If you haven’t been invited to a LuLaRoe or Scentsy party lately, you’re in the minority. Network marketing, also called direct sales or multi-level marketing, may have begun back in the day with Avon and Tupperware, but their tried-and-true business format persists. In fact, direct sales have grown exponentially in recent years. According to the Direct Selling Association, over 20 million people were involved in direct selling in 2015, and more than 77 percent of direct sales consultants are female. No wonder party invites are so ubiquitous in the teachers lounge!
But is network marketing a good deal for teachers?
“Network-marketing businesses can be a fun, profitable way to supplement a teacher’s income,” says Sara Kassens, a fifth grade teacher in Shoshoni, Wyoming, and former Norwex consultant. “That said, it is a lot of time and effort on top of an already hectic career.”
Why Teachers Get Involved in Network Marketing
As any Amway, Mary Kay or Jamberry consultant will tell you, network marketing is a way to earn income and discounted or free products. (Typically, sales consultants receive free products or steep discounts based on the amount of goods they sell.) And perhaps not surprisingly, the opportunity to earn extra income and purchase discounted products—while working a flexible schedule—are the top reasons people join network-marketing companies, according to the Direct Sellers Association.
Yet among teachers, the most common motivation is “to supplement my teaching salary,” according to a WeAreTeachers survey of about 200 educators. “I lost a significant amount of my salary over the years due to changes in public policy about teacher pay and benefits, with increased insurance costs, so I was struggling to afford some of the things I wanted to have and do for my family,” Kassens says.
Other teachers we spoke with also signed up due to a cash crunch. Rachel Anderson, a horse-loving special ed teacher in Red Wing, Minnesota, fell in love with Jamberry nail wraps while she realized the wraps were strong enough to withstand horse grooming and farm chores. So when she “was a little short on cash” in 2014, she signed on as a consultant.
“I knew that the consultant I worked with previously made a good chunk of money, and I decided I might as well give it a try,” Anderson says.
Other teachers primarily see network marketing as a way to obtain desirable products without negatively affecting the family budget. Sara Gustafson, a Minnesota-based reading and math interventionist, became a Stampin’ Up consultant “to get the discount on products and to have a few card-making classes.” Kassens, the former Norwex consultant, also saw direct sales as a way to stock her home with green cleaning supplies that may have been otherwise out of reach. “Without being a consultant, stocking my home with Norwex goods was way out of my price range.”
Risk vs. Reward
Another reason teachers (and so many others) are attracted to direct sales: The start-up costs are relatively minor, at least compared to other business ventures. The most common network-marketing companies require an upfront investment of less than $500; in some cases, you can start with less than $100.
But low start-up costs and ease of entry does not equal easy income generation. Despite the promises made by some network marketing companies and consultants, very few people get rich via direct sales. Of the teachers we surveyed, the vast majority (59%) report making $100 or less per month via network marketing. Another 31% report monthly earnings between $101 and $500.
Yet as with anything else, you get out of it what you put into it, and teachers’ demanding day jobs may be one reason why few teachers see vast profits from network marketing. “I can definitely see where I could have invested more time in advertising, but I chose to limit how much effort I put into it,” says Marci Richardson, a fourth grade teacher in South Carolina who sold Lia Sophia jewelry.
“What I found is that a lot of network-marketing consultants say ‘it’s only an extra 10 to 15 hours a week I’m putting in outside of my full-time job,’ but a lot of those people can walk away from their full-time job at the end of the day,” says Anderson, who’s sold both Jamberry and Scentsy. “They’re not taking home worry about their students or papers to grade or an IEP they have to write.”
Still, some teachers are thrilled with their forays into direct sales. “It’s the best decision I have made for my future,” says Jennifer Rose, a Nerium skin-care consultant and character education teacher. “If you think you can survive off one income, then I strongly recommend that you look at some of the most influential people in the world who are financially free because they chose to have more than one source of income.”
If You’re Thinking of Getting Into Network Marketing …
Teachers who have found success and satisfaction in direct sales have some advice for other educators considering network marketing:
Research the company and costs.
Be sure to consider ongoing and marketing costs. “It can be easy to be swept up in a product that you love but not recognize the cost it takes to maintain current products, minimum monthly sales requirements and samples,” Richardson says.
The best way to evaluate a company is to speak with other entry level consultants, says Anderson. They can give you a realistic accounting of how many hours per week are required to get the business off and running, and help you understand what kind of support and encouragement you can expect from your “upline,” consultants who rank above you in the company and earn a percentage of your sales.
Be aware of oversaturation.
Find out how many other people are representing the company you’re considering in your area. Kassens, the Wyoming-based Norwex distributor, failed to consider this step and found it difficult to sell products after a while simply because so many people were competing for the same customers. “You will never find a good customer base if you sign up under your best friend and you all go to church or work together and know the same people,” Anderson says.
Pay attention to the fine print.
Be sure you read and understand what is required of consultants. “You don’t want to sign up and then realize you have to sell $100 worth of product a month,” Anderson says.
Set realistic goals.
“I initially thought it would be cool to earn the company cruise,” says Gustafson, the Stampin’ Up representative. “But then I realized I had no desire to put in the time and effort required to do that.”
Because you are likely working a full-time-plus job, your goals and achievements may differ from other consultants who have more time to devote to their business. That’s OK.
Create lesson plans ahead of time.
Because most direct sales take place via parties held in the evening—aka prime lesson-planning time—it’s important to plan ahead. “Make sure you have your lessons planned out at least a week in advance because it takes a lot of pressure off,” Anderson says.
Some teachers love the freedom and flexibility of direct sales. “Nerium has already exceeded my expectations financially and I’m on my journey to a financially free life,” Rose says. Similarly, Anderson, the Lia Sophia distributor, says she’d likely still be with the company if it hadn’t moved to an online sales model. “I definitely turned a profit,” Anderson says. “It was well worth it.”
Sara Kassen’s experience, however, seems more typical of most teachers’ network-marketing ventures. Kassen stopped selling Norwex products after a few years and did not realize a significant financial gain. “I did get a ton of products free or very cheaply,” she says. “As for making a profit, I never really made that happen.”