On Target

On the lookout for an inexpensive business to start? An MLM might be your answer. We'll show you how to shop for the right one.

Q: I'm a single dad looking for a way to generate an income so I can be at home with my two sons more often. I'm thinking of signing up with a well-known MLM company. I've never been involved with an MLM before, but I've been in direct sales for the past 15 years. I've also been in investment banking and new construction real estate. Any thoughts that you could lend would be greatly appreciated.

A: Your direct sales experience will be very helpful in your new MLM endeavor. Be sure to look at Perfect Fit for a primer on the differences between direct selling and MLM. Pick and Choose will help you select the right company by giving you the basis for making an educated decision. You don't have to take the proverbial "leap of faith" into MLM hoping you get lucky.

Since this is your first time in MLM, be sure you select a company that has some longevity, having developed mature training programs and sales aids. Finding a company in the momentum stage is great as well, but don't get blind-sided by what appears to be fast bucks. If you choose the wrong company and have a bad experience, it may sour you on the entire concept. For your first experience, look for an established company that's been in business for at least two years but is in its early momentum stage. Try to determine the strength of the product line, management team and compensation plan.

Selecting a competent MLM sponsor is as important as selecting the right company. Choose your sponsor just as you would choose an employee to hire. Interview them. What can they do for you to assure your future success? You don't have to join an opportunity under the first person who tries to sign you up. Today, savvy opportunity seekers make potential sponsors meet qualifications in the same way they do with the business opportunity itself.

Before you make your final selection, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do you want to be part of an MLM company?
  • What type of personal interests do you have that would be satisfied by a compatible business opportunity?
  • What's your knowledge level in MLM?
  • Does the company offer the type of support that will serve your personal needs at your current knowledge and skill level?
  • How much money do you need to earn and how quickly?
  • Have you talked to others who've experienced some success with this company?
  • Do you have an experienced mentor that has a history of helping build successful distributorships?
  • Do you have realistic expectations of the type of income you could earn during the "honeymoon" stage? This is the stage when you may have more enthusiasm than measurable benefits for the opportunity.

Now I'm going to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Most legitimate opportunities are a "get rich slow" business. Beware of those that offer shortcuts to success.

Shopping for a business opportunity is a lot like shopping for a new car. You must like the color, performance, warranty, price, accessories and customer service if you're going to avoid buyer's remorse in the future. However, unlike making a mistake buying a car, making a mistake in choosing an MLM company may sour you on a wonderful industry that can offer you a tremendous amount of personal joy and financial freedom.

Here's my best advice: Find a mentor. While your mentor may be your direct sponsor or part of your upline, he or she may also be an independent advisor who's in no way connected with your MLM company. Some, such as a consultant, may charge you a small fee and help you evaluate various business opportunities in order to select the right one for your special talents. Others may mentor you for free and possibly guide you to opportunities they feel good about. It's part of their job to earn your confidence and respect. You may choose to be sponsored by them in one of their favorite companies, but don't feel obligated. Don't forget to check their references and dig into their credentials.

You must select a mentor you respect who has a history of success. If you were an employer hiring a new employee, would you be skeptical of someone who was a job hopper? Make sure your mentor is not an MLM junkie. Look for someone who believes in career MLM opportunities. To consistently earn the type of income you dream about, you must find a solid company, build a loyal distributorship and customer organization, and resist the impulse to jump on every hot new deal. Too many hot deals that fail will simply waste your time and money and leave you cold.

Learn More
  • Thinking about a career in multilevel marketing? Check out "On The Level" to find out what you need to know before you buy that MLM 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.

As one of the industry's best-known MLM consultants, Mike and the Sheffield team have assisted more than 300 national and international company start-ups. Mike is also a recognized leader in MLM product research and development. He and his team of experts design, reformulate and evaluate product lines for clients worldwide. Millions of readers have relied on Mike's popular "Product Of The Month" column in Money Maker's Monthly to help them evaluate MLM products and services. He also serves as product editor for Wealth Building magazine and is a regular writer for the Direct Sales Journal. In addition, he has educated more than 200,000 independent MLM distributors through his seminars and his 16-cassette-tape MLM training course, "Putting The Pieces Together." Contact Mike at 1805 N. Scottsdale Rd., #7, Tempe, AZ 85281; (480) 968-6199; fax (480) 968-6306; http://www.sheffieldnet.com.

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.