I went to a fascinating workshop last night organised by a multi level marketer and hosted at Shine in Harehills.
The evening kicked off with a series of presentations from the Business Link Yorkshire Ideas Team, Job Centre Plus and HMRC. Three competent, wide ranging presentations. For me, just too many talking heads. Still I suspect all three were able to put ticks in boxes and they certainly gave the evening a solid air of credibility and professionalism.
After a short break things got really interesting.
We were presented with an introduction to Multi Level Marketing and how it differs from pyramid selling (pyramid selling is illegal and only those in at the beginning can get to the top, MLM is much more meritocratic in that if YOU do the work YOU get the rewards was the message I picked up). The person making the presentation was a Multi Level Marketer for one of the largest MLM oufits in the world, Herbalife. A little web research on Herbalife leads to some very mixed messages. Clearly for many people it works well; they make money and enjoy good health. The internet suggests that this is not everyone’s experience.
After the presentation one of the current herbal life distributors told us how it had transformed her life and it could transform ours too. We could make money while we are on holiday, get repeat business, never have to talk with strangers, enjoy low start up costs etc. It all sounded too good to be true.
This was not enterprise education – this was recruitment. This was not impartial and independent advice. It was MLMers doing their stuff, recruiting more MLMers and piggy backing on the credibility of Business Link, HMRC and the Job Centre.
Finally we had a very brief and very credible presentation from Robert Looker. He provided a balanced and professional introduction to the concept of the franchise. Robert was open about the fact that he worked for Exemplas. He did not point out that Exemplas were one of the partners behind Business Link Yorkshire.
I think Business Support organisations have to engage with MLM schemes. They are in our communities. The vast majority of those ‘Need an extra income’ signs fixed to lamp posts lead to MLM organisations. We have to find ways of making sure that they add value in our communities and do no harm. MLM works for some people not all. Its reputation is mixed. Typically it requires you to have a network of friends with disposable income (not massively common in super output areas).
I don’t beleive the public purse should be used to provide a platform for any single MLM organisation – although it should be used to educate about MLM. If the workshop had been an impartial ‘All you need to know about MLM’ then I for one would have been much more relaxed. I was pretty shocked that one MLM outfit had established this platform of credibility to promote themselves directly into the community. This was neither independent nor impartial.
I have been involved in the development of the Business Link brand for over 15 years. I understand independence and impartiality. I also understand how easily these brand values are compromised – and I think they were last night.
Developing more enterprising cultures in ‘areas of deprivation’ is difficult and fragile work. There are always ‘get rich quick and easy’ schemes looking to part people from their cash and we need to be very careful to help people make good choices as we prompt them to flex their enterprise muscles. We bear a burden of responsibility as we encourage people to be more enterprising.
I doubt that our responsibilities are best discharged by wrapping advocates for one direct MLM organisation in the shrouds of publicly funded business support. I am sure it is the herbalife agents who will be following up interest. I am also sure that it was the public purse that picked up the tab for the refreshments.
I am distictly uncomfortable.
Am I the only one?