Everything Important I Know About MLM I Learned Part-Time
When my children were young, we played a game. Usually it was a game we played when I had kept them up too late. It would begin with horsing around, singing too loud, then someone would shout, “Let’s do a drive-by!” Then they all would begin to chant, “Drive-by! Drive-by!”
This was back in the early 1980s before the term became synonymous with careless criminality. There was nothing careless about what my children wanted us to do. They were asking to drive by their Aunt Delilah’s home on 600 South, just west of Trolley Square, to see whether she was sitting in the big window in the front of her house where she never drew the curtains. “Want to be sure my Distributors can see I’m on the job,” she explained.
“On the job” for Aunt Delilah meant working her Shaklee business, and if she wasn’t holding an opportunity meeting in her living room or the big country kitchen that was linked by a swinging door (also always propped open), she was “working the phones.” Two of them.
This was before the conveniences of call waiting or answering machines, and Aunt Delilah knew that missing a call meant missing an “opportunity to sponsor or sell. Wouldn’t want to have that happen on account of too few phones!” So, she had two of them, and most of the time you’d find her on both of them, carrying on her version of conference calling before anybody outside Wall Street had the technology.
I never said “No” to a “drive-by,” because I as much as the children wanted to see her sitting there, to discover whether she was awake or asleep with phones propped on both her shoulders, conferencing Distributors or prospects who had grown accustomed to animated conversations devolving to Aunt Delilah’s slight snore. “We always knew when it was too late to do any more business,” one of her Distributors once told me. “Delilah would be asleep.”
The children and I never discussed the significance of seeing Aunt Delilah sitting in that window, the light spilling out from behind her and into the sparsely lit traffic on 600 South. We’d drive by, see her there, then more quietly drive home knowing all was right with the world.
Part-Time, Full-Time, All-the-Time
If you had asked Aunt Delilah whether she worked Shaklee “full-time,” she would have been offended. “That sounds like a job!” She would have exclaimed. “I love this company. I love these products! I LOVE SHAKLEE!”
Never mind that so many of her waking hours were spent doing what she loved. For her, “full-time” meant a J-O-B, and MLM (she never learned to be ashamed of what she did, and never would have called her passion “network marketing” or “relationship marketing” or any of the other arguably more accurate terms for her way of doing business) wasn’t “work,” it was a mission.
Watching her fulfill that mission not only taught me MLM, it taught me how difficult it had been for women to find and hold a job back in the late 1950s when Aunt Delilah and my Grandma Holt left their menial jobs to hook their dreams to the Shaklee star.
Like most married women of their day, they had children at home. Unlike most women of their day, they were their families sole supporters. My grandfather was infirm, and my uncle had discovered he was even better at drinking than he had been at laying hardwood floors. For a time, my grandmother even had to leave my mother with relatives on the farm so she could “find work in the city.”
But then they discovered Shaklee: a company whose mission was to save the world!
And Shaklee succeeded! Not in saving the whole world…but it certainly participated in saving my grandmother and Aunt Delilah’s worlds! They had found a business they could work “part-time” from home…a business that didn’t require them to leave home or leave their children with family…a business that didn’t care they once were described as “under-educated farm girls”…a business that was more than a job!
Shaklee saved the world for my grandmother and my aunt…and they gave it their full-time passion…part-time!
The Illusion of Full-Time MLM
Multi-level marketing always has been a part-time employment. I would argue it only works as a part-time employment.
Since 2010, the number of people working in MLM has grown from 15.8 million to nearly 21 million. Women still comprise nearly 80% of the Distributor field force. But that only partly accounts for why more than 9 out of 10 MLMers work their businesses part-time.
Lots of reasons are given to support the preponderance of part-timers in the business: Life-style choices, secondary rather than primary income resource, goals vs. necessities, etc. But the real reason is that most people can’t live on what they earn working as an MLM Distributor; and suggesting that full-time employment should be the goal of people who in this economy more likely need additional income to pay a utility bill or put a grandchild into dance lessons denies not only the statistics but the necessities of the moment.
Sure, Aunt Delilah worked her business full-time from soon after she joined Shaklee. She had to. But few of the customers and Distributors she recruited ever did. She built her full-time income working with part-timers who loved the products, enjoyed the associations, and made enough money to satisfy their own goals.
Don’t Surrender Your Dreams to MLM
MLM has been built by dreamers on a bedrock of dreaming; so it’s ironic that a recent trend I’ve seen is the success of a few MLM leaders who are dream killers, who diminish the dreams of others, telling them their dreams are too small, that they have to dream bigger.
That’s not only anti-MLM, it’s anti-American!
America hasn’t been built by railroad tycoons and bankers and their “big dreams.” America has been built by families, Moms and Dads raising kids and putting them through school. And the miracle of MLM is knowing that those families almost always need a little extra cash to do a lot of extra good.
Part-Time Is the Heartbeat of MLM
I know: there are a lot of “big timers” out there who say things like, “MLM is a full-time job, not a part-time hobby.” (Thank you, Mark Yarnell.) And I get what they mean about needing to make a commitment. I realize that what gets only part of our attention may achieve none of the success we need to keep going.
But recognizing the risks attending part-time attention does not diminish the growing necessity for part-time income. In an economy where the income of the middle class has stagnated for the past two decades, what people most need is not another job but more money. And that’s what both of the M’s in MLM stand for!
Part-Time Doesn’t Mean Partly Committed
I have a greater argument with those nonsense advertisements on the Internet that suggest there is a digital universe in which anyone can “develop multiple streams of income” by working half a dozen MLM companies at the same time…online.
Speed dating is no fun. Speed reading is like speed eating: you can do it, but you won’t enjoy it, and it’s likely to make you sick. And speeding through an algorithm in search of a pot of digital gold is like trying to learn free flight from a pigeon that has been hit by a locomotive: you won’t learn much about pigeons, trains, or flying.
MLM is about people, not technology.
Sure, the Internet is one of the greatest tools ever to make MLM more manageable, more available, more successful. The part of MLM Aunt Delilah liked least was sitting at her kitchen table—without phones to talk through or people to talk with—figuring downline commissions. Order processing was slow. Communications were primitive. And many of those encumbrances have been resolved by technology. Which is a good thing. So long as we recognize that the digital world works best when it is in service to the real world…which is the world in which real-world MLM lives: People doing business with people. Part-time.
What’s the rest of the time for? Family. Friends. And yes, hobbies.
Because in MLM we’ve always known that while the “M’s” stand for “Money,” the money mostly stands for “Freedom.” That’s what it bought my grandmother and Aunt Delilah—not for themselves so much as for their families: freedom to pursue lives less desperate than suffered by the women who loved them and were made free by MLM.
And how do you have time for FREEDOM if you are doing something else full time?
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