In the midst of the 3 months we spent under lock down in Toronto last Spring, I had been trying to build this very website. I was knee-deep in marketing research, in a cloud of self-defeat, overwhelm and agitation. But, I was determined to get something up and running, just in case, say, my regular nine to five job didn’t exist for me to come back to. Not that I expected it to amount to an immediate source of income, but, at least it was a step in the right direction.
I realized quickly that it takes a lot of time and thought to build a brand name for yourself, to create the content, to make something worth someone’s attention (let alone their money.) And I know I’m not the only person who had a few groundbreaking revelations during the time we spent at home this year. I also definitely know I’m not the only person who started thinking about building an online business, my own business, where I wouldn’t need to rely on something like a day job at all. It’s the dream right? Be your own boss, travel the world while connecting online with your fabulous clientele, becoming self-sufficient.
I also know that entrepreneurial endeavours don’t just magically start making you money overnight. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, piles of free content, research, tweaking, writing, creating, for months and maybe even years before you start seeing any kind of profit. I’ve come to terms with that reality. Any money I make over the next year through any other means besides my regular day job is a bonus.
Fact: we live in a capitalist society.
That society impact our realities, our minds and especially our perception of our worth. My biggest struggle in developing my personal brand and then marketing my content on social media platforms has been: what am I even selling? Because guess what, there’s enough free yoga on the Internet that you could do a new class every single day for the next decade without ever spending a penny. (And I really do want you to know that.)
Here we go icky-capitalism based thinking:
If I don’t have anything worth selling…do I have any value?
Does it need to be a physical object? How do I facilitate an experience worth having? How do you get started as a fairly new instructor without a big client base? Especially without the exposure of a studio or a gym? What do I even charge for a class? Cue thoughts of doom. If everything I can offer can be offered at a cheaper price, or even for free online, on YouTube, by instructors who seem way more talented than me, why the hell am I even trying? Why am I expecting to make no money, yet I have to put in so much effort?
Enter: MLMs. MLMs are also known as, multilevel marketing schemes. Also known as: direct selling, network or referral marketing. MLMs take away all of the doom and gloom of figuring out what the fuck am I even selling and to whom. You now have your “perfect” product: bam. You also have your target audience: everyone you know. You’ll start making money right away, or so they say, and it’s fun and easy!
You’ve definitely heard of them, especially if you know a few yoga teachers, and definitely if you know a few stay-at-home moms or military wives. (Seems like it’s very geared towards us females, huh?) MLM products come in the form of essential oils, makeup, leggings, herbal supplements, beauty products, skincare products, literally any kind of product that you can think of that’s easily shipped and you will continue to need a regular supply of.
The basic equation goes like this: take someone who wants to start making money from home but they don’t have a product that they can sell. Guess what you have? Someone ready to sell your MLM products!
We’ve got DoTerra essential oils, USANA supplements, Beautycounter and Younique makeup, LuLaRoe leggings, Purium superfoods, Monat haircare, Arbonne skincare, Herbalife, Avon, the list goes on forever and ever. How these companies work is simple. You buy into the program, they set you up with all the training, the legwork of a website, the products, the team building, (the brainwashing.) You’re all set. All you had to spend was a mere $50 to $500 bucks. You didn’t need to build a brick and mortar shop. You didn’t even need to figure much out at all.
It may seem like I have a vendetta, like something happened to me. But it really didn’t. I’ve had good experiences buying products from friends who are invested in MLMs. I even considered joining one myself, briefly. I’ve talked to other women online, asking them about their own experiences with certain MLM brands or products, and I get it. The products aren’t all bad. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people empowering other people, fuck the system, the box stores, cool. And hey, if you give it a good go, maybe you can be successful at it, or maybe it’s a nice addition to other sources of income. This isn’t black and white.
What I’m trying to say is, MLMs are not the magic answer, and it seems to me that they certainly market themselves as so. Not everyone who sells them is duped or bad or silly. I’m just noticing the alarming rate at which people in “wellness” (I use quotes here because, wtf is wellness anyways, another blog for another time) and yoga circles keep signing on to them.
So let me break down how MLMs work and why yoga teachers and students are such good prey.
A casual way to earn extra-income whilst trying to earn an honest yoga teacher living will be appealing. Why? Because:
A) People who are still spending money on yoga classes have money to waste. The health and “wellness” industry is fucking booming. People want to be well. They want to be healthy. They will give you all of their money to be well and healthy.
B) There are way more yoga teachers than necessary in this world. We need to figure out multiple ways to become self-sufficient. That studio-hustle is dead. The pandemic killed it. And plus, the pay sucked anyways.
Traditional marketing means you’ve created a product, let’s say it’s a protein powder. As a consumer, I will see this protein powder in all sorts of places, health food stores, grocery stores, on Amazon, etc. So the competition of where I buy it depends on the wholesaler’s connection with the retailer, how much they charge, what other protein powder competition they have, the convenience to me, my connection with the establishment that I buy it from. There’s a method, a chain, that kind of breaks down the transaction and dilutes it. So say I buy this protein powder and then realize I want to return it, I can just take it back to the store and talk to whomever is working there and get my money back. It’s not personal.
Here’s where an MLM makes things different. They create a product and then eliminate the chain, so there’s no dilution. MLMs sell their product directly to their distributors (a single person) and then that distributor sells that product directly to you. It’s a personal relationship, one where you may even feel obligated to help out your friend or family. It’s a “social experience.”
Enter a yoga teacher. Let’s take any yoga teacher. They tend to have a lot of one-off friendships or interactions with their students, they probably have connections with small circles all over the world. You teach a class, a few people add you on social media, you have a few more people you could potentially pitch your product too. Throw someone savvy at Instagram or Facebook into the mix, you’ve got a viable profit selling these products directly to the people you meet in passing.
What kind of product might someone who does yoga like? There are more than plenty, but I’ll use one example: health food supplements. I had a yoga teacher whom I admired. They told me about their magic superfoods that will change my life. So, I bought them. Profit earned. But where the real kicker starts, say I get convinced I need more of these products, that they will make me even more beautiful, more fulfilled, more happy. So I buy more products off of my teacher. Then that teacher tells me, “You know, you could sell these products yourself and be making your own profit.” So, I sign up, and become a downline. My teacher is now my upline.
Right off the bat, this sounds like an unhealthy dynamic right? Guess what. It is.
So now you’re buying monthly products (which are usually quite expensive) in order to remain a distributor. Say you’re lucky enough to have a regular clientele that covers the cost for your monthly products, cool. You’re getting your products for free. That in itself isn’t exactly easy to accomplish.
But, in order to move up the MLM pyramid and start making some real money, you will want to recruit more people as your “downlines.” A portion of all of their sales, trickles back up to you. So the base of the pyramid just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and yes, it’s deceiving because the top grows ever-so-slightly too. But it will never be an even dynamic. Whoever you sign up under will always be your “upline” and you will always be their “downline.”
I’m not saying you can’t make genuine connections, find friendship or even emotional support through MLM selling teams. But when we start to mix together “community” and “sales team,” I personally think things get weird. Are they your friends? Did you buy into this friendship? For example, when you purchase a product, you’re often invited into Facebook groups. Then, when you decide you want to become a distributor, you’re invited to an even more exclusive distributor community. A place where everyone is lifting each other up in their endeavours to become profitable sellers of this product that we all love so very much.
Identity with a group rather than as an individual? Charismatic leaders? Deceiving people into how much money they’ll spend? Unquestioning devotion and loyalty? Drawing in people who are in a bad place financially/mentally/emotionally? People who are desperate to get out of their current situations? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
This doesn’t sound brainwash-y or cult-y to me at all.
So take someone who just graduated a $4000 yoga teacher training. They then realize they’re being spewed out by the dozen, daily, all over the world. They might think, why do these studios keep recruiting us to do trainings when they don’t need more teachers? Hm, this sounds familiar. Why do people keep recruiting downlines when there are more than enough people to go around selling the products? Because that’s where the real money maker is: recruiting. Selling dreams.
So am I saying becoming a yoga teacher in and of itself is kind of like a multi-level marketing scheme? Shit. Maybe.
“What do these studios, who see this teacher saturation each and every day, do? They keep offering more teacher training. Yoga teacher training is so profitable for studios that they continue offering it, knowing that most of the people they train will never be able to work enough to earn back what they spent. Let alone even get a job in the studio they trained at. And the would-be teachers themselves spend all this money with every intention of earning it back and making more, with the sheen of spiritual enlightenment and six-pack abs attached.”Our Next Life (Blog)
In conclusion, maybe yoga teachers and MLM companies have a little too much in common. And I know that I personally don’t want to associate with one because it gives people a certain impression of you. I’d say 9 out of 10 people on average in North America have already been duped by an MLM or two. You most certainly are giving off a yuck vibe when you try to sell these products, especially to your friends and family. I’m sorry, but you are.
I honestly feel that a lot of these companies use such easy, one-trick pony sales tactics like: a sense of urgency, fat before and skinny after photos (ugh, are we back in the ’90s?), “discounted” pricing. It all just sort of looks like the same thing in the end. You will get funneled into the section of your friends’ brains labeled: “trying to sell me something that I really don’t need.”
I don’t think anyone wants to be that person. When you sign up for these types of business endeavours, you’re the direct supplier, your body and home become the brick and mortar store, the warehouse. So in a sense, when you sell a product that isn’t really made by you to someone else, you aren’t the creator, you’re the conveyor belt. And if you want to be earning a full-time salary doing it, you’ll need to be working full-time.
If you just love the products and would be buying them anyways, selling them here and there just for fun, cool. You do you. I’m just here to give my perspective on how all of this works, how you may be perceived (and how these companies literally feed off of the collective trauma of being in a capitalist society.)
So before you jump on the MLM bandwagon, as a yoga teacher especially, I have to ask: Is this product worth the same amount of time and effort it would take to build your own business and clientele? Are you OK with asking all of your friends and family to buy this product? Are you OK with being annoying?
I don’t mean to be snarky. I ask myself similar questions every dang day. I know it’s not easy creating a product, let alone selling it. I also know that nowadays, most people like having multiple streams of income, but this is an opinion piece. So, that was my opinion.
I don’t necessarily have another answer, creating a name for yourself, a thriving business, it’s the dream… right?