Q: Some friends continue to try to recruit me into network marketing deals that seem like some type of money game or pyramid. Other friends tell me they're illegal and I'll get into trouble. How do I know what's legal and legitimate?
A: To help you understand what network marketing is, I must first explain what it isn't. First, network marketing isn't a pyramid scheme. Pyramids are programs similar to chain letters where people just invest money based on the promise that other people will put in money that will filtrate back to them and somehow, they'll get rich. A pyramid is strictly a money game and has no basis in real commerce. Normally, there's no product involved at all, just money changing hands. Modern-day pyramids may have a product, but it's clearly there just to disguise the money game.
Network marketing is a legitimate business. First, it's based on providing people with real, legitimate products they need and want at a fair price. While some people do make a lot of money through network marketing, their financial benefit is always the result of their own dedicated efforts in building an organization that sells real products and services.
Pyramids are illegal and are based on taking advantage of people. For a person to actually make money in a pyramid scheme, someone else has to lose money. But in network marketing, each person can multiply his or her efforts, skills and talents by helping others be successful. Network marketing has proved itself as part of the new economy and a preferred way to do business here and around the world.
Network marketing isn't about taking advantage of your friends and relatives. Only a few years ago, network marketing meant retailing to, and sponsoring people from, your "warm list" of prospects. Although sharing the products or services and the opportunity with people you know is still the basic foundation of the business, today we see more people using sophisticated marketing techniques such as the Internet, conference calling and other long-distance sponsoring techniques to extend their network across the country.
Network marketing isn't a get-rich-quick scheme. Of course some people do make large amounts of money very quickly. Many would say those people are lucky. But success in networking isn't based on luck. (Unfortunately, money won't sprout wings and fly into your bank account no matter what someone has promised you.) Success in network marketing is based on following some very basic yet dynamic principles.
Now let's discuss what network marketing is. Network marketing is a serious business for serious people. It's a proven system where the design, creation and expense the corporate team has gone through becomes a road map for your own success. Just follow the simple, proven and duplicable system that the good companies provide.
The real key is this: Network marketing is all about leverage. You can leverage your time and increase the number of hours of work effort on which you can be paid by sponsoring other people and earning a small income on their efforts. J. Paul Getty, who created one of the world's greatest fortunes, said "I would rather make 1 percent on the efforts of 100 people than 100 percent on my own efforts." This very basic concept is the cornerstone of network marketing.
For example, most successful people building a network marketing business do so in an organized method. They work a few dedicated hours each week, with each hour of effort serving as a building block for their long-term business growth. Then they sponsor other people and teach those people how to sell the company product and sponsor others who duplicate the process.
By helping the people you personally sponsor to sponsor others, you duplicate yourself. As this process continues, you create compound growth that can lead to hundreds or even thousands of people coming into your business. You leverage your time by helping others be successful and earn an income from all their efforts.
With network marketing, there are no big capital requirements, no geographical limitations, no minimum quotas required and no special education or skills needed. Network marketing is a low-overhead, homebased business that can actually offer many of the tax advantages associated with owning your own business. Network marketing is a people-to-people business that can significantly expand your circle of friends. It's a business that enables you to travel and have fun as well as enjoy the lifestyle that extra income can provide.
Read On The Level for more information on how to investigate a multilevel marketing opportunity.
Michael L. Sheffield is the founder of Sheffield Resource Network, a full-service multilevel marketing consulting firm in Tempe, Arizona. He is also the co-founder and chair of the Multi Level Marketing International Association (MLMIA), whose members represent companies throughout the world.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.