My experience being part of a multi-level marketing company helped me develop the skills, confidence, and courage that enabled me to start a new career and my own business. This post explains what I learned and how you can get the same benefits without having to join a business opportunity selling a product you care nothing about.

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While many people dismiss MLMs as a scam, most of them, at least here in the US, are legitimate business opportunities. One of those MLM companies drastically changed my life for the better, but not in the way they intended.

*At this point, you might be ready to abandon this article – hang in there. I’m not selling anything, and I’m no longer involved in any multi-level marketing company. I’m not even going to mention the name of the one I was involved with (though you could probably figure it out if you really wanted to).

Multi-Level Marketing: A Quick Overview

We’ve all been there. Most of us are introduced to multi-level marketing when a friend or family member ‘starts a new business’ literally out of nowhere, probably selling or marketing something they know nothing about.

If you’ve never heard of multi-level marketing or MLM, the concept is fairly simple. Members work as independent agents selling some product or service. They could be selling anything from toothpaste to life insurance. Typically, the pay is 100% commission-based; if you don’t sell, you don’t get paid.

What sets the MLM apart from typical sales jobs is members also have the ability to recruit & train new sales agents. If the sales agent makes a sale on their own, they get a commission and the agent who recruited them also gets a commission.

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This pay structure would be repeated through multiple ‘levels’ resulting in the potential to earn commission on the sales of agents many levels away. You might not even know these agents personally.

Additionally, most MLM companies have commissions set at a rate that makes it impossible for a salesperson to make a living on their own commissions. This forces them to recruit and build a downline of sales agents in order to be successful.

That’s as deep as I’ll go into what an MLM is, but if you want to read more details, Wikipedia has a good breakdown.

My Experience as Part of an MLM

The Recruitment Process

People who work in MLM companies grow their downline sales teams using various methods. One of those methods, known as ‘prospecting’, involves going into establishments known for having unhappy employees and striking up conversations with those employees. Eventually, the conversation will be steered to a business opportunity and the attempt to recruit the individual commences. My own recruitment into an MLM was pretty much this exact process.

Before I was an IT professional with my own business, I was a retail grocery store manager. My job wasn’t something I was proud of. I was underpaid for the work and hours I put in. I had zero work/life balance. Desperate for a way out, I was the prime candidate for various multi-level marketing recruiters.

For most multi-level marketing companies, getting involved has a relatively low startup cost and doesn’t require you to quit your job which helps to minimize risk. You can pretty much walk away whenever you want. I had a good idea of what I was getting into and signed up because I wanted to do something different than retail management.

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Training & Learning The Culture of Independent Sales

Have you ever bought a new car? Heck, have you ever walked on to a new car lot? You can’t glance at more than 1 or 2 vehicles before a salesperson is magically standing right next to you. People who do well in sales tend to be go-getters. They jump on an opportunity to make a sale as soon as it presents itself. They have an incredible work ethic.

The people who do well in multi-level marketing are the same type of folks who do well as car salesmen. They’re firm, but not pushy. They make potential clients feel comfortable. And they have a ton of confidence.

Those sales skills don’t happen by accident. Successful salespeople train & practice those conversations over and over. They learn the best way to handle objections and make a potential client more comfortable about moving forward with the sale. I was told regularly, “competence builds confidence.”

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Consistent Self-Improvement

Great salespeople consistently aim to get better. At everything. They work to improve their communication skills, their leadership skills, and their teambuilding skills.

The leaders of the company I was involved with were huge on self-improvement. We had training CDs that not only taught us how to sell the products, but how to motivate the sales teams were were building, and how to think like a business owner instead of an employee.

I was encouraged to read books on self-improvement & leadership. Titles such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People had nothing to do with our company. But, they had everything to do with maintaining a successful mindset and building confidence and a sense of self-worth.

These self-improvement concepts I learned in a multi-level marketing company are the same concepts that have driven my career and business success.

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Why I Left my Multi-Level Marketing Company

I earned a decent amount of money for the time I put into the company. It definitely wasn’t a scam. I left because they taught me how to. They made me hungry for success and hungry to do something I loved.

All of that self-improvement & training showed me that I really wasn’t interested in selling their product or their service. I was worthy of finding success doing something that I loved. And what I loved wasn’t selling products, it was technology.

The reality is that I knew what I loved long before I had joined a multi-level marketing company, but I didn’t have the confidence in myself to do a career change from the retail grocery industry. The confidence I built selling MLM products and opportunities made me realize I could have the career I wanted. A career that would make me happy. I learned to take risks.

So I walked. And I worked – hard. I refinanced my house so I could go to an Information Technology trade school. I went to school at nights and worked my retail grocery store job during the day.

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Where Did it Get Me?

Once I finished school, I landed my first IT job making a modest salary and spent the next 5 years building my skills on the job. I rose through the ranks and with the leadership skills I learned, I quickly bypassed many coworkers who’d been in the industry 10 or more years longer than myself.

My new career provided me the work/life balance and financial stability that allowed me to start my own business providing technical consulting and support for small businesses. CGS Computers exists because of my experience selling products through an MLM. The day-job that pays me a 6-figure income and provides me the flexibility to grow CGS Computers at my own pace is a direct result of the skills and confidence I developed working for a multi-level marketing company.

The Keys to Success Without Needing an MLM

Work Ethic

Regardless of your industry, unless you’re born into wealth, you’d better be prepared to work. While business owners make money off the efforts of others, they don’t start off that way. If you find yourself lacking in your desire to do good work, you might be working in the wrong industry.

Those who are successful have an incredibly strong work ethic. From the top earners in those multi-level marketing companies to corporate CEOs, you’ll find a level of focus and commitment that’s rarely seen.

Competence

Wanna be successful? You’d better be damned good at whatever you want to be successful in. Learn everything there is to know about the industry. For me, it meant studying and acquiring IT certifications.

In many cases, I was studying and earning certifications in areas of the discipline that were beyond my current job description. It allowed me to capitalize on opportunities to move up by already being qualified for a higher position before it was available.

Confidence

If you build your competence in your chosen industry, this one is pretty easy. Confidence is a key to success. It can help you land the job you want or negotiate the salary you deserve.

As a business owner, confidence allows you to negotiate with investors and clients. It even gives you the freedom to walk away from potential problem clients so you can maintain the health of your business. I don’t take every client that comes my way – it takes confidence to do that.

Self-Improvement

Always get better. Did you know the average CEO reads 52 books a year? I guarantee you they’re not reading Harry Potter either.

Staying on top of changes in your industry and ensuring that you remain the expert in your field goes a long way to success.

Final Thoughts

Success in career and business comes down to just a handful of concepts. Each one is critical. Missing a single one of these will put you behind the 8-ball. But if you work hard to develop these concepts, you’ll be on your way to success – and you won’t need a multi-level marketing business opportunity either.


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Sharif Jameel

Sharif Jameel is a business owner, IT professional, runner, & musician. His professional certifications include CASP, Sec+, Net+, MCSA, & ITIL and others. He’s also the guitar player for the Baltimore-based cover band, Liquifaction.