How to Politely Deal with Your MLM Friend


Our parents’ generation had it easy. Tupperware. They saw it coming a mile away and knew exactly which parties to avoid (or which to go to, depending on their storage needs!). Now, the multi-level marketing companies are pervasive, covering everything from leggings to smoothies to clean beauty and lipstick that will never, ever come off. It’s hard to know when your friend who has jumped on the essential oil bandwagon is just an enthusiastic believer, or if they’re looking for new team members to recruit.

You probably know the drill. You receive a Facebook friend request from your middle school BFF. You haven’t seen her in over a decade and think, “Oh, Kimberly! I wonder what she’s up to?!” You shoot off a perky response and look forward to catching up. Then, two messages in, she covertly asks if you’ve been hoping to find a community of like-minded, ambitious women eager to bond over wine nights spent selling jewelry, bags, and dreams.


What is an MLM exactly?

What exactly is an MLM? MLM stands for multi-level marketing, and at its most basic level, it consists of levels of salespeople. They do not earn salaries, only commission, and the higher you are within your team, the more you make – earning a percentage of commission from each of your team members’ sales, as well as your own.

One of the best deep dives into the MLM world is The Dream podcast. Host Jane Marie visits her hometown, a community where MLMs thrive. Marie takes a journalistic approach to researching MLMs, diving into the history and skepticism, but also recognizing that there are those charismatic personalities and natural-born salespeople that skyrocket to success within an MLM. However, that is not the case for the vast majority – 47 percent lose money, and 27 percent don’t make any money at all. Of the group that is making money, over half made less than $5,000, according to the AARP Foundation. But, those statistics haven’t stopped a majority female workforce from joining them.


How Do I Politely Deal with My MLM Friend?

Now that we have the facts, let’s return to how to handle the MLM friend hoping to sell you a perfect life filled with essential oils or leggings for every occasion under the sun. You’re caught between a rock and a hard place – cornered by a pushy salesperson into a virtual store you never asked to enter

If she’s a friend from the past – someone who you lost touch with years ago and you are fine with that – ignore. You don’t need to respond, but, if you feel like you need to say something, just give her a simple “no, thank you!”

It gets a little more complicated when it’s someone closer to you. Maybe she’s on your Junior League committee. Maybe she’s a coworker or a casual acquaintance who you see for brunch a few times a year. Maybe she’s even a close friend.

You try to change the subject the first time or two she mentions it. You make excuses for why you can’t attend her “party.” You turn down her requests that you just try out one sample – no pressure! And finally, you consider the path of least resistance. Maybe, if you buy just one or two of the items, she’ll let it go (or it’ll be a surefire sign you want to join her team!).

This is one of many reasons it’s not a bad idea to learn to say “no” to a friend. You don’t owe an explanation, you can say, “no, thanks, I’m not interested – and I’m not going to be interested, so you don’t need to keep me up-to-date on new products or sales. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.” 

But, it’s a tricky situation for most of us to be in. We don’t want to hurt our friend and we don’t want to make the situation awkward

So, we can come up with a truthful excuse: it’s not in my budget this year (make it this year, not just this month – it’ll last you longer!). I don’t wear the items of clothing the company sells. I’m concentrating on minimalism this year, so I won’t be buying any. These beauty products don’t work for my routine. Make it an overarching statement that leaves no room for her to come back with a, “but, if you try this brand, I promise it’ll change things!”

Get the message across that it isn’t her and you’re not insulting her decision to join this company, but you will not be purchasing this item. It’s not the time to lecture her on your thoughts on the MLM industry at large, but you can make it clear you won’t be spending your hard-earned dollars here, for one reason or another. And, since you won’t be purchasing said items, you don’t want to take up a spot at her next product party (hate to miss it!).