Network Marketing Or Pyramid Scheme?

Often considered a road to riches, direct selling can lead to financial disaster without the proper research. Consider these tips before you sign up.

ntwkmktgdummiesAccording to the organization, 13.3 million people in the United States participated in direct selling last year. These figures are up from $28.69 billion and $13 million, respectively, for 2002. And while some have earned a decent wage directly marketing the products of legitimate businesses, this area is fraught with pitfalls and scams.

Compensation varies with each company, but in most cases, representatives receive a percentage of their sales and the sales made by members of their downline. According to John P. Hayes, co-author of Network Marketing for Dummies (For Dummies; $21.99), the percentage of a representative’s own sales can be as much as 25%. Therefore, the more people you bring in to sell under you, the more you make.

Keep in mind that legitimate businesses will not promise you wealth beyond your wildest dreams, because most network marketers don’t come close to achieving the picture-perfect lifestyle of lavish houses and luxury cars guaranteed by some network marketing companies. While a handful achieve millionaire status, it’s far more common to end up spending more than one makes. Most network marketing people fall somewhere in between, carving out a modest income of a few hundred dollars a month–fine as a supplemental income, but not enough to live on.

“The average direct seller makes about $13,000 a year,” says Amy Robinson, director of communications and media relations for the DSA. “The median income is about $2,400 a year. Now that’s an important distinction, because the average is skewed by the people who are making a lot of money compared to the people who are in it as a hobby. So when you look at the median–which of course means 50% make more, 50% make less–you’re only looking at about $2,400 a year.”

For most people, network marketing is not a road to riches, but it can be a viable business opportunity if one sets realistic goals and works hard. Before you get involved, however, consider your motive for wanting to become a distributor. Then carefully investigate the company, costs, product, and pay (see sidebar).

Getting Paid
Notwithstanding the pitfalls, enterprising individuals have made a decent living in network marketing. Among them is Tracey Murphy, 35, who became an independent distributor for Market America three years ago when he was looking to make enough money to purchase a home, car, and motorcycle. Market America is a Greensboro, North Carolina-based company that directly markets consumer items such as health and nutrition products, cosmetics, home and auto care goods, custom clothing, flowers, and phone services over the Internet. Having been referred by a cousin, Murphy invited a Market America representative to his house for a talk about the company’s products and services.

“Of course, like anybody else, I was skeptical, because when you’ve got somebody sitting in your house, throwing all of these big money figures at you, you think to yourself, ‘Well, if I can make all this money then why are you driving a Nissan Sentra?’” says Murphy. “But I looked further into it. I went to a business briefing and to their convention.”

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