If you've ever received a social media invite to a party that didn't quite sound like a real party, you may have a friend with a side hustle in multi-level marketing, a business model where individuals sell a company's products through social networks and arranged parties. While I'm all for the side hustle and I'm definitely not one to judge how anyone makes their money, I have to be honest: there are things I'm definitely thinking when you invite me to your direct sales party. Things that, for better or worse, aren't necessarily what one would consider "positive."
In fact, I really dread getting an invitation to one of these parties. The main reason for my dislike is that, honestly, I just find them awkward. It's like going to a boring sales pitch or time share presentation, except the discomfort is heightened because you actually care about the person giving the presentation. So, I find myself smiling and nodding, trying to be supportive but also not making too much eye contact in case my friend thinks she has closed the deal or made the sale.
Plus, and like most parents I know, I need to keep a close eye on my budget. Many of these products sold at direct sales parties are often expensive or not made from the best quality, so while I want to support my friends in all of their endeavors, I can't necessarily afford to do so. While I think it's important we all lift one another up when it comes to our career goals (or anything else, for that matter.) I just can't help but think the following things when I open up one of those invitations:
"How Can I Get Out Of This?"
The first thing I do when I receive one of these invitations is to look at my calendar and hope for a conflicting prior engagement. If one doesn't exist, I may invent one, or mysteriously come down sick the day of the party.
I am sorry, I really am. I just really don't want to come.
"Is This Really A Party?"
Sometimes the hosts of these parties will try to hide the real purpose of the get-together. As I have endured this, "Surprise, get out your checkbook!" tactic before, I now have a healthy dose of cynicism about whether or not an invitation to a party is an invitation to an actual party.
"Who Else Is Going?"
Some of these parties could be fun if it were just a group of girlfriends. The problem arises when the host tries to maximize her sales by inviting literally everyone she knows.
If you ordinarily wouldn't attend a party with your boss, friend's mom, neighbors, and dentist, then why would you go to a party with all of the above, especially where you're encouraged to spend money?
I once went to party for a sex toy company where my entire office and manager had also been invited. Yeah, that was awkward.
"Do I Have To Buy Something?"
The party host will usually add a sentence or two in their invitation claiming that you, of course, don't have to make a purchase. However, there's an implied assumption that you will. Plus, it's hard to say no to a friend.
"What's The Cheapest Thing Here?"
The first thing I'm thinking about, if I do commit to attend a sales party, is how much it's actually going to cost me.
I'll search through the website ahead of time and scope out any items in my price range. However, and to be honest, I resent the fact that I have to buy anything at all.
"Can't I Just Give You The Money?"
While most multi-level companies have a slightly differing commission structure, the bottom line is usually as follows: your friend is not going to get rich from this party.
In the end, I usually feel guilty and wish I could just give her the tiny percentage of my small purchase, then opt out of the party altogether.
"Is This In Anyway Related To A Cult?"
It's worth mentioning that almost all multi-level marketing companies are reputable organizations. However, some companies have used direct sales tactics, including pyramid schemes, to operate some shady business practices. The added pressure on consultants to recruit more sellers in order to move up in the company leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Your friend is likely to also start using acronyms and new words that she has learned through the company corporate culture, which could leave you wondering if she is an alien or involved in a secretive cult. Trust me, she's not. She probably works for a great organization and is just doing something to support her family. Still, the thought is there.
"Yeah, I Don't Need Any Of This Stuff"
If I need something, I see if I can afford it and then I buy it. I don't feel that I need to be convinced to make a purchase, especially when I'm awkwardly sitting on my friend's couch with a bunch of other people I probably don't know.
"When Can I Leave?"
As someone who suffers from mild anxiety, I always like to know when I can leave an event. I will sometimes agree to attend a direct sales party if I know the expectation is that I will be able to go home promptly.
However, throughout the event I am definitely and constantly wondering when I will be able to get out of here.
"I'm Such A Good Friend"
If I do agree to attend, I am going to feel like the word's best friend. Supporting someone I care about as they launch a new business is important to me, regardless of what I think about it. We all do what we believe is best for our families (and ourselves), so the least I can do is be a good friend and show up when I can (and when I can afford it, of course).
"When Is This Thing Gonna Arrive?"
On the rare occasion where I have attended a direct sales party and bought a product, I am amazed at how long it takes for the product to arrive. Usually, although not always because every company is different, by the time it comes I have almost forgotten I bought the thing.
Then again, at least when it arrives at my door I can remember that I really am a good friend, supporting my friends in all of their endeavors. No matter what, that feels really good.