How much can you earn as an It Works distributor?
Over the past few years, our MLM articles have tended to focus on the income potential, using the companies’ own income disclosure statements.
And there’s a very good reason for this. In our experience, the MLM industry is rife with lies and brainwashing. But while an MLM company can argue that an ex-distributor who shares their story is simply a bitter failure who couldn’t work the business, it’s much harder to discredit factual incomes that you personally have made public.
But since we’ve started sharing the income investigations, we’ve been contacted by a growing number of former MLM participants who are keen to get the truth out there.
And it’s quite sinister how similar their stories are. It doesn’t matter which company they worked for, they all tell the same story of manipulation, deception (even outright lies) and the impossibility of making a genuine living from the business model.
So we thought it was time to start telling some of their stories more prominently, and revealing the true emotional and financial cost of joining an MLM.
If you failed in an MLM it’s NOT your fault
In this article we tell the story of a British woman who joined It Works, and reveal how she was brainwashed by her upline, and how little she earned despite the effort she put into the business.
If you’re a former (or even current) MLM distributor and you’d like to share your story anonymously with us, you are very welcome to get in touch. We only publish content with your full permission, and send the final draft to you for approval before making public.
The more honest stories that are out there, the more we can help people avoid joining MLMs, and the more we can help people who are currently in an MLM or who have left.
Because if you have failed or quit, it’s NOT your fault. It’s the fault of the business model. So, with that in mind, here’s the story of an ex-It Works distributor.
Why did you join It Works as a distributor?
I never actually intended to sell It Works. But I’d seen posts in my Facebook feed about their tightening and toning wraps and, in July 2015, after my second child, I wanted something to help with my saggy tummy.
A distributor lived close to me so I went to buy one off her. I only intended to buy one wrap, but she said they had an offer on and, if I signed up by midnight that night as a distributor I’d get two boxes of wraps for £100, which was half price.
I knew nothing about MLMs but I wanted the wraps so I signed up. By the time I got home I already had 18 notifications on Facebook. My new upline had added me to groups and chats, and even posted about me, saying how excited she was to welcome her new ‘teamie’.
What happened next?
I didn’t tell anyone I’d signed up, not even my husband. And I didn’t actively sell for a few months. Your distributor account is active for a year so I just paid my monthly £19.20 fee for my website and that was it.
But I was seeing lots of posts from other distributors talking about the 5K Ruby Bonus. I thought that would be quite nice as Christmas loomed, so I took more of an interest, and started to post about and work the business.
But this was when I realise now that I really started to lose money. Because in order to get any commission, you either need to personally sell either 150BV worth of product through loyal customers, or set up an auto shipment of 80bv (around £100 worth of products) every month.
To ensure I made the quota, I set up the autoship. But that just meant buying £100 of product for myself every month to remain qualified.
How did you make money?
In order to make money from selling wraps you need to get what they call loyal customers. These are people who sign up to an autoship and commit to buying one It Works product every month for three months.
If they want to cancel their autoship they need to pay a £50 fee. And if they forget to cancel it after the three months, they continue to get charged for products every month until they remember to cancel.
Your first customers in MLMs are friends (that’s before you lose them!). Some of mine signed up to autoships to support me. But then told said they couldn’t afford it after the first month. Or complained that the products weren’t working and it was a scam.
I didn’t want them to pay the fee for cancelling as they were my friends and I didn’t want it to impact our friendship, so I paid it for the rest of their autoship and kept the products.
My upline told me it was my fault and that I was a pushover. She made me feel bad and stupid.
How easy did you find it to make money?
The supposed ‘retail price’ of the products is incredibly high and unrealistic. It was £102 for four wraps, £72 for an exfoliating peel, and £58 for 15 sachets of coffee!
They then promote a ‘wholesale’ price for loyal customers and distributors to entice people to sign up. But these prices are still high (£61.20 for four wraps, £43.20 for an exfoliating peel and, £35 for 15 sachets of coffee).
As a result I found it understandably hard to get people to commit to three months of expensive products. And if they did sign up, they didn’t buy again after the three months.
In my opinion the real customers are the distributors. We were the ones buying every month in order to qualify for commission.
How much money did you make with It Works?
I didn’t keep track while I was still with It Works. I think I was too afraid to! But when I left I calculated exactly how much I earned in two and a half years. It was £2,011.83.
That’s bad enough, but my expenses though were £5,251.70, which means I made a loss of £3,239.87. I was devastated when I realised how much money I had lost. I was really keen to make a go of the business, and worked consistently on my phone from the moment I got up until I went to bed.
I estimate that, on average, I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week trying to make a success of It Works. And I have a marketing degree, so I’m not stupid. But it’s just not possible to earn money with them in my opinion.
How did you not realise you were losing money?
We weren’t advised to keep any accounts, or given any financial advice at all (we also weren’t advised to register with HMRC, which is a legal requirement). Plus you’d receive a commission cheque every month, so could con yourself you were earning money. Even if those cheques were just for £12.
It was commonplace to blur out the paltry amount of your commission cheque, then show it off on social media, bragging vaguely about how much you’d got paid, or what you were going to treat yourself to with your money.
It didn’t occur to me that I was actually losing more than I was earning.
How were you trained to sell the opportunity?
You don’t sell the products; you sell the vision of being financially free, and the lifestyle.
To recruit you’re taught to find someone’s ‘why’ – their weak point. So if someone posts on Facebook about their boiler breaking or not being able to afford a birthday party for their child, you’ve identified their need and should message them to say you can help them.
Ideally you’ll hone in on a big why (if it doesn’t make them cry, it’s not big enough apparently). You can then use this to emotionally blackmail them into staying.
On the occasions I emailed my upline to say that It Works wasn’t for me, wasn’t working for me or that I wasn’t good enough at it, they’d reply ‘so you’re giving up on your children then? You’re just walking away? Quitting?’ They used the why they’d extracted from me when I joined.
This emotional blackmail shames you into staying, when in reality you’re not making a success of the business and it’s destroying your personal life. You can’t see what they’re really doing. It’s so manipulative.
Were you encouraged to be a ‘product of the product’?
When I was with It Works I genuinely liked some of the products. Even after I left as a distributor it took me a while to stop buying. I was so convinced their products were superior (I no longer believe this).
And yes, we were encouraged to be a product of the product. We were also encouraged to wear their clothes all the time. We were told if we weren’t wearing their apparel on the school run or while at the shops we were missing an opportunity. But you had to buy the clothes yourself, and even just a T-shirt costs £40.
And then there were their US-based conferences. They really hammered it in that if you want to change your business and your life, you need to go. But you had to pay all your expenses yourself. So while others I know did go, I decided not to.
What was it like working when you were ‘in’?
You’re a slave to your phone. It’s relentless from the moment you wake up until you go to bed. But a lot of it isn’t productive – it’s reading and posting messages to groups. You’re in communication with your team constantly.
It added up to more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week. So when you’re told that if the business isn’t working it’s down to you, it’s hard to hear. I was giving it everything; literally living and breathing the business but still not making a success of it. It was hard.
What kind of messages did you get from your upline?
You’re constantly pushed to keep at the business. You’re told that difference between a ruby and an ambassador is that the top ranks are willing to work for it.
I was told that quitting is the only way I’d fail, to be stronger than my excuses, and to be afraid of not trying hard enough.
As a result, you quickly believe that it’s you that’s failing, not the business model. You’re just not good enough or not working hard enough. But all this time you’re following what you’re told to do, and working every hour of the day relentlessly. How much more can you do?
How did you find people to sell to and recruit?
You’re encouraged to use social media. You’re told to add 100 people to your friends list every day, and cold message at least 100 people a day too. That’s the basic requirement.
But it’s insane. You have to go through people’s friends lists and add and cold message people. I didn’t feel comfortable doing it; it just wasn’t me.
You’re also told to make a ‘DT hit list’. We had to add absolutely ANYONE we went to school or college with, worked with in the past, family, neighbours, teachers (yes, even your children’s teachers!) and contact them about the opportunity.
The advice went as far as to not pay at for your petrol at the pump, but instead go into the service station to pay to create an opportunity to “blitz” (tell someone about It Works). I was told that any time you’re handing over money (in a supermarket, restaurant etc) to tell the person serving you about the opportunity.
It is relentless and takes over your life to the point you no longer have normal interactions with anyone without it becoming about It Works.
They’re also obsessed with selfies. You’re expected to post at least six times a day and told which light settings and filters to use to look as flattering as possible.
If you do find someone to recruit and they say they can’t afford to sign up, It Works distributors tell you to recommend they don’t pay their phone bill or sell their kids toys to get the money. They tell you to say ‘if you can’t afford to invest in yourself, then nothing will ever change’.
Maybe these techniques work for some people, but I was never comfortable using them. You have to sacrifice a lot and be ruthless.
How did your friends and family react to you joining It Works?
I lost friends over it, and school mums started avoiding me. People unfollowed or un-friended me on social media, and I don’t blame them. I also overheard my colleagues at work making fun of one of my Facebook posts.
But when I told my upline she said ‘if your circle doesn’t support you, get a new circle’. She said that these people weren’t my friends, and that I should just talk to my ‘wrap sisters’ and It Works family.
She said that the people at work were just jealous because I was beautiful and stunning (yes, she really said that), and they were uncomfortable because I was stepping out of my comfort zone, and they weren’t. And that when I was a millionaire they’d see how wrong they were.
She also told me that the sooner I got used to the nos and the negative opinion of family and friends – people who were too ‘lazy’ or ‘scared’ to embrace the opportunity – the better.
Looking back, it was like being groomed, but I couldn’t see it when I was in. Instead I thought ‘she sees something special in me; I have to keep going’.
How far up the It Work ranks did you get?
I qualified for the Ruby rank for one month only. But it doesn’t look good for people to lose their ranks, so once you make a rank, you keep the title forever (sadly you don’t continue to get paid at that rank though). Even if, like me, you never actually qualify as that again.
So many of the people you see with senior ranks aren’t really selling enough to maintain that rank, or earning the money they claim to be as a result.
There were other ways distributors cleverly inflated their earnings. It Works have a $10k diamond bonus, and you’ll see lots of people boasting about how they got the bonus.
But what they don’t tell you is that bonus is paid over 25 months (so works out at just $400 a month), and that in order to keep receiving the money every month you have to keep qualifying at that rank. If you don’t qualify at that rank, you don’t get your bonus that month.
It’s just a way, in my opinion, to maintain the pressure on these distributors to make their own personal sales (or, more likely, purchases) and keep their downline earning for the company too.
One girl placed a $600 order through her brother (she paid for the order) to qualify for the $10k diamond bonus. But in order to keep getting that money she needed to repeat that every single month. How can you do that?
But that didn’t stop her boasting about qualifying for the bonus all over Facebook. She just didn’t tell anyone that she possibly only actually received it for one month – so was possibly paid a $400 bonus for a $600 investment.
‘Faking it til you make it’ was rife (it’s reframed as attraction marketing to make it seem less like the lying it really is). Even I made out I was doing better than I was. I didn’t want my husband or friends to know it wasn’t working out after all.
How supportive was your husband?
We have a really good marriage, and we don’t (usually!) have secrets from each other. But he still has no idea how much I lost through It Works.
In the beginning he was really sceptical. He said that my social media posts didn’t sound like me; they were too spammy. After a while it became a joke – he said to let him know when he could retire.
But he was supportive of me. He said that if this was going to work then to go for it. He was proud of me, and I had to save face by lying to him. I felt bad pretending.
Even now, all he knows is that I chose to stop. Not how much money I lost. I’m ashamed to admit it to him.
My upline told me that “husbands, friends and family are the worst, so don’t talk to them. They don’t understand it.” But now I’m outside the company this seems dangerous. These are the people who genuinely love you and have your best interests at heart. And by isolating yourself from them you’re not getting an honest perspective on what is happening.
But I know that’s the point. MLMs don’t want you to get an honest perspective; they want you to believe you’re doing well and remain with them – buying their products to remain active.
What happened when you left?
I decided to leave once the keto coffee came out because I felt uncomfortable promoting weight loss products.
I didn’t tell anyone at It Works. I just stopped buying enough to get my commission and let my distributor membership lapse at renewal time. And I left or muted all the groups. (I did find one group training tab I had muted a year later. It was crazy to read the posts as an outsider.)
I no longer even buy their products. I’ve now realised that I can get the same quality products for half the price somewhere else.
My friends were relieved when I stopped. It really damaged my friendships. The only people who liked my Facebook posts when I was a distributor were other It Works people. There was no genuine interest. It was just one giant echo chamber with everyone shouting about it.
My ‘wrap sisters’ quickly dropped me. When they realised I had left they stopped interacting with my posts, and I realised that they didn’t care about me at all – despite telling me how much they loved me when I was in.
But you’re encouraged to do that. You’re told to delete and block anyone who leaves because you ‘don’t need that negativity’.
What advice do you have for someone worried about a friend or family member in an MLM? How can they help?
My first advice is not to buy from them. It just gives them false hope that they have customers. Most of my customers were friends and family, but you soon run out of them, as they don’t want to keep buying over and over again, even just out of loyalty.
As cruel as it seems, the quicker someone realises that the business isn’t financially working for them the better.
I would recommend not criticising the business though, as they’ll just be told by their uplines to cut you out of their life. But do try to stay in touch and meet up with them regularly, doing normal things outside of the MLM world.
And when you do, steer the conversation away from MLM. You can become so consumed in the bubble of your MLM world that it’s difficult to remember what normal life is like outside, and even how to have a normal conversation with people.
So I think to have a good friend who you can meet up with and talk about non-MLM things would help keep you a bit more grounded. Otherwise you can become so isolated from the real world that it becomes more difficult to leave.
If I look at the top leaders in It Works, all of their friends are other It Works people. Even their birthdays are celebrated with It Works people. They don’t have any outside friends there, which I find incredibly sad.
If that happens, what do you do when you leave? Your MLM friends will desert you, and you’ll have no one left.
What about the law of attraction? Were you encouraged to use it in It Works?
It Works distributors, like many MLMs, are obsessed with the law of attraction. The more sinister side that worries me is that you’re encouraged never to have negative thoughts, as these will allegedly bring bad things to your business.
So you always have to think positively. You’re told that if you want it enough, you’ll be successful. So if your business isn’t working, it’s because you’ve been thinking that it’s not going to work – it’s your fault! It’s not healthy.
You also have to do 100 affirmations a day, and stick motivational messages everywhere – on mirrors, on your fridge, on your screen saver, in your car, everywhere you go. It’s like mind control and brain washing. No normal job would ever expect you to do that.
If anyone has a complaint or a negative opinion it gets shot down, so you never get to the bottom of anything. They’re also condescending to people who have 9-5 jobs because they believe they’re stupid.
But people in 9-5 jobs are getting paid, taking paid holidays, have legal rights and don’t have to spend 12 hours a day hounding strangers on social media and alienating their friends. I know what I’d rather do.
One woman in It Works actually continued recruiting and posting while she was in labour. It’s just constant. There’s no paid maternity leave, or any leave at all.
So how much CAN you earn with It Works?
That concludes our interview with the former It Works distributor. We already know that she claims to have lost a considerable amount of money with IT Works, despite the time and effort she put into the business.
But what does It Works say people are earning? The latest income disclosure statement on their site is from 2016 and looks like this:
Our research also shows that in 2016 It Works had 150,000 distributors. So, according to the table above, out of these 150,000 distributors:
- 116,445 earned an average of $51 a month
- 13,920 earned an average of $219 a month
- 12,600 earned an average of $474 a month
- 2,685 earned an average of $939 a month
- 2,595 earned an average of $2,022 a month
- 1,230 earned an average of $4,536 a month
- 345 earned an average of $8,402 a month
- 165 earned an average of $14,389 a month
- 45 earned an average of $33,882 a month
This means that, out of 150,000 distributors, 77.63% (116,445 people) earn less than an average of $51 a month. And 95.31% (142,965 people) earn less than an average of $474 a month.
And remember, this is before their expenses are deducted. The ex-distributor we interviewed earned an average of £67 a month. But her expenses were £175 a month – mostly from the purchases she needed to make to qualify for commission, and to ensure she was stocked up with products to use so she could be a “product of the product”.
This means that her monthly loss was £108. It’s also extremely likely that many of the people in the bottom ranks of the income disclosure table above were also making monthly losses.
It’s easy to see, with numbers like these, how an average of 99.6% of participants in an MLM will lose money after expenses are taken into account.
How It Works’ Fast Start Bonus rewards recruitment, not sales
As with every MLM we’ve researched, there’s a vast difference between the incomes of people right at the bottom, and those at the top. So how does that happen? Here’s one example.
The former It Works distributor we talked to explained that It Works have something called a Fast Start Bonus for new recruits.
Now you’d be forgiven for assuming that this was designed to help the new recruit get going on their ‘new business’ and rewarding them for their first sales. But it doesn’t – it rewards the upline who recruited them.
Here’s how it works:
- To secure a Fast Start Bonus, the new recruit needs to sign up two loyal customers in their first 30 days, and order their own 80bv (£100) auto shipment to make them commission qualified.
- This costs the distributor £200 (£100 to sign up, plus £100 for the auto shipment). In return they get 15% (the usual 10% plus a ‘generous’ personal enrolment bonus of 5%) commission on the sale of the two loyal customers.
- So, if those customers bought wraps, that would mean the new recruit earned £18 commission. BUT they’ve had to invest £200 to get it. So at this point they’re £182 out of pocket.
- Their upline though fare better in this deal. The distributor who recruited them gets 10% commission on their sales (£12) and a $100 (£78) bonus. And their upline gets a Diamond Bonus of $80 (£62).
So, as we see with every MLM we have investigated, the money from the people at the bottom of the pyramid-shaped earnings table flows up to the people above them.
And the only way the poor people at the bottom can recoup their losses and hope to make some money back is to find someone to recruit under them to get money from.
The size of the bonus also dwarfs the amount made on commission – rewarding not sales but the recruitment of the person who makes the sales. It Works even admit in their compensation plan that this is a bonus that rewards recruitment, not sales:
(We’ll explain shortly why this is important.)
You also have to ask yourself how much those wraps really cost to manufacture, with so much money being paid out in bonuses and commission. No wonder MLM products appear to be vastly overpriced.
The FTC appears to be cracking down on MLMs
Hopefully though, the MLM industry may be heading into a new, stricter era.
We were delighted to hear that, following talks with the FTC, MLM Advocare are switching from their former MLM model to a direct to consumer one. Which means that their distributors can only earn from sales they make directly – and not from recruitment.
Advocare say this change is “the only viable option”, and we are hopeful that the FTC will crack down on more MLMs who operate a similar model to Advocare.
So why is the issue of recruitment important? And why might it have forced Advocare to change their business model?
Is It Works a pyramid scheme?
The answer lies in the definition of a pyramid scheme. According to the FTC:
If the money you make is based on your sales to the public, it may be a legitimate multilevel marketing plan. If the money you make is based on the number of people you recruit and your sales to them, it’s probably not. It could be a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes are illegal, and the vast majority of participants lose money.
We know from our investigations into MLMs like It Works, and from research published by the FTC, that it’s very likely that ‘the vast majority of participants lose money’.
We also know that the minimum purchase requirements placed on MLM recruits in order to qualify for commission mean that they’re often forced to buy the products themselves. As was the former It Works distributor we interviewed.
And It Works’ Fast Start Bonus clearly states that it rewards recruitment.
This means that yes, ‘the money you make is based on the number of people you recruit and your sales to them’.
If these are the two defining characteristics of an illegal pyramid scheme, then in our opinion, from the research we have conducted, most MLMs do appear to be pyramid schemes. And we’d certainly never recommend joining It Works.
Read more about MLMs
We’ve published several articles on the MLM industry. If you’d like to learn more about the industry, here are some income investigations:
- Is MLM Amway a scam? And how much can you earn with them?
- How much money can you really make working for Arbonne?
- How much can you earn with MLM Nu Skin
- How much money can you earn with Isagenix?
- How much can you earn with Younique?
- How much money can you earn with MONAT?
- How much money can you make with doTERRA?
- The complete lowdown on MLM Juice Plus+
And you can learn more about how the industry works here:
- The 10 ugly truths MLMs don’t want you to know
- Is it REALLY possible to make money in an MLM? We do the sums
- Are MLMs really pyramid schemes? Why you can’t make money selling their products
- Seven lies an MLM rep will tell you – and the REAL truth you need to know
Photo by A. L.
We’ve published this experience as told to us by an ex-distributor of It Works. If there is anything factually incorrect in this article, It Works are welcome to contact us and we will revise accordingly.