How Multi-level marketing (mlm) companies use the bait and switch method to hook you in

We’ve all seen them, we’ve all been sent that “hey hun” message where the sender tells us that we would be great at what they do, some of us have even fallen for them. I fell for one, and through my Instagram platform, YouTube and here on my blog I want to shout louder about this predatory business model, embrace anti MLM advocacy and share just why these are businesses that should be avoided at all costs.

Check out my MLM YouTube Video

I have covered 6 top ways that Multi level marketing companies will manipulate you via the bait and switch method, so be sure to check that out. You can subscribe to my (new) channel to support me, the content I create and also to be first in line when I release new content. It is my goal to delve deeper into multi level marketing, the business structure and I hope through this anti mlm education I am able to save some people from falling prey to their predatory nature.

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What is multi level marketing?

Multi level marketing is, network marketing, is direct selling (to some extent), is social selling. There are so many names for the same thing, but multi level marketing is a business structure where reps (ie, independent contractors) join a company (either for free or they pay to join) and sell the products and recruit others to do the same. It has been compared to a pyramid scheme in many instances, but it is a structure whereby you would earn through your own sales along with the sales and recruitment of your downline.

Multi level marketing reps use attractive wording, phrases and ways in which they depict their life in order to pique your interest into the business model. You will often hear phrases such as “join my team”, “join this business” or that “this business is doing xyz for me”. The goal is to make you interested enough so that you enquire or even convince you to join.

MLMs are manipulative and deceptive, one of the most deceptive business models that exists. They are known for their alleged cult-like tactics, their manipulation, mind control and bait and switch strategy. MLMs are a business opportunity that is designed for you to fail, with 99% of people not making money or turning a profit and the overwhelming majority running a deficit overall.

What is the bait and switch method & how is it used in multi level marketing businesses?

Bait and switch is a sales tactic, a way in which reps bait you into their MLM using some key phrases and wording by using specific claims about the business model and then switch these on their head once you have joined. I think you’ll be able to see just how deceptive these MLM businesses really are. 

One: “The business is so easy”

I am going to start right here with one of the most common bait and switch tactics that can be seen in multi level marketing companies, that the business is “so easy” or that you can fit it into the “pockets of time in your day”. The implication here is that whether you are busy or not, whatever your life looks like and whatever time you have available that you can work your business in those moments, that it will be enough and you, like apparently many others, will be able to run a successful business. It can fit into your life and you can work when you have the time and that you will earn money doing so.

When reps are trying to recruit you they will imply that regardless of this you will be able to make money, no matter what you can contribute to it. Now I don’t think anyone truly believes you don’t have to work and of course nothing comes without doing anything but the insinuation that it’s easy to do and easy to fit into a busy life is something that is common in mlm bait tactics. You have the freedom when and where you work (ie, those pockets of time in your day). You believe that you can fit this in here and there throughout your day. You are told you can be successful doing that so you believe it to be true.

Then comes the switch, when you realise that it is not as easy as it has been made out to be and you’d maybe like to meet one of these people who apparently earnt all this money in just 30 minutes a day or less – because it is sounding pretty unbelievable at this point. The narrative then changes to “that this business isn’t easy”, it takes a lot of time and effort if you want to make any money. 

You realise quickly that making money isn’t easy and working in the pockets of time isn’t enough to see the income that you were promised. 

The response is usually that “the business works if you do” (I mean it doesn’t, because it doesn’t work for more than 99% of people wo join) but in multi level marketing there is a blame culture. If you aren’t seeing results it’s your fault, it’s because you aren’t working hard enough (even when you are) and that you need to treat it like a full time job (even though you were told you could do it in 30 mins a day). 

The fact of the matter is, how much you work and your overall work ethic has absolutely nothing to do with whether you will be successful in an MLM. When you get into the business structure, luck and the size of the team you have recruited into your downline however does.

Two: Like minded besties

You will often hear your friends in an MLM refer to the supportive community, their new best friends, like minded people and couldn’t speak more highly of the people in their MLM with them.

Before you join you will hear MLM reps countlessly recall how incredible their community is within their MLM, their team and how these men and women (predominantly women) are the most amazing group of people they have ever met. They are so grateful to have stumbled upon this like minded group of people who are so supportive of their dreams. It is a great bait tactic because in a world where we are more and more separated from our communities and as mothers, our village, we crave this kind of connection, community and friendship. This longing for community is how many reps prey on people while recruiting.

When you join an MLM the lovebombing, a classic emotion control cult (and abuse) tactic to keep you loyal and illicit postive emotions. These people (who know nothing about you yet) will tell you how successful you will be, how excited they are and things like they can’t wait to run to the top of the company together. This overwhelm of emotion makes you believe it is true too. This is the start of the road to emotional manipulation.

However, the switch is that these relationships are transactional (for those you are making money for in your upline) and conditional (based on whether you stay in the company). Once you realise you aren’t making money and want to leave sometimes its the idea that you will lose these friendships that keeps you in longer than necessary. Once you leave an MLM those still involved, that were your community and your best friends will often shun you, block you or unfollow you. It happened to me, one of my “best friends” in the business, and also my upline, cut me out entirely when I left and started talking about the predatory nature of these businesses. When you aren’t part of an MLM you aren’t worth anything to them anymore and there is no need for them to continue being your friend, because you no longer serve a purpose. This is because these were never true friendships in the first place and were truly transactional.

MLM’s also actively encourage you to cut out people in your real life who don’t support your business, because you don’t need to surround yourself with negativity. This cult like tactic, of cutting you off from love ones is a form of manipulation and control that encourages you to only be a part of the MLM community and encourages avoidance of anyone who believes in something different than you do, enabling you to exist solely in an echo chamber of fellow mlm members who all think, do and exist the same as you, thus sinking participants deeper into the groupthink ideology.

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Three: No quotas (but there is really)

Another bait and switch tactic within mlm companies is the no quotas, fees, requirements spiel. That you can decide what to spend and nothing is compulsory. When you are being recruited into an MLM the reps will often serve you with information such as it’s free to start (in some companies) and will go on to tell you that there are no quotas to hit, no fees, no requirements and what you spend on your business is completely up to you. While this isn’t untrue because these things aren’t technically compulsory, they are hidden and some end up being fairly essential if you want to run your business and make money. This is so manipulative.

The switch is this: many companies have many associated costs that are required even if they are technically optional. This might be a personal volume level to achieve (personal volume is often orders you make and in some companies the orders of customers you enroll). Some companies require you to place a monthly order of personal volume to stay active or to qualify to be paid commissions. In fact in most companies there is a requirement for you to reach in some form (whether that be through customer or personal orders) for you to qualify for your own commissions. To put this simply, if I earn £100 in commissions, but I don’t fulfil the requirements to get me that commission (whatever they may be in that specific company) then I won’t get paid. I will have done the work but I won’t get paid. Where in any other business model is this legal?

You’ll also find that a common phrasing before you join is that “we don’t hold inventory” as a way to explain that you won’t have to purchase unnecessary product in the hope you might sell it. Many mlm companies now are structured that customers can order via a website (that you might have to pay a monthly fee for – I had to pay £20 a month for mine in my company) and the company will take care of the orders, shipping, and returns and reps don’t need to have anything on hand. Once you’ve joined you will frequently hear that you need to be a “product of the product” meaning you will need to purchase products from the company to use to entice people in. This ends up with many reps being overloaded with inventory that they are unable to shift. This leads to the question – who are the real customers of these MLMs? I believe that for the most part retail customers make up a far smaller amount than the reps do, leaving reps as the true customers of the company. 

Despite being told you won’t need to spend anything, and while nothing is compulsory it is still going to be required if you wish to earn any income at all, or stay active or rank up. There are all kinds of loopholes which are going to require you to spend money you more than likely won’t be making back. 

Four: You don’t need a big network (errr you actually do)

The next tactic rolles nicely into something you have to do a lot when you are a rep for an mlm: overcoming objections. Overcoming objections is something that is really common in MLM’s, for every objection that people have MLM reps are trained to overcome them, encouraging them to move these objections aside and forge ahead. Some reps will even term these as excuses. Team pages are filled with scripts to help you overcome common objections with ease. MLM reps soon build this into part of their reportoire.

A common objection for those being recruited is that they don’t know enough people, that they don’t have a large social media following and they are worried that they won’t have people to sell too. Don’t worry guys, selling is such a small part because the main focus will always be on recruitment in these business models. Through the bait process, or the recruitment process, current reps will overcome these objections by saying that you don’t need a lot of friends or you don’t need a large following, or that when they started they only had 100 followers, or Ashley didn’t even have an account, anyone can do a business like this and they will train you and give you all the tools you need for success.

The switch is that the opposite is true, reaching out to friends and family is a common tactic when it comes to hitting rank or promotions (they encourage you to reach out to people who will always support you no matter what, to help you with an order if you need volume to rank up). Also, you aren’t magically going to have people exist that want to try the products or join the business, it is hard enough getting people who trust you somewhat.

What they really mean is that they are going to provide you with a number of spammy ways to grow your network. You will need to constantly be adding to your instagram or facebook network, adding people, growing your numbers, so that you can eventually have more people to sell to and recruit. It’s about reaching out to people who have never shown an interest in the company at all, or the products (thankfully I didn’t do this – I would at least only message people who had responded on a poll – although most didn’t mean to so I am sure it felt more spammy to them). It’s the reason we all get those “hey hun” messages, as some teams still train people to cold message people, the modern day equivalent of cold calling. They bait you in telling you you don’t need a big following and the switch it to “actually you do, here are some spammy ways to get it”.

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Five: The free (but not really free) car

This bait and switch tactic is one of the shadiest parts of mlms. I am sure you have all seen them, the free car rewards that are often shared on social media by MLM reps. They claim various things, like a free car or a car paid for by their company, but the reality is very different. 

In my MLM this wasn’t a thing, so I am going on research and reports from other MLM companies. This tactic is one of the shadier parts of these MLM companies. In most instances the car is your own car, it’s not bought outright by the company and gifted to you, it is in fact a car loan, in your name. That’s right, the company encourages you to take out a loan that they actually might not financially contribute too for long. The car payment is usually acquired when you reach a certain rank and will be for an extra payment (which might not cover the entire monthly payment) towards the car. If you drop below that rank you lose access to this additional payment, leaving you responsible for paying that debt. 

Six: Time Freedom

This is something that I am sure we have all heard an mlm rep say once, or a thousand times, that they have “time freedom” or “freedom of time”. The bait part of this tactic, to draw you in tells you things like this company will give you time freedom, you can “own your own time”, you can spend more time with your family, with your children, be a stay at home mum if that is your wish, time to travel. Whatever it is you would like more time to do.

The switch, ie the reality, is that you will have to work constantly to even a hope of potentially making any money. You will be told you can work anywhere but the reality is that you will have to, again if you want a chance of making money. You will be expected to work all the time, any time, any place, at any event and on any holiday. You don’t get time off because if you take time off, firstly it’s looked down on as if you aren’t a hard worker (always gaslighting you over your work ethic these mlms), but also the whole thing you’ve built could crumble. However, because you can work from anywhere you will actually be expected to work from anywhere. 

You’ll hear: “I am so grateful to my business because it means I don’t have to take time off”. People work on their holidays, during emergencies, in hospitals, during inductions for having their babies, through significant life events and through every event that they probably should take time off for. They’ll tell you its because they want to but really it’s because they have been conditioned into believing they have to or have to want to. And they really do, or the whole thing falls apart or they will earn less than nothing.

If that wasn’t gross enough you are expected to take personal situations and turn them around and use it as why you are so thankful for your business, to try and profit off of these things. They encourage you to talk about how your business allows you to work through these difficult times. These are the parts I truly hate MLMs for. They manipulate their participants into doing these things, that they will look back on one day and feel so uncomfortable with.

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Seven: Financial Freedom

A way that MLM reps draw you into their company throughout the recruitment process is by using the earning an extra income theory. They say that their company is a great way to supplement your income and you can use the business to cover bills, pay your car payment, retire yourself from your 9-5, that it is the same as starting your own business (it isn’t) and you can start your own journey to financial freedom. The truth is that for more than 99% of people this is all unattainable as per a study from the FTC. The business structure itself cannot support it. For the minority (the 0.4% who will turn a profit, not be necessarily making a lot of money but turning a profit and not loosing money) the 99.6% will be loosing. The average income of someone in an MLM company is £0. Let’s just sit with that for a moment.

The switch comes again, once you are in the company. The tough love (which is usually top leaders yelling at people over video in the name of “getting fired up”) that say that for the people who aren’t earning money yet this is part of business ownership and these things take time (they do in a traditional start up but that’s usually not what was promised to us in the recruitment process). You’re reminded that this is a business and you just need to work harder (gaslighting) and wait longer (designed to keep you in the MLM and not quit). 

You are constantly reminded that this is normal for business owners – only you aren’t actually a small business owner when you’re an MLM rep, you’re an independent contractor for a billion dollar corporation.

Eight: Own your own business & be your own CEO

To reiterate the above, you aren’t actually a small business owner when you’re an MLM rep, you’re an independent contractor for a billion dollar corporation. 

Reps will use phrases such as “owning your own business” or refer to you as being the CEO. The switch is that that isn’t the case at all, you aren’t the CEO of anything. You aren’t even your own boss. You have no control over anything that the company does, brands or sells. You have to abide by the company rules in every aspect. I actually got pulled up by compliance once I had officially left because I sold my surplus product (see: holding inventory above lol) on ebay and this is forbidden by almost all, if not every single one, of multi level marketing companies. It can result in you being terminated from the company. As it was I had already finished and had no intention of returning + I made a tidy sum of money.

If you can be terminated then you aren’t your own boss.

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Nine: But I’m not a salesperson

Another common tactic used in the bait and switch method is claims such as “these products are the best”, “they sell themselves” and common objections about not being a salesperson. Remember above where we mentioned that mlm reps spend a lot of time and have a lot of scripts all about overcoming peoples objections and convincing people to join.

Not being a salesperson is a common worry for people being recruited into an MLM. People aren’t inherently convinced on sales jobs and don’t think they will be able to do it, and I think this is fair. We’re not all salespeople and I think it’s ridiculous to think that we are. This is almost always met with wording such as “I’m not a salesperson either, but this isn’t sales, it’s just sharing products that you love”. MLM reps will almost always fall into comparing it to sharing your starbucks drink on social media, it’s a common shame tactic that they are telling you that you share your starbucks drinks and they get paid (Starbucks don’t actually get paid everytime a photo of their drinks are posted on social media – so actually maybe the reps are right because they don’t get paid for sharing their products either). The main point though is that we don’t have to monetise our entire lives, if you want to share something on social media have at it, and don’t let anyone in an mlm shame you for not getting paid to do it, chances are they aren’t getting paid either.

It is also 100% a sales job, whether that is selling the products or trying to sell people on the business opportunity and a life that doesn’t exist.

Another common tactic within this subject is that the products just “sell themselves”. The switch, once you’re on the inside is that they really don’t, you have to constantly message people, sometimes cold message people, if your MLM trains that way. There is an end of the month culture where people are scrambling to get orders, rank up and do anything to claw in as much final volume as possible. This is because the end of the month is when people hit final ranks, at the beginning of the month every rep is reset to 0 and their volume and rank only increases when orders run, reps run their monthly orders, you enroll new customers etc. 

Ten: Let’s talk about the “uncapped earning potential”

Ok, let’s do it, let’s discuss that “uncapped earning potential. When you’re in the recruitment phase reps will tell you that there is an uncapped earning potential or that people can rank up over their enroller and that there is a seat at the table for everyone. These people are usually not making money either it is worth noting.

The switch is that you need to rely on others to make money, you aren’t in charge of how much money you make and you need to work 24/7 and encourage all your downline to do the same, keep recruiting and selling the products just to try and break even with your paycheck. If you are lucky. While it might be “uncapped” as in nobody ever knows what they are making, if the business structure supported and more people were making money the 0.4% would more than likely be earning less. They don’t want that now, do they?

And as for earning more or ranking up over your enroller (not sure why you’d care about this other than to try and desperately prove its not a pyramid – it proves nothing btw) it is possible, but so is pigs evolving into having wings and flying. It could happen but it probably won’t. 

Conclusion

These are just some of the bait and switch tactics, along with all the usual predatory or cult like tactics these multi level marketing companies use to convince you to join. The truth however is far from what we see offered by reps in the recruitment. You might be asking yourself why people stay, knowing all this. But the problem is the mind control, the manipulation and the cult like tactics that take place with these companies mean that many aren’t aware until they are on the other side, like I and many others are.

The goal with anti mlm education is obviously to help people trapped in mlms if possible, however thats not always possible. However if it can help just one person not fall for this predatory system then that is good enough for me.


Everything written & spoken here is for educational purposes and to spread awareness of my personal experience and opinion. My opinions don’t represent the company I partnered with, or any other network marketing or multi level marketing companies. They are my experiences and not facts. ⁣

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

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