Two Network Marketers Want To Set The Record Straight About Network Marketing

Written by: Fargo Inc

Photography by J. Alan Paul

If you’ve spent any amount of time on social media, you’ve probably gotten an event invitation like this:

“Stop by Susan’s LulaRoe party!”
“Come learn more about Mary Kay!”
“See why Tastefully Simple could be for you!”

They’re called multi-level marketing companies — also sometimes referred to as direct-sales or network-marketing companies — and millions of Americans are now involved with them. While the products and specifics of the businesses vary, they all operate under a similar commission-based selling structure. They’ve also, over the years, developed a bad rap for their sometimes false promises and predatory practices, though MLM’s proponents say the industry has changed for the better.

We spoke to two of those proponents this month, a pair of local network marketers who assured us they were coming as “advocates for the business model” and not advertisers for their respective companies. They viewed it as a chance to set the record straight about what they feel are some of the misconceptions about the direct-sales industry.


Michaela Schell

Previously a marketing associate with the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, Michaela Schell first dipped her toes into the waters of network marketing a little more than five years ago.

Network Marketing

“As anyone with kids knows, you can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself, much less sit down and develop marketing plans and write creative content,” says Schell, who, after having her first child, tried working part-time from home. “I was finding it really difficult. We had lost a full-time salary for our family, I was working horrible hours and I was finding it really hard to find childcare to even go to a meeting.”

When a friend and mentor recommended she give direct sales a shot, she was skeptical but kept an open mind.

“Coming from the traditional, corporate business world, it was totally not what I pictured myself doing,” says Schell, who’s now going on six years in the direct-sales world with skincare company Rodan + Fields. “In my mind, it was home parties where you felt obligated to buy, and it just seemed icky to me. But I did my own research and said, ‘You know, this is my opportunity to try something different.'”

Joelle Suess

Joelle Suess’ direct-sales story began seven years ago as a student at North Dakota State University. When a few years of living the college life left her wanting to get back into shape, she came across a company called Beachbody, which can probably best be described as a Netflix for fitness.

Network Marketing

She met a fellow Beachbody enthusiast online who was using the program as a way to make a living, so Suess, who was looking for a way to make some side money herself as she finished her degree, decided to give network marketing a go. A few years ago, she quit her position in member relations at a local wellness center to make Beachbody her full-time gig and stay home with her son.


Most people think …

Only the people at the top make money.

The truth is …

Michaela Schell: The people at the top are obviously making money, but what people don’t realize is how they got to the top. People think they can jump in, sign up as a rep or a consultant for anything, make a post on Facebook and they’re instantly making thousands of dollars.

What they don’t see is that the reps or consultants who are really successful are working really hard at this business. We always say, “If you treat it like a hobby, it’s going to pay you like a hobby. If you run it like a business, it will pay you like a business.”

Joelle Suess: In this industry, nobody who’s earning an income is sitting on the sidelines. We are the players in the field, and there are actually FTC laws around making sure that our compensation plans — as MLMs — are abiding by that.

“If you treat it like a hobby, it’s going to pay you like a hobby. If you run it like a business, it will pay you like a business.”

Schell: If you want to continue to stay at the top, you have to continue to do the work. What’s really important to mention, too, is that everybody, when they start, is on an equal playing field. Nobody is ahead of anybody else. For the most part, you all enroll at a spot with zero customers, zero business partners and the same amount of knowledge.

Suess: And each goal is individualized. I’ve seen some people who surpass the person who brought them into the business.

Schell: You’re not held at a certain level because the leader above you is at a certain level. You can grow bigger than them and make more than them. In a traditional business model, you usually can’t overstep someone. You have to work your way up the ranks, but that usually means the manager above you is going to get promoted first. So it’s actually a better model when it comes to that.

Suess: The beauty of network marketing is that everybody wants everybody to succeed. I can hit a certain goal and level while encouraging somebody else to hit that same goal. There’s room for everyone.

NO. 2

Most people think …

Network marketing has cult-like tendencies.

The truth is …

Suess: … Can I say that I think it’s a good thing? If a network marketing company is representing something that’s positive, why not be a part of that?

Schell: I think it’s more of a team mentality than a cult. Think about it with anything else. What do baseball players do? They hang out together all the time, they help each other, they’re supportive. You’re in the trenches with your teammates, and they know what you’re experiencing and going through. You’re working together to help everybody succeed, and they’re going through the same struggles you are because they’re in the same business you are.

Network Marketing
Michaela Schell turned to network marketing as a way to better balance a career and taking care of her three kids.

If it’s a good environment — and the majority of network marketing companies are — they’re working to help people be better, not worse, people. Cults try to make people do what they say. Our goal is to help people lead the best life they want and what’s best for them.

NO. 3

Most people think …

Network marketing is filled with people with minimal business experience.

The truth is …

Schell: If you’re successful at network marketing, it’s because you have the ability to learn, and you want to learn. I knew nothing about skincare before I got into this. In my line of work, a lot of people think you have to be an aesthetician or something similar. You don’t. It’s the same thing with Beachbody. You can learn a lot of the skills.

I also think you can use the skills you already have to be really great in this business. I have friends who are teachers, and they’re fantastic at it because they love to teach. I’m really great at marketing, and so I use my marketing skills. It’s about running your business with the skills you already know and then filling in the gaps.

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Suess: Nobody goes to school for network marketing. It’s learned, and the industry itself teaches you a lot.

Schell: I mean, how many of us went to college and aren’t doing the thing we went to school for? You learn more in the first week than you could’ve ever learned in four years of school.

The American Dream used to be: Find a good 9-5, work there for 50 years and retire. And now it’s changing. What people coming into the workforce now value most over even pay are flexibility and time freedom. Can I do this job from home? Can I take a vacation when I want? Can I take a day off from work when my kid is sick and not be stressed about it? At a lot of traditional jobs, unfortunately, they can’t do that because they need to have their stores open at certain times and have obligations to other things.

The reason network marketing is getting so much more popular is because it’s not only providing people a way to earn an income; it’s providing the flexibility that traditional jobs just can’t.

NO. 4

Most people think …

Pyramid structures are inherently bad.

The truth is …

Schell: Most (business structures) are a pyramid, with somebody at the top. When network marketing came out many years ago, there was a different structure than there is now. We’re no longer a (pyramid) as much as we are a circle. I’m in the middle of that circle, and my team surrounds me. And they have their own circle, and they can grow that circle as big as they want.

With a pyramid, it gives the illusion that somebody can’t make more or can’t out-title (a person above them). In network marketing now, that can happen. Pyramid schemes are technically illegal; there are laws in place. That’s what I get asked about the most, but companies can’t do that anymore.

“Pyramid schemes are technically illegal; there are laws in place.”

Suess: In network marketing, nobody benefits from just signing up person after person. Success lies in: Somebody comes into your business, you link arms in the circle and everybody grows in strength. That’s where the unity and the success comes, not from, “Who’s next? Who’s next? Who’s next?” It’s when you bring someone in, and they see the definition of the success they want. Then, they feel good, and they help somebody.


Most people think …

You need a large network of people to get started.

The truth is ...

Suess: I didn’t even build my business or team with anybody local. I went through social media, talking with people who were like me and had the same interests.

Schell: I was kind of the opposite. I was a little worried that my network wasn’t huge. I didn’t have the thousands of Facebook friends that other people had, so I did kind of start with my more tight-knight group, and I shared stuff with them.

It’s necessarily what your network is; it’s who you are. If you’re a person people trust and you have their best interests at heart and they feel comfortable with you, that will grow your network either through referrals or a new teammate that has a new network.

Network Marketing
“These products were created to be great products on their own, and they could do just as well in a department or (retail) store,” says direct-sales proponent Joelle Suess.

Suess: My advice would be to look at different companies of interest that you might have, use (the product), and if you find yourself liking it and talking about it — like you do with your favorite restaurant or you do with a great movie you just saw — that could be your golden-ticket business model because it will come naturally and won’t feel like yucky direct sales.

For me, it was fitness. At the time, I knew I needed to lose 30 pounds, and it was embarrassing to go to a gym. I started using the product, connected with a mentor, and she said, “Hey, did you know you could make some income with this?” At first, it was a part-time thing, and then I saw that it could potentially grow bigger and bigger. But it started with first using (a product) that I loved.

Schell: I was looking for something else because what I was doing in the traditional corporate world wasn’t working for me. And when I was approached about this model, I knew nothing about skincare at all. When I went into it and was doing my research, though, I did it from a standpoint of: Maybe I’m not passionate about skincare, but I am passionate about helping people.

Rodan + Fields


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Brady Drake is the editor of Fargo INC!