatever reason clients aren’t getting enough fruit and veg in on a daily basis, we might recommend a greens powder whilst we help them address that. Why? Because each of those has research to support it’s safety and effectiveness, plus we’ve witnessed clients progress quicker or easier as a result of taking them.

With MLM, it’s almost always about the sale. Not only that but they’re ripping off the client to get it. If they weren’t, the sales person would just suggest registering as a distributor of product ‘x’ and buying direct, rather than paying extra to buy something they can get for themselves off the internet.

And whilst it’s possible to argue that people are paying for the recommendations, guidance or counsel of the sales person, as I mentioned previously, in most cases that’s worth bugger all.

4. The products are rarely good value

To pre-empt any negative criticism I may get for this, I’m not slating the quality of MLM products, after all USANA and Amway have millions, if not billions, of happy customers, which would be unlikely if their stuff sucked. Rather, I’m saying that there are better products available for less.

For example one companies fish oil currently sells for £24 for 60 capsules and doesn’t even list the fish the oil comes from (definitely good to know), whereas the better quality practitioner grade equivalent costs around £15-18.

5. It hides a lack of skill elsewhere
Again, this isn’t a universal criticism of all MLM’ers (or whatever they’re called), but rather a general observation.

I’ve met some truly awful trainers and coaches making between £1000-3000 a month because they’re good at maximizing social media or they have a large circle of contacts. Whilst I’m not against people making money through hard work, (and MLM is definitely hard work, no-one gets rich quick by accident), our industry needs to raise the publics perception and earn their trust and respect. Unfortunately, because of their focus on the ‘moneyz’, too many trainers become financially successful at the expense of the industry and whilst some may re-invest that income into professional development, most don’t. Why? Because if they’re making that much money without having to study and learn, why bother?

Lastly, and this one’s not listed because it’s a personal rather than professional issue,
Too many MLM’ers are insensitive jerks. 
They’re often people who:

  • Have not done well in their business or profession and have little money saved up to invest
  • Have limited or no previous experience in the health and fitness industry
  • Have little or no experience developing business relationships
  • Over-sell the business opportunity
  • Inappropriately discuss business in social situations
  • Come across as desperate
  • Focus too much on new sign-ups and neglect existing customers as a result
  • Are either inaccurate or deceptive when talking about their business

Again, I'm certainly not saying that this describes all multi-level marketers, but it does describe enough of them for me to not want their continued presence in my industry.

2 Comments

  1. Excellent article, I totally agree. I have always been against MLM programs and companies.
    I am a therapist and have never pushed a product onto a client.

    I even turned down a possible investment where the investor wanted to use the MLM model to sign up new clients. I refused him…

    Knowledge, tust and reputation takes time, and eventually creates a steady income, not get rich quick on products and move on to another products or profession…

    A good read!

    Kim

    • Hi Kim,
      Thanks for your comments.
      Unfortunately there are too many ‘quick buckers’ out there and they’re only damaging the industry.
      Our aim is to have good intentions, work hard but intelligently, do good work and be patient.
      Keep it up.
      Jeremy

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