Multilevel Marketing Programs: Pros and Cons

by Carrie Myers Smith on Apr 24, 2014

When you hear the term “multilevel marketing” (MLM) or "network marketing," what is your first response? Do you want to turn and run? Or are you immediately ready to plunk down the startup cost and start selling and recruiting?

Let’s explore the nuts and bolts of MLMs and hear insights and opinions from fitness professionals on both sides of the fence.

MLM Defined

“Traditional MLMs are known as ‘buyers’ clubs,’ as they primarily sell to distributors,” explains Kristen Horler, CEO and founder of Baby Boot Camp LLC and qualifying national marketing director for Juice Plus+®. “This means that the business model and profit center for the corporation are driven primarily by sales to distributors, not customers. Oftentimes, the retail cost of the products is inflated to the point where paying an annual distributor fee to ‘buy in’ and become an independent distributor makes the product more affordable.”

Horler notes that most MLMs have monthly order minimums that distributors (which would be you) must purchase in order to receive commission checks. “MLMs typically also require distributors to make startup purchases and seasonal purchases to remain active distributors.”

Examples of health- and fitness-related MLMs include Isagenix®, Beachbody®, Melaleuca®, Pangea Organics® and ViSalus™. Fitness pros join MLMs for a variety of reasons. Some join because they’ve experienced good results using the products; most want to supplement their day job income.

Personal Enrichment

“I was presenting at a fitness conference, and another professional recommended the products I now use and sell,” says Sherry Catlin, 2004 IDEA Program Director of the Year, from Boston. “My body was changing, and I wasn’t happy about it. I looked around the conference and noticed many other fitness professionals weren’t getting the results they wanted from exercise and healthy eating alone, either. Within days people saw the change in my body and wanted to know what I was doing. The business avalanched from there, and I haven’t looked back since.”

“My significant other and I joined for the product line,” recalls Tara Ballard, a certified personal trainer from Clemmons, North Carolina. “The company provided the clean, pure, organic, non-GMO nutrition that we desired. It wasn’t until we fell in love with the products that we considered sharing the business opportunity with others.”

A Revenue Boost

Danielle Thompson, co-owner with her husband of The Training Ground in Bakersfield, California, says they fell in love with a particular product line. After studying the MLM’s compensation plan extensively, they realized it could supplement their income. “The health and wellness field can be lucrative, but it is competitive. In personal training, if you don’t have an edge of sorts, you are grouped in with all the others. This company has helped separate our business from the rest because the products give amazing results and lead to a happier and more satisfied clientele.”

Tread Lightly?

Not everyone believes in jumping on the MLM bandwagon. Tony Davenport, MS, certified spinal cord injury recovery specialist at Project Walk in Atlanta, has tried several MLMs in the past. He needed the extra money—desiring to create an income stream he could retire with—and he wanted to offer his clients a quality product he believed in. While he did find products he liked, and he felt better after using them, he never made money from sharing what he found.

“We all have busy schedules,” he observes. “MLMs take more time than is stated to develop. And if you don’t have a large client base or high turnover, then making profits becomes difficult. I also had to redirect funds from my budget to meet minimum spending requirements in order to get paid via the MLM.”

For more insights into this topic, please see “Can You Make More Money With Multilevel Marketing?” in the online IDEA Library (see the February 2014 issue of IDEA Trainer Success). If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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About the Author

Carrie Myers Smith

Carrie Myers Smith IDEA Author/Presenter

As the former fitness and wellness coordinator at the Omni Mt. Washington Resort in the beautiful White Mountains of NH, Carrie has had the privilege of training and teaching people from all over the world. As a motivational speaker and author of the award-winning book, Squeezing Your Size 14 Self into a Size 6 World: A Real Woman’s Guide to Food, Fitness, and Self-Acceptance, Carrie touches people’s lives, encouraging real, lasting change, and offering a chance for them to find the courage within themselves to take the first step. Carrie also has experience speaking and presenting over various media, including radio and television and has presented to various sized groups--from small and intimate to over 500. Her signature yoga class, Yo-Fit™, continues to grow in popularity. With a foundation of vinyasa-style yoga, it is sprinkled with elements of fitness, and appeals to many who are intimated by traditional yoga classes. Carrie has a BS in exercise science and health education and is a certified Transformational Coaching Method Master Coach, and a therapeutic exercise physiologist with experience in disease prevention and treatment, as well as pre- and post-orthopedic surgery and rehab. She writes frequently as an expert for industry publications, including ACE and IDEA, and has also written for many national consumer magazines, including Shape, Fitness, Cooking Light and Health. She was also the head writer for IBM's online employee wellness program for eight years. Other writers frequently turn to Carrie as a fitness expert for their own articles, which has resulted in her being quoted in several magazines, including Self, Cooking Light, Better Homes and Gardens, Successful Living, and Family Fun. Her companies, CarrieMichele Fitness and Authentically You with CarrieMichele Coaching, strive to enrich women’s lives through wellness-related education, empowering each woman she touches to make their mark. Her goal: to not just survive, but to thrive, to live up to her potential, not just the status quo, and to find something to celebrate each day…and to teach others to do the same. Connect with Carrie on FB at or or Or on Twitter @CarrieMicheleM Or on LinkedIn at