Most of us have needed a side gig at some point, but for a while, it seemed as though every “how to make extra money” or “find your side gig” YouTube video, blog post, website article, or podcast contained the same options. We were all told great fortune awaited if we just taught Chinese children to speak English online, became a “brand ambassador”, or partnered with a company that paid us to pick up and/or deliver groceries or takeout on our own schedule. And then suddenly….these weren’t being promoted anymore. “Side hustle” content creators have moved on to completely different things, mostly online sales and marketing.
What happened to these former “make money online” trends? Can we still supplement our art career income with these?
Teach English to Chinese kids online
VIPKid, ABCKids, and MagicEars appeared to be the most popular companies offering this opportunity, but they were far from the only ones. Opportunities to teach children from China to speak English seemed almost limitless. Teachers did need to have a Bachelor’s degree, but they did not need teacher certification or teaching experience. They only needed to be fluent English speakers, and willing to teach in the startlingly upbeat style taught by the company.
These were not promoted as “get rich quick with no investment” schemes. Both teachers and the companies’ web pages made it clear that you needed to have high speed internet, a microphone, and a quiet, distraction-free, and child-friendly space available in order to do the work. And while the corporations did not ask you for money, it was expected that teachers make a small investment in their teaching career by purchasing teaching aides such as cutout letters and shapes, puppets, props, and backdrops that made the teacher appear to be sitting in a classroom. But once you had all of that, you were on your way to a side hustle that could potentially replace the income of your current career.
As of the writing of this article, MagicEars, VIPKid, and a company called GoGoKid still maintain active websites, including links to apply to teach. The estimated pay ranges from $12-$26 per hour. They just aren’t the trendy thing to promote anymore. The only promotion of VIPKid and GoGo Kid found during a May 2021 YouTube search of “most popular side hustles of 2021” was from Rachel Cruze of the YouTube channel “The Rachel Cruze Show.”
Many more recent videos describe quitting, or even being fired from, these companies. The work is the same, reality has just set in for a lot of workers. Working for them really means working with them. You hire yourself out as a teacher to VIPKid or MagicEars or Gogo Kid, you are not an employee. This means you’re responsible for taking taxes out of your own paycheck, a responsibility many are not prepared to meet. Add to that the struggles of having to be at work at two, four, or six a.m. your time in order to meet the scheduling needs of students in Bejing, and the difficulty of recruiting and keeping your own students within the platform, and the work is just much more difficult than the brightly colored ads featuring teachers beaming into their laptops make it seem.
Sign up as an “influencer” or “brand ambassador” and share what you love
The most common way to bump into this side hustle opportunity in the past few years has been to join an online group dedicated to budgeting, frugal living, making money, or coping with work stress and share your story. Someone will likely comment offering you an opportunity in network marketing. For a small startup fee, you can earn money the way your favorite content creators on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok do, simply by sharing great products and talking about the things you love.
This one is still going strong. It is just increasingly being exposed for what it really is, the same old multilevel marketing companies that have been around longer than any of us reading this have been alive on this earth. They just changed the wording to make it more appealing, and to disguise what those they recruit are truly involved in.
A real brand ambassador is paid by the company for promoting the brand. That’s it. They promote the brand, and they get paid. A real influencer is someone who has built a large social media following, regardless of whether they’re making money from influencing their audience or not. When you pay a company to send you a sales kit, you can call it whatever you want, but you just hired yourself out as a salesperson for a multilevel marketing company. You won’t be earning any money unless you sell their products, or recruit others to sell their products.
Artist Cafe Utica is no longer a part of the anti-MLM community in that we no longer criticize anyone who chooses to work with these companies. If you really like Arbonne, Avon, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, or any of the other multilevel marketing company products out there and want to sell for them to try to earn some free products and maybe a little extra cash, go for it. But this is not a pro-MLM or network marketing site either. Multilevel marketing companies are set up to ensure success for the top one to three per cent by taking advantage of everyone below them, and that alone makes them something we cannot recommend as a side hustle.
Work as a driver or delivery person on your own schedule
Driving for companies like Uber, Lyft, GrubHub, DoorDash, and in some cities,Postmates is still a viable option for those who want to drive as a side hustle. Video titles on YouTube have just gone from things like, “I made eight thousand dollars a month driving!” two years ago, to “Why you shouldn’t drive…” in the past eight or ten months.
Like the “teach Chinese children to speak English” work, driving for these companies isn’t them giving you a job. It’s you hiring yourself out as an independent driver or delivery person to the company. You’re responsible for paying your own taxes and other expenses that come with using your car as a rideshare or delivery vehicle.
This work is also not the guaranteed money maker ads screaming “Make $30 an hour with (name of company!) make it seem. You get to set your own schedule, but if you aren’t available to work when people want rides or takeout or grocery delivery, you aren’t going to make much, if any, profit.
“Best side hustle” videos can be fun to watch, and generate useful ideas for making money. But like most online content, creators often follow trends and fads. It’s always important to take a step back and get a bigger, clearer picture of any side hustle work you find.
On many things, Artist Cafe Utica is firm. This is strictly a Christian, politically liberal, and pro-arts and artists website. It is written for and about Utica artists, and there is no goal of expanding the audience. That will never change. But every once in a while, there is a specific issue where the stance of the page may shift. This happened gradually over the past year and a half with the issue of direct selling, also known as network marketing or multilevel marketing.
Artist Cafe Utica began as an “anti-MLM with Avon as the one exception “site. The more I learned about the current culture and some practices of Avon, the more I came to believe that there were no exceptions in MLMs. The site grew into a strictly anti-MLM online space, and I considered myself a part of the anti-MLM community…..a tiny local niche part…but a part.
Over the past several weeks, anti-MLM education and activism has taken a hit, and a well-deserved one. The latest trend in anti-MLM videos and articles is “We attended a multilevel marketing party so you don’t have to.” In order to write or film their content, the anti-MLM activist either joins an online sales party for a multilevel marketing company, or obtains samples of the product and watches a filmed party or training session.
Some of these are useful for anti-MLM education, as the content creator points out the aggressive recruitment tactics, inflated income claims, and other features that are legitimate criticisms of most MLMs and many of their representatives. But a recent social media trend has taken a disturbing turn.
A few weeks ago, a new anti-MLM video was posted on YouTube. In this video, a well-known anti-MLM YouTuber participated in this social media challenge with her best friend by trying some of the MLM company’s products a fan had sent her while watching a filmed party. The vlogger and her friend appeared in the bottom corner of the screen while the party video played above them. The particular company they chose to highlight sells lounge wear, lingerie, and bath and fragrance products, along with more intimate, adults-only items in the back of their catalog. The details are left intentionally vague to keep this a “safe for work” article.
Rather than focusing on criticisms against multilevel marketing, the vlogger and her friend shrieked, giggled, and made cruel remarks about the MLM sales representative’s body and sexuality, engaging in behaviors such as putting the products on their hands, sniffing them, and shrieking in horror because they now smelled like the MLM representative’s body parts….including her “private parts.”
The YouTuber/vlogger’s comment section was full of fans cheering her and her friend on, and requesting more videos like this one.
It is true that the content creators have the legal right to produce the content, and the fans have a right to enjoy it and to support it. They are not inciting a riot or any other criminal activity, and therefore have the first amendment right to say whatever they want. But the first amendment protects you from persecution by the government for what you say. It doesn’t protect you from your actions having consequences you didn’t want, or from other people disagreeing with you or disliking you based on what you say. I’m not suggesting the content creators be arrested, fined, or denied government services for creating the content.
Artist Cafe Utica simply does not support or condone behavior like this. This is not activism. It is not education. It is bullying.
Was I wrong about MLMs? Did my support of the anti MLM community only serve to support internet bullies? Let’s look at each of my arguments against network marketing, and their rebuttals.
Network marketing, direct selling, or multilevel marketing is based on a flawed business model. It sets most people up to fail. The only way you can become a top earner is to recruit a team of people. Eventually, you are going to run out of people.
Honest network marketers openly admit that most people do not reach the top levels when signing up to sell for these companies. But everybody does not join to become a millionaire. People may join with the intent to use their sales and even team building, as a side hustle to make some extra cash. Or maybe they want to make enough money to build a small vacation fund, or ease the burden on the family finances by paying a single bill. McDonalds has run ads suggesting that their jobs are launching pads for amazing careers, and every job there certainly isn’t a guaranteed road to fortune. It is possible for someone to join a network marketing company, and still be levelheaded enough to tell the difference between corporate hype, claims from more naïve co-workers, and reality.
The products and services offered by these companies are of lower quality than those offered by retailers at the same price point.
The quality of many of the products offered by these companies is subjective. One person may swear by the store brand nutrition shakes they get from Walmart, while another will only drink what they buy from GNC, and yet another may honestly like something from an MLM. Some people insist makeup and other cosmetics from the Dollar Tree are as good or better than high end brands. While it is fair to criticize any company whose products have caused consumers harm, such as Monat’s series of lawsuits due to hair loss and scalp burns, there are certainly traditional retailers who have produced similarly harmful products. Claiming that an eighteen dollar lipstick from an MLM is only as good as a two or six dollar lipstick from a retailer is unfair, because it only means that I liked the one from the retailer better, not that it will perform better for anyone else.
In the time you put into working for an MLM, you could have worked a minimum wage job and earned more money.
Taken alone, this statement is true. Even if you spend only ten minutes each day checking your sales page, you spend so much time devoted to your MLM, you could have earned more money by working the same amount of hours at McDonald’s or Starbucks or the phone kiosk in the mall. But is this a fair comparison in terms of the work you have to do? You can check your direct sales page while sipping your coffee in the morning or popping into the break room for your ten minute break during a shift at your main job. To earn extra money with an additional minimum wage job, you will have to stand on your feet for hours at a time, cope with irate customers, and suffer all the other well-documented indignaties of most minimum wage work.
The friendships formed through these companies are false. Your friends you make in an MLM will vanish as soon as you stop devoting all your time and energy to the company. They’re only interested in you for the money they can make from your labor.
There is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence for this. Stories abound of people who were drawn in with promises of sisterhoods and families, and behavior that could only be described as “love bombing,” only to be insulted, pushed aside, and abandoned when they questioned anything or decided the company wasn’t for them. But perhaps it is unfair to assume that absolutely everyone who joins a network marketing company behaves like this. Most of these stories are found on anti-MLM sites. People who navigate to these pages know they’re not going to be welcome if they have a pro-MLM or even neutral story. Only the stories of cruelty are going to get posted. This would only be a fair claim if the research were done on a site that invited stories of both harm and benefit brought by the MLM.
MLM representatives endanger people by presenting themselves as experts, when all they did was pay a fee and open up a box of paperwork and maybe some products from the company.
This is common, and it is dangerous. You are not an expert on fitness just because you signed up to sell workout programs with Beach Body. You’re not a nutritionist just because you signed up with Arbonne or Avon and they offer vitamins and shakes now, or a makeup artist because you sell Jafra or Mary Kay. Any MLM representative who does this should be avoided. But so should anyone else who takes an entry level job and tries to behave as though they’re an expert. Just because something is a common problem among a group of people, that does not mean everybody in that group exhibits the same behavior, or that the problem does not exist outside that group.
Some claims common to multilevel/network marketing are indeed false. You do not have your own business. You’re hiring yourself out to the company as an independent sales agent. The outlandish income promises help no one but the corporation. And the common tactic of behaving as though anyone who works a traditional job is foolish or lazy is unfair, no matter how much you love your network marketing work. But the anti-MLM community is flawed as well. Making fun of people who may have joined one of these companies for any number of reasons, painting everyone either as an easily led fool or a cunning and ruthless manipulator and user, is hardly fair. Given the sheer number of people who sign up for these things, it must go well for more than one per cent of people.
Which side are you on? Are MLMs cult-like, financially and emotionally destructive, and never a good idea to get involved with at all? Or are MLMs just ordinary companies with an open hiring policy, with your experiences dependent entirely upon which company you work for and who you get involved with? Or do you fall somewhere in the middle? Is it a good idea to support a friend who works for an MLM, but maybe not the best way to earn extra cash?
Tell us what you think on the Artist Cafe Utica facebook page at: www.facebook.com/ArtistCafeUtica
Multilevel marketing is on the rise as people have lost jobs or seen their hours cut due to the current public health crisis. Even if your career has not been impacted any more than any other artist, and your salaried work is secure, it is often tempting to talk yourself into joining one of these companies for a little spending money to give yourself a few little treats during this stressful time. Some people even join as “personal use” consultants. This seems safe. You sign up as a consultant just to get the discount on the products. At best, you predict you may get a few pity sales from close friends and family, making your products free to you. At worst, you get to pay a lot less for products you wanted to treat yourself to anyway. But even signing up as a personal use consultant will only waste your time and energy, and possibly even cost you more than you save. Before signing up “just to get that discount” or “to earn some free products,” consider the following about multilevel marketing companies and their goods and services.
Even if you’re a “personal use” consultant, you still have to sell enough of the company’s products to earn the discount.
Many MLMs are a good deal at the very start, as they offer their consultant discount on the first order, regardless of size. This means if the startup kit costs $50, and the total cost of what you were going to buy anyway is $150 with a 50% discount, you just got a nice $25 discount on your products, plus whatever you care to pick out of the starter kit. But that “discount just for being signed up under us” is never a permanent offer. After the first, or at least the first few orders, you will be required to sell the company’s products in order to get that discount. If you can’t sell the products, then you will have to purchase them yourself, and buying things you never wanted just to get a discount on things you did adds up to spending more than full price for the stuff you wanted.
The majority of the products offered by MLMs are of much lower quality than others of their price range. You would save more money by buying products of comparable quality someplace else.
Often, the price of a product has little to do with its quality. In some cases, you get what you pay for, and cheaper products are indeed lower in quality. And in others, the price is so marked up, the cheaper item is of the same or better quality. The products offered by MLMs typically fall into the third category, as it is necessary for the company to mark up the price in order to pay all the “levels” in the multilevel marketing scheme while still making a profit for the corporation. A $50.00 frying pan from an MLM that sells kitchenware is likely to be similar to a $15.00 pan from the store. While an $18.00 lipstick from a non MLM makeup company is a high end product, an $18.00 MLM lipstick is going to be of the same quality as an $8.00…or even a $2.00 drugstore lipstick. Even if you go by your initial, promotional discount, it is going to be cheaper to just go buy a similar product from a traditional retailer.
Your upline is not likely to take your “personal use” decision as graciously and respectfully as they appear to in the beginning.
When you are first lured into an MLM, the person you sign up under is going to tell you it’s the perfect situation for you, no matter who you are or what your situation or goals might be. If I tell them I love my job and just want free products, they will tell me of all the people they know who only sell enough to make their products free to them, and assure me it’s no pressure. If the next person who speaks to them claims to want sales training for a career change, that same opportunity will suddenly become an alternative to a degree in marketing. Everybody gets told what they want to hear. Once you’re signed up, prepare for an onslaught of phone calls, emails, texts, and comments on your social media, all pressuring you to get out there and sell for the company. This will continue, no matter how many times you tell them you’re only a “personal use” consultant.
Even if all you ever do is make a few social media posts announcing that you’re selling the products and then spend ten minutes per day checking your email or sales page online, you still could have earned more in the same amount of time with a minimum wage job.
After a year and four months of doing nothing more than making a few social media posts about selling Avon and spending approximately ten minutes checking my page each day for 300 days, I worked for a total of 50 hours. For my 50 hours of work, I earned $200 worth of Avon products and just under $35 in cash. I could have taken a minimum wage side job, worked just seven part-time shifts for a total of 28 hours, and come away with about $250 after taxes.
The people above you in the multilevel marketing “team” will not likely respect your decision should you insist you are personal use only, or even if you decide to stop selling altogether, and may do things you do not agree to in your name.
One common ploy in MLMs is for someone with several consultants under them to fake sales for those who choose to quit selling. They do this by having another consultant purchase products from the lapsed consultant’s page. Most MLMs will continue with this practice, even after they have been told the former representative no longer wishes to be involved with the company.
The “just under $35” I made with Avon was earned in this way. I wrote to Avon asking them to remove me as a consultant. They responded with a form letter intended for representatives who had not sold in a while, talking about looking forward to welcoming me back when I started selling again. I wrote another letter. I received another form letter response, but I also began receiving messages threatening to shut my page down if I didn’t place an order soon. Of course I ignored those too, since shutting the page down was what I had requested. Right before my page was scheduled to close down, someone outside of my hometown area, but within my upline’s territory, just happened to place an order, returning me to active status again. The order was for just under $50, earning me around $10. I responded this time by completing ignoring all correspondence from Avon until the sales page was shut down. Several weeks later, I received another $14 and change in comission, as the same person had placed a similar order, re-activating the closed sales page I had repeatedly told them I no longer wanted to maintain. This may not seem like anything detrimental on the surface, and in fact may seem like a nice way to get a free ten to fifteen bucks every few months. But it still involves someone doing something in your name when you told them they did not have permission to do so.
It was not until the person did it a third time, and I launched another complaint with the company that the sales page was closed down. I’m waiting to see if this individual breaks into my closed page and does this again.
“Personal use” consulting for an MLM will bring on more trouble than it is worth. There are many other ways to cut costs and earn money, without all the trouble these predatory companies bring.
As artists, we probably know what it’s like to struggle financially. This can be especially true around the holidays, leading many of us to want to give to others who may also be struggling this year. Generosity is always something to cultivate in yourself. Never become so cynical or hardened that you simply refuse to give. Just take a moment to make sure you’re giving to someone or something that is truly going to help others.
Holiday season scams are nothing new. The ones you remember from past years are sure to be back. But here are the ones that seem especially active as the Christmas season officially begins.
Secret Santa/Secret Sisters
Secret Sisters, sometimes billed as “Secret Santa Sisters” or a similar name, is a new twist on the same old gift exchange pyramid scheme. The message or post invites you to combat the loneliness brought on by the fight against Covid-19 by adding your name to a gift exchange list. You buy a small, thoughtful gift for the person whose name you get, and everyone who gets your name will send you something in turn. But only the people who started it actually receive the gifts. These items can then be sold by the people running the pyramid scheme for a profit.
Those who truly want to bless a stranger this holiday season should instead contact local non-profit organizations, or speak to someone at their place of worship about participating in an “angel tree” or similar program. These types of programs allow those in need to sign up to receive gifts for themselves, their elderly relatives, or their children this Christmas. Those who would like to give gifts can receive information such as gender, age, clothing sizes, wish lists, and favorite colors, and purchase an appropriate gift for the recipient.
Help Me Help Others
The scam starts out as a social media challenge. The scammer claims they are raising funds to bless others. One post seen around social media asked people to send money to a personal Cashapp account so that the account owner could give servers and bartenders hundreds of dollars in tips. Another asked friends and family to send them money to buy products from a multilevel marketing company they sold for, with the promise that they would use the cash to order children’s products from their company and distribute them at a hospital. Of course, there is no guarantee the recipient of your funds will use them in the way they claim, and if they’re soliciting cash donations from strangers, it is likely they will not. The honest way to do this would be to get an online group together, set a goal, and challenge everyone to give enough directly to the people they are blessing to meet that goal. There is absolutely no reason why you should have to filter your cash donation through an individual.
Anyone who wants to give servers especially large tips can give the extra cash directly to the server or delivery person of their choice. People who feel called to make a cash donation to help kids in a hospital can just as easily contact an area hospital and arrange to make a donation as give it to a random person and hope that person isn’t planning to pocket the money.
Social Media Coupons and Deals
Getting your holiday shopping going while browsing your social media may be tempting. It is especially enticing when the ad that just popped up offers you such an amazing deal on a product at a famous retailer. Never click on these, no matter how much a loved one would like the item pictured, how good the deal, or how busy you are right now. These ads are almost always scams, with links that take you to sites designed to be mistaken for the web page of a well-known, legitimate retail establishment. Amazon and Target are just two pages scammers have basically cloned.
Online holiday shopping should always begin and end directly on the known, trusted site of your favorite store. Any coupons or deals they offer will be on their site. If you see a deal on another site, contact the store’s customer service department from the known and trusted site and ask them if the offer is genuine.
Pet adoption scams surged during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as scammers realized an increase in isolation and loneliness would lead to an increase in the demand for pets. As we face a holiday season destined to feature a lot more time alone or with a very small group than we had anticipated or hoped for, pet adoption scammers are back at it, targeting lonely people, animal lovers, and parents and grandparents hoping to brighten Christmas for the chidlren in their family. Adorable puppies or kittens are for sale from what looks like the Facebook or Instagram page of a reputable breeder. Or someone’s pet has unexpectedly given birth, and the babies are available for a “rehoming fee.” Sometimes, the pet is presented as a rescue in need of a home.
The safest way to adopt a pet is through your local animal rescue organization. If you feel called to adopt a pet from an individual, never part with any cash until your new pet is with you, offline and in person. Stealing other peoples’ pet photos, including photos of new litters, is as easy as stealing any other type of photo online. And never settle for a meeting via Zoom or other in person but online environment. The person could still claim your pet ran away or passed away between the day you sent them your money and the day you were scheduled to receive the pet.
MLM Sales Pitches Disguised as Need
This one pops up in groups intended to get and receive help. Someone will create a post inviting members to announce something they need, in the hope that another member will be able to help them out. Most of the responses will address legitimate needs. Of course, some people may talk about things many of us would consider a “want,” but everyone is doing what they are invited to do, mention something they would purchase if they only had the funds. Some post about needing a job.
Then there are posts with pleas such as “To do well with my business so I can have a better life.” Responses to questions about the business always consist of “PM’d you” or “sent you a message” instead of an answer in public online space. Responding to these messages will get you nothing more than a sales pitch from someone who has signed up to sell for an MLM, or multilevel marketing company. The person may even try to convince you to pay to sign up to sell the products under them.
Always pay close attention to who you are communicating with online, and never agree to or sign anything simply because someone seems desperate for you to do so. It is up to each of us who we wish to help out, but make sure you are helping someone you genuinely wish to help, and are not being manipulated or pressured into something you do not support.
Never let the presence of these scams discourage you from blessing others. Just take an extra minute to step back and make sure things are as they seem.
Feelings of isolation are increasing these days. Limiting the number of people we’re in close contact with, and sticking to the same tight circle feels a bit better than isolating ourselves completely, but we still miss those friends who make the circle too big, our regular offline meetings and gatherings, favorite public events, and our old offline hangouts. Performing and literary artists in particular are feeling the strain of cancelled plays, concerts, readings and open mics. Even if you’re busy writing new songs or poems, and happy just to spend time with your spouse or partner, or love being home with your kids all day, you probably wish you could spend more of that time together at your favorite hangout.
Joining groups online, or joining small offline groups that take all necessary precautions is one way to alleviate some of that feeling of being shut away. Some groups even promise to alleviate some of the financial worries of the time, offering jobs or business opportunities. But not all groups are safe to join. Cults and cult-like groups make the news when things take a horrific turn, but financial, psychological, and relationship damage can occur in any group that employs cult-like tactics.
Devotion to a Person
Whether you joined an online musicians’ networking group or an offline support group for single parents, signed up for a business opportunity, or took a job with a small business, be wary of any group that demands allegiance and devotion to an individual, family, or small group. It is not “team building” when a boss expects you to shun everyone who crosses them, take up their personal causes that have nothing to do with the work, or jump and do things for them beyond what you would do for anyone else. Pastors should never give the impression that their opinions, thoughts, feelings, or impressions that have nothing to do with the Bible are the word of God. Leaders of networking and support groups should never demand excessive online chatting, correspondence, or personal details.
This is commonly known as an “us versus them” atmosphere, and can be one of the most alluring features of a cult-like group. Being part of the group, seeing yourself as accepted, and feeling like you belong someplace is great. There are some elements of “us” and “them” in any group you join for any reason. Your pastor at your perfectly safe church probably talks about what you as a congregation can do. When you work for a company, you hope they’re chosen by advertisers, clients, and customers over others in the field. But when people in groups you do not belong to become enemies without doing anything to someone else, or by doing something that merely displeases one person, that is a red flag.
Attempting to Control Your Information
Before the days of twenty-four hour news cycles, and the ability to look things up, order books, or instantly stream films came along, cult-like groups directly controlled what their members learned or heard. Today, they are well aware that keeping people away from information is nearly impossible, so they try to discredit any information that paints them in a bad light or provides an alternate point of view, and encourage members to reject that information. Multi-level marketing groups, most of which use cult-like tactics to lure people in and keep them, are famous for this feature. Any video, article, or other report from someone who tried to make money selling for them and earned nothing but a host of problems is brushed aside as the whining of someone who just didn’t work hard enough.
Off-kilter Reward and Punishment System
The presence of rewards and punishments alone does not indicate a cult. Every time you get a paying gig or assignment, or it’s payday at your second career or day job, you get a reward for your behavior. You play the music, write the article, work your shift, or get your tasks done, and you get money. If you don’t do the work, you get punished, in the form of being fired, lacking funds, and getting a bad reputation. Reward and punishment becomes a red flag for a cult-like group if the rewards and punishments are based on loyalty to the leader or the group, rather than for what you actually contribute. Not being asked to be a mentor or moderator in your online support group because you rarely contribute anything when someone else has a problem is understandable. Not being asked because you don’t navigate over to the leader’s private page for personal chats is suspicious.
Interference in Healthy Relationships
This is another cult-like trait common in multi-level marketing companies. Anyone who tells you that your new “business” is not a franchise of a cosmetics company, just you hiring yourself out as a commission only sales person to a major corporation, is to be mocked. People who tell you that you will likely lose, not earn, money with this type of work are to be pushed aside. You will be told they do not have your best interests at heart, do not support you, and do not truly love or like you. It does not matter if the person is the love of your life, an adopted sibling to you, or the supervisor you’ve enjoyed working under for several years. If they don’t tell you what the multi-level marketing company wants to hear, the multi-level marketing company wants them gone, or at least pushed aside. All dangerous groups are not as blatant as this, but any business, group, or organization that encourages you to treat those who love you poorly in any way is not a place you want to stay.
These are not the only five features of a cult or cult-like group, just the ones you are most likely to notice first. Look for a pattern of these traits in any group you join for any reason, and leave as soon as you see it emerge. It is better to suffer a few moments of embarrassment, or even give up a side income or activity, than to immerse yourself in psychological or financial danger.
Have you recently joined an MLM as a side hustle, or even perhaps as a potential day job to pay the bills? Are you seriously considering one? Here are five things you may not realize about multilevel marketing.
Your business is you as a freelance sales person, not a branch of the company.
“This isn’t a job. This is your own business,” is a common lure used by multilevel marketing companies. And the tax forms would seem to back that up. If you sign up to sell something through one of these companies, you do file taxes as an independent contractor.
What many people do not realize is you are not signing up to own your own franchise of the company. In a franchise, the company doesn’t make a profit from your branch of the company unless you make a profit. If your franchise doesn’t make money, you go out of business. In an MLM, the company makes money as long as people keep signing up under you, whether you sell anything or not. When you sign up with an MLM, you are offering your services to the company as a freelance sales person. Selling that company’s products and recruiting others to sell them is your assignment as an independent salesperson, not your own business.
All that time spent “growing your business” is actually you advertising for the company for free.
When you agree to sell something, you have to promote it. You need to be posting about the products on your social media, putting up signs around town, going around talking to people, maybe even scheduling sales demonstrations, euphemistically called “parties.” Your upline will tell you that you are “growing your business.” In reality, you are working in advertising for the company.
Suppose your friend signs up to sell Mary Kay Cosmetics. She creates makeup looks with Mary Kay each morning, and posts them on her YouTube channel and facebook page. At least once per day, your friend then devotes an hour or more to emailing or messaging people, putting out signs and flyers with her contact information, and demonstrating the product at parties. Even if nobody ever buys so much as a clear lip balm or a pack of makeup wipes from your friend, her work has put the Mary Kay name and brand image out there in front of potential customers. This is advertising. And if your friend doesn’t get any sales, or gets only modest sales after working for weeks, she just did a lot of advertising for Mary Kay for free.
When someone offers what seems like a weak refusal to buy from you or sell under you, they’re not making excuses, they’re allowing you to save face.
People who wholeheartedly embrace MLMs like to rant about others who refuse to participate in the scheme. “You don’t have $100 to invest in yourself one time, but you have $25 to spend at Dunkin (or Starbucks) every single week!” they scold. Or “You say you don’t have time to sell Arbonne, but you have time to sit and watch YouTube videos, baseball games, or tv show marathons.”
People who respond to an MLM pitch this way are well aware that they could be making their coffee at home and buying a starter kit from you instead. They know they could skip the Yankees game or the latest drama from the Ace Family or another season of Game of Thrones to sell your products for you. They knew this before you made a Facebook post or YouTube video yelling at them for it. It’s just kinder to pretend you’re too broke or too busy to do something than to say, “No. I don’t like your product and don’t want to work with you.”
You lose money whenever you spend money you would not otherwise have spent, just to get to do something. This includes selling for an MLM.
Some MLMs look like you can’t really lose money. The starter kit costs less than the value of the products you’re going to pick out of it, the ones you wanted to buy anyway. There are no inventory requirements, no meeting requirements, and no minimum monthly sales to keep active.
In the short-term, you won’t lose money in one of these relatively low cost, low requirement MLMs. You might even come out a little ahead, if say, the home goods starter set costs $200, and you needed $250 worth of stuff for your kitchen anyway, or you found a $50 makeup starter kit with $60 worth of products you were already buying in it. But you still may lose a bit of money.
Return to the example of your friend selling Mary Kay. Suppose your friend’s sales kit cost her $120, but she chose $200 worth of products to keep for herself. She even sold enough Mary Kay to friends and family to make another $100. Your friend is now $180 ahead. But then, in order to maintain her status as a Mary Kay representative, she finds it necessary to go out and place flyers around town once per week. Since she’s stuck in town, she buys herself a meal she normally wouldn’t have gone out for. The total comes to $25. On her way home each week, she stops at the grocery store and picks up some extra food to make faster lunches for her kids, so she can devote more time to her Mary Kay sales from home. This total comes to $15. Afer only four and a half weeks, the money she saved and earned from Mary Kay has been spent to get to work for Mary Kay. If she goes another week without a sale, or takes a friend out to lunch to talk about the “opportunity,” she has now lost money, even though she hasn’t spent any more money directly on Mary Kay. Even if you make some income, you actually made less than you think once you factor in all the money spent on the act of selling the product and recruiting others.
The person intent on recruiting you is using some version of a rehearsed script designed to make you think the business is perfect for you.
You told them you were an artist, singing and playing guitar professionally and doing some acting as a hobby, and they explained that with a little effort, you’ll be able to use this income to free yourself from that hated, completely unrelated day job in retail and focus on your music nearly full-time. Or maybe you explained that your day job is a second passion of yours, or part of your career as an artist, and you just need some spare cash to make your next album. They assured you that many people work this business as a side hustle.
This business sounds perfect for you, but it would be made to sound perfect for you no matter what you said. MLM recruitment training teaches representatives to sell the business to anyone and everyone. If you don’t believe it, try an experiment. Have a friend or relative contact the same representative, but tell them a story completely different from yours in every way. Have your experimenter pretend to be in a field completely outside of the arts. If you have kids, they have no children and don’t want or can’t have any, and vice-versa. If your day is too busy, they’re bored. If you just need some spare cash, they must replace an income immediately. The “opportunity” will be perfect for them too. This is of course ridiculous, as no field, no workplace, can possibly be perfect for every person in every circumstance.
Multilevel marketing is never a good idea for a side hustle, day job, or as a part of your art career. They operate on a system set up to get their representatives to provide their own expense account, perform free labor, and engage in off-putting business practices. And they can’t even be straightforward about the work you’ll be doing or your income potential in return.
All artists have our main art forms. This is where our passions most directly mesh with our skills.
Most artists also have our day jobs, which are our main sources of income. Some of us are blessed to have day jobs that are also part of our arts career, or to have a second calling outside the arts that we are equally passionate about. Others simply see their day job as the way they finance their art work.
Many of us have hobbies within the arts. These are the art forms we practice, but are not able to do on a professional level, for whatever reason. Maybe we do not have the skill level or talent to be professional. Perhaps we just don’t have the interest in that particular art form needed to reach that level. But we still enjoy them and can do them at least fairly well.
These are the types of work we know all about as working artists. But job boards, career groups, and other online places that address money or work seem to focus a lot on “side hustles” today. What exactly is a side hustle? And how can you find one that might work for you?
A side hustle is any work you do outside of your career, your day job, and your hobbies, with the lone goal of bringing in more money. But everything that might bring in money isn’t necessarily a good side hustle for everyone.
Side hustles should be at least somewhat enjoyable.
The work is not a side hustle if it offers you the opportunity to do something that is your passion and your life’s work. That’s another gig or project or job within your career. But a side hustle does not have to be completely out of your fields either. In fact, many side hustles branch off from something you already do, either professionally or as a hobby.
I write novels, write for and about Utica artists, and teach writing skills to adults as my art career. The teaching is also my main source of income, or day job. I sing as a hobby. If I were to offer writing that had nothing to do with the arts or local artists, tutoring in something besides writing, or virtual assistant services to musicians, those would be side hustles.
Other side hustles might fall completely out of your field, but still be something you enjoy working on. Some people find thrift store flipping to be a pleasant way to make some extra cash. Between projects or gigs, or for a break, they scour yard sales and thrift stores for items that need small repairs, cleaning, or other alterations to be restored to a nearly new condition, do the work, and then re-sell the items for a profit. Those who love working with the public might sign up to drive for a ride share or delivery service as a side hustle.
Work done as a side hustle is generally not steady or long-term.
Most people launch side hustles when they either need some fast cash, or just want some extra money. People who are looking for a way to pay their regular bills, or wanting to meet expenses and guarantee a steady flow of extra cash, are looking to increase their income from their career and/ or day job, not a side hustle. While some people have managed to prove that statement wrong, most side hustles are at least focused on short term or smaller gains in the beginning.
Even those who set up a permanent side hustle do so with the understanding that each project or job may not last long or bring in steady income. You might be a musician as your career, work in a garage as a mechanic as your day job, and decide to bring in some extra cash driving as a side hustle. You will probably work in the same garage for years. Your music will last as long as you play. You may drive and make deliveries to bring in extra money for years too, but chances are you’re going to need to do some of that driving for Uber, some for Door Dash, and some for GrubHub in order to make the work last.
Side hustles are not necessarily easy or free to start.
Just as with any other type of work, the money and/or effort you have to put into it is going to vary with the type of work you do. Starting your own business is going to require an investment of time and probably money, even if you only plan to work one day a week once things get going. Members of groups devoted to side hustles report that start-up cash is one of the main things holding them back from launching a side hustle.
Starting a side hustle that requires you to seek steady jobs or clients, such as waiting tables on the side, or offering your services as a tutor or personal assistant, are going to necessitate the same job application process or client aquisition process you would need to go through if this were to be part of your regular work. This can take time and effort to secure.
Multi-level marketing does not make a good side hustle.
Avoid anything described as multi-level marketing, relationship marketing, network marketing, or dual marketing. These are all different terms for the type of work you get when you sign up to sell Amway, Avon, Mary Kay, Tupperware, Primerica Insurance, Beach Body services, Arbonne, Farmasi, or Younique.
You will find representatives for each of these companies who will tell you their brand actually offers a wonderful side hustle. They will also tell you it’s the path to a whole new career if you tell them you’re leaving the arts, and the perfect day job to finance an arts career if you hate your current day job. If you tell them you just want to feel more attractive, their company will somehow hold the solution to that too, even if they do not sell cosmetics. None of this is true. Most people who sign up to sell for one of these companies will lose money, and the few who make money will find they work long and hard for very small amounts. The real money in an MLM is made from signing people up and manipulating them into making purchases to keep inventory and/or maintain their status as a representative. Even if you can talk yourself out of the fact that this is deceitful and disrespectful to other people, remember that only the top one per cent ever even manage to do this to the extent that they make a significant income.
It is important to be careful who you tell that the work is a “side hustle.”
You see the work as a side hustle. Everyone at your day job, your fans and/or clients, and all your friends and family members see the work as a side hustle. The person paying you or supervising you may or may not see it that way.
Avoid telling interviewers for jobs or potential clients for services that you have started a new “side hustle” or that you’re looking for a “side job.” Even if it’s obvious to them, or they already know you and are well aware that this work is going to done on the side of your day job and/or the work of your career, making sure they get that sends the message that you don’t take the work seriously. If I temporarily offer articles about romance scam prevention, cults, or any other issue I research to people who are not Utica artists as a side hustle, I need to send them the same pitch I would send a local artist. When I say “side hustle” I may only mean that I’m offering this service on a temporary basis. What the site owner might hear is, “It isn’t important to me to do a good job on your article. I’m not going to bother to research thoroughly or take the time to write a strong piece because this isn’t meant for Utica artists.”
Announcing that you are only looking for side work when applying for an entry level job in customer service is an almost guaranteed way to get your application and resume thrown out without a second glance. Giving the impression that you’re willing to practically live there seems to be the main requirement for the job.
Whether you take a job on a temporary basis, start a business, or complete a single money raising project, side hustles can do everything from bringing in a little spending money to financing your next project. If you’re honest about what you enjoy doing and how much you’re willing to invest in a side hustle, it may be the way to get that needed financial boost.