What does it take to reach the top of an MLM like Forever Living?
Could YOU succeed in an MLM like Forever Living? Find out just what out takes to reach the top – and why you may be too late if you’re planning to start now.
For five years now we have been investigating MLMs and exposing the grim reality of the ‘business’ for the people at the bottom of their pyramid-shaped compensation plans.
People who have been lured in by the lies and aspirational lifestyles of the reps higher up in the businesses, like this one from Nu Skin, claiming she was marking $20,000 a month. Even the Director General of the UK DSA and the DSA itself in the US aren’t immune from misrepresentations and downright lies, it seems.
But what’s the truth behind the people who DO seem to make a success of MLMs? The 0.4% who actually appear to make money from the business, and who brag about their lifestyles endlessly on social media to their adoring downlines?
The brilliant TV series On Becoming a God in Central Florida gives some clue to the reality behind the glitzy lifestyles of the top reps in MLMs, revealing their own secret desperation and lack of money behind the prosperous facade. And from our own research, the fictional depiction is actually pretty accurate.
Indeed, as we revealed in this article, many of the top UK reps in aloe vera MLM Forever Living are actually hiding some pretty dark financial secrets, including enormous directors loans, bankruptcy and companies in liquidation (owing over a hundred thousand pounds).
We recently gained more insight into just what goes on behind the scenes in MLMs, and what it really takes to make it to the top, after talking to a former Forever Living Eagle Manager. She has asked to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her ‘Sally’ in this article.
How top Forever Living reps gained their ranks and bonuses
Sally joined Forever Living in 2014 after being made redundant from her job in the retail industry. Her retail background meant that Sally was able to sell. And sell she did. In one month she was able to sell 77ccs and she made manager in 12 weeks. And as her success grew, more people joined her team.
But the more Sally got to learn about the business, the more cynical she became about it, and what it took to climb the ranks. Her experience in a genuine retail industry (according to the numbers, to succeed in the MLM industry you need to recruit not sell) showed her that the MLM business model was flawed. And she could see that the tricks top reps were using to make money, the tricks that helped fuel the boom in the business not long after she joined, would not last.
Sally has since left the MLM industry, and feels passionately about sharing her experiences and insights to warn others against getting involved with MLM companies. So she shared with us some of the underhand ways that top Forever Living reps gained their ranks and bonuses.
Sadly, from our own research and speaking to other former Forever Living reps about their experiences, none of these ‘strategies’ or lies surprise us.
Here’s what Sally told us.
“Everyone was stacking managers”
In order to climb up the ranks at Forever Living (as with pretty much every MLM) you need a certain number of people in your downline, including managers. And according to Sally, many people were accelerating their progress at Forever Living when she joined by ‘stacking’ managers underneath them.
Basically ‘stacking’ involves placing new recruits under people you have cherry picked to become manager, and putting sales through their accounts in order to help them reach the rank. We know this is a common tactic in the MLM industry as we’ve seen evidence of it happening in other businesses.
Here’s a former IT Works rep talking about someone in her team buying a bonus: “One girl placed a $600 order through her brother (she paid for the order) to qualify for the $10k diamond bonus.”
And here’s what another former IT Works rep told us about rank buying:
“From what I could tell, everyone is buying their ranks – even the people at the top. And it’s extremely difficult to maintain your rank. It was common for people to drop three or four ranks in a month.
“It was common to move people around in your teams in order to qualify for the ranks and bonuses. Promotions are partly based on how many people you have in teams under you, and you can move distributors under someone else 24-48 hours after they join.
“It was also normal to buy the volume you need for a promotion and move it under someone else. But while you can buy bonuses like the diamond bonus, there’s zero chance of you maintaining that over two years.
According to Sally, the popularity of this strategy is why there were so many new managers at Forever Living around five years ago. And it’s this exact strategy, she says, that propelled so many of today’s annual Chairman’s Bonus recipients to their position.
In fact, Sally says that some of the top reps carefully calculate exactly how many people they need underneath them in which ‘legs’ to secure their bonus cheque each year. And have no qualms about buying manager ranks for people, and placing huge orders for products through downlines to achieve it. Unsurprisingly many managers have garages and sheds full of unsold stock as a result.
“She borrowed £250,000 from her parents to ‘buy’ her rank”
But one recent star of Forever Living went a giant step further. According to two former Forever Living reps (Sally and another manager we spoke to independently a few years ago) this well known rep achieved her stratospheric rise in the company not by putting in the work – as she tells her downline – but by allegedly borrowing £250,000 from her parents to buy her rank.
She seemingly used the money to stack managers underneath her, including several members of her own family. And then repaid her parents when she finally achieved the inevitable large Chairman’s Bonus cheque earned from her bought rank.
The myth of this woman’s success meant that everyone wanted to join her downline (hoping some of the magic fairy dust that worked for her would rub off on them… but of course it never would), further propelling her artificial rise up the ranks.
“It was common to bribe unrecognised managers to resign in breach of the rules”
MLM compensation plans are complicated to work out. But according to Sally, in Forever Living there is something called a ‘recognised manager’ and an ‘unrecognised manager’. To cut a long explanation short, the former can help uplines qualify for a bonus and commissions, while the latter can actually block them from it.
So what do you do when you have an unrecognised manager blocking you from earning money? Apparently you break the company rules and bribe them to resign. As proof of this happening, Sally shared the following screenshots of a conversation between a top Forever Living manager and the person they were asking to resign:
Sally says that the manager’s claim that “This is not financially motivated as I already receive the full bonus on XXX’s business” is a lie. Clearly moving an unrecognised manager out of the way is worth a significant amount of money if she is willing to pay them a £500 bribe!
We know that this particular Forever Living manager isn’t averse to lying, as she’s the person in this article who was bankrupt while trying to recruit to her team, claiming she was “getting massive success”.
“People are pressured to put sales through reps cherry picked for manager”
It’s not just the upline who puts orders through the reps they have cherry picked for manager. Sally says that in the teams where stacking was rife, uplines would pressure everyone to put orders through accounts needed to hit promotions and bonuses.
This was all apparently done on the promise that ‘we will do the same for you when it’s your turn’. But the reality was it would never happen for them unless they too were chosen to help a top rep make promotion.
Sally says that the reps asked to put sales through had no idea the cherry picking was going on: “It was always preached that EVERYONE had the same chance and started off the same when they bought the £200 box. And such was the pressure and the eagerness of the ‘little people’ that they would buy stock just to look good.”
She continues: “It’s like people are desperate to impress uplines, I see it all the time, pics on Facebook of stock and just know they have bought it to impress.”
The pressure to put sales through people to help them make rank or earn bonuses doesn’t just happen in Forever Living – it’s rife throughout the MLM industry. Here’s what a former IT Works rep told us:
“One couple in America wanted to go for Black Diamond. To achieve this your team has to earn $100k in commission a month for six months in a row. If you miss just one month you need to start again.
“The third time they tried to go for it, we got messages from our UK upline that we needed to make extra sales that month to help them. So many people in the UK spent extra money on orders they didn’t need to help someone they’d never met earn more money.”
And here are some screenshots taken from the smallantimlmangel Instagram account showing apparent collusion between MONAT reps to ‘buy’ one woman the rank of Managing Market Mentor (MMM):
This is just a few of the dozens of messages on this thread. And you can see here the same promises made that the same favour would be returned to anyone who needed help. Promises that are unlikely to be fulfilled, it seems.
“Forever Living know about the cheating but won’t do anything about it”
So what happens when companies find out that their top reps are breaking the rules? Sally says that Forever Living’s USA head office were provided with proof that one of the UK’s top managers was cheating the system in order to receive huge rewards, including the annual Chairman’s Bonus cheque.
She claims that head office agreed that it was cheating, but admitted they couldn’t strip the rep of her title because of the damage it would do to the company’s reputation. So the cheating was allowed to continue, and the top reps who were playing the system in this way continue to do so to this day… and perpetuate the myth that anyone can pursue the business honestly and succeed.
“Head office funnelled new recruits to the chosen few reps”
Sally also shared another way that the favoured big stars in Forever Living had an unfair advantage over other lowly, struggling reps.
Apparently in the boom years the company would receive enquiries to join the business via their UK head office. And rather than send these potential recruits to their nearest rep, head office would instead send them directly to their chosen few managers at the top of the company.
This helped the chosen few reps to maintain their status – and the illusion that you could be a success at Forever Living.
“I was told to ‘fake it ’til you make it'”
The top UK manager who was exposed to head office for cheating was Sally’s upline, and was responsible for training Sally when she first joined the business.
We’ve already exposed the MLM industry’s predilection for lies at length here, and Sally confirms that the practice of using deception to recruit and sell was just as prevalent at Forever Living. In fact, she says that this top UK rep told her directly to ‘fake it ’til you make it’ and pretend she was more successful than she really was. This further demonstrates that you can’t trust anything a top MLM rep says when they’re working the business.
“Don’t bother with the little people”
When you read posts from top MLM reps they all claim that the only way you can be successful is by helping others. To read the fawning comments from their downline you’d think the top reps were virtual saints. But that’s not the real truth according to Sally.
Here’s what Forever Living say about helping your downline:
However, as part of her training by one of the UK’s top managers, Sally was specifically advised not to bother with the ‘little people’ who sell less than 4cc a month.
To get 1cc you need to order approximately £159 (or $214 in the US and $283 in Canada) worth of products from Forever Living. So to be 4cc active, you’d need to be selling (or buying) around £636 of products every month.
Sally said she was disgusted by this, and did her own thing after receiving her training. But it’s an insight into the true mindset of the people who make it to the top of companies like Forever Living. For all the claims of supporting everyone, the truth is that if you really want to earn money and climb the ranks you need to look after yourself and the people who can help you.
If you are a rep in Forever Living or another MLM right now, and you believe that your upline have your best interests at heart, remember that term – ‘little people’. For all the love bombing you may be subjected to when you join, this is probably what they really think of you if you are not financially useful to them.
“We were told to invent dramatic back stories”
If you’ve ever watched an MLM pitch or rally, you’ll know the importance of their ‘why’, a powerful, often dramatic back story. So many MLM reps have apparently overcome miserable poverty, unhappy marriages, huge debt, and general desperate circumstances on their way to success.
And I’m pretty sure there isn’t a single MLM upline who hasn’t been bullied or wasn’t painfully shy, depressed and anxious before being ‘saved’ by the business.
If you think these stories sound like a load of made up crap, that’s probably because they are. According to Sally, reps are told to cynically make up a sob story if they don’t already have one. She recalls the time she was in a car on the way to a company Success Day and a fellow rep was being coached to fabricate a story for the stage, as she didn’t have anything dramatic enough.
On another occasion, she says one well known Forever Living manager mourned the loss of dead colleagues on stage, only for it to later be revealed that she didn’t even know the people concerned. When her claim was shared in a blog, apparently former colleagues contacted the blog to say they were “disgusted” by her attempt to exploit the tragedy to make money.
And there’s a good reason for contriving these tales of woe. It lowers the guard of the people listening, and makes them believe that these ‘stars’ they look up to are just like them. And if these stars can overcome debt, shyness and bullying, then so can they.
The irony, of course, is that many of the top MLM reps have apparently earned and maintain their ranks through bullying themselves!
“Reps use pity plays to deflect attacks”
There’s another time sob stories come into good use. If ever an MLM rep comes under criticism – whether it’s warranted or not – they pull a pity play. The classic is to claim they’re being bullied, or are the victim of jealous trolls. According to Sally, there’s no low they won’t sink to in order to turn themselves from the bully to the victim.
We’ve seen this tactic used time and time again when reps are called out (and caught out) by anti-MLM campaigners. It’s an attempt to defuse and deflect any valid criticism or negativity.
Often when this happens other MLM reps (their gullible downline and other top reps) will jump onto social media threads and offer their unconditional support.
But behind the scenes we have it on very good authority from a number of different sources that there’s little love lost between the MLM reps who air kiss on stage and share drinks for the cameras… and even attend each other’s weddings. Many allegedly despise each other and even have ugly nicknames for their ‘friends’ behind their backs. So much for the sisterhood!
“Reps lie about their income”
One well known Forever Living manager tells her downline that she earns over £18,000 a month. I asked Sally if that was likely, and she replied not. She said that she was aware that a more successful rep would earn around £12,000 a month on average in the boom years, and not only was the rep claiming to earn £18,000 a month much less successful, but the boom years for Forever Living are long over.
Looking at this rep, Sally estimates that her true monthly income from the business today is probably £2,000 at a push. And this is reflected in her lifestyle – she cleans her house herself, her husband does all the DIY around their home and she often buys second hand or cheap furniture. Not that there is anything wrong with any of this, but it’s hardly the lifestyle of someone earning in excess of £18,000 a month.
“Only 0.03% make Eagle Manager globally”
As Sally climbed up the ranks at Forever Living, she made Eagle Manager and qualified for their retreat in Mexico. However, during the retreat Sally calculated that just 0.03% of all Forever Living reps globally had made Eagle Manager.
To achieve Eagle you needed 60cc a month minimum, which earned you just over a £1,000 a month. (At this time, she says 50cc equated to £1,000.) So the truth about getting to the top of Forever Living seems to be that only 0.03% will earn over £1,000 a month, if Sally is right.
Sally says that it was on this retreat that she saw through the ‘business opportunity’ even more and how ridiculous and fake it was.
How do you get to the top of an MLM, according to Forever Living?
So how DO you get to the top of an MLM like Forever Living? Here’s what Forever Living tell you to do in their first steps to manager brochure:
- Use the products: Become your own best customer. What you use and believe in, you will recommend with passion and integrity to others. With each order you place, add a new product to the order for your own use so you can experience the whole range.
- Showcase the products: Talk about them to people on social media, at the gym, in coffee mornings and via fundraising etc.
- Develop customers: Develop a regular customer base of around 20-30 customers that you check in with on a regular basis. The next few pages will show you how.
- Share the opportunity: Build a team by inviting prospects to take a look at what Forever Living do. It is vital to create momentum by sharing the products and opportunity with as many people as possible. This will create the energy, excitement and success you desire.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? And this strategy is repeated by Forever Living reps, who share messages like this with their downlines:
Top MLM reps are very fond of telling you that ‘anyone can do this’. Indeed, the top UK rep who got a big head start from a family member and who head office apparently acknowledged had cheated, recently stated this on social media:
“Some people say… that I got lucky. However I believe we all have the same opportunity but I was lucky that somebody took the time to show me one.”
How you REALLY get to the top of an MLM like Forever Living
But is that really the truth? We don’t think so. Based on information shared with us by Sally and other former Forever Living reps, as well as our own independent research, here’s how we believe many of the reps who reach the top of Forever Living have achieved it:
- Get given a big helping hand (and readymade downline) by a relative already well established in the business or able to lend you a LOT of money.
- ‘Buy’ your way up the ranks by stacking managers underneath you, and placing orders through them yourself.
- Pressure your downline to spend their money putting orders through cherry picked managers.
- Use the same strategy to secure yourself (and your stacked managers) a Chairman’s Bonus cheque.
- Break the rules and bribe people who are blocking your bonuses to resign.
- Recruit people in your downline by lying to them about what they can earn and achieve, and how easy it is.
- Only bother with the successful people in your downline selling over 4ccs a month.
- Retain your sales volume and team numbers by gaslighting and shaming anyone who complains, loses money or struggles with mental health.
- Show off an aspirational lifestyle you can’t really afford, funded by debt and large, secret directors loans.
- Label anyone who calls you to account or speaks the truth about the above a troll or jealous bully.
You have to be a particularly cold hearted, unethical and ruthless person, in our opinion, to get to and stay at the top of an MLM given what it takes to do so. That’s why the more ethical top reps like Sally and this former Black Younique Presenter ultimately quit.
As Sally says: “I know I wasn’t the only one in FLP that didn’t cheat to achieve and was disgusted to find out what we were supposed to be aspiring to. I have no doubt they lost many legitimate managers because of it. I know of quite a few.”
What are your chances of getting to the top of an MLM?
So what ARE the chances of you succeeding in an MLM like Forever Living, even if you are willing to do what it really takes to get to the top? According to research published on the FTC website, on average 99.6% of people who join an MLM will lose money once business expenses are deducted.
And despite the tiny blip of sign ups fuelled by the pandemic, the MLM industry as a whole has been in decline for a number of years – as we explain here. Certainly the boom years of Forever Living appear to be well in the past.
This is thanks in part to the broken, unsustainable business model, and in part to the increasing awareness of the truth of the MLM industry. Today there is a growing and broad anti-MLM community sharing research and experiences on websites like ours, forums, radio shows, podcasts, documentaries, social media and the mainstream press.
It’s a subject explored in TV series like the aforementioned On Becoming a God in Central Florida and in the pyramid scheme storyline in soap opera Coronation Street, and was parodied beautifully in Schitts Creek in their Allez-Vous episode.
Why we believe the MLM industry’s days are numbered
The more the truth about what MLM is really like is shared, the fewer potential victims can be recruited, and the harder it will be for reps to sell.
Already it has become socially easier to turn down invitations to ‘product parties’ and not feel obliged to order overpriced makeup from a catalogue thrusted at you by a school gate mum. The knowledge that you’re being preyed upon liberates you from the fear you’re offending someone when you turn them down.
So while we hope and continue to work behind the scenes for greater legislation protecting people from MLMs, we believe that the greater public awareness will probably be what ultimately dooms many of these predatory (in our opinion) companies, and their equally predatory top reps. And one day soon, we hope that tactics like those shared in this article will no longer work.
We also recommend reading this investigation into the dramatic downfall of some of Forever Living’s top UK managers.
The information we share in this article is based on our own research and conversations with several former MLM participants, including Sally and another ex-Forever Living Manager.
As always, all information is shared in good faith. However, we welcome correspondence from Forever Living if they believe this article is factually inaccurate and will duly amend any errors.
Photo by Wes Hicks