Feb 4, 2022

I failed at multi-level marketing. It taught me a lot about my priorities — and myself.

Brynne Conroy 
Business Insider 
Feb 2, 2022

• I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

• There, conversion culture and gender roles primed me and other women to join multi-level marketing companies. 

• It didn't work out as intended, and I — along with many others — lost money on it.

"Hi, my name is Brynne, and I was raised in the Mormon church. And like many women of my faith, I joined a multi-level marketing company.  

Growing up in the Mormon church immersed me in conversion culture 

Being raised in a devout family within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or "LDS," for short), I was perfectly primed for MLMs. It's no secret that the church places a heavy emphasis on conversion, and the culture was similar: As children, we would often be asked to brainstorm several friends we could invite to church events, with the end goal of redeeming their souls through baptism.  

This behavior comes from a place of genuine love for most church members, as they want to see everyone enjoy their own brand of spiritual happiness. They think they've found "the" way, and they want to share their joy with others. 

Sometimes this spiritual desire morphs into something more transactional, though. For example, many young missionaries who go out into the field hold a belief that the more people they baptize, the "hotter" their future wife will be. You won't find this belief in any scripture, but it is a culturally normative meme that proliferates in most LDS youth groups.  

Whether Mormons are motivated by pure intentions or misogynistic rewards, they're encouraged to put people in awkward positions on the regular. Your friends either risk hurting your feelings by telling you no, or they'll disingenuously engage in your spiritual practices to maintain their relationship with you. 

This makes a transition into MLMs natural for members of the LDS church. Inviting people to your parties and converting them to share in your supposed monetary abundance is no far leap from convincing people to come to church with you to share in your spiritual blessings. 

MLMs served as an acceptable business model for homemakers

MLMs are prolific among women of the church in particular. As Mormon women, our holiest calling was that of mother and homemaker. We weren't allowed to hold the priesthood, and our greatest spiritual power and blessings came from supporting the men in our lives who did. 

In the past couple decades, the church has progressed — no longer demonizing women who work outside the home quite as heavily. But if you can afford it, the ideal is still to be a Molly Mormon homemaker.

The MLMs I was exposed to allowed participants the flexibility to still be viewed by the community as a homemaker first. Every last one was directly related to an LDS woman's wifely or motherly duties, making it even more palatable within the church's social mores. 

As a child, I watched my mother attend parties for kitchen gadgets — falling right in line with MLMs like Pampered Chef and Tupperware. It was also acceptable to join Discovery Toys and sell children's wares to other stay-at-home moms. 

Finally, there were beauty companies. Mary Kay. Melaleuca. Jafra. And the one I ended up joining: Arbonne. 

Arbonne will argue that it is not an MLM because you can technically outearn people above you in the pyramid. But the fact remains that in order to make a serious income, you have to add a significant number of new people below you in the pyramid, making it akin to every other MLM I've ever encountered.  

Why I joined a multi-level marketing company

I was exposed to Arbonne at a confusing point in my life. I had no funding for college, so I'd dropped out. I was working two jobs at a pizza shop and a computer repair store to make ends meet. On top of that, I was providing babysitting services to a family in my LDS ward, which is akin to a parish or congregation in other religions. 

It was through the babysitting gig that I was converted to Arbonne. The mom of the family sold the beauty products, and she offered to let me try them. She knew I was in a bad economic state and suggested I become a consultant. 

She won me over quickly. The training I'd been through as a Mormon child trying to convert my friends to the church made me a great salesperson. I could get a discount on the products I purchased as a consultant. Plus, the inspirational training CDs in the consultant package provided me with positive affirmations during a challenging period of my life. 

She helped me pay for my initial consultant package, which saved me from shouldering the entire $250 investment on my own. The package included those aspirational training CDs, demo products to use at parties, and some product to sell directly to my future clients. She pitched in because she believed in me, but in retrospect, I'm grateful to her for saving me from losing the whole $250 myself. 

Predictably, my experience with MLMs didn't work out

I initially sold a lot of high-end product to other members of my LDS congregation. But much like LuLaRoe with its moldy leggings, I ended up unknowingly selling a batch of skincare products that had been contaminated with shampoo during the manufacturing process. 

It made everyone break out. I offered apologies and refunds out of my own pocket. (I didn't ask Arbonne to reimburse me, but the company didn't offer, either.) But I still lost my entire client base before I'd even really gotten started. 

I kept trying to believe I could achieve. That God would bless me with monetary riches if I just prayed and kept at the sales and recruitment formula contained on my CDs. I threw a couple parties after I got married and moved to another state, but they netted me less than $100 and never fully made up for the initial product investment. 

What my experience helped me do was part ways with conversion culture
My story doesn't have a climactic ending. As my faith in the Mormon church waned, so, too, did my drive to pursue my path forward with Arbonne. I found other ways to be entrepreneurial and support myself without exploiting my closest friends and family members, putting them in positions where they felt like they couldn't say, "No." 

Perhaps most importantly, I learned to build a business that didn't perpetuate the need for a woman to pack on layers of makeup in an attempt to become the trophy wife of the returned missionary with the most logged baptisms.

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